Major leagues or business major?

Charlie Tilson was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of the 2011 MLB draft. He was also offered a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Illinois. For players like Tilson who weren't selected as one of the first few picks, the choice of whether to play in the pros or go to college can be a tough decision.

On July 6, Tilson spent the day hanging out with Tony La Russa and Mark McGwire.

"It was an incredible experience," said Tilson, 18, a center fielder who graduated this year from New Trier High School in the Chicago suburbs. "La Russa is a really nice guy. He was showing me pictures in his office of when he was with the White Sox" -- a treat for Tilson, who grew up a White Sox fan.

The next day, Tilson began freshman orientation at Illinois.

Until August, Tilson won't know which world he will call his own.

"I was stunned when I was picked," said Tilson, the 79th selection overall. "They do a two-minute recap of each player after he is picked, but I didn't hear a single thing because my sister was jumping around and screaming in the kitchen."

The top picks in the draft have it easy. The money is good and the choice seems simple: Go pro.

For athletes like Jameson Taillon, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, his decision to sign for $6.5 million with the Pittsburgh Pirates and turn down a scholarship to play at Rice University seemed like a no-brainer.

But for those who are drafted in the later rounds, where the money isn't as good, the choice becomes exponentially more difficult. For athletes like Tilson, the choice is far more difficult.

"Before the Cardinals picked me, I gave them the number I said I [would] sign for. Right now, we're in the negotiation process," Tilson said. "We tried to pick a number where we felt like we were going to be compensated for passing up an education."

The first overall pick in the draft typically gets around $4.5 million, Tilson said. By the end of the first round, it's down to approximately $1.2 million.

What does the 79th overall pick typically slot for?

"$500,000," Tilson said.

But high school players have a bit of an advantage when it comes to deciding between college and the pros. Because high school seniors often have the option of going pro or going to college, they don't need to sign for a number below their desired amount. If they don't get what they're looking for money-wise, they can choose to utilize their college scholarships.

Negotiations -- conducted through the team's scouting director and general manager -- are tougher for kids who get drafted but have not yet graduated.

Under NCAA rules, college-bound players "can't hire an agent to deal directly with the team," said Charlie's dad, Joe Tilson. Agents can't have direct contact with the teams, so parents, who often have no experience negotiating, are left to speak for their children at the bargaining table.

As the Aug. 15 signing deadline approaches, Tilson, who is one of five children, has a few weeks left to agree to a deal with the Cardinals. If not, he will head to Illinois to major in business and play baseball for the Illini.

However, he's allowing himself to dream a little bit. If he does go pro, his first major purchase will be a jet ski.

"I'm a big boat guy. But then again, you don't want to burn all of your money," Tilson said.

While his greatest life goal is on the baseball diamond and to "be in the major leagues and win a World Series," Tilson understands there are serious factors at stake regarding the choice between college and the pros.

"If it doesn't go right or you get hurt, you want that security of having an education," he said.

On the flip side, taking the safe route of going to college can mean leaving a dream in the rearview mirror.

"When you go to school, part of you looks back and thinks what if?" Tilson said. "Where would I be right now? That's why you come up with your number. You decide what it's going to take to eliminate the cons."

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