We're conditioned to believe that if you want the best education, the best jobs, and all of the awesome that comes with it, you should go to a top school.

Ivy League = Big Fish

We put an awful lot of pressure on kids from the time they're in middle school -- or even younger -- to become Big Fish.

In major cities, you can probably find a preschool or two selling you on the superior preparation they're giving your child for an ivy league education. In Manhattan, you start planning to get pregnant and get your kid into Harvard around the same time.


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So if you could live that dream and were smart enough to get into a top school, logically you'd be crazy not, to... right? Not if you're high school senior Ronald Nelson. He just rejected offers from all eight of the Ivy League schools.

He also turned down offers from Stanford, John Hopkins, NYU, Vanderbilt and others, opting for the University of Alabama, instead. You read that right.

See, Ronald's a pretty exceptional teen. He attended Houston High School in Memphis, Tennessee. He has a 4.58 weighted GPA, took 15 AP courses, achieved a 2260 out of 2400 on his SAT and a 34 out of 36 on his ACT. He's also the senior-class president, a National Merit Scholar and National Achievement Scholar, as well as a state-recognized alto saxophone player.

He's already accomplished more than some adults and he's barely out of high school. Yet even with his long list of achievements, Ronald didn't receive a performance-based scholarship from the ivy league schools.

Merit scholarships were not offered by any of them and many of the prestigious universities, such as Vanderbilt, don't offer them.

Although he was offered "some" financial aid by each school, after the first year the amount would be reduced (because his sister is graduating and the family's financial situation will change) and he would end up having to pay significantly more over the following three years.

With this in mind, he and his family had to make a tough decision--stretch the family budget and take on debt to attend a brand-name school, or save money for a graduate degree later. In the end, he decided the financial strain wasn't worth it. It was a decision that certainly turned a lot of heads.

Since making his announcement, Ronald has been featured on NBC News and even in The Daily Mail, across the pond. Ronald thinks that although he may miss out on the professors and peers he would have been sure to meet at a top school, he can have the same experience at University of Alabama. And you know what? He's totally right.

See, even though most students would prefer to attend Harvard, graduates of the top schools aren't necessarily the top performers in their fields. "Don't hire someone on the basis of his or her educational institution," says Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author and speaker.

Gladwell offered the controversial perspective in his elite institution cognitive disorder (EICD) research for his book David and Goliath. It was so stunning in its message -- You shouldn't hire someone from Harvard. Crazy, right? It goes against everything we've heard and think we know.

Relative deprivation theory, he says, suggests that employers who want to hire the best grads have to look beyond the best schools.

Instead, they must hire on the basis of class rank, even if -- no, especially if -- the person is not from one of the more prestigious institutions. Sure, eschewing Harvard for Alabama will save the Nelson family a ton of tuition, but even at his age, Ronald knows this doesn't mean he's getting a lesser education.

When he graduates, Ronald will do so free of the financial burden incurred by so many students by way of student loan debt.

But for the next few years, he's in the enviable position of being a big fish in a small pond -- the crme de la crme -- and will be that much more desirable to savvy employers upon his graduation.