April 29, 2019

Making Metcalfs Less Finance-Focused

The University's Metcalf internship program should better reflect the many career options available to students.

On the heels of widespread conversation about colleges and equity, it’s time to evaluate how UChicago funnels students into internships for the summer. On a campus where students obsess over which coveted 10-week stint will prove the most “marketable”—and in an economy where college internships do meaningfully impact students’ careers—the workings of UChicago’s career advancement office have a profound influence on undergraduate outcomes.

The University’s Jeff Metcalf internship program, which places students in 10-week funded summer internships slated specifically for College students, is billed as a way for students to gain “hands-on experience in their field of interest” by working “with leading organizations in a diverse range of fields.”

As it currently stands, however, these sponsored internships do not put students’ interests on a level playing field. Finance and business–related internships are vastly overrepresented, while opportunities in other areas—including STEM research, nonprofit work, media, and the arts, for example—are harder to come by. It’s worth noting, too, that this overrepresentation of finance in the Metcalf program comes even though there is a large non-Metcalf pathway for students seeking finance internships, via the career advancement office’s recruiting partnerships with many prestigious financial firms. This bias toward certain fields undermines the Metcalf program’s goal of matching students to opportunities within their chosen area. Moreover, this underrepresentation of certain fields can create the perception that finance and business are the only fields worth pursuing, as undergraduates across majors and interests use Handshake postings to help envision potential careers.

A sweeping proportion of designated Metcalf internships are in the finance and business industry. According to lists of Metcalf internships posted in the first week of each quarter during the current academic year (2018–19), internships in finance and business represented 48 percent of the total 128 internships available as of October; 44 percent of the 279 internships available as of January 4; and 42 percent of the 209 internships available as of April 5.

(To give some context about how this breaks down: The 42 percent calculation from April 5 refers to 54 internships in investment and portfolio management, 12 in investment banking, 12 in advertising, public relations, and marketing, four in commercial banking and credit, four in insurance, and one in accounting.)

Does this distribution of internships mean that Handshake is simply meeting students’ demands? Actually, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s not clear that students are clamoring for this hefty proportion of finance-related Metcalf offerings. Taking college major as one metric of job aspirations (even though, of course, not all economics majors go into finance and some students who enter the finance industry study subjects other than economics), 26 percent of the 3,886 College students who have declared a major are economics majors. (This figure, pulled from winter 2019 enrollment figures, includes double majors.)

Yes, 26 percent is a high number—but it’s nowhere near 42 percent. It’s worth noting, too, that this 26 percent is likely informed by Handshake’s overrepresentation of finance internships. As students see that there are so many opportunities available in finance, they may be more likely to study economics and pursue a business career.

This is not to say that it’s reasonable to expect the Metcalf program to have a perfect representation of all fields UChicago undergraduates are interested in. It makes sense that some industries would be underrepresented; technology, for instance, stands out as a field where students may be able to obtain higher-paid positions outside of the UChicago pipeline.

But this reasoning should apply to finance, too. Financial firms can afford to pay their college interns at a significantly higher rate than the typical stipend for a Metcalf internship. They also have the resources to advertise their own paid internship programs, unlike the more cash-strapped university laboratories, government agencies, and nonprofits. Additionally, many prestigious finance and consulting firms, such as Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, have long-established relationships with Career Advancement—and therefore long-time exposure to students—through recruiting partnerships and other non-Metcalf programming such as treks, specialty advising tracks, and more.

One potential counterargument to this is that students in industries that are underrepresented in the Metcalf program can simply find unpaid opportunities on their own and then apply for University funding, through grants earmarked for internships generally or specifically for research or public-sector work.

We argue, however, that this misses the point. For one, University funding for unpaid jobs is scarce and highly competitive. Many grants are also much smaller amounts than the $4,000 stipend associated with a designated Metcalf internship.

Furthermore, the very purpose of the Metcalf program is for students to learn about the wide variety of career paths available to them, and to be able to draw from a list of employers who have already cultivated relationships with Career Advancement. Instead of opening students’ eyes to the variety of career options possible, the limited industries reflected in the Metcalf postings prevent students from seeing all the postgraduate opportunities available to them.

The Metcalf program has tremendous potential as a way for students who need to earn money over the summer to do meaningful work and refine their postgraduate goals. It’s imperative, therefore, that the program reflects the vast breadth of industries that students might consider entering after earning a UChicago degree. The Maroon Editorial Board thus argues that Career Advancement should reconsider how it allocates positions within its sponsored internship program, specifically between the finance industry and seemingly less lucrative industries including research and politics, and seek more feedback from students in the process.