Life Stories Motivation

My College Diploma Was the Worst Christmas Gift

I coincidentally received my college diploma in the mail right before Christmas this year. Shout out to the speedy Office of Student Assistance that mailed it seven months after I graduated. The big joke was that I was holding a piece of paper that clogged my debt pores with a whopping $70,000 bill, plus compounded interest. I can’t imagine a better Christmas present for a 22-year-old than 20 years of anxiety from fear of not making monthly loan payments on time.


My degree, “Bachelor of Business Administration,” a fancy title that came with several hours in windowless classrooms and dry professors. I wasn’t a bad student, but I was barely in class. I mastered the system by taking online classes, and skipping just enough so that I wouldn’t fail. I made my own college by teaching myself with overly priced books, incense and jazz music as observers of my sessions.

During my last month of college, I was nominated for the highest award that the university gave graduates. The award committee later approached me, apologizing that I wasn’t given the honor. Apparently, after they saw my resume including Shut Up and Go, and how I’d been able to juggle a 3.7 GPA while traveling almost every other weekend, all while working as an RA in the dorms, they knocked me out of the running. They admitted to me that I had too much experience to be given the award because it wouldn’t make a difference in my career, “I was already succeeding” they said. That’s when it was confirmed to me that it was all a big pile of bullsh*t. I didn’t need an award to tell me the obvious situation at hand: I’m just not a college person.

The truth is, I’ve learned everything that has taken me through life outside of a classroom. I became savvy when I was stranded in Panamá without a phone, broken Spanish, and limited wifi. I became a business woman when I decided that I was going to tell a TV executive that he should have me and Damon pitch his development team in Los Angeles because we had an interesting show concept. I became a student when I accepted that everything I ever needed to learn would come from traveling foreign lands and asking strangers questions in their native language. The best part is that none of these teachings came with a tab of $70,000.

Monetary debt aside, I can’t forget to mention the exhaustion and mental pain that came from college. I remember suffering from the shakes every morning due to the fatigue of juggling a  PR internship, a part-time job at the university, and a full 18-credit workload. I didn’t have to do all of those things, but being an immigrant doesn’t ever promise you a pot of cash at any point in life. Naturally, I had to do everything, and be the best. Each semester got unnecessarily more stressful. I didn’t realize it back then, but let me share something with you that might change your life:


Can we just ask ourselves for a second: why the hell do we spend hours of our life writing papers that one person is going to subjectively grade? Yes, grammar and spelling matters, but there has to be a more efficient way to learn these things. I actually learned from writing business emails; my fear of embarrassment forced me to Google grammatical rules that saved my a$$. Don’t even get me started with test taking; you cram for one hour that won’t matter in a year, let alone in ten years.

Now if I play devil’s advocate with ma damn self; It wasn’t like the last four years of my life were a complete waste. I got the chance to live in NYC, where many people only dream of living. I had enough time (thanks to effective schedule planning) to take naps throughout the day in between classes. I would roam the city by night with my sister’s ID, as an 18 year old posing to be a classy New Yorker out in the nicest lounges with strangers that quickly became my “party posse.” I learned the way of Manhattanites; you could see someone after dark, and had not a damn clue what they did during the day. I became sensitive of the cellophane that wraps city life, giving it a shinier glow than it deserves.

new york

I also can’t say it was a complete time killer because I met people while in college that have impacted me through deep stories and genuine trust. Most importantly, I’ve befriended change makers who have opened doors that have brought me further than I could’ve imagined.

Here’s the bottom line: I beg of you to reflect if going to college is worth your time and money.

Before pulling the trigger, ask yourself if you need a degree to do what you want to do. If not, consider mastering your craft and learning how to pitch yourself to create your own opportunities. It’s not easy succeeding when you try so hard to fit in with society’s dream. Which, if we’re keeping it real, we can acknowledge that all that is, is to create robotic graduates who join the 9-5 school of numb working fish who obediently contribute to consumerism by sipping Starbucks on their 15-minute break from the cubicle. I’m a traveler, so that life isn’t for me. However, I do get that sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do, to get to where you want to go. Get it? If that’s your case, as it is mine at the moment, remember it’s a means to an end, and this too shall pass.


