You don't have to go to college to be a success. Don't get me
wrong, college will help you get a job and many times even more
money but don't let a lack of a college degree keep you from being
successful. Here are just a few people who have become famous
and/or successful without graduating from college and/or high
school including some of my personal favorites in red.
- S. Daniel Abraham, billionaire founder of
Slim-Fast. Joined the Army at the age of 18 and fought in Europe
during World War II. Did not attend college.
- Roman Abramovich, richest man in Russia,
billionaire. Dropped out of college. He studied at the Moscow State
Auto Transport Institute before taking a leave of absence from
academics to go into business. He later earned a correspondence
degree from the Moscow State Law Academy
- Ansel Adams, photographer. Dropped out of high
- Gautam Adani, commodities billionaire
from India. Dropped out of college.
- Sheldon Adelson, billionaire casino owner.
Dropped out of City College of New York to become a court reporter.
He made his first fortune doing trade shows.
- Mortimer Adler, author, educator, editor. Left
high school at the age of 15 to work. Later received his high
school equivalency degree and attended Columbia University.
- Ferran Adria, chef. Has been called the
world’s greatest chef. Did not finish high school.
- Miguel Adrover, fashion designer. High school
- Dennis Albaugh, billionaire founder of
pesticide company Albaugh Inc. Earned a 2-year agriculture business
degree from Des Moines Community College. Did not continue on to a
- Edward Albee, playwright. Dropped out of
Trinity College after three semesters.
Allen, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, founder
of Xiant software, owner of Seattle Seahawks and Portland
Trailblazers. Dropped out of Washington State to start up Microsoft
with Bill Gates.
- Steven-Elliot Altman, author. Left school at
the beginning of the 10th grade and ran away from home. Entered
college at the age of 16 and earned a degree at 19.
- Dhirubhai Ambani, billionaire Indian
businessman. High school dropout.
- Wally “Famous” Amos, multimillionaire cookie
entrepreneur, author, talent agent. Dropped out of high school at
the age of 17 to join the U.S. Air Force.
- Hans Christian Andersen, short story author,
fairy tales. Left home at the age of 14 to find work. Later
attended Copenhagen Univesity.
Anderson, co-founder of MySpace. A high school
- Walter Anderson, publisher, editor. High
school dropout who later earned an equivalency degree.
- Peter Arnell, advertising executive. Never
attended college. Talked his way into the advertising business
after graduating from high school.
- Brooke Astor, wealthy socialite, author,
philanthropist. Dropped out of high school.
- John Jacob Astor, multimillionaire
businessman. America’s first multimillionaire. High school
- Jane Austen, novelist. She and her sister
attended schools in Oxford, Southampton, and Reading until the age
of 11. After that time, their father taught them at home. Did not
- Richard Avedon, photographer. High school
- Jimmy Santiago Baca, poet, activist, and
filmmaker. At a young age, he ran away from the orphanage and lived
on the streets, spending some time in juvenile detention centers.
Before he was imprisoned for seven years for a narcotics conviction
(a charge he’s denied), he was functionally illiterate. During his
time in prison, he taught himself to read and write, eventually
earning a GED. Baca has written ten books of poetry, a memoir, a
book of essays, a book of short stories, a play, and a screenplay
for the 1993 film Bound by Honor.
Ballmer, billionaire chief of Microsoft. Graduated
from college, but dropped out of the Stanford MBA program to join
- Hubert Howe Bancroft, historian, bookseller.
High school dropout.
- Ronald Baron, billionaire money manager,
founder of Baron Capital. Dropped out of George Washington
University law school to pursue a career on Wall Street.
- John Bartlett, author and publisher,
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Did not attend college, but ended
up owning the University Bookstore at Harvard University.
- Donald Barthelme, bestselling short story
author, college professor, museum director, newspaper reporter.
“After experimenting with college, journalism, and marriage in
Houston, he got sick of the provinces and lit out for New York City
at 31.” (Time magazine). Although he continued to take classes at
the University of Houston after serving in the army, he never
received a degree.
- Bill Bartman, billionaire businessman, author.
High school dropout.
- Eike Batista, billionaire mining executive.
Studied matallurgy at the University of Aachen, Germany. Dropped
out of college. Now one of the top 10 richest men in the
- Warren Beatty, Oscar-winning director, actor,
producer, and screenwriter. Dropped out of Northwestern University
after his freshman year to attend Stella Adler’s Conservatory of
Acting. Beatty is one of the few people ever to receive Oscar
nominations in the Best Picture, Actor, Directing and Writing
categories from a single film (he did it twice for Heaven Can Wait
- Anne Beiler, multimillionaire co-founder of
Auntie Anne’s Pretzels restaurants. High school dropout.
- Robert Bergman, portrait photographer. Dropped
out of the University of Minnesota.
- Irving Berlin, Oscar-winning songwriter,
composer. When his father died when he was 8 years old, he had to
work to survive. Wrote such long-lasting hits as God Bless America,
White Christmas, There’s No Business Like Show Business, etc.
- Carl Bernstein, Watergate reporter, Washington
Post. Never finished college. Started as a copy boy at the
Washington Star at the age of 16.
- Luc Besson, French director,
screenwriter, and producer. Dropped out of high school. Never
- Robert Bisson, founder, EarthWater Global. Had
about four years of college spread over seven universities, but he
never earned an undergraduate degree.
- Timonthy Blixseth, billionaire founder of
Yellowstone Club. Skipped college, failed as a professional
songwriter. Made his first fortune as a timberland investor. At the
age of 15, he bought 3 donkeys for $75 and resold them a week later
as pack mules.
- Sonny Bono, singer, actor, songwriter, U.S.
congressman. Dropped out of high school.
- Ray Bradbury, science fiction author. Never
went to college. “I never went to college. I went to the
Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Music,
Virgin Atlantic Airways, and other Virgin enterprises, balloonist.
Left high school when he was 16.
- Ralph Braun, founder of BraunAbility, inventor
of battery-powered scooters and wheelchair lifts. Attended college
at Indiana State for a year, but dropped out.
Brin, billionaire co-founder of Google. Dropped out
of Stanford Ph.D. program in computer science to start Google in
1998 working out of a friend’s garage. He did eventually earn a
- Edgar Bronfman Jr., billionaire heir to the
Seagram liquor fortune. Skipped college to pursue a career as a
songwriter and movie producer, but soon began running the Seagram
- Herbert Brown, Nobel Prize-winning chemist.
Dropped out of high school to support his family. Later return to
school and graduated from high school and college.
- Margaret “Molly” Brown, socialite,
philanthropist, social activist, survivor of the Titanic. High
school dropout. V. V. Brown, singer. After attending a top-line
prep school, she left England at the age of 18 to got to Los
Angeles to make an album. Later returned to England but never went
Buffett, billionaire chairman of Berkshire
Hathaway. Dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania after two
years. But later he did get his bachelor’s degree and MBA.
- Ronald Burkle, billionaire supermarket owner
and investor, Yucaipa. Dropped out of California State Polytechnic
University and returned home to work in a Stater Brothers grocery
store. Had started early stocking shelves; joined union local as a
box boy at age 13.
- Robert Byrd, U.S. senator. Graduated from high
school but could not afford to attend college.
- James Francis Byrnes, U.S. representative,
U.S. senator, Supreme Court justice, U.S. secretary of state, South
Carolina governor. At the age of 14, he left St. Patrick’s Catholic
school to apprentice in a law office. Never attended college or law
- Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S. representative
and senator. Dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to join
the U.S. Air Force, where he earned his GED. Later attended and
graduated from San Jose State College.
