Despite getting into all eight Ivy League institutions, high-school senior Ronald Nelson chose to attend an elite honors program at the University of Alabama (UA).
Nelson's academic credentials are impeccable. He took 15 AP classes, earned a weighted 4.58 GPA, scored a 2260 on the SAT, became a National Merit Scholar—and he is an accomplished alto saxophone player. Yet, no Ivy League School offered Nelson a performance-based scholarship.
A tough decision
As Nelson considered his options, he says he was wowed by a prestigious program at UA called the University Fellows Experience housed within the school's Honors College. The program is extremely prestigious—around 1,000 students apply for the program each year but only eight to 10 are accepted.
Accepted to all eight Ivy League schools and attending none of them
As part of the application process, Nelson interviewed with other potential fellows and found he had a lot in common with them. "It was kind of amazing being around so many like-minded students, which is why I think I'll be able to have a similar situation [to an Ivy League school], considering the type of students they're attracting," he says.
UA also offered a very compelling financial aid package. Fellows receive full tuition and a large stipend. In addition, because Nelson is a National Merit Scholar, the school will provide free housing and summer research opportunities or a study abroad allowance.
Nelson's father, Ronald Nelson Sr., says affordability was a major concern for his son. "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," he says. "We can put that money away and spend it on his medical school, or any other graduate school."
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That does not mean turning down the Ivy League was easy. "It took a lot of soul searching for me to push that first 'accept' button for Alabama," Nelson says. But, he also says going to UA will not hurt his long-term professional opportunities. "Any undergraduate school can prepare you for a graduate program. It's just determined on how much work you're willing to put in" (Brown, AL.com, 5/14; Jacobs, Business Insider, 5/14).
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