Buying Into Selling Out: How Stanford Students Understand Corporate Career Funneling and Justify Their Decision to Participate

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The relationship between the job market and elite higher education is understudied in
sociology. Some scholars have detailed the cultural and institutional mechanisms which
funnel students into tech, finance, and consulting: today’s predominant prestigious
post-grad jobs. However, none have captured how elite students understand corporate
career funneling. This deficiency is critical in the context of class reproduction and
inequality, specifically for understanding the process by which elite students stream into
jobs at the top of the occupational hierarchy. To fill this gap, I use ethnographic
observation and conduct in-depth interviews with graduating Stanford students from
wealthy backgrounds entering tech, finance, or consulting. My interview respondents felt
judged by their peers for their career choice, believing that some Stanford students
would label them “sellouts.” The term “sellout” represents a moral symbolic boundary
which Stanford upperclassmen use to distinguish themselves from their peers whose
career choices they deem morally objectionable. However, most of my respondents did
not self-identify as “sellouts” and instead employed justifications that redefined their
relationship to the work or redefined the work itself in order to preserve their moral
status. While these justifications do not necessarily give us insight into what motivates
job choice, they carry concerning implications for inequality.


Type of resource text
Date created June 9, 2023
Publication date January 24, 2024; October 25, 2023


Author Cieslikowski, Ryan
Advisor Kiviat, Barbara
Degree granting institution Stanford University. Department of Sociology


Subject Elite higher education
Subject Career funnelling
Subject Career Inequality
Subject Class and inequality
Subject Stanford students and occupational hierarchy
Genre Text
Genre Thesis

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND).

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Cieslikowski, R. (2023). Buying Into Selling Out: How Stanford Students Understand Corporate Career Funneling and Justify Their Decision to Participate. Stanford University, Department of Sociology. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at


Stanford University, Department of Sociology, Co-terminal Master's thesis collection.

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