Nothing is permanent: When you are starting something new you cannot be afraid to make mistakes or to pivot. If you are a young person, it is a guarantee that you might not be interested in the same thing today that you were two years ago or two years from now. Embrace all of the changes that you are going through and allow yourself to be flexible as you advance in life.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joi Wade.
Having recently graduated, Joi Wade understands the uncertainties that college students are facing amid COVID-19 and is using her platform to support underrepresented and disproportionally affected students. Though she is only 22, Joi has already built an empire as a YouTube personality, author, entrepreneur and a recent first-generation graduate of the University of Southern California. At every stage of her college experience, from applications to post-graduate life, she has provided authentic advice to help students navigate their own journey.
With a mission to empower students, Joi published a college admission and scholarship guide for high school students titled You Got Into Where? in 2015, which has been rated 4.9 stars on Amazon. As someone who received $500,000 in scholarship offers, she also understands that finances and resources can greatly impact a student’s academic dreams and dedicates her time to mentoring high school students 1-on-1 about SAT, ACT and college admissions prep. Most recently, Joi has taken this passion to the next level, partnering with Capital One to support first-generation college students, like herself, with professional, mental and financial advice amid COVID-19 through the nation-wide First-Gen Focus program.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I have a family of entrepreneurs; my parents and my three siblings all run small businesses in different industries. I learned about running a business early on as I helped my parents with their entrepreneurial endeavors and experimented with starting my own ventures, like selling homemade greeting cards and friendship bracelets.
Growing up, I lived in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Georgia before I finally went off to college in California. I was involved in everything I could get my hands on as my interests changed almost every year; one year it was ballet and gymnastics, the next Taekwondo and then seven years of competitive swimming.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I started You Got Into Where?, a company that aids high school students in receiving admission and scholarships to their top choice universities, in 2016, the year I graduated high school. This is also when I published my college admissions guide with the same name. Afterwards, I built out YouGotIntoWhere.com, an online destination for high school students to access free information and articles on the college admissions process by students, for students.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I’m a first-generation college student and I understand how difficult and confusing the college admissions process can be for students going through the same thing. During my junior and senior years of high school, I started to document my college process on my YouTube channel which included making videos about standardized testing, college scores, and filling out various applications. From these videos came hundreds of comments and questions from high school students about college admissions and scholarships. After I earned more than $500,000 in scholarship offers from my top choice universities, I knew I had to give back to first-generation students. This is where the idea for You Got Into Where? started. I eventually published my first book, started tutoring students, participated in speaking engagements and established the You Got Into Where? brand.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I wouldn’t say there was an “aha moment.” I just saw that my YouTube community had so many questions about the process I had just went through, and I wanted to be able to give back to them and provide them valuable information that could help change their lives. I’ve always loved being creative — whether that’s through writing or video production — so it was very natural for me to segway into writing a book and making a brand to continue that mission.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
The best way to get started is to make sure that you are helping to solve a pain point for your audience. Once you know what your audience needs, it’s time for you to figure out what your strengths are and utilize that to know the best way to deliver the information or resources that they need. For some people this could be having an in-person conference. For others, it could mean having a TikTok page where they give quick tips on various subjects.