- Jack Cardiff, cinematographer. His formal
education was spotty because his family moved every week or so. He
started in the movie business as a gofer and later graduated to
- John Carmack, founder of Armadillo Aerospace,
cofounder of Id Software (sold 10 million copies of Dome and Quake
games). At the age of 14, he was sent to a juvenile home after
breaking into a school to steal an Apple II computer. Quit college
early to become a game programmer.
- Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and
philanthropist. Elementary school dropout. Started work at the age
of 13 as a bobbin boy in a textile mill. One of the first
mega-billionaires in the U.S.
- Scott Carpenter, astronaut. He twice flunked
out of the University of Colorado.
- Julia Carson, U.S. congress representative,
did not graduate from college. She was the first woman and first
African American to represent Indianapolis.
- Amon G. Carter, multimillionaire oilman, civic
promoter, newspaper publisher, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Never
finished eighth grade.
- Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR. Didn’t finish
his sports management degree at Western Michigan University.
Instead, he apprenticed for a year and a half under a basketball
- Tom Carvel, inventor of the soft-serve ice
cream machine, founder of Carvel ice cream stores. Did not attend
college. Before he began selling ice cream, he was an auto
mechanic, Dixieland band drummer, and test driver for
Cashmore, founder of Mashable.com. Founded the blog
website when he was 19. Retired from active blogging three years
- John Catsimatidis, billionaire oilman and real
estate magnate. Studied engineering at NYU but dropped out to help
a friend save his family’s supermarket business. Owned 10 stores of
his own by the age of 24 with $25 million per year in income.
During college, he “did not study much. Would not tell my kids
- Bruce Catton, historian, editor of American
Heritage, author. World War I interrupted his studies at Oberlin
College. He tried twice after the war to finish college but kept
getting pulled away by real jobs at a succession of
- Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel.
Started the company when he was a high school senior. Never
- Gurbaksh Chahal,
multimillionaire founder of online ad networks Click Again and
BlueLithium. Dropped out of school at the age of 16 to found Click
- Lee Clow, global director of media arts,
TBWA\Worldwide. A college dropout.
- Winston Churchill, British prime minister,
historian, artist. Rebellious by nature, he generally did poorly in
school. Flunked sixth grade. After he left Harrow, he applied to
the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, but it took him three
times before he passed the entrance exam. He graduated 8th out of a
class of 150 a year and a half later. He never attended
- Joe Cirulli, founder of GHFC, a multimillion
dollar fitness club company. After two years at Corning Community
College, he decided to take a year off and travel around the
country. Ended up following his girlfriend to Gainesville, Florida,
where he started his live in health and fitness.
- James H. Clark, billionaire founder of Silicon
Graphics and co-founder of Netscape. Dropped out of high school at
the age of 17 and entered the Navy. Later took night classes and
attended the University of New Orleans, where he earned a Master’s
degree in physics. He eventually earned a PhD in computer science
from the University of Utah.
- Grover Cleveland, U.S. president. Dropped out
of school to help his family. Studied law while clerking at a law
- Paulo Coelho, songwriter, bestselling
novelist. Was institutionalized from age 17 to 20. He later
enrolled in law school but dropped out after one year, became a
hippie, traveled the world,and later worked as a songwriter before
writing his first novel. His
novel The Alchemist has sold more than 60 million copies.
- Bram Cohen, developer of BitTorrent. He left
the State University of New York at Buffalo for one year and then
left. As he noted, “Were I to have to redo high school, I would
just drop out immediately.”
- Patrick Collison, software wizard. Dropped out
of MIT during his freshman year to help two friends develop and
eventually sell Auctomatic for millions of dollars.
- Christopher Columbus, explorer, discover of
America. Little formal education. Home schooled.
- Christine Comaford-Lynch, founder of Artemis
Ventures (venture capital firm) and Mighty Ventures. Dropped out of
high school. Later also dropped out of the University of California
at San Diego and UCLA. Dabbled as a model, trained as a geisha,
spent years as a Buddhist monk, dated Bill Gates and Larry Ellison.
She is the author of Rules of Renegades.
- Jack Kent Cooke, billionaire media mogul,
owner of Washington Redskins football team. Dropped out of high
- James Fenimore Cooper, novelist. Was kicked
out of college for a prank.
Cowell, TV producer, music judge, American Idol,
Britain’s Got Talent, and The X Factor. A member of Forbes 2008
Celebrity 100, he made $72 million in 2007. He dropped out of
school at the age of 16.
- James M. Cox, newspaper publisher, 3-term
governor of Ohio, presidential nominee in 1920, founded Cox
Enterprises. A high school dropout.
- Davy Crockett, frontiersman, U.S. congressman.
Less than six months of formal education. Home schooled.
- Roy Cullen, oilman billionaire. Dropped out of
Culpeper, multimillionaire owner and CEO of Coca
Cola. Dropped out of high school
- Sharon Daniels, author, The World of Truth.
“Eventually I came to conclude that I could not find real knowledge
in academic life, only hierarchies of knowledge that led,
ultimately, to more hierarchies, not to more knowledge. I began to
see university learning as limited, human, and relative. What was
seen as absolutely up-to-date did not consider the infinite and
- Fred N. Davis III, political advertising
copywriter and director. Attended drama school in college but never
graduated. Left school to take over his family’s PR business in
- Dorothy Day, journalist, socialist, political
activist, pacifist, anarchist, suffragist. Co-founder of the
Catholic Worker movement. Attended the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign on a scholarship, but dropped out after two years
to move to New York City to become a social activist.
- John Paul DeJoria, billionaire co-founder of
John Paul Mitchell Systems hair care products and founder of Patron
Spirits tequilla. Joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school.
After the Navy, he spent time doing many odd jobs, sometimes living
out of a car, before finding an entry-level marketing job with Time
Dell, founder of Dell Computers, billionaire, among
top ten wealthiest Americans. Founded his company out of his
college dorm room. Dropped out of the University of Texas to run
- Felix Dennis, multimillionaire magazine
publisher, Maxim, Blender, and others. Left home before his
sixteenth birthday and dropped out of art college. The bottom line
is that if I did it, you can do it. I got rich without the benefit
of a college education or a penny of capital but making many errors
along the way. I went from being a pauper, a hippie dropout on the
dole, living in a crummy room without the proverbial pot to piss
in, without even the money to pay the rent, without a clue as to
what to do next… to being rich. — Felix Dennis, magazine publisher,
How to Get Rich
- Richard Desmond, billionaire publisher.
Dropped out of high school.
- Richard DeVos, billionaire co-founder of Amway
(now Alticor), owner of Orlando Magic basketball team. Served in
the Army after high school. Founded Amway along with his best
friend Jay Van Andel.
- Maria Diaz, CEO and founder of Pursuit of
Excellence. Dropped out of college as a recent widow to work three
jobs and care for her son. Later worked for Jenny Craig. Then set
up a coaching practice that led to founding Pursuit of
- Charles Dickens, bestselling novelist.
Elementary school dropout.
- Barry Diller, billionaire, Hollywood mogul,
Internet maven, chairman of IAC/InterActive Corp (owner of Ask.com,
Ticketmaster, CitySearch, Evite, LendingTree.com, etc.). The son of
a wealthy real estate developer, he attended Beverly Hills High
School but dropped out of UCLA to work in the mail room of William
Disney, producer, director, screenwriter, animator,
developer of Disneyland. Winner of 26 Oscars and 7 Emmy awards.
