We’ve all heard the myth of the successful college dropout, and we so eagerly want to believe it can be true, that despite doing things differently and not following the patterns our parents and society enforce on us, we will still find fame and fortune. However, the sad reality is that most dropouts end up poor or unemployed. Of course, there’s a grain of truth to every legend, and there are certain media and computer tycoons that prove otherwise.
There are 2.5 million people with a PhD and around 30 million college dropouts in the U.S. Pretty concerning, but if these billionaires succeeded, why can’t everyone? First, we have to acknowledge that these are exceptional people who built their careers and companies from scratch. They had a clear picture of what their future would look like, and wanted to take matters into their own hands without further delay. They knew how to take risks; innovation and strong-will the keys to their success. As Bill Gates once said, “Too many of our students fail to graduate from high school with the basic skills they will need to succeed in the 21st century economy, much less prepared for the rigors of college and career.”
10. David Geffen
Unlike most self-made billionaires who left college to start a successful business right away, David Geffen‘s road was a bit rockier. He graduated from high school barely passing with a 66 percent average. After attending three semesters at the University of Texas in Austin and enrolling in the Brooklyn College only to drop out again, he went on to work for ten years in the entertainment business before founding Asylum Records in the 1970’s. In 1980 he started Geffen Records, and in 1990 DGC Records. With a current net worth of $5.5 billion, David Geffen is now one of the three co-founders of DreamWorks SKG.
9. Sheldon Adelson
American business tycoon Sheldon Adelson is the CEO and chairman of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire. With a net worth of $37 billion, he is the eighth richest person in the world. Business runs through his veins. At 12, he borrowed $200 from his uncle to start selling newspapers. At 16, he entered a candy-vending machine business. Later, he attended the City College of New York to become a court reporter, but dropped out after two years to join the army. Then, he began selling toiletry kits and after several jobs as a salesman, consultant, and tour-business operator, he started a charter-tour business that brought him his first millions. In his 30’s, he made and lost his fortune twice. After a series of failed investments, he founded a trade show for the computer industry, named Comdex, and cashed in millions leasing exhibition space. In the late 1980’s, he and his business partners bought Sands Casino.
8. Paul Allen
Microsoft’s other half, Paul Allen is a relentless investor and computer programmer who, like many other successful business magnates of his time, had a vision and left college to pursue his dream. After earning a perfect score on the SAT, he enrolled at the Washington State University, but dropped out after two years and moved to work as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston. It was there that he met with childhood friend Bill Gates, and convinced him to leave Harvard and start Microsoft. The renowned philanthropist and business tycoon is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc. and the owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers.
7. Ted Turner
With a net worth $2 billion, Ted Turner is known as the founder of CNN, the world’s first 24-hour news network. He didn’t exactly drop out of college, he was expelled from Brown University after being caught with a girl in his dorm room, but he never returned to college to get his degree, instead he joined his father’s advertising company, Turner Advertising. After his father’s suicide, he took over the company and made it bigger, stronger, and more successful than ever, renaming it Turner Broadcasting. He was only 24 at the time. Turner himself once said “All my life people said that I wasn’t going to make it.”
6. Steve Jobs
The late Apple Inc. & Pixar founder Steve Jobs left Reed College in Portland, Oregon, after only six months. Yet, he admitted that it was a calligraphy class he took in college that inspired the typography used in the first Mac. In 1974, he became a video game designer for Atari, but it didn’t last long as he left the job to travel to India. At 21, he founded Apple Computers together with Steve Wozniak in his garage. Innovation was their trademark, and they struggled to make computers smaller and more accessible to the general public. In 1985, Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, but he returned in 1997, reviving the company after a dark age of fallouts. The famous entrepreneur and inventor died of respiratory arrest caused by a pancreatic tumor in 2011.
5. Ralph Lauren
Another successful billionaire who dropped out of college to pursue his dream, but the dream had to wait a few years before materializing, Ralph Lauren entered the fashion industry from a tender age. He left Baruch College to join the army, and afterward began designing neckties for Beau Brummel. In 1976, he launched Polo with $50,000 capital. The company continued to grow over the years, turning into a full menswear line that includes clothing, shoes, fragrances, and jewelry, renowned throughout the Globe as Ralph Lauren Clothing.
4. Michael Dell
Founder, chairman, and CEO of Dell Computers, Michael Dell is currently worth $15.9 billion. While he was attending the University of Texas in Austin, he began making his own computers. He was selling directly to customers and business was flourishing. Before dropping out of college at the age of 19, he had already made $80,000 from selling computer kits. He left university without getting his degree to focus on his business, which he started with only $1,000 capital. During his first year on the market, he made $6 million in sales, becoming the world’s greatest PC maker in 2001.
3. Larry Ellison
Co-founder and CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison has quite the life story to tell. As he himself stated, “I have had all the disadvantages required for success.” He was born in Bronx as the son of a single 19-year-old mother, and was adopted by his aunt and uncle from Chicago. In 1962, he enrolled at the University of Illinois, and was named Science Student of the Year. In his second year, after his adoptive mother died, he dropped out. Next fall, he signed up for the University of Chicago, but quit and moved to North California where he began working as a programmer for Amdahl Corporation. In 1977, he and two of his coworkers founded Software Development Labs, with Ellison as CEO. The company went on to develop a system for commercial applications, Oracle. Larry Ellison is America’s third richest man and the sixth wealthiest in the world.
2. Mark Zuckerberg
The youngest billionaire in history, Mark Zuckerberg became even more famous in 2010 when the acclaimed movie The Social Network revealed the story behind the world’s most visited website today. He launched Facebook in February 2004 from his dormitory room at Harvard. By the end of the year, the platform already counted over 1 million users. There was no reason left for him to stay, so Mark left Harvard in his sophomore year and moved to Silicon Valley to work on Facebook full-time. Yet we have to agree that if it wasn’t for his Harvard years, he probably would have never launched Facebook at all. The business model and target audience had Harvard written all over them. Also, if he had stayed in school, it probably wouldn’t be what it is today either.
1. Bill Gates
The world’s most recognizable college dropout turned successful billionaire, Bill Gates is a resonant name on the business and entrepreneurship stage, a great inventor and computer programmer, investor, and philanthropist. With a net worth of over $80 billion, he was the world’s wealthiest person in 2013, and seems to be maintaining his position in 2014 as well. He enrolled in Harvard in 1973 and attended the university for two years before dropping out to build the world’s biggest software business, Microsoft, together with childhood friend Paul Allen. The two began by developing software for Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry System. In 1975, the guys named their partnership Micro-Soft. In 1987, he became the youngest self-made billionaire.