College Students Drop Dreams Amid Wall Street Woes

Luckily, Chang has sealed a job with CitiGroup in New York. "The headlines are a bit overblown," he told "Given all that's happened -- the bankruptcies and what's going -- the market has held up fairly well under the circumstances. I am an optimist. I think we are going to be OK."

Alexis Jhamb, 26, is relieved that she is concentrating on energy and consulting at Northwestern University's Kellogg School after a summer internship at Chevron Gas Trading Group in Houston.

"I am confident in my decision," she said. "The energy question is on everyone's mind, including the politicians."

Students Turn to Consulting

Many of her peers who interned at Lehman and Merrill are now looking at consulting.

"Switching to consulting when you have had a banking internship is a harder sell," Jhamb said. "There is a lot more homework, and it's an incredibly competitive market right now. Not only are you competing against your own classmates, but against more experienced hires."

Last week, Kellogg students convened for a session to develop new strategies.

"The message we've gotten from our deans is that things look better on the West Coast than the East Coast," she said. "Also, truly consider offers from internships and don't sit on offers too long. You might be holding a place for one of your peers."

Her advisers also suggested looking into the high-tech industry, as well as nonprofits and entrepreneurship. "A lot people are looking at second-tier firms or offices in Dallas, rather than Boston."

Kate McGee, 28, will earn her MBA from Columbia Business School in May, and has also received a job offer after her summer internship at JPMorgan Chase in its consumer retail group, but she knows even that carries some risk.

Before going to Columbia, McGee worked for Tommy Hilfiger, where her clothing line was discontinued. "I would be lying if I told you that a part of me wasn't nervous," she said. "I come from the retail industry where companies have experienced many rounds of layoffs."

Real Life Economics Lessons for Students

Still, she is excited about what she is learning in these hard economic times. "It's awesome to be in the center of everything right now," she said.

Harvard Business School is also taking advantage of the Wall Street turmoil to give students "some teaching moments," according to Jana Kierstead, managing director of MBA career services.

"We tell them to think strategically about how they spend their time," she told "Things happen. Life happens and you have to be prepared."

Though there are no specialties at Harvard, about 44 percent will pursue careers in finance; 10 percent of those go into investment banking. They are encouraged to develop a five- to seven-year vision and "always have parallel paths," said Kierstead. "Whatever you are aspiring to, it does take a mental shift, absolutely, and that takes a bit of time."

'No Sense of Panic'

"In general, I'd say the students are calm," she said. "There is no sense of panic. They are mindful and watching what is happening and processing what it means for them and we are helping them do that."

Harvard has increased its staffing in an already robust coaching program, offering enhanced skill development and reaching out to retain existing companies and recruit hew ones. It is urging students to take a look at boutique and mid-market banks, some of which are "doing very well," she said.

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