While attending McKinley High School, he also took night classes at
the Chicago Art Institute. He dropped out of high school at the age
of 16 to join the army. Rejected because he was under aged, he
joined the Red Cross and was sent to war in Europe. Upon his return
from war, he began his artistic career.
- Francis Drake, British admiral and explorer.
- Tom Dwan, millionaire online poker player.
Dropped out of Boston University. He started with a $50 investment
and built it into millions playing poker online.
- Johnny Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes.
Dropped out of music school to sell limited-edition T-shirts out of
the trunk of his ’89 Camry.
- George Eastman, multimillionaire inventor and
founder of Kodak. High school dropout.
- Clint Eastwood, Oscar-winning actor, director,
and producer. Attended at least half a dozen schools and excelled
at none of them. Enrolled at Los Angeles City College, but never
graduated. Among other jobs, he bagged groceries, delivered papers,
fought forest fires, and dug swimming pools. Also worked as a
steelworker and logger.
- Thomas Edison, multimillionaire inventor of
the phonograph, light bulb, and many other inventions. He quit
formal schooling after his teacher called him addled. Was
home-schooled by his mother.
- William Eggleston, photographic artist. A
major retrospective of his work opened in November, 2008, at the
Whitney Museum of American Art. He attended Vanderbilt and the
University of Mississippi without graduating. At Ole Miss, he did
study painting which eventually led to his interest in artistic
- Larry Ellison, billionaire co-founder of
Oracle software company. Dropped out of the University of Chicago
and the University of Illinois.
- Queen Elizabeth II, queen of England. Tutored
at the palace. Did not attend school.
- Philip Emeagwali, supercomputer scientist.
High school dropout: left school in native Nigeria due to war but
later earned an equivalency degree. Won a scholarship to Oregon
College of Education but transferred after one year to Oregon State
- Tom Epperson, novelist and screenwriter. After
taking some classes at Henderson State University in Arkansas, he
dropped out and headed for New York City to become a novelist. Four
years later, he headed to Los Angeles to write screenplays.
- Shawn Fanning, developer of Napster. Dropped
out of Northeastern University when 19 to move to Silicon Valley to
further develop Napster.
- William Faulkner, Nobel and Pulitzer
prize-winning novelist. Dropped out of high school after his second
year. Also later attended but dropped out of the University of
- Arash Ferdowsi, cofounder, DropBox.com.
Dropped out of MIT to start up DropBox.com.
- Craig Ferguson, late night talk show host. As
he noted recently, “Economists are saying that a college degree may
not be necessary to succeed in life. Look at me, I didn’t go to
college and here I am. Seriously kids, go to college.”
- Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies.
Founded the company when she was a 21-year-old mother with no
business experience. Did not graduate from college.
- Millard Fillmore, U.S. president. Six months
of formal schooling. Studied law while a legal clerk for a judge
and law firm. Of the 43 people who served as president of the
United States, 8 never went to college.
Filo, billionaire co-founder of Yahoo! Dropped out
of Stanford University PhD program to create Yahoo!
Fiorina, CEO, Hewlett-Packard. Disappointed her
parents by dropping out of law school after one semester.
- Bobby Fischer, Grandmaster chess player. A
high school dropout.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist. Dropped out of
Ford, billionaire founder of Ford Motor Company.
Received only a modest rural education. Left his home on the farm
to work as an apprentice machinist in Detroit, Michigan. Later ran
a sawmill and became a chief engineer for Edison Illuminating
Company before starting the Ford Motor Company.
- Henry Ford II, CEO, Ford Motor Company.
Dropped out of Yale University.
- Charles Forman, founder of iminlikewithyou
social networking website. Left home when he was 18 to work in
Korea and Japan as a programmer.
- Andrew Fox, Internet entrepreneur,
multi-millionaire. A high school dropout.
- Dick Francis, novelist, jockey. Never
graduated from high school because his father, as noted by the
London Times, felt “that a day’s hunting or show jumping was more
valuable” than formal schooling.
- Benjamin Franklin, inventor, scientist,
inventor, diplomat, author, printer, publisher, politician,
patriot, signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Dropped
out of Boston Latin. Home schooled with less than two years of
Joe Frazier, heavyweight boxing champion. Never finished high
school. Left home at the age of 15 to go to New York City.
- Markus Frind, software programmer,
multimillionaire founder of Plenty of Fish dating website.
Graduated from technical school with a two-year degree in computer
programming. Did not attend any further higher education.
- R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the
geodesic dome, visionary, philosopher, poet, architect, futurist.
He never finished college, after being expelled from Harvard twice
(one involving some chorus girls).
- J. B. Fuqua, industrialist, philanthropist.
Never attended college, but learned about business by checking out
books from the Duke University library through the mail. Later
donated $36 million to support a business school at Duke.
Gates, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, one of
the richest men in the world, philanthropist. Dropped out of
Harvard after his second year. As he noted, “I realized the error
of my ways and decided I could make do with a high school
- David Geffen, billionaire founder of Geffen
Records and co-founder of DreamWorks. Dropped out of the University
of Texas at Austin after his freshman year. Also flunked out of
Brooklyn College. Admittedly, “I was a lousy student.” Started work
by sorting mail at the William Morris Agency.
- Alan Gerry, billionaire cable TV executive,
philanthropist. Dropped out of high school during World War II to
join the Marines. Trained as a TV repairman on the GI bill.
Launched his cable business with $1,500 in 1956.
- J. Paul Getty, billionaire oilman, once the
richest man in the world. Failed to graduate from the University of
Southern California, Berkley, or Oxford University.
- Amadeo Peter Giannini, multimillionaire
founder of Bank of America. High school dropout.
- William Gibson, science fiction novelist,
first to use the word cyberspace. Was orphaned at the age of 18. To
avoid the draft and the war in Vietnam, he moved to Canada where he
worked odd jobs. Years later he finally finished his first novel,
Neuromancer. Never attended college.
- Daniel Gilbert, psychology professor at
Harvard University. Dropped out of high school but later earned an
- John Glenn, astronaut, U.S. senator. Did not
finish at Muskingum College in Ohio. According to Wikipedia, “In
April 1959, despite the fact that Glenn failed to earn the required
college degree, he was assigned to the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) as one of the original group of Mercury
- Hyman Golden, multimillionaire cofounder of
Snapple. A high school dropout and one-time window washer.
- Barry Goldwater, U.S. senator and presidential
candidate. He dropped out of the University of Arizona after one
year to take over the family department store.
- Bob Goodson, CEO, YouNoodle.com. Dropped out
of Oxford University where he was studying for a master’s degree in
medieval literature and philosophy.
- W.T. Grant, multimillionaire founder of W.T.
Grant department store chain. High school dropout.
- Horace Greeley, newspaper editor and
publisher, U.S. congressman, presidential candidate, co-founder of
the Republican Party. Dropped out of high school.
- David Green, billionaire founder of Hobby
Lobby, religious philanthropist. Did not attend college. Started
the Hobby Lobby chain with a $600 loan.
- Mart Green, multimillionaire founder of
Mardel retail stores, CEO of Bearing Fruit Communications (aka
EthnoGraphic Media), CEO and executive producer for Every Tribe
Entertainment, chairman of the board of Oral Roberts University.
