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Home Billionaires 20 Self-Made Millionaires Who Dropped Out Of College and Still Became Rich
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20 Self-Made Millionaires Who Dropped Out Of College and Still Became Rich

TristaNovember 30, 2021

Knowledge is power, and learning can change people’s lives. However, the pursuit of higher education may work for some but does not necessarily benefit everyone. While many people who have gone on to college have done great things, there are many examples of individuals who became successful after they dropped out of college. Their path led them to something different, and the world changed because of it. Indeed, these people still became millionaires and billionaires in the process. 

You’ll most likely recognize many of the names on this list of successful college dropouts. Several celebrities, inventors, and CEOs owe their success to their hard work and innovation, not to their degrees. Their stories are different, but in many ways are still similar in that they still went on to do great things. These millionaires didn’t let the hurdle of not finishing their education deter them from their journey. They put in the hard work they needed to succeed. Check out this rich list of millionaires and billionaires who made their money without a college degree.

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20. Steve Jobs

One of the most recognizable names in the history of the tech industry, Jobs was given to his adoptive parents by his biological mother after the couple agreed to pay for his future education. Jobs’ parents could barely afford the tuition to Reed College in Portland, Oregon (via TAFE). However, they decided to use their savings anyway. Jobs quit his first year in 1972 but reportedly still attended his calligraphy courses while staying in his friend’s dorm room. He once said his time in the college calligraphy class was the reason for the beautiful typography in MACs (via CNBC). 

Even without the degree, Jobs showed an entrepreneurial spirit. He would later be the co-founder of Apple Inc., the most famous tech company in the world. Jobs also was an owner of Pixar. Sadly, this famous college dropout died of pancreatic cancer in 2011 at 56 years old and left his net worth of $10.5 billion to his wife. You can watch multiple films about his life, including a drama entitled ‘Jobs’ from 2013 and a biography called Steve Jobs from 2015.

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19. Bill Gates

Gates is known as the founder of one of the most famous companies in the world. However, before he became a billionaire, he received a 1590 on his SATs and was poised to finish his law degree at Harvard University. Gates left after two years to start a full-time business with his partner (via TAFE). That decision turned out to be the best thing he could have done. The business they started was Microsoft, a software that is synonymous with office personnel all over the globe.

His company also invented the popular video game console Xbox. According to the Harvard Crimson, Gates is Harvard’s most successful college dropout (via CBNC). In addition to his world-renowned fortune, Gates is a prominent philanthropist. He and his former wife Melinda Gates started a charity that helps millions of people worldwide. Resources report that he has given away nearly 50 percent of his wealth. Experts believe Gates to be worth about $61 billion.

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18. Mark Zuckerberg

It may be hard to remember a time when Facebook did not exist. Before the social networking site, Zuckerberg was an undergraduate student at Harvard University. He and three of his college friends decided to develop a new way for other college students to connect (via MoneyInc). In 2005, Zuckerberg left the Ivy League to pursue the company full time in Silicon Valley (via TAFE).

Zuckerberg is not only a successful computer programmer but also an entrepreneur, chairman, and chief executive with a net worth of more than $17.5 billion. His decision to drop out and expand Facebook to the general public has paid off. Facebook has become a massive part of everyday life for people all over the globe. Experts estimate that there are 2.89 billion users on the social network.

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17. Michael Dell

Another familiar figure in the computer world, Dell had aspirations to work with technology ever since junior high school. He attended the University of Texas at Austin as a pre-med student, and he even created a small startup business right from his dorm room. Dell would put together upgrade kits for different computers. Dell even secured a vendor’s license so he could bid on jobs within the state of Texas just like other companies could.

Then Dell found out that academic life wasn’t for him, so he begged his parents to let him drop out of college at 19 (via CNBC). His parents were not keen on the idea but agreed that if Dell could show that his business was turning a considerable profit over the summer, they would support their son’s decision. His company continued to grow, and Dell became an entrepreneur. Dell computers are one of the most recognizable names in the entire tech industry. Dell himself is now the computer industry’s longest-running CEO and is worth about $15 billion (via MoneyInc).

