Hi Grant, Thank you for completing the assessments for the Summer Associate Internship Program role. After careful consideration, while we are impressed with your background and skill set, we feel that your strengths do not meet the current needs of our organization as closely as those of other candidates. Due to the high volume of interest in the role, unfortunately we are unable to provide individual candidate feedback at this time. Should our business needs change, your application will be kept on file for any future opportunities.

Unlike my relationships with various quasi-romantic partners over the past few years, I found these types of emails to be quite unambiguous. It’s short, concise, and leaves no room for hope. The process doesn’t encourage commitment to a specific company. In that sense, the experience of recruiting is quite the opposite of most of my experiences until now: a categorical acceptance or denial. The time spent on each company comes without the prospect of tangible rewards along the way. No friends are made along the way, no offers are guaranteed, and I don’t have the luxury to trust the process.

It’s ironic. And a bit sad. I see some of my friends applying to banks and hedge funds without actually understanding what banks and hedge funds do. I see my friends who have passions for creating positive change in society funnel into finance and consulting with no compelling reason except a half-hearted and misguided interpretation of effective altruism. I cannot say that I am particularly different; even though I see both the intellectual and moral fulfillment of these roles, I cannot help but be also drawn into the promise that I would not have to worry about restricting myself out of college.

I don’t have any inherent moral opposition to working for financial institutions; after all, finance does create many opportunities in society that previously did not exist. But roles such as sales and trading or asset management — even though there does not exist anything inherently wrong with those, it’s deeply uncomfortable to me that some of the brightest minds of our generation will make their living by moving capital from one place to another with no purpose except to gain more capital. Of course, that being said, it’s not my place to judge individuals for choices that do not explicitly negatively impact others.

It’s funny. I’ve never seen someone from a low-income background applying for internships within financial and consulting services. My only friends that want to pursue finance and consulting all come within the top five percent of American income. Part of the reason is selection bias; after all, Penn certainly does not represent the socioeconomic demographic of all college students. But it seems, to me, that the students who have been afforded the most amount of comfort in their lives are the ones that are most attracted to roles in finance and consulting. It seems that people who spend the least amount of timing asking why they have money are the ones that want to work for money the most.

Even in terms of opportunity, I cannot see how roles in finance and consulting are accessible to everyone who wants to enter the field. Mostly because I have never even heard of finance or consulting until after I arrived in college. I have not even been able to fully conceptualize the various forms of finance or consulting until this year. To be honest, there are still many aspects of the field I don’t understand.  But the majority of a bank’s full-time analysts are recruited from their summer analyst class. Recruiting for banking internships start sophomore fall (freshman spring for more “prestigious” banks). So if you aren’t a prepared candidate by junior year, then it’s okay because you won’t have an opportunity anyways.

When I was in second grade, I had decided that I wanted to make an impact on the world by being a doctor. Some of my friends wanted to be engineers or politicians or teachers. I never truly asked myself why until college, but I had been exposed to doctors throughout my life. I went to the doctor when I had to get my CIPPE form signed every year for school sports. I went to the doctor when I had cut my eyebrow open after crashing into a pole playing tag. I had gone to the doctor to visit my grandmother when she had been diagnosed with cancer.

I have never, however, heard of a seven-year-old wanting to become an investment banker. Or a trader. Or a portfolio manager.

What do those words even mean? At least with medicine or engineering or teaching, we can conceptualize what the job entails. Teaching in involves teaching and engineering involves making things out of legos. Of course, the reality of the field is quite different, but at least we could conceptualize the material. For finance, how can we expect individuals to understand obscure economic and accounting principles without exposure in school? Before college, the only plausible means to obtain information regarding finance is through parenting. And given the limited access to financial education for low-income families, how can we expect their children to understand what finance is?

Even in terms of spending money, financial literacy does not come from school. I learned how to spend my money from my parents and my friends. Two summers ago, I made $4,500 for my summer internship. I used the majority of the money on rent, food, and transportation. I took a trip after my internship ended. I bought the DSLR camera and the two accompanying lenses that I have now. I bought subscriptions to WordPress Premium, Spotify Premium, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker, subsidized by the cash flow from the other jobs I had over the school year. I saved the remaining $600 within a diversified portfolio of tech stocks. Now, my portfolio is entirely composed of Vanguard ETFs.

You may be asking, what is a Vanguard ETF? I didn’t know either until my friend introduced me to the concept a month ago. Even now, I don’t entirely understand the concept, but I can understand that it is a low-risk, diversified macroeconomic portfolio within a specific market. I am dubious about the ethics since I do have emerging market ETFs without completely understanding the labor practices of each company invested within the ETF. Regardless, I consider it a safe method of maintaining a 15 percent return on investment per year without taking on significant risk or effort. In comparison, the S&P grows at 10 percent per year. A one-year US treasury bond yields 2.69 percent per year.