Dropped out of college after one year. Founded Mardel at the age of
- Philip Green, billionaire retail mogul,
Topshop. Dropped out of high school to apprentice with a shoe
- Aviv Hadar, CEO of Think Brilliant
web-development studio and the tech brains behind SoulPanckage.
Dropped out of college.
- Thomas Haffa, billionaire German media mogul.
Dropped out of high school.
- Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark. Started
selling greeting cards at the age of 18 while living at a YMCA in
Kansas City. Did not attend college.
- Harold Hamm, billionaire oil wildcatter,
Continental Resources, Hiland Holdings. Left home at the age of 17,
finished school a year later. Became a gas jockey before becoming a
wildcatter. Never attended college.
- Elizabeth Hardwick, literary critic and
co-founder of The New York Review of Books. Graduated from the
University of Kentucky but dropped out of a Columbia University
- Martha Matilda Harper, business entrepreneur,
founder of the Harper Hair Salons. At the age of seven, she was
sent to work as a domestic servant. Worked as a servant for 22
years before saving enough money to start a hair salon. Never
- Sheldon Harvey, Navajo artist, winner of the
Best of Show at the 2008 Santa Fe Indian Market. Dropped out of
high school to care for his wife and son. “When I dropped out of
school, no one in my family thought it was the end of the world. My
grandparents were from the old school, traditional people who
didn’t think an education was necessary to make your way in the
world.” He later convinced the people at Dine Community College to
let him attend even though he had not graduated from high school.
He took classes there but apparently did not graduate.
- Leif Hauge, inventor. Never finished
- Louise Hay, one of the bestselling authors in
history and founder of Hay House. Of other famous women authors,
Levine Breaking News has noted, “They did not change the spiritual
landscape of America and several of its Western allies. They were
not pregnant at 15 and they did not lack high-school diplomas.”
Louise Hay did.
- William Randolph Hearst, newspaper publisher
and movie producer, was thrown out of Harvard for poor grades
(apparently due to heavy partying).
- Richard Heckmann, billionaire investor, CEO of
U.S. Filter, founder of Heckmann Corporation. Went to college in
Hawaii but did not graduate. “I went to Vietnam in ’65 and was
assigned to the 33rd Air Rescue Squadron. When I came back in ’66,
I wasn’t in any mood to go back to school. I got a job selling
insurance.” He later attended the Harvard Business School
small-company management program.
- Diane Hendricks, billionaire co-founder of ABC
Supply, the largest supplier of roofing and siding materials to
contractors. Never attended college.
- Kenneth Hendricks, billionaire co-founder of
ABC Supply, the largest supplier of roofing and siding materials to
contractors. Dropped out of high school, never attended college,
and eventually joined the family roofing company.
- Kevin Hendricks, roofing store operator.
Skipped college to go into the roofing business. His high school
graduation present was $100, a nail bag, and a roofing hammer.
Later, he turned a money-losing store into ABC Supply’s biggest
- Patrick Henry, Virginia governor,
revolutionary patriot. Home schooled. Later studied on his own and
became a lawyer.
- Tony Hillerman, mystery novelist. In 1943, he
dropped out of college to enter the army. He later returned to
college to get his degree and also earn a master’s degree.
- Stanley Ho, billionaire casino operator, King
of Gambling. Dropped out of college.
- Lillian Hochberg, founder of Lillian Vernon
catalog. Did not attend college. Started the catalog out of her
- Eric Hoffer, longshoreman, philosopher, and
author. A self-educated philosopher, he was at various times a
dishwasher, lumberjack, gold prospector, migrant farm worker, and
longshoreman. He is author of The True Believer, Working and
Thinking at the Waterfront, and Reflections on the Human
- Ernest Holmes, founder of the Science of Mind
churches and author of The Science of Mind, ended his formal
schooling when he was fifteen.
- John Hughes, director, producer, and
screenwriter. Dropped out of Arizona State University in his junior
- D. L. Hughley, sales manager, actor, comedian.
Never finished high school. He got his job as a sales manager by
paying “a guy I knew at Cal State Long Beach $100 to tell personnel
that I was just a few credits short of graduating from
- H. Wayne Huizenga, billionaire founder of WMX
garbage company, builder of Blockbuster video chain, owner of Miami
Dolphins. Skipped college to join the Army. Later dropped out of
Calvin College after three semesters. Started business in 1962 with
a used garbage truck.
- Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, billionaire oilman.
Only had a fifth grade education. Worked as a farmhand until he
invested $50 in an Arkansas oil field.
- Gary Hustwit, author and publisher,
Incommunicado Press. Dropped out of San Diego State.
- Andrew Jackson, U.S. president, general,
attorney, judge, congressman. Orphaned at 14. Home schooled. By the
age of 35 without formal education, he became a practicing
attorney. Of the 43 people who served as president of the United
States, 8 never went to college.
- Jane Jacobs, author, political activist, urban
planner. After high school, she worked at a variety of office jobs
and as a freelance writer. She studied for two years at Columbia
University’s extension school, but did not graduate.
- Micky Jagtiani, billionaire retailer, Landmark
International. Flunked several exams and dropped out of accounting
school in London. Started out cleaning hotel rooms and driving a
taxi. Eventually started a retail business in the Middle East.
- T. D. Jakes, pastor, bestselling novelist.
Dropped out of high school.
- Betty Mattas James, CEO, James Industry. Named
the Slinky toy. Member of the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. She
attended Pennsylvania State University but left when she married
Richard James, who later invented the Slinky. More than 300 million
Slinkies have been sold.
- Josh James, multimillionaire co-founder of
Omniture. Dropped out of Brigham Young University during his final
semester to co-found MyComputer.com, which became Omniture.
- Peter Jennings, news anchor, ABC’s World News
Tonight. Failed the 10th grade. Left high school at 16 to work as a
bank teller. He later attributed his failure in high school to
boredom and laziness.
Jobs, billionaire co-founder of Apple Computers and
Pixar Animation; Disney’s largest shareholder. Dropped out of Reed
College after six months and went to India before returning to
Silicon Valley. As he said, “I had no idea what I wanted to do with
my life and how college was going to help me figure it out.”
- John Johannesson, founder of Bauger Group
fashion retailing group, finished Commercial College in Iceland
(the equivalent of something between high school and junior college
in the U.S.) and then launched a discount grocery with his
- Andrew Johnson, U.S. president,
vice-president. Never attended college. Of the 43 people who served
as president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
- Bruce Johnson, cosmetologist and owner of
Avatar Salon & Wellness Spa. Dropped out of the University of
Maryland 26 credits shy of an engineering degree to study
cosmetology. “I wasn’t loving engineering. I was just doing it. … I
don’t think I would have been as stimulated by a career in
engineering. I wanted to be happy and successful,” he says. “You’re
not supposed to leave college. It was a struggle. But my heart was
in this.” Now his clients include Secretary of State Condoleezza
- Kenny Johnson, founder of Dial-A-Waiter
restaurant delivery service. Dropped out of Wichita State
- Alan Jones, founder of Check Into Cash, former
CEO of Credit Bureau Services. Dropped out of Tennessee State
University to work at his father’s credit agency.
- John Paul Jones, patriot, navy admiral. Home
schooled. Went to sea early.
- Henry J. Kaiser, multimillionaire founder of
Kaiser Aluminum. High school dropout.
