By: Dr. Noam Wasserman  | 

Why Might it be Bad to Rush Through YU in Three Years?

Editor’s note: This year, the Commentator will feature regular columns from university administrators tackling timeless “Why?” questions about Yeshiva University. Please submit your question suggestions to

When I came to Yeshiva University, I had to make several adjustments. Many were hugely positive, like my having to adjust to YU’s amazing faculty-to-student ratio within each of its classes. I was used to teaching courses that I capped at 65 students so they wouldn’t get too big. At YU, a large class is 30 students. As a result, students develop much deeper relationships with faculty, and consequently get better recommendation letters for graduate school, get individualized faculty attention when trying to figure out their career steps and even send their former professors invitations to their weddings.

At YU, you even get to chat with the deans.

For one of the adjustments, though, I have seen negative effects that match research results about how short-term decisions can harm longer-term career outcomes. That adjustment involves the intense focus that many students have on rushing through YU in three years.

The Underemployment Problem

It is understandable that many students (and parents) focus on finishing college in three years. We figure that with our having gone to yeshiva or seminary for a year or two, we have added reason to get through college quickly. This is particularly true given the cost of private-college tuition and the desire many Orthodox students have to start a family earlier than other college students.

What this approach misses is the negative effects of underemployment. Underemployment is when a college graduate takes a job that is worse than s/he could have gotten if s/he were better prepared for the job market. 

Data from the Federal Reserve show that underemployed college graduates have lower-paying jobs and are more likely to have part-time jobs, after having a harder time finding positions. Research published recently in a top labor-economics journal shows that when underemployed college graduates try to find another job, they have callback rates 30% lower than adequately-employed job candidates, suggesting that employers view underemployment very negatively.  

The effects of underemployment last for years, both financially and regarding employment satisfaction. Launching your career in a less than optimal way can have permanent effects.

Explore and Strengthen

What are the ways in which the rush through YU can cause underemployment? Two of the big factors are under-exploration and weaker qualifications.

Under-exploration. College has long played a key role in helping students find the best fit for their talents. By exploring a range of subjects before deciding on their majors, college students are able to find and build their strengths. When we shortchange that exploration process, we latch onto majors that don’t fit us as well and build toward careers that won’t play to our strengths. In the extreme, I have seen students who after graduation realized that they had mis-chosen their majors. They were now faced with a choice between going back to school to shift into “what I should have majored in to begin with” or continuing to pursue a suboptimal career fit. Either route has significant costs financially and personally.

Weaker qualifications. In today’s job market, college internships are key to making you a stronger candidate for great post-graduation jobs. (That’s one reason why we focused so intensely this past summer  on creating new Summer Initiatives for YU students.) When a YU student first arrives on campus as a “sophomore” (i.e., has just three years left at the university) and s/he searches for a summer internship, s/he is competing against sophomores from other universities who have three times as much college knowledge (having completed three semesters of college compared to one semester). That leads to either not getting a summer internship or getting a worse one. The following summer, the student is competing against juniors from other colleges who not only have more college knowledge (five semesters compared to three) but also had better internships the prior summer. The following year, when they are competing for full-time job offers, students who rushed through college have weaker qualifications and thus have a higher chance of being underemployed.

Countering Underemployment

What can YU students do to avoid the long-term problems of underemployment that are caused by the short-term rush through college?

  • Take time to explore more. Don’t come into college saying, “I know I want to major in X” while not seeking possibilities that might be better than “X.” I was fortunate to be pushed to explore other areas to complement my initial focus on engineering. I took the time to try out business studies, among other possibilities, and found a second pillar on which I’ve been able to build my career (see next bullet below). Without my business studies, I might not have gotten my first job, which required both managerial and programming knowledge. I likely would not have gotten into the MBA program I attended, and would not have been able to put in place each subsequent step that resulted in my being able to come to YU. Decades later, my exploration in college is still paying off.
  • Find more than one pillar on which to build. Even if you know your core major, find a complementary subject that will enable you to be a stronger candidate for jobs, will open up new employment options for you, and will make it possible for you to have a more-rewarding career. It’s for that reason that at Sy Syms we have been encouraging more students to “do duals”: majoring in two areas within Syms, or majoring and minoring within Syms, or majoring in Syms and minoring within Stern or YC.
  • Build degree depth. We have also been building better pathways between YU’s undergraduate schools and its graduate schools. This makes it a lot easier for YU’s undergraduate students to graduate with a YU graduate degree in the same amount of time as their non-YU peers would only be earning an undergraduate degree. This form of “dualing” makes YU students even stronger candidates on the job market because they bring deeper “undergrad+grad” knowledge of their area than students who are just coming out of undergrad.

These actions increase the chances that you will have to spend more than three post-Israel years at YU. It’s tempting to pay one less year of tuition now and to get to the paycheck-earning stage of life one year sooner.  However, the actions above can bring significant long-term gains that outweigh the short-term tuition costs and the costs of underemployment. They can also bring greater job satisfaction and heighten the impact you’ll be able to have on the world.

By slowing down a little now, you could have major gains over your next decades of life.

Dr. Noam Wasserman is the dean of the Sy Syms School of Business. He previously taught at Harvard Business School and was founding director of a center at the University of Southern California. He received a BS from the Wharton School, a BSE from Penn Engineering and an MBA and PhD from Harvard.  He is the author of two bestselling books, “The Founder’s Dilemmas” and “Life Is a Startup”, the author of the “Zemer of the Week” Bencher, and the father of three YU graduates so far.

Photo Caption: Dean Noam Wasserman speaking at the 2019 Sy Syms Dinner
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University