Why I'm Glad I Quit College (And Why I Went Back)

I didn’t earn my entire degree at once. I took a year-long break right in the middle… and I’m so glad I did!

This is what I what I wish someone had told me at 17 and 18 years old.


Let’s start this story with the once-inspiring question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” because that’s where the concept of attending university starts, right?

When I was 11, I wanted to be a gastroenterologist.

Growing up with Cystic Fibrosis (a genetic disease that causes problems with the respiratory and digestive systems) had me familiar with the healthcare field, and I knew I wanted to be able to help people, be really smart, and make lots of money (to be able to afford my own healthcare, thank you for almost-nothing U.S. healthcare system).

By the time I was 17 I’d spent years volunteering in nursing homes and discovered my passion for caring for the elderly, especially those in hospice care. I decided I wanted to go to college to become a hospice nurse. I knew it was for me.

I could take extra good care of myself to prevent myself from getting sick, and I wouldn’t have to worry about my elderly patients having CF (note: it’s dangerous for people with CF to be around each other because we can pass lung infections back in forth that only other CFers can catch, and that can be deadly for us)… I wouldn’t have to worry about my hospice care patients having CF because people with CF don’t live to be 65, 70, 80+ years old.

So nothing to worry about right, I solved all the problems and had a foolproof plan.


During my senior year of high school, I worked in a nursing home as a nurse assistant.

And I got sick. Like really sick, I was hospitalized and on IV antibiotics for a month, I lost over 10 pounds out of nowhere and had to do four breathing treatments every single day. In a nutshell, it sucked.

I felt SO defeated!

But I’d been told over and over again that CF wasn’t allowed to defeat me and that i had to be stronger than it and always live my life without letting it be in control. So… I wasn’t going to be weak. I was going to college like everyone said I should.

So I changed my plan, but I didn’t give up. I went to college for business.

Less than a month into my business degree, though, I wanted to change my major to philosophy.

I got laughed out of every conversation I brought that up in. “What will you ever do with a philosophy degree???” they said.

“Study philosophy books on your own time. Get your degree in business,” they told me.

And like the people-pleaser I was, I did. I pushed forward.

And then I realized I’d made a mistake, and I quit. (Or rather, I decided to take a break, stop gathering thousands of dollars worth of debt, and figure out what I ACTUALLY wanted!)

And it was the best decision I ever made.

As I wrapped up my first year of college, my little sister was battling depression and I knew I needed to be there for her, but she lived 4 hours away.

So I packed up and left. School wasn’t my calling and I was PISSED that I was now tens of thousands of dollars in debt (despite thousands of dollars in grants and scholarships!), for so little value!

And despite the backlash from my family, leaving college felt so good!

I started working in the healthcare field, started my blog (hi, original followers, remember the days of Pacha Soap bars and Whole Foods rambles?), and started working from home.

I saved my little sister’s life and healed the rift between us and our father… I started earning an herbalism education from The Herbal Academy of New England… and was able to use that knowledge to improve my health significantly.

and eventually… I realized I actually did miss school.

So… I went back. Not because of the pressure to do it (they’d all given up, finally!) or for the status… I did it because I actually WANTED to, and that made all the difference.

And I finished what was left of my business degree entirely online for less than half the cost of the university I’d started out at- and learned more in a few months than I’d learned in an entire year at the brick-and-mortar school!

I graduated even earlier than I would have if I’d stayed in school the whole time.

I’m so grateful that I quit, because otherwise I’d have over $20,000 more in student loan debt hanging over my head… I wouldn’t have met so many incredible people… and I might STILL be so desperate to please everyone and be good at everything that I couldn’t function on when it came to making decisions for myself.

No thank you.

Now I look at my measly little $6,000 in student loan debt and feel so grateful. Grateful for the experiences that money bought me and for the lessons I learned, and for my ability to easily pay it off now that I know what I know- not just from the degree I earned but from the time I spent not in school as well.

I’m grateful for the confidence I gained in myself, how much I learned to trust myself, and the life I’ve learned to create.

Because I stopped in the middle and took the time to listen to and understand myself, I’ve learned to be resourceful and trust my gut… and I know what I want in life.

That is a powerful combination of traits! And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

What are your plans for university? Or, if you’ve already finished or chosen not to go, what are some things you wish you could go back and say to your younger self?

Looking forward to your response in the comments!

With love,

Jessica Peña