- Rob Kalin, founder of Esty (a website
that helps artisans sell handmade crafts and clothing). Flunked out
of high school, briefly enrolled in an art school, and then faked
an MIT student ID so he could take classes on the sly. His
professors were so impressed that they helped him get into NYU
where he learned out to build a website. Founded Esty with two
- Jeffrey Kalmikoff, cofounder and chief
creative officer of Treadless.com. Never graduated from
- Dean Kamen, multimillionaire inventor of the
Segway. Dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
- Ingvar Kamprad, billionaire founder of IKEA,
one of the richest people in the world. A dyslexic, he never
attended college. When he was 17, his father gave him a reward for
succeeding in his studies. He used this money to establish what
became IKEA. As a child, he peddled matches, Christmas decorations,
fish, and other sundries via his bicycle.
- Garson Kanin, screenwriter, playwright,
novelist, memoirist, director. A high school dropout.
Karp, founder of Tumblr. Dropped out of Bronx
Science at the age of 15 to be homeschooled and work for his
Davidville company. Did not attend college. At the age of 17, he
moved to Japan and worked remotely for an American Internet
- Li Ka-Shing, billionaire, one of the
wealthiest investors in Asia, plastics manufacturer, real estate
investor. Had to leave school at the age of 15 to support his
family after his father’s death.
- Byron Katie, spiritual leader and author.
Dropped out of the University of Northern Arizona before the end of
freshman year to get married.
- Ben Kaufman, 21-year-old serial entrepreneur,
founder of Kluster (a virtual forum that allows consumers and
businesses to collaborate on the design of products and services).
Dropped out of college in his freshman year.
- Brad Kelley, billionaire landowner. Never
- Kirk Kerkorian, billionaire investor and
casino operator, owner of MGM movie studio, Mirage Resorts, and
Mandalay Bay Resorts. An eighth-grade dropout who trained fighter
pilots during World War II.
- Jared Kim, founder of WeGame. Dropped out of
the University of California at Berkeley halfway through the spring
semester of his freshman year to devote himself full-time to
starting the online gaming site WeGame.
- Bruce Kovner, billionaire hedge fund operator,
founder of Caxton Associates, chairman of Julliard. Dropped out of
a Ph.D. economics program at Harvard to drive a taxi in New York
- Ray Kroc,
multimillionaire founder of McDonald’s. High school dropout.
- Peter La Haye, Sr., inventor of plastic
replacement lenses for cataract patients, owner of La Haye
Laboratories and Neoptx. Dropped out of high school.
- Frederick “Freddy” Laker, billionaire airline
entrepreneur. Dropped out of high school.
- Sharmen Lane, millionaire mortgage wholesaler,
life coach, motivational speaker. A high-school dropout.
- Cathy Lanier, Chief of Police of Washington,
DC. A 14-year-old pregnant high school dropout.
- Ring Lardner, sportswriter and short story
writer. Began his career as a teenager writing for the South Bend
Tribune. He continued writing for many other newspapers, eventually
landing a nationally syndicated column for the Chicago
- Albert Lasker, advertising pioneer, CEO of
Lord & Thomas. After graduating from high school, he started at
an advertising agency as an entry-level salesman.
- Jillian Lauren, author. Quit New York
University during her freshman year to become a party guest for a
wealthy Singapore businessman. Went on to live in the harem of the
prince of Brunei for a year-and-a-half. Wrote about her
- Ralph Lauren, billionaire fashion designer,
founder of Polo. Left the City College of New York business school
(Baruch College) to design ties for Beau Brummel. Launched Polo
later that same year.
- Mike Lazaridis, billionaire founder of
Research in Motion. “Two months before I graduated from college, I
answered a request for proposal from General Motors with a
five-page pitch to develop a network computer control display
system. They offered me a half-million dollar contract…. I went to
the president of the university to get his permission to take a
leave of absence. He tried to persuade me to finish out my year,
but when I told him about the contract, he wished me the best of
luck.” Since that time, he hasn’t had time to go back and
- Anna-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz, portrait
photographer, cover photographer for Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone
magazines. Attended the San Francisco Art Institute, but apparently
did not graduate. As she has said, “I was very lucky, in working
for these magazines, to learn by doing, but I always regretted not
having a formal education. I had to teach myself.”
- Tia Leoni, actress. Dropped out of Sarah
Lawrence College as a 20-year-old to model and act.
- James Leprino, billionaire, Leprino Foods.
Joined family business at the age of 18. Turned business into the
world’s largest mozzarella producer.
- Doris Lessing, novelist. At the age of 14, she
chose to end her formal schooling. She then worked as a nanny,
telephone operator, office worker, stenographer, and journalist.
Her first novel was published when she was 31. She won the Nobel
Prize for Literature in 2007.
- Joe Lewis, billionaire businessman. Dropped
out of high school.
- Rush Limbaugh, multi-millionaire media mogul,
the most popular radio talk show host ever. bestselling book
author. Dropped out of college after being required to take
- Abraham Lincoln, lawyer, U.S. president.
Finished barely a year of formal schooling. He self-taught himself
trigonometry (for his work as a surveyor) and read Blackstone on
his own to become a lawyer. Of the 43 people who served as
president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
- Charles Lindbergh, aviator, first person to
fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Quit the University of
Wisconsin after two years to learn how to fly an airplane.
- Carl Lindner, billionaire investor, founder of
United Dairy Farmers. Dropped out of high school at the age of 14
to deliver milk for the family store during the Depression.
- John Llewellyn, labor leader, president of the
United Mine Workers. Dropped out of high school.
- Marcus Loew, multimillionaire founder of Loews
movie theaters, co-founder of MGM movie studio. Dropped out of
- Lindsay Lohan, actress. Never finished high
- Dan Lok, multi-millionaire business mentor,
founder of Quick Turn Marketing. College dropout. His
CreativitySucks website notes: A former college dropout, Dan
Lok transformed himself from a grocery bagger in a local
supermarket to a multi-millionaire. Dan came to North America with
little knowledge of the English language and few contacts. Today,
Dan is one of the most sought-after business mentors on the Web, as
well as a best-selling author. His reputation includes his title as
the World’s #1 Website Conversion Expert.
- Jack London, bestselling novelist. Dropped out
of high school to work. Later was admitted to the University of
California but left after one semester.
- Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazilian
president. With a fifth grade education only, he shined shoes on
the streets of Sao Paulo as a kid but later became a steelworker
- Barbara Lynch, chef, owner of a $10 million
group of restaurants in Boston. Dropped out of high school to be a
runner for local bookies. Later worked for celebrity chef Todd
English. “I started my first business venture in high school,
placing bets for some of my teachers with bookies in Southie…. I
never did homework. I was failing everything. Senior year, they
said I would have to go to summer school. There was no way I was
doing that, so I dropped out.”
- Mary Lyon, education pioneer, teacher, founder
of Mount Holyoke College (America’s first women’s college). Dropped
out of high school. Started teaching at the age of 17.
- John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods and
developer of Conscious Capitalism. Dropped out of the University of
Texas six times. Never took a business course.
- Harry Macklowe, billionaire real estate
developer. Dropped out of college to become a real estate
- Steve Madden, shoe designer. Dropped out of
college to sell shoes on Long Island.
- Ivory Madison, comic book author and founder
of the Red Room social network for authors. Dropped out of school
at the age of 13. Eventually went to law school without finishing
high school or attending college.
- John Major, British prime minister. High
- Clancy Martin, ethics professor, novelist.
Dropped out of high school, but later graduated from college.
Dropped out of graduate school.
- Manuel Marulanda, aka Pedro Antonio Marin,
leader of the revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The
son of a peasant farmer, he had only a sixth-grade education.
