Even Stanford Grads Are Hurting in the Downturn

Even Stanford Grads Are Hurting in the Downturn

It is often said that Stanford students are like ducks: calm and happy on the surface, but paddling like hell under the water to stay afloat. The so-called “Stanford duck syndrome” embodies the culture at this Palo Alto, California, campus. With beautiful weather and pristine landscaping saturated by palm trees, Stanford looks more like a country club than one of the world’s premier research institutions.

And though the ducks have rigorous course loads, they live in paradise, which explains why Stanford students are consistently ranked among the happiest in the nation by the Princeton Review. In past years, seniors might have floated peacefully to the shore of employment — the only ‘A’ they needed on their resume was the one that helped spell “Stanford.”

But this year, with the recession hammering away at the job market, the shore seems farther away. Time is running out until graduation on June 14, and the ducks, now anxiously flapping, are struggling to figure out their lives — and their livelihoods.

Well-qualified students who would normally have dozens of offers are now faced with as many rejections. One such senior majoring in economics applied to every relevant job through Stanford’s Career Development Center. After over 200 applications and some 55 in-person interviews, she was rewarded for her efforts — with only one offer.

Count her among the fortunate. Great jobs still exist, but they have become few and far between. According to Lance Choy from Stanford’s Career Development Center, there were 30% fewer jobs posted this year, and fewer companies are coming to Stanford for presentations and job fairs.

All of which means that students have to be more creative about job searches
— or delay the inevitable day. To that end, many are opting to stay in
school. Ashwin Mudaliar, a senior spending a fifth year at Stanford to
complete a Master of Science degree in Biology, noted, “Of the 25 seniors in
my fraternity, only two are entering the work force directly. The others
are planning on attending graduate or professional school.” Nearly 40% of
the graduating seniors, from engineers to lit majors, will remain at
Stanford to attend graduate school. Overall, Stanford has seen a 5% increase
in graduate applications for next year’s enrollment.

Those with an eye for business, meanwhile, are choosing a more entrepreneurial tack.
With fewer investment banking and consulting jobs at the larger, well-known
firms, more of these students are instead opting to work at start-ups and
smaller, boutique firms. Still others are hoping to carve out their own
niche by starting their own companies.

Fortunately, Stanford’s conjugal connection to Silicon Valley gives its students the resources to succeed in their technology ventures. The Stanford Computer Science department even offers a popular course called “iPhone Application Programming.” Many students have already taken their class projects and rolled them out as commercially available applications. The fall class of 50 students produced eight successful iPhone apps; the spring class is 20% larger, though it’s too early to say how they’ll fare commercially.

Seniors Edward Marks, a double mathematics and economics major, and James Anthony, a Physics major, enrolled in the course last year, recognizing the opportunity. They formed a company in January called Inedible Software, and they have already generated profits from a popular shotgun simulation application. Marks had originally intended to pursue a career in finance at a hedge fund, but the recession limited his options: “When I realized I was applying to jobs I didn’t want, I decided to stop and just become an entrepreneur.” For the sake of student innovation, maybe this recession isn’t such a bad thing.

Ari Officer recently received a Master’s degree in financial mathematics from Stanford

See which businesses are bucking the recession.
See pictures of the college dorm’s evolution.