Student accepted to all eight Ivies chooses University of Alabama, calls Penn aid policy into question

Bryn Ferguson

June 11, 2015

Ronald Nelson, a high school senior from Texas, received national attention for declining all eight Ivy acceptances to instead attend the University of Alabama, citing financial reasons.

Nelson received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama — the financial aid he was offered from each Ivy League school meant his family would have had to take on debt.

At Penn, the average financial aid package for incoming freshman is $44,843, with annual cost of attendance without aid at approximately $66,800.

However, some students at Penn find the aid that they receive to be satisfactory.

Rising College sophomore Annie Freeman’s entire cost of attending Penn is covered by the university.

“I think that Penn’s financial aid program is great, I don’t have to pay for anything, which is great, because we really couldn’t afford to,” Freeman said.

The opposite of Nelson’s situation, Freeman said that her safety school, the University of Colorado, offered her less than half the financial aid that she received from Penn.

Freeman speculated that Nelson may have not been offered as much aid as he would have needed to comfortably attend because his parents’ income may not have been low enough.

“I have heard from some people that Penn financial aid is only good when you’re on the lower end of income, and that if you are in the middle they don’t give enough,” she said.

Freeman also wondered if Penn’s calculations of a student’s financial aid accurately factor in how far a family’s money has to stretch.

“Even though we have a low income, we live in an area with very low cost of living, and my household is only me and my aunt,” Freeman said. “We have plenty of money for where we live and for the fact that I have no siblings around, and she has no spouse.”

Freeman added that although some families have a higher income than her own, they may be in no better position to afford a Penn education.

“I can understand that some families that might even make triple what we make actually are about in the same situation, because they live in an area with higher cost of living, and have several children. But I don’t know if Penn factors those elements in as much as they should when determining financial aid,” she said.

Rising Wharton sophomore Jessica Lipponen also spoke positively of the financial aid package she receives, but agreed with Freeman that the packages may not always be enough.

“If you don’t have a lot of money then it works out because you get a lot of financial aid, but I know a lot of people similar to [Ronald Nelson],” Lipponen said. “They get into Ivies and then they can’t afford to go … there is a difference between what you think you need versus what Penn thinks you need.”

Brian Taylor, director of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting firm, said that, despite Nelson’s financial situation, he believes the decision to attend the University of Alabama was a mistake.

“[University of Alabama] has a good football program, but they don’t have the resources that these Ivy League colleges have, they don’t have the connections,” Taylor said. “Look at the median salaries for students five years out of college and ten years out of college at Ivy League colleges and look at the equivalent statistics for the University of Alabama, and you won’t find equivalent data.”

Ivy Coach did not counsel Nelson throughout the admissions process.

Another high school student, Alexander Roman, was also accepted to and turned down all of the Ivy Leagues. Roman chose to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not for financial reasons, but as he wanted to pursue science and technology, he told Business Insider.