- Robert Maxwell, billionaire publisher. Dropped
out of high school.
- Craig McCaw, billionaire founder of McCaw
Cellular. Dropped out of college.
- Billy Joe (Red) McCombs, billionaire founder
of Clear Channel media empire, car dealerships, real estate
investor. Dropped out of law school to sell cars in 1950. He owned
his first automobile dealership by age 25.
- Kenneth Wayne McLeod, Ponzi schemer. After
graduating from high school, he went into the insurance business.
Never attended college.
Leighton Meester, actress. Dropped out of high school after her
junior year (but had enough credits to get her diploma). “I was
very passionate about pursuing my acting career; as opposed to the
daily routine of high school, which bored me to death. It was a
chore – I wasn’t in any after-school clubs. The only thing I did
after school was go to auditions.” (Seventeen magazine)
- Hendrik Meijer, founder of Meijer grocery
stores. Worked as a barber during the depression. Did not attend
- Herman Melville, novelist, Moby Dick. High
- Karl Menninger, psychiatrist. Dropped out of
Washburn College in Kansas after two years.
- Jillian Michaels, fitness expert, reality TV
star, book author. She dropped out of California State University
at Northridge to be a bartender. When her boyfriend suggested she
get a real job, she faked a college diploma to get a position at
the ICM talent agency.
- Arthur Ernest Morgan, flood control engineer,
book author, college president, director of the Tennessee Valley
Authority. Left high school after three years. Later attended the
University of Colorado for six weeks.
- Ed Morrisey, blogger at Captain’s Quarters and
HotAir.com. “I never finished college. I attended three or four
different colleges at different times for different reasons. I
never did get a degree.”
- Chris Morrison, co-founder of PLP Digital
Systems (software company). Earns more than $500,000 per year.
Dropped out of high school.
Moskovitz, billionaire co-founder of Facebook
social network. Dropped out of Harvard.
- Charles Munger, billionaire right-hand man to
Warren Buffett in Berkshire Hathaway. Dropped out of the University
of Michigan to join the Air Force as a meteorologist. Later got a
law degree from Harvard.
- David Murdock, billionaire investor, real
estate tycoon, chairman of Dole Foods. Funding a $1.5 billion
health research campus in North Carolina. Dropped out of high
school. Drafted into the army in 1943.
- Justin Murdock, investor, son of David. A
college dropout and goth musician.
- Ted Murphy, founder, Izea Entertainment,
social media marketing company. Dropped out of Florida State
University to start Think Creative ad agency.
- George Naddaff, founder of Boston Chicken and
UFood Grill. Never attended college. As he put it, “School and I
did not work out. So at age 17 and a half, I joined the Army.” And,
when he got out of the Army, his dad said if you’re not going to
college, you get a job. He did. The next day.
- Walter Nash, prime minister of New Zealand.
Dropped out of high school.
- David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue airlines.
Dropped out of the University of Utah after three years.
- Jack Nelson, Pulitzer Prize winning
journalist. Never attended college. After high school, he went to
work for the Biloxi Daily Herald. Later he opened the Atlanta
bureau of the Los Angeles Times and later became the Times bureau
chief in Washington, D.C.
- Richard John Neuhaus, theologian, Lutheran
minister, Catholic priest, author, civil rights activist. He took
pride in the fact that he never graduated from high school.
- Donald Newhouse, billionaire publisher,
Advanced Publications. Dropped out of Syracuse University.
- Jim Newton, founder of TechShop (the
nation’s first full-service gym for the tinkering crowd), science
advisor for Discovery Channel’s MythBusters series. Dropped out of
- Jake Nickell, cofounder and CEO of
Treadless.com. Never graduated from college.
- Florence Nightingale, nurse. No formal
education. Home schooled.
Ogilvy, advertising copywriter and executive. Was
thrown out of Oxford University at the age of 20 in 1931 during the
Great Depression. Began working as a lowly cook in a hotel
restaurant. Eventually became a world-class chef. Left that job to
sell upmarket kitchen stoves, which led to a job in
- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. first lady,
book editor. Dropped out of Vassar before eventually graduating
from George Washington University.
- David Oreck, multimillionaire founder of The
Oreck Corporation that builds those wonderful vacuum cleaners. When
the U.S. entered World War II, he quit college to enlist in the
Army Air Corps. After the war, college seemed to tame to him, so he
started working as a salesman at a Manhattan appliance distributor.
That job eventually led him to founding his own company.
- Amancio Ortega, fashion retailer, Spain’s
richest man, billionaire. Dropped out of high school.
- George Orwell (aka Eric Blair), author of
Animal Farm and 1984. Instead of attending university after
graduating from Eton, he joined the Imperial Police and worked in
Burma. When he returned, he worked in restaurant kitchens, slept in
homeless shelters, and eventually documented the condition of
miners. All the time, he was writing reviews, essays, novels, and a
regular newspaper column. His Animal Farm has sold more than 10
- Joel Osteen, TV pastor and host of the
most-watched inspirational TV show in the U.S. Dropped out of Oral
Roberts University after one year to care for his mother (who was
recovering from cancer). Has sold more than 4 million copies of
Your Best Life Now.
- Dan Panoz, founder of Panoz Auto
Development car design firm. Dropped out of Embry-Riddle
Aeronautical University and Gainesville College.
Page, billionaire co-founder of Google. Dropped out
of Stanford Ph.D. program in computer science to start Google in
1998 working out of a friend’s garage. He did earn a masters
Parker, billionaire co-creator of Napster, founding
president of Facebook.com. He barely finished high school (he was
not interested in school).
- Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer. Dropped out
of high school.
- Kevin Paul, founder of KPaul, an Inc. 500
company. Joined the army straight out of high school.
- Harvey Pekar, comic book author. Dropped out
of Case Western Reserve University. His reason? He quit “when the
pressure of required math classes proved too much to bear.”
- Nelson Peltz, billionaire leveraged buyout
investor. Dropped out of Wharton Business School.
- Andrew Perlman, co-founder of GreatPoint.
Dropped out of Washington University to start an Internet
communications company, Cignal Global Communications, when he was
- John Pestana, multimillionaire co-founder of
Omniture. Dropped out of Brigham Young University during his final
semester to co-found MyComputer.com, which became Omniture.
- James A. Pike, Episcopal bishop. Dropped out
of the University of Santa Clara after his sophomore year.
- Ron Popeil, multimillionaire founder of Ronco,
inventor, infomercial pitchman, and producer. Dropped out of
college. He did, though, receive the Ig Nobel Award for Consumer
Engineering. Inventor of the Solid Flavor Injector, Mr. Microphone,
Showtime Rotisserie, and more.
- Dean Potter, climber and slack-liner. Enrolled
at the University of New Hampshire and joined the rowing team, but
quit soon thereafter. “I didn’t fit in,” he has said. “I wanted to
destroy everybody on my team and establish my dominance, and that’s
all I cared about.”
- William J. Powell, developer and owner of the
Clearview Golf Club, the first U.S. golf course designed,
owned, and operated by an African American; also competed in the
first U.S. interracial collegiate golf match. Left Wilberforce
University early because he had an enlarged heart.
- Seth Priebatsch, chief ninja of scvngr.com and
founder of PostcardTech. Dropped out of Princeton University after
- Bob Proctor, success speaker, bestselling
author of You Were Born Rich, teacher of The Secret, and co-founder
of Life Success Publishing. Went to high school for two
- Wolfgang Puck, chef, owner of 16 restaurants
and 80 express bistros. Quit school at the age of 14 and got a job
as a cooking apprentice at a hotel. When he told his father, he
said, “Well, you’re good for nothing. Cooking is for women.”
