Why a Kid Chose a State School Over Harvard, Yale, and Princeton

Ronald Nelson was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools, but he plans to attend the University of Alabama.

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. (Photo: Larry Miller/Flickr)

May 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

After four years of hard-core studying and SAT and ACT test prep, earning an offer of admission to one of the prestigious Ivy League schools is a common goal for the nation’s best and brightest high school seniors. But there are top students, and then there are top students. Ronald Nelson, a senior at Houston High School in Memphis, Tennessee, was accepted to all eight Ivies.

Yet, despite the accomplishment, Nelson declined offers from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Penn. He chose a state school instead: the University of Alabama. His reason for choosing to "Roll Tide"? Nelson wants to avoid mountains of student-loan debt.

Nelson—who is senior class president, has a 4.58 weighted GPA, is an award-winning saxophone player, and has plenty of merit-based awards to his name—told Morning Joe on Monday that he analyzed all the offers and asked himself one simple question: “Where am I going to get the best education possible while still making sure that it’s financially reasonable for both me and my family?”

Given the skyrocketing cost of college, it’s a question increasing numbers of students and their families are asking. Roughly 40 million Americans have at least one outstanding student loan, and collectively we owe more than $1.2 trillion—an amount greater than all the credit card debt in the United States. An image has been making its way around Twitter that turns the spotlight on how out of control the problem of student debt has become.

That eye-popping figure doesn’t even include the entire debt burden. The loans parents might take out and the credit-card debt students might rack up buying books and supplies, not to mention general living expenses, are extra. Neither does it reflect the drag on the economy from a generation that delays or forgoes purchases of cars or homes—or saving for retirement—because theyre making monthly payments to Sallie Mae.

Ronald Neslon interview on Today Show (Image:
Courtesy Today.com)

Ivy League schools don’t offer merit scholarships; all aid is based on a student’s financial need (though students often get grants from outside organizations or foundations). With the financial aid package Alabama put together for Nelson—a full ride that includes tuition, room, and board—he’ll be able to avoid the pain of monthly student-loan payments after graduation.

Nelsons parents support their son’s decision.

“With people being in debt for years and years, it wasnt a burden that Ronald wanted to take on, and it wasnt a burden that we wanted to deal with for a number of years after undergraduate,” his father, Ronald Nelson Sr., told Business Insider. “We can put that money away and spend it on his medical school, or any other graduate school.”

Too bad thats not an option for the rest of the nations soon-to-be college freshmen.