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16. Lawrence Ellison

Ellison may not seem like a familiar name on this list, but the software developer and businessman is considered the seventh wealthiest man in the U.S. and the eighth richest in the world. Ellison attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he planned to study pre-med and later become a doctor (via CNBC). They even named him student of the year; however, this future billionaire withdrew before taking his finals his sophomore year due to the death of his adoptive mother (via MoneyInc). He tried to go back to school at the University of Chicago, but he dropped out after one term.

The school wasn’t for him, but Ellison soon found his niche in life. Always fascinated with computers, Ellison became inspired by IBM, which he co-founded the Oracle Corporation. Since then, this college dropout has proven to be a savvy businessman and acquired many competitors. He collects fancy cars and even had a cameo appearance in the Marvel movie “Iron Man 2.” He also created his own yachting team. His net worth is said to be about $112 billion.

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15. Evan Williams

In this day and age, it’s obvious that tech jobs are in demand. However, Williams knew he wanted to work in technology even before it was a profitable industry. He grew up on a farm in Clarks, Nebraska, but he knew he always wanted more. First, Williams attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln for three semesters before this future billionaire decided to quit college. Williams worked as a freelance software programmer for Hewlett-Packard and Intel before he got a job at Google (via CNBC). 

Nevertheless, because Williams wanted more, he did not stay at the mega search engine forever. Williams coined the term “blogger” as we know it today and founded Blogger and Medium, two of the largest blogging platforms in existence (via Forbes). He also was integral in getting the idea of a blog into what it is today. In fact, he tried several different avenues to get micro-blogging software off the ground before he and others co-founded Twitter. The entrepreneur is reportedly worth $2.2 billion.

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14. Ty Warner

To heck with the millionaires; let’s keep discussing college dropouts that become billionaires. For a short span in the ’90s, Ty Inc’s Beanie Babies were all the rage (via MoneyInc). Everyone scrambled to find the rarest of these creatures. H. Ty Warner created the line of stuffed toys that have “beans” instead of traditional stuffing like other toys. However, before all of that craze, Warner was sent to military school at 15 years old. He later began his studies at Kalamazoo College but could not afford his tuition and dropped out. Warner would even try enrolling in the military, but they considered him unfit to serve because of his hearing loss.

He sold encyclopedias and worked as a valet before selling stuffed animals for Dakin’s now-defunct toy company. Warner would later start Ty Inc. in 1986 and then created the iconic Beanie Baby in 1993. He even earned $700,000 in just one year from the little guys (via MoneyInc). Warner now owns several hotels, including the Four Season in New York. He’s estimated to be worth about $2.6 billion, which is quite good for a college dropout.

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13. John Mackey

Mackey is one of the richest people who dropped out of college, but you may not recognize his name. You’ve probably heard of his famous stores. Mackey developed a new relationship with the food he was eating when he was 23. He discovered the premise and health benefits of a vegetable-based diet when he moved into a vegetarian co-op. This heath nut studied religion and philosophy at the University of Texas but dropped out. He thought the regular classes were boring.

Mackey borrowed $45,000 and started a health food store called SaferWay in downtown Austin (via CNBC). He knew that there was a market and a future for a healthier way of eating (via Esquire). It turned out that others also felt the same way, and the grocery store business was thriving. The company grew and then became the organic grocery store chain Whole Foods. In 2017, Mackey sold Whole Foods to Amazon for a whopping $13.7 billion.

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12. John D. Rockefeller

Few names conjure up visions of lavish luxury like Rockefeller. During his time, people believed the oil tycoon was the wealthiest man in the world. Today, his fortunes would total between $393 and $664 billion (experts adjusted the amounts for inflation via MoneyInc). Rockefeller got rich the old-fashioned way through a strong work ethic and give-and-save mindset that started at 16 years old. He started the oil refinery business with his brother William, becoming the world’s largest oil refinery (via MoneyInc).

The closest Rockefeller came to college was a 10-week business and bookkeeping course at Folsom’s Commercial College. Still, Rockefeller showed an affinity toward higher education. The tycoon ended up donating millions of dollars to the University of Chicago, and he was instrumental in establishing schools and colleges that educated black freedmen after the Civil War.