- Ashley Qualls, founder of Whateverlife.com,
left high school at the age of 15 to devote full time to her
website business where she made more than a million dollars by the
age of 17.
- Stewart Rahr, billionaire founder of Kinray
pharmacy distributor, philanthropist. Graduated from New York
University but later dropped out of law school in 1975 to take over
- Lew Ranieri, financier, the father of
mortgage-backed bonds. Dropped out of college.
- James Arthur Ray, inspirational author and
speaker. Dropped out of junior college to work as a
- Rachael Ray, TV chef, cookbook author. Dropped
out of Pace University after two years to work and save money.
- Kamilla Reid, book author. A high school
- Silvestre Reyes, U.S. representative from
Texas. Got a two-year degree from El Paso Community College.
- Dane Reynolds, world class surfer, video
documentarian. Dropped out of school at the age of 16 to surf,
something he called “kind of a stupid decision.”
- Marc Rich, billionaire commodities investor,
built Philbro into the world’s largest commodities firm, founded
Marc Rich & Co. Dropped out of NYU to take a job in the mail
room of Philipp Brothers on Wall Street.
- Leandro Rizzuto, billionaire founder of
Conair. Dropped out of college to found Conair with a $100
investment and the invention of a hot-air hair roller
- John D. Rockefeller Sr., billionaire founder
of Standard Oil, philanthropist. History’s first recorded
billionaire. Dropped out of high school two months before
graduation. Took some courses at a local business school.
- Kjell Inge Rokke, billionaire Norwegian
businessman. No secondary or college education. Started out as a
fisherman at the age of 18.
- George Romney, automotive executive, Michigan
governor, presidential candidate. Spent only a year at the
University of Utah.
- Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. president. Attended
school only for a few months. Was tutored at home. Teddy eventually
graduated from Harvard University but he did not complete his law
degree at Columbia University.
Rose, founder of Digg.com, TechTV host. Dropped out
of the University of Las Vegas during his sophomore year to code
software. He wrote his first software program in the second grade
and was building his own machines by the beginning of high school.
He started Digg with $1,200 and launched the site out of his
- Alvin Roth, systems engineer, game theorist,
book author. Dropped out of Van Buren High School (Queens, New
York) during his junior year. His explanation: He was
understimulated. Applied to college and graduated with an
engineering degree from Columbia University and a doctorate in
operations research from Stanford University.
- Karl Rove, presidential advisor. Left the
University of Utah after two years to work for the college
- J.K. Rowling, bestselling novelist (Harry
Potter series), first billionaire author. Never attended
- Frederick Henry Royce, multimillionaire
co-founder of Rolls-Royce, automotive designer. Elementary school
- Michael Rubin, founder of Global Sports.
Dropped out of Villanova University after six months. He admits,
“If I had to do it over again, I would have gone to college. I
missed out on that. The business responsibilities weighted hard on
me in my late teens and early 20s.”
- Phillip Ruffin, billionaire casino operator.
Dropped out of Wichita State to flip burgers. With the money he
saved, he invested in oil and real estate. Eventually got into
casinos. The best day of his life? August 10, 2007. The day he put
$1.24 billion into his checking account.
- Haim Saban, billionaire producer of Power
Rangers TV show, owns stake in Univision and Paul Frank
Industries. Never attended college.
- William Safire, columnist for the New York
Times. Dropped out of Syracuse University to take a job as a
researcher for a column.
- Edmond Safra, billionaire banker,
philanthropist. High school dropout.
- J.D. Salinger, novelist, Catcher in the Rye
(with over 60 million copies sold so far). Briefly attended Ursinus
College and New York University before publishing short stories in
Collier’s and Esquire.
- Carl Sandburg, poet, historian, Pulitzer Prize
winner. Had little formal education but later attended Lombard
College and graduated.
- Colonel Harlan Sanders, multimillionaire
founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Elementary school dropout
but later earned a law degree via correspondence course.
- Jose Saramago, Nobel Prize-winning novelist.
Graduated from trade school and then studied literature mostly on
- David Sarnoff, radio and TV producer. High
- Vidal Sassoon, multimillionaire founder of
Vidal Sassoon hairstyling salons and hair-care products. High
- Al Schneider, founder of Schneider National
freight company. Had an eighth-grade education.
- Richard Schulze, billionaire founder of Best
Buy. After high school, he sold electronics for his father’s
distribution company and later opened a car-stereo shop. Did not
- Doug Selsam, inventor of The Sky Serpent wind
generator and heavy metal guitarist. Attended the University of
California at Irvine, but never graduated.
- Drew Sementa, founder, Premier Payment
Systems. Left the University of Central Florida after his junior
year to join a dot-com.
William Shakespeare, playwright, poet. Only a few years of formal
- George Bernard Shaw, playwright, author. High
- J. Earl Shoaff, the Millionaire Maker, never
graduated from high school.
- Walter Shorenstein, billionaire real estate
investor, Shorenstein Properties. Dropped out of the University of
Pennsylvania. Began buying commercial property after serving in the
military during World War II.
- Alan Sillitoe, novelist. He left school at the
age of 14 to work in a bicycle plant.
- Russell Simmons, multi-millionaire co-founder
of Def Jam records, founder Russell Simmons Music Group, creator of
Phat Farm and Baby Phat fashions, foounding partner of UniRush
Financial Services, creator of Global Grind website, bestselling
author, movie and TV producer. Left City College of New York to
begin promoting local rap music acts (which he eventually signed to
his music label) and producing records.
- Maggy Simony, author of Traveler’s Reading
Guide. Never attended college.
- John Simplot, billionaire potato king. Dropped
out of 8th grade and left home at the age of 14. He sorted potatoes
and raised hogs before saving enough money to buy his first potato
field. Became a millionaire by the age of 30.
- Isaac Merrit Singer, sewing machine inventor,
multimillionaire founder of Singer Industries. Dropped out of
- Alfred E. Smith, governor of New York and
presidential candidate. Left school at the age of 14 to help his
family after his father died. He would later joke that he received
his FFM degree from the Fulton Fish Market in New York City.
- Elinor Smith, aviatrix, the Flying Flapper. By
the time she was 17, she was ferrying passengers on short hops from
Roosevelt Field in Long Island. By 18, she had her own sight-seeing
business. Never attended college.
- O. Bruton Smith, billionaire. “I didn’t attend
college, but still had a good time. I think I probably had more fun
than any human deserves a right to have.”
- Daniel Snyder, billionaire owner of Snyder
Communications and Red Zone Capital, owner of the Washington
Redskins. Dropped out of the University of Maryland.
Spielberg, billionaire movie director and producer,
co-founder of DreamWorks. Rejected by the best film schools, he
enrolled in and then dropped out of Cal State Long Beach. Received
a degree in 2002.
- Hiram Stevens, engineer, inventor. Dropped out
of high school.
- Edward D. Stone, architect. Dropped out of the
University of Arkansas.
- W. Clement Stone, multimillionaire insurance
businessman, founder of Success magazine, and author of a number of
books on positive mental attitudes. At the age of six, he sold
newspapers on the south side of Chicago. By the age of 13, he owned
his own newsstand. He continued to work odd jobs until his mother
bought a small insurance agency, where he helped her by selling
insurance. At the age of 21, with $100 in his pocket, he
established the Combined Registry Company insurance business which
he built into a multi-million dollar business. He dropped out of
elementary school but later attended high school night courses and
- R.F. “Rawley” Taplett, founder of R.F. Taplett
Fruit & Cold Storage Company, multi-millionaire investor. Had
only a high school diploma.