Once you master one area, you can think about making your idea bigger and expanding into different sectors. Using myself as an example, I started off making YouTube videos on college admissions topics and through those videos I learned about the multiple pain points my audience had when dealing with college admissions and scholarships. Then, I wrote a book that would help guide them through the process. After the book, I worked on really building the You Got Into Where? brand. It doesn’t all happen overnight, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey. Know that each accomplishment is a checkpoint to a bigger picture.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
While I was attending the University of Southern California, I noticed that every year they had a conference for local high school students to get to know the university and learn more about attending college. I really wanted to get involved, so I reached out to the professor who was running the conference and asked if I could participate. I ended up being one of the main speakers for the conference and spoke in front of more than 300 high school students on college admissions and scholarships. I really loved this experience because of the number of students I was personally able to inspire about the college admissions and scholarship process.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I was only a senior in high school when I started, so obviously there were hundreds of mistakes that at the time I didn’t know were mistakes because I was really having fun and enjoying the process of doing something that I loved. There are various things that I could have done differently, like spending more time writing my book or designing my website differently, but at the end of the day, all of those are ways to learn more. Without my experience starting You Got Into Where? in high school, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge and confidence to start other ventures that I’m working on now. For example, my hair care business Joiful Bee or continuing my journey as a YouTube Creator and social media influencer.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My biggest mentors and cheerleaders were my parents. While l I was growing up they made sure that I always felt like I was involved in the family business, which basically was an entrepreneurial bootcamp to prepare me for all the things that I’m doing now. Even though I’m a first-generation college student, my parents have always been extremely supportive in everything I do. I think it is critical for first-generation college students to have a support system and resources to help them succeed because they are already at a disadvantage by being new to the college landscape. This is the root of why I continue to support and help college students today and partner with brands and organizations that are showing up for first-generation students.
Recent research from Capital One found that 74% of first-generation college students surveyed wished their school or financial institution would connect them with people like them who are struggling with college and career-related questions. This is why I am supporting the First-Gen Focus program from Capital One, which addresses college student needs by helping them through its three pillars: financial well-being, career readiness, and personal wellness. The program consists of virtual workshops, access to mentors, and career exploration experiences.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
As a recent graduate and first-generation college student myself, I am proud to partner with Capital One and their First-Gen Focus program to help educate my peers just starting college on financial management, including how to build their credit and save toward their short and long-term goals. This is especially important as students continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The First-Gen Focus program is just one illustration of Capital One’s mission to change banking for good. It’s pretty cool to see firsthand how the brand is putting in the critical work to not just talk about their mission, but put meaningful action toward it through the Capital One Impact Initiative which was built to advance socioeconomic mobility by advocating for an inclusive society, building thriving communities and creating financial tools that enrich lives. Learn more about Capital One’s action toward their mission at CapitalOne.com/About.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
After growing up living in different regions of the United States, I saw that “where you live” can be impacted by disparities in the public-school education system. I think key decision-makers in the education space need to work towards having a universal standard of education so that students are getting equal access to opportunities like college and scholarships regardless of whether they are from a low-income family, minority background or just happened to live in a particular school district.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Nothing is permanent: When you are starting something new you cannot be afraid to make mistakes or to pivot. If you are a young person, it is a guarantee that you might not be interested in the same thing today that you were two years ago or two years from now. Embrace all of the changes that you are going through and allow yourself to be flexible as you advance in life.
- Don’t be afraid to make connections: If there is someone you want to meet, make the effort to introduce yourself to them even if they seem like they are out of reach. You never know what can come out of a simple email or direct message to someone that you look up to.
- Collaborations are key: Don’t forget to network with people in your industry who are interested in the same things as you. While at first you may think them competitors, know that they could actually be your greatest collaborators.
- Think outside of the box: Your creativity is what is going to make you stand out. Never think an idea is dumb or won’t work. Take the leap and see how far it will take you.
- Always solve a problem: One of the best ways to make sure you are helping people and making an impact is to make sure you are solving a problem. Make sure you directly interact with those you are trying to help so that you can learn what they need from you.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If something is bothering you, know that you can be the person to make a change — no matter how old you are. For example, I thought I was at a disadvantage when I entered the college admission space because I was a recent high school graduate and the only people I ever saw in the space were older White people with multiple degrees who worked at universities. However, this ended up being my largest asset because the students I work with and help can connect and relate with me because I’m their peer.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet Oprah Winfrey because she’s the true definition of Black girl magic. My mom and I would watch her show every day after school and it was amazing to see how she evolved as a woman and as an entrepreneur. The fact that she had her own TV show, her own magazine and now her own network amazes me and lets me know that the opportunities are endless if you put your mind to it.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on all social media platforms (@JoiWade_) and join my squad email community for weekly motivation and tips via joiwade.com/links.