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In Moneyball, Michael Lewis lists five rules that Billy Beane uses when shopping for baseball players just before the trading deadline. It’s important to remember that these aren’t just any players. By definition, these are players from teams that have lost hope of making the playoffs and are looking to cut costs by dumping players. While he may get a deal on player from a team that is leading its division, such cases are the exception rather than the rule.
If you apply this to college admissions, this means that schools like Princeton or Duke are never actually in play for Moneyball college admissions since they are never short of out-standing applicants. This doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t consider them possibilities since these schools tend to offer outstanding need-based aid.
It does mean that families should be careful about assuming the value the school’s name will provide compared to other institutions. When families decide that should a student be accepted into a specific school, they’ll find some way to pay believing that the school’s diploma is worth any price, they are ignoring the second Moneyball rule:
“The day you say you have to do something, you’re screwed. Because you are going to make a bad deal. You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign. You may never recover from the player you signed at the wrong price.”*
This doesn’t have to be a top 20 school, just any “dream” school that the student believes will guarantee her future. This is especially true of a dream school that is also a reach school. This means that the student is even less likely to receive financial aid to attend.
After all, if you are only in the market for one school, there really isn’t a market. It’s a monopoly and the school can charge what it wants. And unfortunately for families, there are usually education loans available to cover the price tag. This can lead to the loans you hear about that have graduates moving back in with parents rather than saving to buy their own houses.
In Moneyball college admissions, if you want to make college more affordable, you have to be willing to walk away from the dream school in favor of one that offers similar possibilities along with better financial aid. Better yet, don’t create dream schools to begin with. Focus on defining what opportunities you’re looking for and who provides them at the best value.
*Moneyball pg 193