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  • Candy

    Hi Jo, I have a question about this college fees. Why do so many people who can’t afford to pay for this, or don’t want to spend years thinking about the debt, still go to college in the US? There are so many good universities in the world, and it seems to me (even though I haven’t done the math), that you could easily move to another country, study there and go back home. Here in Buenos Aires we have many people from all over the world because one of our best universities is free. The ones that aren’t free are also good and not that expensive for a foreigner anyway. I’m sure the US has many great professors and they probably teach subjects you can’t find in other countries. Like I wanted to study music in Berklee when I was younger, because it’s super prestigious.
    I couldn’t imagine my life thinking I still owe my school money, especially at 22 when I don’t even have a steady job.

    Thanks, and great post as always.

    • Joel

      Hey Candy, I can’t speak for everyone, but I could offer a few reasons why (off of personal reasons): Being able to stay close to home was a large factor for me, so finding a school in NYC was my top priority (funny enough, I also graduated from Pace University at the same time). Another thing might have been the idea of “reputation”. To my knowledge at the time, I knew few foreign (to the U.S) schools with a great reputation for computer science (what I studied while in college). So it might have been a better idea to go to another country, but high schools don’t exactly tell you about applying to foreign universities (mine didn’t).

    • Shao Tsai

      Sometimes they just don’t know any better. Teachers and advisors are probably not instructed to inform them anyway. But the thing is, with many different phases that already happen during college, imagine if it’s in another country? Imagine magnifying a freshman’s insecurities with so many others. It’s definitely an option though, but anyone willing to move to another country has to be prepared (maturity, language, so on).

      The one instance I’d definitely suggest going abroad is if the student is a shoe-in for med school… as in some countries you go straight out of High School to study for a medical degree, it ends up saving 4 years of time as an undergrad. I wouldn’t be surprised to know that American doctors are older on average.

  • Marcia Philatre

    Awesome article, Jo. I also owe about $70k in loans. It’s awful. Are you currently in repayment? How are you handling that and traveling? As much as I would love to just not pay my private loans and ruin my credit lolol, I don’t know if that would be the wisest. Plus, my sister co-signed for me, so they would start taking money from her checks in the event that I couldn’t pay, which is not an acceptable consequence. :/

    • Hey girl! I’m in repayment and I’m in the same boat as you, except my mom took out a parent plus loan worth 50k for me… so i have to pay the loan under her name and mine… aka $600 a month on loan payments alone. I’m making it work by busting my ass on the show and blog, and also working freelance for a travel company by doing their marketing. I basically never stop working and live a crazy minimalist life to make it all work! But regardless, I’ll not stop traveling because of debt… after all, we’ll ALWAYS have debt, but you won’t always have your youth! It’s all about calculated risk ;)! Thanks for reading!

  • Saz Benchekroun

    I recently stumbled across your and Damon’s blog and YouTube channel while preparing for a backpacking trip around Europe this summer. I’ve become so impatient about seeing the world that I have probably binged 50 + of your videos in the past two days so that I could live vicariously through you guys and satisfy my craving for adventure. Money and time aren’t really my go to excuses for why I can’t travel when ever and where ever I want, because I would totally live a vagabond lifestyle if I could, but this college post hits close to home. The reason I hold myself back from the nomadic life I crave is because I feel like I owe it to my parents. Being a first generation american, my parents both come from the coastal town of Tangier, Morocco, I am always aware of the fact that my parent must have gone through, and given up, so much so that I can have what they never did. I, like you, am also not a college person. I crave wandering around aimlessly, exploring the unknown, and losing myself in the culture and beauty that fills our world. However, I feel I have to continue on the path of college and conformity so that my parent’s sacrifice would not be left in vain. (I think its funny that they wanted to leave a world of travel for security and I want to leave a world of security for travel.) I know it’s my life and I should live it for myself but I would not be able to travel with a clear consciousness if I disregarded my parents dreams and ideas of success they want for their child. I will have my time soon.

