Web Exclusives: Tooke's Take
a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

February 21, 2001:
With no loans to repay, students can do something truly in the nation's service

Office of Career Services needs to expand the options it offers

by Wes Tooke '98

I've decided to break with an august tradition in this column and start with the facts.

A few weeks ago the Princeton brain trust in Nassau Hall announced that the university was going to massively revise and expand the financial aid packages it offers to both graduate and undergraduate students. Both aspects of the plans are interesting and worthy of discussion.

Nevertheless, although the new benefits being offered to graduate students seem likely to partially relieve the Gulag conditions suffered by the university's noble candidates for a higher degree, I'm going to follow a long-standing Princeton tradition and ignore them.

So, the undergraduate plan. It's the best thing to happen to the university since David Duchovny '82 did us proud on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

While the plan contains several exciting initiatives - including a complete commitment to being need-blind to international applicants - the most interesting component is that Princeton will replace student loans with grants, which means that a freshman entering the university next year will have a fighting chance at graduating without any debt.

Considering that loans account for 60 percent of the average student-aid package at American colleges and universities, Princeton's decision marks a dramatic break with financial aid tradition. Nationally, students who take out loans graduate an average of $15-20,000 in debt. And although Princeton's new plan won't entirely eliminate student loans - if a student wants to join an eating club, for example, he might need to take out an auxiliary loan - it will be possible for almost every student who attends the university to stroll out the gates without owing any money.

The new initiative contains many obvious benefits, but perhaps the most impressive feature is the freedom it will present to Princeton graduates. My own wish is that graduating seniors will find it easier to opt off the corporate track - after all, it's certainly easier to accept a risky or low paying job if you know that a bank won't be shadowing you for the next 10 years of your life.

But if the university really wants to help seniors who are looking to do something different, it also needs to revise its advising policies. My senior year, "Princeton in the nation's service" felt like an absurd motto. Although many of my classmates took Project 55 or Teach for America jobs, the Office of Career Services bombarded us so constantly with interviews for investment banks and consulting firms that it often seemed that we had no other options but to run to Wall Street.

So I propose that the Office of Career Services should expand its mission to truly encompass the needs of all seniors - especially those seniors who don't know what they want. Perhaps the OCS could publish a weekly newsletter of job opportunities from across the spectrum: teaching positions in developing countries, research work at the UN, rafting guides jobs in the Grand Canyon.

They could call it an opportunity list, and they could publish it secure in the knowledge that the low pay of these jobs wouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle to any senior.

I don't know if that effort would mean hiring more staff or just redefining the purpose of the office. But now that Princeton can truly say that it is giving all of its graduates an opportunity to work in the "service of all nations," the university needs to ensure that it dedicates as many resources to the students seeking alternative careers as the ones who go to Wall Street.

Wes Tooke can be reached at cwtooke@princeton.edu