After reading Jessica Nyquist’s on her perception of Princeton students’ risk-averse culture and its effect on their career paths, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own Princeton experience. As a pre-medical student, a goal of mine — as for practically all other Princeton pre-meds — is to eventually go to medical school. Were I risk-averse, I guess I’d be spending most of my time in a hospital, or in a research lab, or maybe rebuilding clinics in developing countries. But, my intellectual curiosity, as Nyquist puts it, has pointed me in many other directions including, but certainly not limited to, journalism, FM and internet radio, and even competitive poker! By no means am I confined to this single path to medical school, and from my experience, neither are most Princeton students.
Princeton doesn’t, for the most part, exist as described by Nyquist. Princeton students explore their passions and interests to the fullest, with careers in consideration, but second to the pursuits that truly stimulate their intellectual curiosity. This distinction may set Princeton apart from some comparable institutions, but certainly not in a negative manner. Princeton isn’t risk-averse, but rather risk-neutral.
Comparing a school like Princeton, which stresses a liberal arts education, to a school like our close neighbor and Ivy League counterpart, the University of Pennsylvania, which claims a more pre-professional educational environment, we see stark differences in student culture. Nyquist cites , which states that 14.1 percent of graduates from the Class of 2016 pursued a career in finance post-graduation. We may think this number is on the higher side, but an from the Daily Pennsylvanian reflects that 25 percent of Penn’s 2016 graduates pursued a career in finance — nearly twice the percentage of Princeton graduates — and an additional 17 percent pursued a career in consulting. Had I been an undergraduate at Penn, perhaps I would have been more inclined to spend most of my time in their on-campus hospital or in a medical school research lab. From both the numbers and my experience with friends on Penn’s campus, Princeton’s career-oriented culture seems overstated.
From an educational standpoint, Princeton’s lack of business and nursing schools — both of which are present at Penn — deters high school students who are already set on a very specific career path. In doing this, Princeton allows its undergraduates to explore a wide-range of academic disciplines before committing to a life-long career upon graduation. Of course, the absence of pre-professional programs doesn’t entirely eliminate career-driven students -- organizations like the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, the Keller Center, Career Services, and Health Professions Advising fill those roles. More generally, while Princeton students do care about their careers — and while the University certainly attempts to cater to them — I wouldn’t necessarily impose the “career-oriented” label onto these students as Nyquist does in her piece.
I do agree with Nyquist on one point: although Princeton aims to facilitate an undergraduate liberal arts education, its execution isn’t exactly perfect. I believe Princeton’s primary flaw with regard to stimulating intellectual curiosity is precisely as Nyquist claims — University-sponsored summer pursuits and fellowship opportunities only serve a small percentage of students. Programs like the International Internship Program and Princeton Internships in Civic Service are in high demand but have fairly low acceptance rates, so students are either forced to shape themselves into the most qualified applicant for a position exactly in line with their career interest or seek a more traditional internship, as described by Nyquist, elsewhere. For programs whose goals are to broaden the horizons of a student’s undergraduate experience, it’s a shame that their reality severely limits them.
As a whole, however, the reality of Princeton student culture isn’t as described by Nyquist. Princeton experiences are shaped by exploring passions and interests as much as the University allows, while careers come into play naturally almost as if they’re afterthoughts. As noted above, although this culture may not translate across comparable institutions, it certainly doesn’t exist in a negative light. If Nyquist’s risk-aversion doesn’t hold for Princeton student culture, I’d propose that risk neutrality does, for — as the adage goes — if Princeton students continue doing what they love they’ll never work a day in their lives.
Jared Shulkin is a sophomore from Weston, Fla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.