    Although my parents really want me to be a doctor or a lawyer, I decided to major in anthropology that way I can still learn about people and culture while I’m not traveling. Two more years to go!

    I realize that I’ve pretty much written a novel and understand if you guys don’t read this but I just wanted to thank you guys for helping me stay motivated to explore! Please keep posting videos and blog posts!!

    Thanks again,
    Saz Benchekroun from San Diego, California.
    IG: @sazbenche

    PS: let me know if you guys are in town! I can show you some cool local spots!

    • Breanna Fonseca

      Omg I can totally relate to you 100%!! Very well said!!

      • Saz Benchekroun

        thank you! glad to know I’m not the only one!

  • Stacey D

    I enjoyed this, EXCEPT for the part painting 9-5er’s as robotic, numb, obedient, consumerists…. Lol, I get it. That’s a common theme for some youtubers to harp on, but come on, not everyone who happens to work a more conventional schedule is a cubicle chained slave with Starbucks in an IV drip.

    I assume though, that your intended message was, pursue whatever life suits you best. I would be unhappy doing your job (I super shy), but I admire you for doing it so well. You probably wouldn’t want my job (scientist), but it’s okay cause there are people like me who are glad to do it… even between the dreaded hours of 9 to 5. 🙂

  • Andrew Lim

    Sup Joanna,

    First I wanna give you props for making your own way. All politrix aside, it’s always been hard for young people to know what to do, when and where. Partially, I think it has to do with how we’re taught from a young age to raise your hand and ask instead of finding out for ourselves. I’m 26 from NY and have been living in Montevideo, Uruguay for the past 7 years and I’m just learning now, in my last year of (free) public university, how to make things happen for myself. Spanish used to be an obstacle but it was more about always asking for help when I didn’t need it. I’m self taught like yall and love languages–French, Portuguese, Spanish and English.

    I think yall might be being a bit harsh on the 9 to 5ers though. I think everyone is on their own journey. Some have more dispositions than others and breaking off from the constraints whether family, financial, legal or otherwise can be hard and mysteriously spontaneous. Maybe it might be more motivating to consider that it’s the little wins and little losses on our way to feeling satisfied with life and striving for more instead of condemning the same people we want to uplift.

    Peace in the middle east, shouts out from the third world.

  • Francisca Leonardo

    OI Joanna, I usually never comment on anything I read online but tonight I purposely came here to find something and I guess this article is that something. You see, I am a HUGE fan of yours and Damon’s and everything you guys do! Back in September, I moved to Montreal to study and I have just been feeling kind of drained these past few days with studying for finals. So I gave myself 5 mins to relax while watching one (OR SEVERAL) of your videos on Youtube and I just kept wondering how you survived through university in the States and if this is REALLY worth it. I love studying and I love learning, but I am so disappointed sometimes when I am not able to do well on an exam (which is always a big component of my mark in any course, unfortunately)… I work really hard for everything (first generation immigrant too) but sometimes I feel like it’s not enough. I don’t believe that my grades should ever define my worth but it is kind of hard to ignore the pressure society puts on us to “become something/someone” through a piece of paper. Anyway, I honestly just wanted to let you know, in case you ever see this comment, that reading this article (and laughing with you and Damon whenever you guys break off into a twerking showoff) has really lighten up my mood over the past few days and encouraged me to keep going. You guys are an inspiration to me and I truly look forward to following your adventures for many more years! Beijos!

    • Love this comment! It’s tough, and it’s crazy to think that I graduated three years ago already! You know what’s right for you in the end, so don’t ever doubt your gut feeling! Thanks for reading, BEIJAO!
      – Jo

  • Isabella Biagiotti

    I’m in college now and I hate it. I am itching to travel and experience the world. Reading your blog is one of my resources I will use to find a way to get to Europe.