Via Peter Jacobs at Business Insider, I learned about a wise, young Tennessean – Memphis’s own Ronald Nelson. Nelson is one of the tiny few American students who receive admissions offers from all eight Ivy League universities, and unlike most of his comrades, he rejected all their offers and chose the warmer weather (and better football) of the Southeastern Conference. While Nelson didn’t choose the best SEC school, I agree with Jacobs’s assessment. Nelson’s decision is indeed “brilliant.”
It’s simple. Nelson will save vast sums of money while not harming his future prospects for success. The Ivies don’t give merit scholarships, and the need-based financial aid forced a difficult choice: stretch to pay for undergrad or save money for grad school. His dad put it well:
“With people being in debt for years and years, it wasn’t a burden that Ronald wanted to take on and it wasn’t a burden that we wanted to deal with for a number of years after undergraduate,” Ronald Sr. said. “We can put that money away and spend it on his medical school, or any other graduate school.”
As Glenn Reynolds notes, there’s research showing “that people who get accepted to the Ivy League but don’t attend do just as well as people who do attend. They’re sorting for success, not contributing to it.”
For what it’s worth, Nelson’s choice resonates with my own college advice. First, don’t assume college is right for you. Obtaining valuable technical knowledge (or joining the military) can be more beneficial than many degrees. Second, if college is the right choice, avoid debt unless debt is truly unavoidable. Third, understand that the prestige that matters is the prestige of the last institution you attend, not the first. So if you intend to go to graduate or professional school, pour your resources into that institution, not your undergrad.
Congratulations on your success, Ronald. And for you sake I will type words it pains me to type: Roll Tide!