You Don’t Need a Degree: 15 College Dropouts Who Made It Big

These days, it seems like you need a college degree to become a garbage man waste disposal engineer.  The truth is that a degree is no longer a real indicator of success in the world, and student loans and university prices continue to rise to all time highs. To show you how successful you can be without going to school, here are 15 College Dropouts who made it really, really big – you may even recognize a few.

The Computer Nerds

William Henry Gates III

Bill Gates has been one of the wealthiest men in the world for the past fifteen years. He attended Harvard University, but left school during his sophomore year. His reason for leaving? Well, to start his own company, of course! That company became the Microsoft Corporation.

Paul Allen
Along with Bill Gates, Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft. Their friendship began when they attended the same private prep school as teenagers in Seattle. Allen went on to attend Washington State University. However, he left school after his second year. He took a job with Honeywell as a programmer before collaborating with Bill to start Microsoft.

Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison is a billionaire and co-founder of the Oracle Corporation. Those are high achievements for anyone, but they are especially great considering he left college twice. Ellison was born to an unwed mother and raised by her close relatives. He dropped out of both the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. Oracle was founded in 1977, and Ellison became CEO.

Steve Jobs
His claim to fame is the Apple computer company. However, many people don’t know that Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College after less than a year of studying there. He returned to the college to audit several courses, but he did not earn a degree. Jobs co-founded Apple along with Steve Wozniak, Ronald Wayne, and Mike Markkula, Jr.

Michael Dell
Everyone is familiar with Dell computers. Michael Dell informally began the business while he was a biology student at UT, Austin. He dropped out of school, but his business skyrocketed. Success probably made Dell feel good about his decision to pursue a career in business rather than medicine, which was his original plan.

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook was founded by Zuckerberg along with his pals Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes and Eduardo Saverin. Zuckerberg originally began programming Facebook in 2004 as a social networking site for Harvard students. It expanded, and the site caught on nationwide. Zuckerberg left Harvard and moved to California where he and his partners continued work on the business. The website quickly turned Zuckerberg into one of the world’s youngest billionaires.

Kings of Entertainment and Media

Steven Spielberg
Many people are surprised to find out that Steven Spielberg, the director of legendary films like The Color Purple and Jurassic Park, was actually a college dropout. Spielberg attended California State University, where he majored in English; however, he left school in 1968. He made a short film called Amblin, which led to feature films and critical acclaim.

Ted Turner
Turner inherited the family advertising business when he was just 24 years old. He expanded extensively and made himself into a billionaire. Ted Turner attended Brown University as an economics student, but he was expelled from the school. He moved back to Georgia and founded the CNN broadcasting company and the WTBS cable company.

David Geffen
David Geffen was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1943. He dropped out of three colleges: Santa Monica College, Brooklyn College, and UT, Austin. He got his start by doing mailroom work at the William Morris Agency. He started Asylum Records with his friend Elliot Roberts in 1970. Geffen went on to found Geffen Records. Later, along with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Geffen helped to found DreamWorks, a film studio that produces films, television programs, and video games.

Donald Newhouse
Newhouse was born into a publishing family who owned Advance Publications. The company was built by Don’s father, Sam, who bought several publications in the 1930s. After the death of their father in 1979, Don and his brother took over the family business. They expanded the business by purchasing parts of various entertainment companies, including Bright House Cable and the Discovery Channel. Donald Newhouse is a billionaire and a Syracuse University dropout.

What Do Oil, Ice Cream, Rental Cars, Neckties, and Vegas have in Common?

Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich attended both the Moscow State Auto Transport Institute and the Industrial Institute in Ukhta. He dropped out of both schools and began to pursue his business ventures. He made most of his money by purchasing and selling oil. In 2003 he bought the companies behind the Chelsea football team of the UK.

Ben Cohen
Ben & Jerry’s is probably one of the most famous ice cream brands in the world. It was co-founded by Ben Cohen, a dropout of Colgate University, and his friend Jerry Greenfield. They originally opened an ice cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont. It was so successful that they took their business national.

Jack Taylor
Taylor attended Washington University in St. Louis, but dropped out to join the U.S. Navy during WWII. After the war, he worked as a car salesman, and then started his own rental car company. His company came to be known as Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Rueben Lifshitz in The Bronx, New York. He attended what is now known as Baruch College, but left school without completing his degree. He never attended fashion school. He got his start by working for Brooks Brothers as a salesman. He later opened a necktie store, which featured some ties that he designed himself. Today, Ralph Lauren and the Polo brand are known internationally.

Sheldon Adelson
By the time he was twelve, Sheldon Adelson was running a newspaper-selling business. He attended City College of New York, but dropped out. He worked as a mortgage broker and a financial consultant. Adelson began COMDEX with his business partners. COMDEX was a computer trade show during the 80s and 90s. In the 1980s, Adelson bought the Sands Hotel & Casino, located in Las Vegas. He went on to build his wealth in Vegas by adding a convention center and a resort hotel to the city.



  1. josie July 1, 2010

    just because these people became millionares after dropping out from colleges does not mean EVERYONE will. Not every college drop out would become the next bill gates or steven speilberg, there most likely would become your mail man.

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  2. Alex August 3, 2010

    I agree with Josie. I see at least a few of these “millionaire dropouts” posts every year. I completely agree that not everyone needs to go to college, but presenting this list of geniuses is more harmful than helpful. Instead I’d like to see a post talking about how to approach the decision of whether to go to college. Pose the questions like: “Do I know my passion yet?” “Does it require I get a degree?” “Is there a better way to find it?” “What can a year or two off give me that college can’t?”

    Lists are fun, but should be used sparingly in some cases.

    Some constructive criticism from a ZCL fan.

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