Going to college may well be worth it. Winning Olympic gold is an amazing achievement, but how long can even the best swimmer’s career last? About 20 years in the most generous circumstances? And this Olympics is Ledecky’s second, so she’s already exhausted a good fourth of that career.
Athletes are people who are used to spending ridiculous amounts of time in training. These are not people who are going to be able to swim for a few years, score a bunch of endorsements, and go back to their mansions to relax for the next 50 years thereafter. An Olympic-caliber athlete is going to need a second career, whatever that may be, and anyone who is both a gold medalist for swimming and a Stanford graduate is never going to be poor. Who wouldn’t want to buy real estate from a former Olympian or hire Katie Freakin’ Ledecky to work at his brokerage firm?
The choice here is not a choice between million-dollar endorsements and cash prizes for races on one hand and mere tuition on the other. It’s between the endorsements and prizes on one hand and tuition to Stanford and personal and networking connections made at Stanford and the fun of college at the normal college age and the value of a capital D Degree from Stanford and, should Ledecky decide not to swim after college, the value of her salary for a few extra years. Granted, the first option is the better deal financially, but if a person were told that shecould have either $20 million dollars and no guarantee of happiness or $2 million dollars and the virtual guarantee of at least a few of the non-monetary things she very much wants from life, would it be so crazy to take the second option? Ledecky is in a win-win situation and should take whichever option she thinks will make her happier.