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It’s careerism all the way down

Graphic of overlapping blue and white buildings forming a city skyline. A hand extends from the left-hand side, drawing attention to the white text: "In the service of whom?"
Katelyn Ryu / The Daily Princetonian

There’s a tweet from Professor Robert George that has been stuck in my head ever since I read it. It was posted right after President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 had first said that he didn’t think Princeton’s rigorous academics were to blame for the mental health crisis on campus. George chimed in on Twitter to agree. The real problem, George suggested, was “careerism.”

“What WOULD help [solve the mental health crisis] is bringing students to a better understanding of WHY we make our courses demanding: for the sake of their intellectual deepening and growth. We also need to discourage careerism (it’s rampant) and the unhealthy spirit of competition that’s all-too-prevalent,” George wrote.


George would like to wish careerism away. And why wouldn’t he? If Princeton students had no career incentives during their time here, they’d likely focus more on academics with far less stress. The contempt for careerism is not limited to those like George on the political right. This issue is chock-full of critiques, implicit or explicit, of what many see as the craven self-serving nature of Princeton students who parley the Princeton name into a high-paying career in finance or consulting.

The truth that our special issue tries to grapple with is that careerism is not going away. We have to accept a world where many Princeton students do see their education as a means to an end: their career. It’s a world that no one would choose, but these are the conversations students are having — and therefore, the conversations we must explore. 

There are lots of reasons to criticize careerism on campus. Yet no one seems to have a clear solution. A common suggestion bandied about is simply: “Have you considered grad school?” And yet academia is facing its own placement crisis and is hardly the opposite of, or the remedy to, careerism. 

Maybe there was some magical past where students weren’t focused on careers. I doubt that was ever fully true. But more importantly, any time that students weren’t focused on careers was because they didn’t have to be, because Princeton was either so homogeneously elite that everyone was secure after graduation, or so lofty that the Princeton name was a ticket to basically anywhere.

None of that is true anymore. In our modern meritocratic society, Princeton students may have advantages, but they’re hardly set in life. The doors of Congress are hardly wide open for anyone with a Princeton diploma; there is no automatic ticket into a stable and prestigious career. And so Princeton students seek the leadership they’ve always sought in the only way they can: jostling with each other for a stable position, whether it’s in the halls of Goldman or McKinsey.

Careerism certainly contributes to students’ stress, not just in the pressure of securing a position but also the internal conflict of learning versus building a resume, or serving humanity versus building a career. Perhaps no aspect of the modern campus is as definitive of a feature.


Through this issue, Princetonians explore their futures beyond FitzRandolph Gate, balancing their aspiration to serve with the reality of careerism on campus today. It’s a reality we can criticize, but one we can’t ignore.

Rohit Narayanan is the 147th Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Princetonian. He can be reached at

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