Should This Teenager Go to Penn?

I received an email this week from a dad, whose daughter is weighing three college choices. Here they are:

The dad explained to me that his daughter had won a full-ride scholarship to both Texas schools.
The Penn degree would not be free. After subtracting the financial aid package from Penn, the family would have to pay a total of $120,000 to attend Penn’s famous business school in Philadelphia. The Ivy League school’s four-year list price is well over $200,000.
The dad asked me what I thought his daughter should do.
It is interesting that I got this question because I’ve been in the Philadelphia area this week. I gave a talk at Downington High School East last night and also gave a workshop for the counselors at Downingtown and another local high school. I had a wonderful time meeting so many great parents and counselors.
Some people would probably be horrified that this smart Texas teenager would even contemplate passing up a Ivy League education because of the educational experience and the networking that these elite schools provide.

Ivy League Myth

It’s true that students who attend Ivy League schools do on average make more money in their professional lives that the rest of us mortals, but it’s not because of anything the Ivy League does.  It’s the sort of students that these schools attract not the institutions. Really!
A very famous study years ago illustrated this point nicely. The researchers, including a Princeton economist, looked at what salaries Americans who attended Ivy League schools were earning, as well as the salaries of students who got into the Ivy League but went to other schools like the University of Texas and Penn State. The salaries were the same.
What’s even more fascinating is a study released this year from the authors of the original blockbuster research. Their new study determined that the same earnings advantage that Ivy League students enjoy is also shared by Americans, who were REJECTED by Ivy League schools as long as they had the same kind of grads and tests scores as the kids who got into these universities.
I wrote a post about this Ivy League study recently for my college blog for CBS MoneyWatch:

Why Ivy League Rejects Earn More

It’s not the Ivy League that is giving these brilliant kids an advantage; it’s the students themselves. There is something special about smart teens who work extremely hard in high school, who ace the SAT or ACT and who are  ambitious enough to seek out the schools that they think are the nation’s best.
Students who fit into this category can go to any school and do exceedingly well in their lives.

Bottom Line:

So here’s my advice to the dad:
Unless you have a spare $120,000 that you wouldn’t miss, skip the Ivy League. Save that money for your retirement or reserve it for graduate school for your daughter or on a generous down payment on a house for the accomplished young woman.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

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