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Business students shun Wall Street for Main Street

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LAST year, Donovan Perkins, a business-school student, made the rounds of cocktail parties hosted by Wall Street companies. He liked what he heard: ``It seemed like a go-go industry,'' he says. For Mr. Perkins and thousands of other business-school students, Wall Street is more gone-gone than go-go. ``After the layoffs, I thought, `Well there goes that industry,''' says Perkins, a second-year student at the University of Virginia's Darden graduate business school.

For several years Wall Street seemed a corporate black hole that sucked in the best and the brightest from places like Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. Despite the stock market's 508-point plunge last Oct. 19 and subsequent layoffs, investment companies say they want to remain a presence on campus. But for the first time they are having to compete for talent.

Recruiters who used to pick and choose among candidates for interviews, not to mention job offers, are going begging. Meanwhile, mainstream corporate America - the Fords and Eli Lillys and Mead Papers of the world - are seeing a new tide of interest from MBAs, which, economists say, that bodes well for United States competitiveness down the road.

Last year's insider-trading scandals involving big players like Ivan Boesky curbed a few appetites for Wall Street jobs. But the stock market plunge and subsequent layoffs - 14,000 in the New York City financial district alone - have created an ``active disinterest'' in investment banking, says Darden's dean, John Rosenbaum.

That has led to an overhaul in student thinking about Wall Street players. ``There's a sense of: `These guys cooperate with the takeover artists to destroy America,''' Mr. Rosenbaum says. ```These guys, in a self-serving way, [take part in] the Wall Street-Boesky greed.'''

And if there were any doubt left about whether Wall Street was a good place to work, he adds, ``The first time the market starts to turn down, it's `Clean your desk out; you're gone.'''

While job opportunities have narrowed, the October plunge has been healthy for students, says Mark-Tami Hotta, a Stanford Business School student. It has forced them to reassess their life goals.

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