Do you need a college degree to be successful? The list of successful millionaire and billionaire college dropouts here would suggest you don’t.
One of my favorite quotes is that of the legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn: “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”
I’m not here to devalue college education. For the majority, it still represents the best opportunity to earn a good income and live a good life. The “college experience” can also offer a different kind of value to you, though that is subjective and is different for everyone.
Having said that, getting a college degree comes at a high price, usually in the form of student loans, and with learning new skills becoming easier and cheaper than ever many people are questioning whether a college education is more advantageous than self-education or even necessary.
What you’ll notice about the people on the list of successful college dropouts below is that many were exceptional academic students and they did decide to go to college. They only dropped out of to pursue their own business ventures when the opportunity seemed too good to delay further. They had goals, they were creators, they were entrepreneurial and they were focused on producing value.
My goal with this list of college dropouts is to show you that if you have a clear vision for your life then ultimately whether you have a college education or not you will be successful. It all comes down to knowing what you want and how much you want it.
Hope you enjoy the following list of successful people without a college degree.
The List Of Successful College Dropouts
Bill Gates, Microsoft
Bills Gates attended Harvard in the fall of 1973, only to drop out 2 years later to found Microsoft with his childhood friend Paul Allen. In 2007, he ended up receiving an honorary degree from Harvard.
Paul Allen, Microsoft
Before he co-founded Microsoft alongside Bill Gates, Allen dropped out of Washington State University to work as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston. He had an estimated net worth of $20.3 billion at the time of his death in October 2018, aged 65.
Steve Jobs, Apple
Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College when he was just 19 and went to co-found Apple with Steve Wozniak. Despite his short tenure at Reed, Jobs still found his time there valuable.
Steve Wozniak, Apple
Steve Wozniak dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley, and joined forces with Steve Jobs to found Apple in 1976. The two became friends when Jobs worked for a summer at HP, where Wozniak was working on a mainframe computer.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard University in 2004 with co-founders Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin and Chris Huges to work on Facebook fulltime. Today it’s the biggest social network in the world.
Dustin Moskovitz, Asana
Forbes reported Moskovitz to be the youngest self-made billionaire in history. Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard and Facebook’s third employee, Dustin left Facebook in 2008 to start hist software firm Asana.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter
Jack Dorsey dropped out of New York University and moved to California. There, Dorsey bounced between jobs before founding Twitter in 2008 alongside Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Today, Dorsey is chairman of Twitter and CEO of mobile payments company Square.
Evan Williams, Twitter
Yet another college dropout and successful internet entrepreneur. Williams is notable for founding several internet companies such as Blogger and Medium as well as co-founding Twitter with Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone.
Michael Dell, Dell
After selling PC Upgrade kits informally from his college dorm room, in 1984, 19-year-old pre-med student Michael Dell dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin and founded “PCs Limited” with just $1,000. Operating out of a condo that year, the business sold between $50,000 and $80,000 in upgraded PCs, kits and add-on components. Later, the company would be renamed Dell.
Larry Ellison, Oracle
Larry Ellison left the University of Illinois after his sophomore year, then attended one semester at the University of Chicago before dropping out. In 1977 he founded Software Development Laboratories, which was renamed Relational Software and ultimately became Oracle.
Lee Byung-chul, Samsung
Lee Byung-chul had attended college at Waseda University in Tokyo. Despite not finishing his college degree, the Korean businessman went on to found the technology giant Samsung.
Jan Koum, Whatsapp
At age 21, Jan Koum dropped out of San Jose State University where he was studying math and computer science. He took a position at Yahoo, where he oversaw security and infrastructure for the internet giant. Koum went on to co-found Whatsapp and made $6.8 billion when Facebook acquired his mobile messaging startup for $19 billion in 2014.
Daniel Ek, Spotify
Another successful college dropout is Daniel Ek. With a strong interest in business, Ek started his first company at the age of just 14. He pursued a degree at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology but dropped out before completing his degree to focus on his IT career. He went on to co-found the music streaming giant Spotify.
Travis Kalanick, Uber
Before becoming the CEO and co-founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick studied computer engineering at UCLA. Kalanick decided to quit college just months before graduating to work for now-defunct peer-to-peer search engine Scour. He resigned from Uber, selling off 90% of his shares.
Matt Mullenweg, WordPress
Matt Mullenweg is another incredible college dropout who is best known for co-creating the popular blogging platform WordPress. Matt studied Political Science before dropping out of the University of Houston to work on the coding project that would become WordPress.
Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox
Arash Ferdowsi co-founded Dropbox while still attending MIT. He dropped out of college in his final year with the belief that Dropbox could be bigger. He moved to San Francisco to raise venture capital and it’s safe to say that his decision and self-belief paid off.
Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo
Hiroshi Yamauchi dropped out of college to take over the company his grandfather started in 1889. He became the third president of Nintendo, maintaining his position for 55 years and taking them from a small card company to a video game powerhouse in the process.
