Wall Street Loses Its Luster for New Grads

New Normal 20/20 Business School GraduatesGetty Images /ABC News

For decades Wall Street has been a source of power and wealth. But in the last two years, the financial sector has lost more than 20,000 jobs.

The average bonus has dropped by more than a third and the financial sector has lost more than $35 billion in revenue this year.

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In response to these huge losses, some Wall Street firms have either rescinded offers that they had extended to potential employees or delayed their start date, in some cases even paying graduates to start later.

"Finance was so lucrative that everybody wanted to get into it," said Joe Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics at Columbia University. But, he said, "our financial markets failed and failed enormously."

Students from top business schools can expect a base salary of about $100,000 with a hefty bonus, but only half of this year's MBA students had an offer by graduation.

Louisa Vertun, who recently graduated from Columbia Business School, has not yet been able to find a job. She expected to receive a job after getting hired for a high paying summer internship last summer, but with the downturn, the bank cut back.

"I went to a firm that previously had a 100 percent placement rate -- meaning if you went through that process of five months of flirting with the firm, you would finally get the offer for the summer," Vertun said. "Previously, Columbia had a 100 percent offer rate, but by the time I finished, it was 50 percent."

With jobs scarce, some graduates have been forced to choose alternative career paths.

Jennifer Wright, one of Vertun's classmates at Columbia, who had been on an investment banker track, decided to launch her own company when the market collapsed last fall. Her business partner's bold invention: a bio-degradable pizza box that breaks into serving plates.

"The idea of following an entrepreneurial venture was scary," Wright said.

But her courage paid off. The bio-degradable pizza box idea went viral after a Twitter exchange with actor Ashton Kutcher.

Wright posted a video on YouTube that showcased the product and half-a-million hits later, she received hundreds of queries from around the world, signed a contract with a major distributor and has plans to meet with a national pizza chain.

Thomas Campbell, another Columbia Business School graduate, decided to use the business model to enact social change. Campbell said he feels that New York City's Harlem neighborhood needs him more than Wall Street..

"I'm doing two businesses by empowering distressed communities through real estate," he told ABC News. "One way we do that is by building physical properties and the other way we do that is through disseminating in terms of financial literacy to these distressed communities."

Soon, he said, he will have helped bring 86 units of affordable housing to a low-income neighborhood.

"This is my passion," he said. "This is what I need to do with my life."

Bittersweet Optimism Pervades on Wall Street

While many in finance have found success in other fields, bittersweet optimism pervades among those interviewed by ABC News.

Before the financial downfall, 28-year-old Tim Sykes ran his own hedge fund.

"My parents gave me control of my bar mitzvah money, which was $12,415," he said. "By the time I had graduated, I had turned that $12K into $123K. By the end of my freshman year in college, it was over one million. So I was hooked into trading stocks."

After graduation, Sykes started his hedge fund, which he said made record profits for three years, until 2007 when the financial world began to crumble.

"I think every one of us knew for a very long time that this system was damaged. ... It's all about greed and self-interest," he said.

"The financial crisis has definitely made more people a lot more cynical. Everybody is scarred from this," Sykes continued. "But hopefully, they'll remember these scars so when the market does recover, they might think twice" about buying a home based on credit cards.

Wall Street: Risk Built Into System

Since most of the compensation on Wall Street came in the form of share options, Harvard University professor Niall Ferguson said, risk was built into the system.

"People at Lehman Brothers and other institutions had an enormous incentive to do anything -- anything that pushed up the value of their share capital. And it led to some very risky decisions," Ferguson said.

Stiglitz said Wall Street has become a big casino with an enormous amount of excess risk.

"We've allowed these [financial] institutions to get so big that they're too big not only to fail, but too big to be managed and almost too big to be saved," he said.

Now the government is cracking down on executive compensation and the new rules don't sit well with Sykes.

"I would not go back into finance right now," he said. "People are looking over your shoulder. Wall Street is distrusted more than ever. There's going to be more regulations than ever."

Wall Street: What the Future Holds

Teddy Weisberg, who's been trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for 40 years, said the same emotions have driven investors and traders as long as stock exchanges have existed.

"When it comes to stocks, there are two basic emotions -- fear and greed -- that are what's driving a lot of motivation of customers," he said. "You can change ground rules, but you cannot legislate human emotion."

Weisberg's son Jason and grandson Morgan said they are looking toward a brighter future.

"The floor is still the hub of capitalism," said Jason Weisberg, who is also a trader.

"Looks pretty fun and I want to do it," Morgan Weisberg said of the profession of his father and grandfather.

"Depending on Morgan's timing," Jason Weisberg said, "There's still a good chance it will be booming again."