Chalkboard with pros and consAs my mother used to say, “He looks really good on paper.” Between playing two sports, acting in the school plays, and being class president, she was right. My grades were fine (I belonged to the National Honor Society), but they were by no means stellar. I was, however, a part of everything, which gave me direction when it came to the college decision.

I went to a high school that championed the arts. There was music and dance and studio art and horticulture and theater. I loved it all, and was so happy to be around creative, constant thinkers. This atmosphere helped harvest a dream to become an actor.

I decided I had to study acting at an elite college program. I considered NYU, Fordham, and Michigan. But then I toured Emerson College and it struck me as a creative, forward-thinking place. I was set on it, and rehearsed constantly for my audition. While starring in the winter play, I rehearsed. During water breaks at basketball practice, I rehearsed. I worked at it, and was determined to make it into Emerson and move to Boston to study “my craft.”

My mother, saint that she is, encouraged me to look into state schools with smaller programs that might be willing to throw some money my way but still had the rigorous theater program I was seeking. She referred to them as “safety schools.” Let me tell you, as a literal dramatic teen, there was nothing more boring and unglamorous as the word “safety.”

What do high school students seek when they want to become an actor? They don’t look for stability, scholarships, grants, or anything related to the FAFSA. Instead they search for creativity, top programs, and eventual fame! How would a college with the word “state” in it help me at all? I wanted the school that employed a producer from Friends.  “Safety school?” Where is the creative desire in the word “safety?”

Reluctantly, I did apply to two state schools: Salem State and Bridgewater State. They had promising, vibrant, and hard-working theater programs. I met the staff, who were energetic, helpful, and open to everyone and anyone.

Emerson accepted me. But I didn’t receive much financial aid, and would have needed to borrow a significant amount of loans to pay for the school’s costs. The real romantic in me came out as I discussed with my parents the option of attending the school. I was talking of my potential loan debt like it was a thing I could ignore. My big plan was to nail a role in a play or TV and pay off all of that debt in one fell swoop. Not completely realistic.

Bridgewater State and Salem State accepted me as well. With my parents’ savings, federal loans, and the merit money given to me from the school, plus a couple of private scholarships, my debt at both of these schools would be significantly smaller. My debt would also only include federal loans, which had (and still have) a lot of different options for repayment.

I was still dead set on Emerson. But my mother saved my life. She flat out told me I couldn’t attend, and that my college decision needed to include one of my lower-cost options. At the time, I was heartbroken. But I agreed, and chose Bridgewater State.

Bridgewater State, it turns out, was a perfect fit. I was able to flourish as an actor, playwright, and director. I helped found a student-run theater festival called “BAM!” that still occurs to this day. As an adult now, and almost ten years out of school, I am in manageable debt with affordable payments on my loans.

Do I still wonder what life could have been like at Emerson? Sure. I’m sure others that attended had the time of their lives in college too. But I made the smartest financial decision for myself and for my family. And I learned a lot at Bridgewater. For a guy that “looks good on paper,” it’s strange that it took so long for me to realize what looked best on paper too.