I used to put it in my bank account, which yields about two percent return per year, compounded quarterly. The US inflation rate is around two percent per year, which means that the capital within a bank account does not grow in value when taking inflation into account. Storing the money in the form of “cash under a mattress” will actually result in a consistent negative yield. I cannot even fathom how individuals allocate their income when they do not have savings to fall back on. And, in terms of optimally allocating savings, how can we expect individuals to understand the roles of financial institutions if they have not been exposed to it through school?

If I had more money, then I would put it in a hedge fund, where perhaps somebody I have already met at Penn will move it from one investment to another in order to create more capital for me and thousands of others who have enough capital to invest in a hedge fund. If I were less risk-averse, then I would save my assets in long-term US treasury bonds, assuming that the US does not go through a violent uprising within my lifetime. I can write about how I want to allocate my savings because I have been exposed to the interactions between firms and households and financial intermediaries within an economy from my friends at school. So, without this exposure, how would I even grasp any conception of finance.

Penn has an undergraduate business school. I’m not sure what it’s called, but it permeates through the undergraduate culture.  The only reason I have become familiar with basic knowledge concerning financial institutions and consulting firms is that I have been exposed to so many individuals who have a much deeper grasp of finance and consulting than me. And through information diffusion, I have acquired a basic understanding myself. But without going to Penn and becoming close with the people that I have, how could I even conceptualize what finance is? And without a basic understanding of financial institutions or consulting firms, how can people know that they want to do finance and consulting?

There’s the difference between understanding basic finance and economic principles and delving into finance and consulting as a profession. I have acquired an understanding of finance through information diffusion at my college, but what about those pursuing finance and consulting? It requires attending information sessions that is only available at “target” colleges. It requires speaking with analysts and recruiters to understand the responsibilities within the job within sophomore and junior year. It requires a deep understanding of the various subdivisions of macroeconomics that is not even mentioned from elementary to high school. And I find it hard to be surprised that entering finance is composed of individuals with a family of high socioeconomic status.

So it seems that the solution would be to go to a school with accessibility to recruitment and information regarding finance and consulting. It’s funny at how unrealistic such a proposition is. The median family income at Penn is around $100,000. The median family income in the US is around $59,000. It’s no surprise that there exists a disproportionate amount of wealthy families at Penn. After all, the Ivy League was created to perpetuate socioeconomic inequality among white men. But in terms of recruiting prospects, when companies come to Penn with wide-eyes and hoping for students who exhibit “critical thinking abilities” and “good communication,” I wonder if they really mean “rich families.”

I have met many people who have good communication skills. It’s one of those skills that cannot really be improved. People who perform spoken-word poetry have good communication skills. People who work at the front desk and placate entitled parents have good communication skills. It seems to me, through the countless informational interviews I have had within the past few weeks, that good communication skills are not something that could be improved with conscious effort. It is something that just is. What about critical thinking? Am I someone who critically thinks? Understanding a passage of Ulysses given the relevant historical and literary contexts requires critical thinking. Reconstructing Spinoza’s proof of substance monism with significantly fewer words while maintaining its logical rigor requires critical thinking. Regurgitating rules from an 8 x 11″ sheet of printer paper about how to calculate operational cash flow by subtracting net income from accruals is not critical thinking. 

From the countless criteria that separate well-qualified candidates from the candidates that don’t even receive a rejection email, it seems that very few of those qualities are areas that could be actively improved upon. Some of those desired attributes don’t seem even to be true. And, in terms of accessibility, I wonder when those individuals acquire those skills. Did they earn them through their education, as these companies always implied, or have they always had them all of their lives? Because there exist so many lines that serve as barriers. First, there’s knowing enough about the organization to submit a resume and cover letter before mid-September. Then, there’s passing the first round interview, which involves expansive industry knowledge and case interview preparation. Then, there’s the superday, which, I’ve heard, is pretty hard. I wouldn’t know; I’m not qualified enough of a candidate to advance this far.

The question I always ask myself: How do I get a job? I ask with a hint of sardonic laughter because I truly don’t know.  I don’t understand “the system” because I am constantly making new rudimentary discoveries of key structural elements long after I should have been aware of them. And despite all the resources I have been afforded my entire life, it always seems as if I am not living up to those standards of my achievements relative to my opportunities. I try to leverage my opportunities to the best of my ability, but I’m either not working hard enough or not working smart enough. I don’t know. I cannot even imagine how difficult recruiting must be for individuals who have not had the same educational opportunities as I have throughout my life.

I often feel as if my efforts aren’t enough. I feel as if my achievements are not relative to my opportunities and efforts, but I know I have experienced too much entitlement throughout my life to possibly validate my feelings. I don’t know. I have goals, I have articulated those goals to my friends, and I will continue to strive towards those goals while internalizing and improving upon the rejection emails (or lack of) that I have encountered. I am tired, but relative to the experiences of others, I have nothing worthy to complain about. So it goes.