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11. Sheldon Adelson

Adelson showed how savvy he was in business at a young age. He grew up during the Great Depression and started his career at the age of 12 when he borrowed $200 from his uncle. Long before Adelson started college, he used the loan to buy a license to sell newspapers (via MoneyInc). At 15, he borrowed $10,000 to start a candy vending-machine business. While this savvy young man knew there was a knack for selling there, Adelson found that college wasn’t for him. Before enlisting in the army, he dropped out of college. 

Adelson pushed on even when things got hard. After being discharged, he established several different businesses, selling toiletry kits and a chemical that removes ice from cars. Adelson reportedly started 50 of his own companies over the years and lost his wealth twice in the process. He was involved in the hotel, resort, and casino business, owning the famous Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas (via MoneyInc). He died in 2021 at the age of 87.

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10. Ted Turner

Turner founded the 24-hour news network CNN. However, before the businessman started changing the world consumed news, he had attended Brown University for three years. He seemed to be doing well – he was captain of the sailing team and vice president of the Brown Debating Union. Turner never graduated because the school expelled him. Why? Turner allowed his girlfriend to live with him secretly (via MoneyInc). His business in media began in 1963 when he took over his father’s billboard business in 1963 after his suicide (via MoneyInc).

In 1970, he established Turner Broadcasting System after purchasing an Atlanta station. With CNN, Turner helped change the news landscape, as the network provided live coverage of the Challenger disaster and the Persian Gulf War. Turner also had a hand in turning the Atlanta Braves into a nationally popular franchise and entered the business world of professional wrestling for several years with World Championship Wrestling. Turner is reportedly worth about $2.3 billion.

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9. Oprah

With just her first name, this ultra-popular TV personality needs no introduction. Media mogul Oprah had a full scholarship to Tennessee State University to study communications, but she left with only one credit remaining. She wanted to pursue her career in media and took a job working on a Chicago morning show. She was able to take that show from last place in the ratings to the top of the charts in a matter of months.

Oprah is still changing the game. People consider her the Queen of All Media. She’s best known for her talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which ran from 1986 to 2011 and was the highest-rated television show of its kind. She has started her own network, magazine, website, and more, all under her own brand. After 13 years, TSU invited her back to speak, but Oprah thought it was vital for her to graduate first, and she did just that (via TAFE).

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8. Steven Spielberg 

One of the greatest directors to have ever stepped behind the camera never walked across a college stage to get his diploma. Spielberg worked toward his bachelor’s degree in film and electronic arts at Cal State University at Long Beach. At 22 years old, Universal Studios offered him a contract (via TAFE). The movie was “Amblin,” a short love story set in the hippie era. Spielberg would later go on to name his company Amblin Entertainment after that film.

Steven Spielberg is on the list of self-made millionaires. He directed and produced some of the biggest blockbusters over the past 50 years. Movies like “Jaws,” “The Color Purple,” “Indiana Jones,” “E.T.: Extraterrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Schindler’s List” are considered masterpieces. He has won Oscars, Emmys, and honorary doctorates, but Spielberg went back 33 years later to finish his degree. During his speech, Spielberg said: “The undergraduates really embraced me… and made me feel like I had been there for 33 years. I felt like John Belushi at the end of Animal House.”

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7. Lady Gaga

Popstar and actress Lady Gaga – real name Stefani Germanotta – was accepted into the exclusive New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2003. She knew she wanted to be a singer and had performed in front of crowds since she was a teenager. So she only attended classes for a year before leaving to pursue her music career (via TAFE). She even had a contract canceled by Def Jam before she became a household name.

The rest is history, and in 2008, Lady Gaga introduced her music to the world with a string of chart-topping hits. She has also started a successful movie career and won a Golden Globe for her performance in the 2018 film “A Star Is Born.” Gaga is estimated to be worth $150 million (via Forbes). It’s okay if you’re not a hug fan of her music or  movies. You can still applaud her as one of the most talented self-made millionaires who dropped out of college.

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6. Ellen DeGeneres 

Talk show host DeGeneres is known for her many talents. However, before she became famous, DeGeneres was working on a degree in communications from the University of New Orleans. However, the comedian left after one semester after she got a full-time job at a law firm (via TAFE). This college dropout would later tell Parade magazine that school wasn’t interesting enough for her, and she wanted to do stand-up comedy on the side.