Azim Premji, Wipro
Azim Premji is another inspirational college dropout. He dropped out of Stanford University in 1966 due to the sudden death of his father. At the age of 21, he became the chairman of his father’s company and changed the direction of the company from soap making to software, making Wipro one of the biggest software companies in the world. He later went on to complete his degree at Stanford.
Pete Cashmore, Mashable
Pete Cashmore is another young college dropout. He dropped out of college at the age of 19 to start the popular blog site Mashable in 2005. In 2017, Mashable was sold to Ziff Davis for $50 million.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks
Controversial computer hacker Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, studied mathematics at the University of Melbourne. He dropped out at the age of 19 over objections to the practice of students working on computer projects for the Australian military.
Gabe Newell, Valve
Gabe Newell is another college dropout from Harvard. He originally dropped out to work for Microsoft but when he saw a future in gaming, he left in 1996 to co-found Valve Corporation. They’re best known for the hit game Half-Life.
Mike Lazaridis, BlackBerry
Mike Lazaridis has a rather inspirational college dropout story. Only two months before he would have graduated from the University of Waterloo with a degree in electrical engineering, Mike Lazaridis was approached by General Motors with a $600,000 contract to develop a network computer control display system. Lazaridis dropped out to pursue it. That GM contract enabled Lazaridis to co-found Research In Motion (RIM), now known as BlackBerry Limited.
Kevin Rose, Digg
Kevin Rose is another famous college dropout in the tech world. He dropped out of the University of Nevada to code software. He co-founded the social news site Digg in 2004 with only $1200. He has since invested in Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook. While Digg only sold for $500,000 in 2012, its safe to say he’ll be fine.
John Mackey, Whole Foods
John Mackey studied religion and philosophy at the University of Texas before dropping out. He borrowed $45,000 to start a health food store called SaferWay in downtown Austin. Mackey grew his business into what is now organic grocery behemoth Whole Foods.
Ty Warner, Beanie Babies
Warner attended Kalamazoo College in Michigan but dropped out after a year. He later moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career but had little success. In 1986, he mortgaged his home and invested his life savings into Ty Inc and started selling plush toys. In 1993 he launched Beanie Babies which elevated Warner to billionaire status.
Gautam Adani, Adani Group
Despite dropping out of college during his second year of taking his bachelor’s degree in commerce, Adani still became a billionaire businessman and founded the Adani Group. Not wanting to work for his father’s Textile business he moved to Mumbai where he first worked at Mahindra Bros. as a diamond sorter and then started his own diamond brokerage company.
Ralph Lauren, Fashion
The billionaire college dropout and fashion mogul studied business for 2 years before dropping out. In 1967, after leaving his clerk position at Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren sold $500,000 worth of ties. He started Polo the next year.
Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands
The casino tycoon started his business career at the age of 12, when he borrowed $200 from his uncle and purchased a license to sell newspapers in Boston. He attended City College of New York but ended up dropping out. Over the course of his business career, Adelson has created almost 50 of his own businesses. Today he is best known as the founder and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Writer
F. Scott Fitzgerald, the literary genius and author of The Great Gatsby, rarely comes to mind when we think about college dropouts. However, this great writer left his education at Princeton because of failing grades. The author was broke for several years, ending up writing in his parents’ house and doing car repairs. He continued to believe in himself and eventually, his perseverance paid off.
David Ogilvy, Marketing
David Ogilvy is not like any of the other college dropouts here. He was expelled from Oxford University at age 20. The marketing guru would soon go on to be recognized as the father of advertising.
Jim Rohn, Motivational Speaker
I’m sure Jim Rohn has inspired many college dropouts that they could still pursue their dreams. The pioneer of the self-help industry was a college dropout himself. One of the famous quotes by Jim Rohn is: “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”
Ted Turner, CNN
Ted Turner is a media pioneer who created 24-hour news. Turner was expelled from Brown University and went on to start CNN.
Joel Osteen, Pastor
The famous Pastor of Lakewood Church and one of the most viewed men on television didn’t graduate from Oral Roberts University where he was studying radio and television communications. That didn’t stop Joel Osteen from living to his purpose.
T.D. Jakes, Pastor
T.D. Jakes has the record as college dropouts go. He first dropped out of high school and later dropped out of college. Bishop Jakes went on to become a megachurch pastor, a successful author, a playwright, and a movie producer.
Oprah Winfrey, Media
Oprah Winfrey left college to focus on her media career when she was offered a job at a local TV station. The billionaire and media queen shows that if you have the focus and motivation to succeed then nothing can hold you back.
Rachael Ray, Media
Rachael Ray has no formal culinary training or college degree but has parlayed her ability to distill cooking down to its essence into a multi-media empire. Since dropping out of Pace University, her estimated net worth is over $60 million.
Ellen Degeneres, Comedian
Ellen Degeneres, famous for her sitcom, talk show, and voice acting, dropped out of college after only one semester when it was clear she was not happy in class. After leaving school, Ellen worked for years in mainly restaurant and customer service positions, all the while pursuing non- or low-paying stand up nights at local clubs and coffee shops. After following her dream with little success for nearly a decade she finally got her break. That’s the power of perseverance.
