What Do Students at Elite Colleges Really Want?

The meme was an image of a head with “I need to get rich” slapped across it. “Freshmen after spending 0.02 seconds on campus,” read the caption, posted in 2023 to the anonymous messaging app Sidechat.

The campus in question was Harvard, where, at a wood-paneled dining hall last year, two juniors explained how to assess a fellow undergraduate’s earning potential. It’s easy, they said, as we ate mussels, beets and sautéed chard: You can tell by who’s getting a bulge bracket internship.

“What?” Benny Goldman, a then-28-year-old economics P.h.D. student and their residential tutor, was confused.

One of the students paused, surprised that he was unfamiliar with the term: A bulge bracket bank, like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase or Citi. The biggest, most prestigious global investment banks. A B.B., her friend explained. Not to be confused with M.B.B., which stands for three of the most prestigious management consulting firms: McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group.

While the main image of elite campuses during this commencement season might be activists in kaffiyehs pitching tents on electric green lawns, most students on campus are focused not on protesting the war in Gaza, but on what will come after graduation.

Despite the popular image of this generation — that of Greta Thunberg and the Parkland activists — as one driven by idealism, GenZ students at these schools appear to be strikingly corporate-minded. Even when they arrive at college wanting something very different, an increasing number of students at elite universities seek the imprimatur of employment by a powerful firm and “making a bag” (slang for a sack of money) as quickly as possible.

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