A handful of years later, DeGeneres was touring nationally and named Showtime’s Funniest Person in America. DeGeneres starred in television shows and movies before landing her daytime talk show that has delighted her audience for over a decade. This household name is the epitome of pursuing dreams to the fullest and fulfilling that dream paying off big time. DeGeneres is estimated to be worth is $490 million (via Just Richest).

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5. David Geffen

Geffen is a record producer and businessman behind many of the most successful American musical acts. Geffen attended Santa Monica College, but struggled academically due to his dyslexia (via MoneyInc). So he dropped out to take a job in the mailroom of William and Morris Agency. The college dropout strived to make it in the music business, and he started his own record label, Asylum Records.

Geffen became the manager of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Laura Nyro. Under his leadership, Geffen signed many huge acts, including The Eagles, Tom Waits, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, and several others (via MoneyInc). He currently owns Geffen Records, DGC Records, and DreamWorks SKG. Economists believe his net worth is $10.8 billion. He is one of the wealthiest people in the music industry, proving his dream did come true.

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4. Jan Koum

Koum is a Ukrainian immigrant and computer programmer who made his money as the co-founder and chief executive officer of famous chat app WhatsApp. He discovered his love of programming at the age of 18, and he enrolled at San Jose University with the hope of starting his career in technology. He worked his way through as a security tester but dropped out before graduation (via CNBC). Yahoo hired him in 1997, but he saw apps were going to be the future.

Koum deliberately chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like the greeting, “what’s up.” People use this instant messaging tool instead of typical text messages. Although it was initially unpopular, WhatsApp started gaining more users after Apple allowed pushed notifications. In 2014, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion, a financial move that placed him as the highest-ranking newcomer on Forbes’ richest list for that year (via Forbes).

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3. Ralph Lauren

The fashion world would not be the same without Lauren. He went to Barusch College for two years to study business, but he left after his sophomore year to join the Army (via MoneyInc). In 1964, after his service ended, Lauren worked as a salesman for Brooks Brothers before opening his own necktie store. He designed the neckties under the name Polo due to his love for sports.

Even though he had no formal fashion training, Lauren had a drive to succeed and a natural idea of designing clothes. His line has expanded to men, women, children’s clothing, fragrances, accessories, and many others. Lauren is a philanthropist who gives considerable amounts of money to various charities every year. Economists believe him to be worth $7.5 billion (via MoneyInc).

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2. Jennifer Lopez

Here’s one of the most impressive self-made millionaires who dropped out of college. The Grammy and Emmy award-winning performer has won the world over with her multi-hyphenate abilities. Before Jennifer Lopez became J-Lo, she had aspirations of becoming a dancer. She studied business at Baruch College, but she dropped out after one semester and enrolled at the Phil Black Dance Studio in Manhattan. Lopez would sleep on the studio floor for a few months after a falling out with her parents over her career choice.

She later became a Fly Girl on the sketch comedy show “In Living Color.” Her breakout role in “Selena” came in 1997, and she was the first Latina actress to earn $1 million. Lopez has continued to make movies and hit records in the decades since, making her one of the wealthiest self-made women. She has earned a reported $150 million from her music, movies, and various endorsements (via MoneyNation).

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1. Kirk Kerkorian

Kerkorian is unique on this list of college dropouts who still became rich. This self-made billionaire did not finish college, indeed; he didn’t even finish junior high school. Kerkorian dropped out of eighth grade to become an amateur boxer. He would later enlist as a fighter pilot who fought in World War II. After the war, Kerkorian decided to make a name for himself in business. 

Kerkorian became one of the biggest players in helping Las Vegas become what it is today (via MoneyInc). He worked with architect Martin Stern Jr. to build the largest hotel in the city. He accomplished this three times with The International Hotel (1969), the MGM Hotel (1973), and the MGM Grand (1994). Kerkorian was a prominent philanthropist, donating more than $1 billion to Armenia through his foundation. Kerkorian died in 2014 and was reportedly worth $24.9 billion at the time of his death (via MoneyInc).

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