As Wall Street continues to buckle and choke on the mortgage crisis, many MBA students are rethinking the path to finance jobs with six-figure starting salaries and bonuses that can push annual earnings past $200,000.
Overnight, many students have been forced to abandon their hopes for "dream jobs" as investment bankers, switching gears and looking at new options.
The nation's top business schools say that although students are not in full panic mode, they are increasingly nervous about what lies ahead.
"A lot of students are still hanging," said Karin Ash, director of career management at The Johnson School at Cornell University. "Recruiters just don't have word yet from above. Right now they have offers, but the next six months will be telling."
"Surprisingly, it's not as gloomy as you might think," she told ABCNews.com. "Students haven't been hit with the same stunning news as someone who had been working for a company for years."
Today, about one-third to one-half of all students with a Master of Business Administration head for the financial world and as many as 10 percent look to investment banking. But many have seen their plans dashed in the last two weeks as the 158-year-old investment banking giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and top brokerage Merrill Lynch agreed to be taken over by Bank of America.
Two other industry icons -- Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- have announced that they would start acting more like commercial banks, as the federal government prepared for an unprecedented bailout of Wall Street.
Students who took offers from Lehman Brothers are still in limbo, wondering whether Barclays, which is trying to take key Lehman assets, will honor the deals. Other companies have been similarly oblique.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the financial services industry has already shed more than 200,000 jobs in the last year. After Bear Stearns collapsed in the spring, business schools braced for potentially more layoffs and jobless alumni looking for help.
But many have already put programs in place to show students other opportunities -- perhaps not as dazzling but less risky.
"It's still early in the year," Ash said. "They will use a lot of their type A energy to do what they can to tackle the challenges."
In 2007, about 21 percent of all Cornell's MBA students chose the investment banking industry.
"It's the challenge of the job," she said. "It's one of the hardest jobs coming out of business school and the most exciting, in terms of deal-making and making news. With all the recent actions happening on Wall Street, being a part of it draws them. In addition, it compensates."
Annual entry level salaries for investment bankers begin at $95,000 and can more than double after just one year by the time bonuses arrive.
Many of Cornell's alumni have called to offer their help coaching students in searching for other options. This week, they offered a session on boutique investment banking and energy training for students.
But Michael Chang, 28, and a second-year MBA student, said his classmates at Cornell are "nervous," as "hiring plans are on hold."