What do you think of as the biggest challenges in the world today? Finding new sources of energy? Ensuring long-term economic growth? Addressing global poverty?
Let’s say you had 1,600 of the best and brightest young minds at your disposal. Where would you set them to work? Perhaps you would focus one group on basic medical research, another on big engineering challenges, some entrepreneurs, some policy-makers, and some aid-workers.
Today, the Harvard Crimson released the results of a survey about graduating seniors, including their plans for next year. The biggest draw? Wall Street. Seventeen percent of the graduating class will be going into finance, which makes sense if you think the leading global challenge is untapped arbitrage opportunities. Engineering and consulting come next on the list, distantly followed by education and public service.
When they were asked to look 10 years ahead, however, the seniors had totally different priorities. Just 5 percent of them still want to be in finance come 2024. They’d rather be involved in health care, research, and entrepreneurship.
Part of what the Crimson survey shows, in other words, is a big gap between what the graduates want to do in their first job and what they want to do with their lives. The idea, presumably, is that they’ll make their money first and make a difference later. But the future needs them now, so we should find a way to shift their incentives and get them working on those big challenges straightaway.