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Why top high school athletes should go Ivy

Kendall Pace, Columbia University Left Tackle.
Source: The Pace Family
Kendall Pace, Columbia University Left Tackle.

Columbia University graduating senior, Kendall Pace, sent CNBC's Power Lunch this economic analysis about his collegiate and athletic choices. We wanted to share his thoughts with our readers.

Now that the top 2017 recruits across the country have announced their commitments to the college football programs of their choice, the countdown begins for the next crop of high school prospects. With National Signing Day 2018 a year away, these rising high school seniors will begin to weigh their offers before embarking on the next chapter of their lives.

Undoubtedly, many top athletes will be drawn to perennial powerhouses like Alabama and Ohio State, with dreams of playing under the bright lights in front of about 100,000 fans every week. Indeed, when I first received interest from Division I football programs, I also began to imagine what it might be like to play on national television every Saturday.

But, when it came time for me to announce my decision, I chose to play at Columbia University.

And it was the best decision I have ever made.

As I look forward to the next chapter of my football career, I hope that my experience can offer a bit of guidance for those high school standouts that now face the same choices that I once encountered four years ago.

When coaches begin calling, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

-How soon can I make an impact on this team?

-Which university will best prepare me for a career in or out of football?

-What school gives me the best opportunity to succeed after I graduate?

For me, the schools that consistently answer those questions with the best answers belong not to a Power Five conference, but to the Ivy League.

As an Ivy League student-athlete, I was able to play and start for four years at left tackle, while studying classic literature in the classroom. I earned all-conference honors and a degree in Political Science and Business Management. At Columbia, I enjoyed a truly well rounded university experience, sacrificing neither athletics, nor academics.

Still I recognize that, like me, many of you have dreams of playing in the NFL, and it may seem like committing to the best available "football school" is the best route to reaching the professional ranks. But by choosing an Ivy League school, you won't be compromising your chances of hearing your name come draft day. Current players like Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard), Jeff Adams (Columbia), Kyle Juszczyk (Harvard), JC Tretter (Cornell), and several others each played for the "Ancient Eight" before finding success in the NFL.

An Ivy League education will pay off beyond the football field as well. Its combination of demanding Division I athletics and unrivaled academic intensity is proven to forge intelligent, savvy leaders who find real world success on a global scale.

Look no further than the late Columbia alumnus Bill Campbell '62, an All-Ivy football player who went on to coach the Lions before becoming a leading adviser in the technology industry, working with companies like Apple and Google.

While you might not plan to become the next "Coach of Silicon Valley" like Campbell did, there's a chance that at an Ivy League school you'll find yourself attending lectures with classmates destined to become influential scholars, revolutionary scientists, or even Supreme Court justices. Whereas student-athletes at big football schools may find themselves isolated within the bubble of the athletics program, Columbia's Core Curriculum has allowed me to meet and study alongside people with incredibly diverse backgrounds and interests. The strength of the Ivy League community is important to consider if you want to be more than just a football player in college.

And if it turns out that you won't be a football player after college, with an Ivy League degree your career options will be nearly unlimited. With access to vast networks of alumni, including former athletes, you will easily find the mentor, internship, or full-time offer you're looking for when you finally hang up your cleats.

I have routinely taken advantage of these resources in my dual-journey of pursuing the NFL and also preparing for a career in the private sector. Being an Ivy League student-athlete, I am confident that my preparation on and off the field will prepare me for the many tests that professional football will undoubtedly bring. But as I train to impress NFL coaches at my March pro-day, I will also rely on my Columbia education as I continue to interview with banking and investment management firms throughout my final semester. To be able to realistically follow both of my passions is a dream come true, and my Ivy League college experience definitely is the reason why.

If nothing else, remember that the opportunity to play football at the college level is an incredible privilege. Make sure that you choose a school where you can live out your dreams in the classroom, in the boardroom, and on the field. Consider an Ivy League institution.

Kendall Pace is a senior at Columbia University