How Failing the SAT Helped Me Make Enough Money to Travel the World

By Mark Wiens 8 Comments

This is Part 1 of the “Foundationology of Migrationology” series.

SAT Exam
Exam Photo Credit: tapascreation

I failed the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)

[the SAT is a standardized examination that many American universities use as a scale to determine your scholastic knowledge (little to do with what you really know – but that’s my opinion)]

While living in Nairobi, Kenya, in my senior year of high school, I applied to attend Arizona State University. They saw my SAT score and declined.

I didn’t know what to do next.

By the default of not applying for any other universities, I wound up at a community college .

[For those who don’t know, a community college in the United States is a public funded educational institute that anyone can attend. The cost is cheap (about $1500 per year – full schedule) and it attracts students from all walks of life, ages, nationalities, and plenty of folks that don’t take school too seriously.]

My parents normally work and live in Africa for 4 years and then return to the United States for 1 year to complete an entire term. My first year at university happen to be their 1 year in the United States. I was able to live with my parents (and eat their food).

All the while, I knew I’d get back to Africa, or continue the migration lifestyle. I wanted to graduate with a degree from university, but the goal of traveling the world (= Migrationology) was at the front of my head – and I knew I could live in a way to reach it.

I soon found that community college took only about 2 – 3 hours per day (if that), and I needed to do little studying or homework to get A’s (the standards aren’t that high).

Selling things on eBay and Craigslist

I started selling things on e-bay and Craigslist.

At first I began small, selling small odds and ends (mostly old clothes, shoes, books).

It was more of a hobby than anything else. Business expanded and with some work, I was able to start researching the most popular clothing trends and selling to meet the needs of fashion hunters.

After my 3 hours of community college I would spend a few hours printing addresses, packaging items, and going to the post office. Sometimes I’d ship 50 – 100 packages per week.

The first year came to a close. My parents went back to Africa, and I re-applied to Arizona State University. This time, after proving my scholastic success at community college, I was accepted.

I moved into an apartment with a friend. Continuing with e-bay, my room looked more like a warehouse than a dwelling.

My last 2 years of university I was able to arrange all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursday, opening up my time.

I got a job and worked for a company on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I was a glorified garbage man working for a full junk removal service. I got to drive a truck around all day and pick up what anybody wanted gone.

Junk or opportunity?
Junk or opportunity?

There’s a lot of valuable junk in America.

People throw away things that still have so much value – especially when you open your market to the online world.

I was able to keep the things I picked up, as long as it didn’t interfere with the day’s work. Of course, I would strategically drive past my apartment, make a drop-off and continue with my route.

Small (easy to ship) things I would sell on e-bay while the bulkier items like treadmills, I would post on Craigslist.

From the job and from sales, I was able to pay for school up front, never having to take a loan or borrow money. ASU was around $5000 – $6000 USD per year.

I Lived with a Goal.Playing football in Indonesia

I wanted to see more of the multifaceted realms of the world, connect with cultures on their home turf, and experience a migration – I had no idea where it would take me.

I’ve never been a big spender, saving was a block of my foundation laid by my Father.

It might be part of my personality, what my Father taught me, or that living comfortable and well is my personal opinion for myself – it’s NOT to be compared with others.

Somehow after living in Africa so long, I just could rarely get myself to eat a meal out for $10. Sure I would occasionally do it, but even ask my good buddies in the States and they would tell you that I would often eat my rice and beans at home before we all went out for dinner (at which point I’d just hang out and eat the chips and salsa – sometimes unlimited and free at restaurants in the US).

This is just one example of living with an aim to reach a goal (more in the series to come).

After Graduating from University

I graduated from University with a degree in Global Studies. I had paid for school, was debt free, had no monthly payments, and had about $8,000 USD saved.

$8,000 is not hard to make or save with goals in mind and living wisely to pursue them.

So it wasn’t just a poor SAT score that allowed me to make and save enough money to travel the world, it did involve a lot of hard work and effort to reach my goal. But it did force me to get serious fast, by making the most of my free time to discover what was possible – selling things online.

Failing the SAT kicked me in the butt and got me going.

Think about this:

“When you have a goal at the FRONT of your head (instead of the back of your head), you live to pursue it.” – Mark

I’d love to hear your questions or comments below.


This is Part 1 of the Foundationology of Migrationology series.

Don’t miss the next article (12 July 2011): 7 Simple (but Effective) Strategies to Save Money to Travel

Enter your e-mail below to sign up for my (FREE) monthly newsletter to get more long term travel tips and advice on how live a life to pursue your passions.

Stay tuned for the next articles in the series!