- Alfred Taubman, billionaire chairman of
Sotheby, real estate investor, mall operator. Dropped out of the
University of Michigan. Made his first fortune investing in
- Jack Crawford Taylor, billionaire founder of
Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Dropped out of Washington University to
serve as a fighter pilot in the Navy during World War II. Sold cars
after the war before starting a car leasing company.
- Zachary Taylor, U.S. president, general.
Little formal schooling. Home schooled. Of the 43 people who served
as president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
- Timmy Teepell, chief of staff for Louisiana
governor Bobby Jindal. A product of home schooling, he never
- Dave Thomas, billionaire founder of Wendy’s.
As a youngster his family moved around a lot. While working as a
busboy at the age of 15, he refused to move once again with the
family. Instead, he dropped out of high school and went to work
full time in a restaurant (moving in with the family that owned the
- Kip Tindell, founder of the Container Store.
Dropped out of the University of Texas. As he noted, “I crammed a
four-year program into about eight years.”
- Leo Tolstoy, count, novelist (War and Peace,
Anna Karenina). Dropped out after three years at the
- Adam and Matthew Toren, founders of
YoungEntrepreneur.com. As they noted on their website,
Entrepreneurs at an early age, Matthew and I had already started
six (toot toot) businesses by the time we graduated high school. We
were both offered college scholarships, but turned them down – it
was clear to us that college was not in our future. Within a week
of graduating high school, we bought a bar/café/billiards location,
which we overhauled, re-branded and turned into a hot spot; and on
the 12-month we sold it for a great profit.
- Harry Truman, U.S. president. Never went to
- Isaac Tshuva, billionaire builder,
industrialist, and hotelier. At the age of 12, he started working
as a laborer to support his family while attending school at night.
After three years in the army, he skipped college to begin working
- Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, former slave,
humanitarian, spy, nurse, suffragist. Did not attend college. A big
promoter of education even though she was illiterate.
- Ted Turner, billionaire founder of CNN and
TBS, owner of Atlanta Braves, philanthropist, America’s largest
land owner with 1.8 million acres. Was asked to leave Brown
University during his fourth year. Got suspended twice, once for
having a girl in his room and he doesn’t remember the second
reason. “I’m down to a little more than a billion. You can get by
on that if you really economize and don’t buy a lot of planes and
yachts and stuff.”
- Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens),
printer, riverboat pilot, prospector, newspaper reporter, humorist,
bestselling novelist. Left school a year after his father’s death,
never went beyond the fifth grade. Nonetheless, he still wrote the
first great American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry
- Jamie Tworkowski, surfer and founder of To
Write Love on Her Arms. College drop-out. Also dropped out of high
school but eventually went back to finish. “It wasn’t my choice to
walk away from school. I was hanging around with guys older than
me, and I’d skip school to play with them. I kept missing more and
more school, and I got busted for it finally. But I went back. I
felt like I’d be a real stooge if I didn’t at least finish high
- Albert Ueltschi, billionaire founder of
FlightSafety International pilot training schools. Dropped out
of the University of Kentucky to follow his passion, flying planes.
After flying for PanAm for ten years, he founded
- Leon Uris, bestselling novelist. Dropped out
of high school at the age of 17 to join the U.S. Marines.
- Jay Van Andel, billionaire co-founder of Amway
(now Alticor). Served in the Army after high school. Founded Amway
along with his best friend Richard DeVos.
- Martin Van Buren, U.S. president. Little
formal education. Began studying law at the age of 14 while
apprenticing at a law firm. Of the 43 people who served as
president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad magnate and one
of the wealthiest Americans of the mid-1800s. Had little formal
schooling. Was considered uncouth and illiterate until he became
too rich to ignore.
- Anton van Leeuwenhoek, microbiologist,
microscope maker, discoverer of bacteria, blood cells, and sperm
cells. Dropped out of high school.
- Frank Vos, advertising executive, Frank Vos
Agency. Did not finish college. But, when he retired, he sold his
company and got a B.A. and M.A. in American history from Columbia
- Andy Wachowski, screenwriter, director, The
Matrix. Dropped out of Emerson College.
- Larry Wachowski, screenwriter, director, The
Matrix. Dropped out of Bard College.
- Theodore Waitt, billionaire founder of Gateway
Computers. Dropped out of the University of Iowa one semester short
of a degree to start Gateway with his older brother in 1985.
- Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist, co-discover
of evolutionary theory. Left school at the age of 14 to go to work
to support his family. Wallace was self-taught, via frequent visits
to libraries and workingman’s institutes, while working as a land
surveyor, a builder, and a school teacher.
- DeWitt Wallace, founder and publisher of
Reader’s Digest, philanthropist. Dropped out of Macalester College
after one year. Dropped out of the University of California at
Berkeley after the second year.
- Y.C. Wang, billionaire founder of Formosa
Plastics. Never attended high school.
- Ty Warner, billionaire developer of Beanie
Babies, hotel owner, real estate investor. Dropped out of college
to go on the road selling plush toys.
- George Washington, U.S. president, general,
plantation owner. Ended his education after a few years of
elementary school. Of the 43 people who served as president of the
United States, 8 never went to college.
- Keith Waterhouse, journalist, comic novelist,
Billy Liar. Was inspired to drop out of school and become a writer
after reading Mark Twain and P.G. Wodehouse.
Weinberg, managing partner of Goldman Sachs, aka
Mr. Wall Street. Dropped out of the seventh grade in Brooklyn.
- H.G. Wells, science fiction author. Dropped
out of high school to help support his family. Eventually completed
high school and went on to college.
- Leslie Wexner, billionaire founder of Limited
Brands. Dropped out of Ohio State law school. Started the Limited
with a $5,000 loan from an aunt.
- Dean White, billionaire hotelier and billboard
magnate. Dropped out of the University of Nebraska to join the
Merchant Marine Academy. Served during World War II. Then took over
family business after the war and built it into a billboard and
real estate empire.
- Kemmons Wilson, multimillionaire founder of
Holiday Inns. Dropped out of high school.
- Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president, college
president. Dropped out of Davidson College, but eventually
graduated from Princeton University.
- Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief, Vogue magazine.
Did not attend college.
Wozniak, billionaire co-founder of Apple. Dropped
out of college.
- Frank Lloyd Wright, architect, interior
designer, leader of the Prairie School of architecture. Voted as
the greatest American architect of all time by the American
Institute of Architects. Attended a high school in Madison,
Wisconsin, but apparently never graduated. He was admitted to the
University of Wisconsin as a special student and took classes
part-time for two semesters. He left school without getting a
degree. He left to work at an architectural firm in Chicago,
- Orville Wright, inventor of the airplane.
Dropped out of high school in his junior year to open a printing
- Wilbur Wright, inventor of the airplane.
Completed four years of high school but never received his diploma.
Did not attend college.
Yang, billionaire co-founder of Yahoo! Dropped out
of Stanford University PhD program to create Yahoo!
- Emile Zola, French novelist. Failed his
baccalaureate, which I believe is the French way of saying he did
not graduate from college.
Zuckerberg, billionaire founder of Facebook.
Dropped out of Harvard to continue working on the social networking
website he founded in his dorm room in 2004. Facebook has more than