David Geffen, Dreamworks
David Geffen dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin, again from Brooklyn College and yet again from Santa Monica College. Geffen attributed his challenges in school to dyslexia. He went on to found Asylum Records, Geffen Records, DGC Records, and Dreamworks becoming a billionaire in the process.
Russel Simmons, Def Jam Records
Russell Simmons graduated from high school in 1975. He briefly attended college before dropping out to pursue his interest in an up and coming style of music known as hip hop. He went on to co-found Def Jam records and bring hip hop to the masses. He is worth over $340 million.
Lady Gaga, Music
The famous music artist dropped out of NYU to pursue a music career. After working with two different music groups, spending years playing clubs and bars, and a few failed record deals, the singer/songwriter rose to fame with her first solo album. Her story of struggle just goes to show that persistence pays.
Kanye West, Music
One of the most famous college dropouts on the list is, of course, Kanye West. West dropped out Chicago State University to pursue his music career. Kanye released the album ‘The College Dropout’ in 2004 which has sold over 4 million copies worldwide. Kanye has since received an honorary Doctorate from the School of Art, Institute of Chicago – All in a day’s work for Dr. West.
Sean Combs (aka P Diddy), Music
Sean Combs was a business major at Howard University but left after his sophomore year. He went on to create Bad Boy Records and achieve success with almost every business venture since. The rapper, producer and business mogul returned to Howard University to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities and deliver the University’s 146th Commencement Address.
James Cameron, Film Director
The Oscar-winning director, screenwriter, and producer behind the success of movies such as The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar found much success despite dropping out of college. After dropping out of college he worked odd jobs, including as a truck driver and janitor, but writing in his free time. During this period, he learned about special effects and anything film-related at the public library. Again it goes to show education doesn’t stop at school.
Brad Pitt, Actor
The famous actor left the University of Missouri to pursue his love of film just weeks before graduating. Brad Pitt worked odd jobs around Los Angeles for about five years, all the while landing bit parts in TV shows. In 1991, nine years after enrolling in university, Brad Pitt landed a role in Thelma & Louise that opened the door to more movie roles.
Tom Hanks, Actor
Hanks studied theater at university, which he attended for a little over two years. Tom was an eager student but traded his formal education for an internship opportunity with a theater company in Ohio. He eventually spent years with the company, learning all aspects of theater production. Six years after starting with the company in Ohio, Tom Hanks landed the role in the film Splash, which was his first big break.
John Lennon, Music
One-fourth of The Beatles, John Lennon was one of the most famous people in the world. Lennon was always more dedicated to music than school, failing all of his high school graduation exams. After somehow getting himself into Art School, he was expelled for distracting behavior. He then began touring with the band he formed in high school. Around the time of their tour to Germany, the band was renamed The Beatles and the rest, as they say, is history.
Technically, Not College Dropouts…
While technically the following are not college dropouts, they did drop out of college while pursuing a Masters or Ph.D., some were high school dropouts and some didn’t attend school or college at all. While it could easily become a long list I thought a few of them deserved a special mention here.
Larry Page, Google
Larry Page dropped out of a computer science PhD program at Stanford University to co-found Google with his friend Sergey Brin. The pair would then go on to co-found Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company.
Sergey Brin, Google
Sergey Brin also dropped out of a computer science PhD program at Stanford University to co-found Google out of a rented garage. He co-founded Alphabet Inc. where he served as president until stepping down in 2019.
Richard Branson, Virgin Group
One of the most inspirational high school dropouts, Richard Branson dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and has been succeeding in business ever since. The founder of the Virgin Group has an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion.
David Karp, Tumblr
David Karp is the founder and former CEO of Tumblr. He dropped out of high school at age 15 to devote himself full time to his ambitions. He founded Tumblr at age 20 and sold it to Yahoo for $1.1 billion in 2013. He is currently worth over $200 million.
Tony Robbins, Motivational Speaker
The world’s most famous motivational speaker and success coach doesn’t have a college education. Tony Robbins said his home life was “chaotic” and “abusive”. He left home at 17yrs old and never returned. He worked as a janitor and didn’t attend college. For decades he has helped people transform their lives through his books, courses, and seminars.
Summary: Successful People That Dropped Out Of College
Successful people know that education doesn’t stop after high school or college and that if you want to be successful in anything then you must be committed to learning and growing throughout your life.
For you and many people a college degree may offer the best chance of getting a high-income paying job and the perceived value of the “college experience”, potential networking opportunities and social life are different for everyone.
If you are entrepreneurial, then the idea of putting yourself into debt when you intend to start your own business may not make sense. Learning new skills to help you achieve your goals has never been easier and you should consider all your options carefully and make the right choice for you.
It’s important to remember that the college dropouts in this post did at one point decide to go to college with the intention of getting a college degree and only dropped out due to exceptional circumstances and opportunities they had created for themselves.
You have the opportunity to go and create for yourself. Go create!
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