No Loans, No Problems? Exploring the Post-College Career Choices of No-Loan Program Students at an Elite University

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This dissertation examines the post-college career choices of no-loan program alumni at Harvard College. Using a conceptual framework informed by elements of social cognitive career theory (Lent et al., 1994) and Perna’s (2006) model of college choice, it identifies what careers alumni chose after college and how and why they chose them. I approached this single case study from a constructivist perspective, collecting data from diverse sources (i.e., documents and artifacts, informational interviews, a brief screening survey). These data were used to answer two key research questions: 1) What are the post-college career trajectories of no-loan program students at elite colleges and universities? and 2) How do the college experiences of no-loan program students at elite colleges and universities influence their post-college career choices? My data revealed that the professional paths of Harvard Financial Aid Initiative alumni fit into six distinct career archetypes: High-Impact (38%), Hybrid - Pay and Impact (29%), Passion Pursuers (13%), High-Paying (8%), Switchers - Pay to Impact (8%), and Switchers - Impact to Pay (4%). The vast majority of HFAI alumni (75%) have pursued careers that make a positive social impact, often in well-compensated positions (e.g., medicine). Major college influences on their post-college career choices include the following: undergraduate employment experiences, academic performance (both positive and negative), interactions with faculty and administrators (both positive and negative), undergraduate social networks, extracurricular activities, a lack of undergraduate debt, and the signaling effects of their undergraduate degree.