A “College Vs. Job” Question of the Day

Should Katie Ledecky go to college, or go pro?

Photo credit: brando.n, CC BY 2.0.

Today, in hypothetical questions: if you were a 19-year-old swimmer who just won four gold medals in the Rio Olympics, would you go pro and (potentially) earn a lot of money, or go to Stanford?

Ledecky said in an interview with ESPN on Thursday that “it wasn’t” a tough decision to honor her commitment to Stanford.
“I’ve always wanted to swim collegiately and have that experience,” Ledecky said. “I think it is going to be a lot of fun to be on a team with some really great friends and great swimmers and also just go to class with them.”
Meanwhile, analysts have said before, during and after the Olympics that Ledecky stands to make several million dollars, mostly through endorsements and appearances, should she go pro. But her mind seems set.

NCAA rules state that Ledecky cannot earn money from her sport, even (or especially) through endorsements, if she becomes a collegiate swimmer.

As the New York Times notes, Ledecky will still receive financial benefits from Stanford, in the form of scholarships and free room/board/books:

The arrangement she agreed to when she signed a letter of intent to swim for the Cardinal in exchange for tuition, books and housing precludes her from a potential seven-figure financial payoff through endorsements and paid appearances.

In the 2016 Stanford Student Budget, the university recommends students prepare to spend $66,696 per year on tuition, room/board, books, campus health services, and “personal expenses,” which they estimate at $300 per month. (Is that generous, or laughable? Probably depends on what you’re buying.)

Getting most of those costs paid for by your school is a big deal, but it’s worth doing the math; Ledecky’s only going to get six figures of value for four years at Stanford, not the seven figures she could earn as a professional.

So. In this hypothetical universe, which would you choose? College or going pro? The chance to earn a lot of money, or the chance to have an experience you had already been planning for and looking forward to?

There’s nothing to say that Ledecky couldn’t go to college in a few years; there’s a slighter risk that deferring her professional career will mean getting passed over in favor of someone new. It’s not an easy choice, which is why I’m asking all of us what we would choose.

(Here’s my answer: as an adult, I would definitely go pro. As a 19-year-old… I might have wanted to be with my peers having that college experience I had been dreaming about since junior high.)