Throughout this academic year, we're following a group of students who graduated from high school a few years ago in Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. We're asking about the choices they've made and about the cost and value of higher education.
Today: Two young men who took very different paths and who both find themselves chasing ambitions and dreams in the arts, in New York City. Both are banking on their talent. But they're also pursuing high-priced educational programs to refine that talent.
Our first student followed his bliss here, to prepare to become a music producer, at New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. When we met Evan Bonham back in August, at his family's home in Bethesda, Md., he was planning to graduate after the fall semester. Since then, he has changed his mind: He has an internship, a senior capstone, to finish. His project now includes launching his own record label, and he has decided to stay on as a student through the spring, taking a light course load.
Why the change? "Really for me it was about continuing to develop my project," says Bonham. "If I was in the real world, paying for studio time, it would be much more than if i was paying for tuition. I have access to the whole faculty here as well as the studios."
One of Bonham's main tools is his laptop, so we asked him: If you had a very well-appointed garage back home, but didn't have any teachers or experiences from NYU, what would be the difference?
"Anybody could honestly learn how to produce music on their laptop," he says. "[The] whole basis of coming to this institute was learning how I could walk into any studio, right now, and basically run a session, how to use different programs to make music, how to work with an artist, how to make money off of making music."
So has it been worth it, this investment in the future?
"Absolutely, 100 percent," says Bonham. "All the perks of a huge institution like NYU, the network building, where you can really meet one-on-one with professors and get advice. They really help you grow as your career is progressing."
And on top of that, Bonham told us he has been offered a job at the company where he interns.
From the New York University recording studio, it's about a 10-minute walk to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where Jake Meile plans to spend two years working toward an associate degree in occupational studies.
Meile went from high school to what has become the most popular destination for Montgomery County high school graduates: the local community college. He did mostly theater for three years and decided to become an actor. With very low tuition, no loans — not even an associate degree — he has now moved on to the academy, in Midtown Manhattan. Tuition and the cost of living in New York come to about $50,000 a year.
We met at a busy coffee shop a few blocks from the conservatory.
We started by talking about the difference between the two learning experiences: community college and the academy. Meile said the difference is being taught acting as an art, not just a collection of skills. His "aha!" moment of the semester? Being able to cry in a scene.
"Once I got past it, it just felt like a whole huge weight lifted off my shoulders," says Meile, "like a new side of my acting that I'll be able to tap into for other roles."
That breakthrough scene: Meile was playing a husband who found out his wife was cheating on him with a friend. "It's also hard for me, because you know, I haven't been married to anyone for 15 years ever," he says. "We're taught to tap into something we can relate to."
To do this, he meditated on the word "betrayal," remembering experiences where he felt betrayed. His teacher then had them write down every definition they could find of the word and bottle up that feeling of betrayal and use it "when the lines hit."
"If you're fully breathing and relaxing into your body," explains Meile, "the stimulus will hit you harder and you'll be able to react a lot more naturally."
And that, he says, is what he's training to do at the academy. So was the higher price tag worth it? Yes, he says.
"I'm happy I took the time to make the choice," Meile says.
We'll be in touch with both Jake Meile and Evan Bonham as the year progresses. Tomorrow, we'll chat with three young women — at the midway point of their final year of college — about their appointment with real life.