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Why you might not accept an Ivy League offer.

Let’s suppose you’re very rich and your family is famous, your marks are high, and you can enroll in any school your heart desires. Where would you choose? Probably most students would say “Harvard,” just as if they had unlimited funds for a handbag and chose a Louis Vuitton.  They want the brand name, even if it isn’t necessarily the one that would best meet their needs.

To Each Their Own

While many students with an Ivy or Ivy-like option do take the offer, other notables have preferred alternate choices. Yes, Chelsea Clinton went to Ivy-like Stanford and Malia Obama will enroll at Harvard. But the multimillionaire son of the now-deposed Shah of Iran Reza Pahlevi and Hossein Aga Khan (son of The Aga Khan) chose Williams, while Prince Albert of Monaco quietly enrolled at Amherst.  (As the son of Prince Rainier and academy award-winning actress Grace Kelly, he preferred this choice over Europe or an Ivy League. He introduced himself as “Al” at parties with Smith and officially visits Canada today to discuss climate change with Trudeau).

Ivy alumni often recommend the small liberal arts college undergraduate experience as being the best, particularly if you are uncertain about your major, or you are sufficiently motivated to want to write essays, learn how to think critically and enjoy research opportunities with full professors, normally available only to grad students at the big research universities.

Students who do know their career path will choose the school that serves them best.  Future engineers know that that both the University of Michigan and University of Illinois outrank Ivies and even MIT (Ivy-like but not an Ivy) in several areas.  The most “wired” school is Carnegie Mellon. If it’s an undergrad school of business they want, they note that most Ivies don’t have one, but Michigan and UC Berkeley do, and Babson has the top school for entrepreneurship. While Yale does offer a school of drama, artists and performers often prefer Tisch at NYU, or Oberlin Conservatory of Music, or Parsons School of Design in NYC. The huge numbers of famous performers, artists and writers who began at Sarah Lawrence College belie its small size of 1,100 students.  

Then there’s another critical factor:  Costs.

Indeed, the Ivies are “need blind” when it comes to application decisions, and students can have the mistaken notion that if you are accepted, the Ivy will cover all the costs they hope for.  Alas, while they do give grants/scholarships, loans that must be repaid, and work on campus to help defray a needy student’s costs, the colleges decide how much they’ll award you, and many families find, given other commitments and younger siblings, that it isn’t enough.  Alternate schools offer better deals that won’t force them into a second mortgage. If a family has very little income, they may be OK with a generous Ivy offer. Conversely, the very wealthy don’t have to worry. It’s the ones in between who are stretched, where mum and dad are both making decent salaries but don’t qualify for a satisfactory award, if any at all.

Financial aid awards at other schools have been so tempting that students have decided to become “the big fish in a small pond” at such schools as Drew, Bowling Green, U North Carolina, Tulane, Washington U, Rollins, and Hope College, to name a few. Beginning college as a star helps ensure ongoing success.

History Lesson

Until the 1970’s many elite colleges, including Ivies, only admitted men, prompting women in the 1870’s to begin their own “Ivies,” called the Seven Sisters, attracting some of the most notable women in all fields, from the U.S. and around the world.  As the quality of education is still tops, young women even today choose this path to success, particularly in the sciences where women are still underrepresented, via such women’s colleges as Mount Holyoke, Wellesley and Barnard.

Solution for you:  It’s not which school you go to.  It’s what you do when you get there.  But do let me know if you discover a Louis Vuitton purse with a low side zip for keys, cross-body non-slip strap, open side pocket for passport and boarding pass, and a zip-up belly large enough so my overstuffed wallet and smelling salts don’t fall out.

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