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“I want to work on Wall Street.”

Every day, I ask students who write these words in their essays to think about what these words mean to colleges. Every year, more students choose to write them.

I doubt that many students appreciate the nuances of the many jobs on Wall Street, or that jobs in finance exist in other places. They interpret it to mean--my goal in life is to make a lot of money--and that is the message they send.

The most cynical of us might think that colleges want to admit students who think this way because they might become big donors. However, both the Harvard Character Counts initiative and the Character Collective, a group to which 74 colleges belong, would emphatically disagree. The problems we need to address in the world need collaborators from the worlds of business, the sciences, and diplomacy. Schools want students who think beyond their own portfolios, think creatively, and work on solutions, starting in college.

I talk to my business students about understanding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Both large and small companies practice CSR in hiring/labor policies, what they choose to invest in, and planned charitable giving that does not come from profits. It’s well-defined by former PepsiCo chairperson Indra Nooyi, who says, “It’s not about giving away money we’ve made (that the shareholders should be getting). It’s how we make money a different way.” While Pepsi has yet to solve its carbon footprint issue, they encouraged stores to market Pepsi Zero Sugar more effectively.

When students “don’t know what to write about,” I show them the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which present opportunities to work on the world's most pressing problems--all of which require big business efforts. Invariably, students see one of the goals as a priority and it piques their interest. That’s good for their essays.

It’s all about opening minds beyond money. I don’t begrudge my students the desire to make it, but rather to help them understand that colleges like to see them think more deeply about how they do. Many of my students will likely become quite wealthy; ironically, many of them do not need an undergraduate business degree to make it happen. Demonstrating character remains the priority of the college application, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. I’ll be attending the Character Collective Conference 10/12-13 and pass on any wisdom that can help my students.


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