15 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Didn’t Graduate College
In a world where having a degree has long been considered the traditional path to success, there exists a group of remarkable individuals who chose to defy tradition in that they never graduated from college. These visionaries embarked on journeys that would ultimately lead them to entrepreneurial greatness and financial success beyond their wildest imaginations.
From tech giants to entertainment industry moguls, these are people who reshaped their respective industries without the help of a college degree.
15. Rachael Ray
Born: August 25, 1968
Net worth: $100 million
Bottom Line: Rachael Ray
Renowned chef, media personality and author Rachael Ray attended Pace University in New York City but did not complete her degree. She lasted about two years before finding work at a gourmet grocery store in Manhattan. She has never received any formal culinary instruction.
Ray got her big break teaching cooking classes, which led to her first appearance on a local television station. This eventually propelled her into the media spotlight, leading to the creation of her popular Food Network show, "30 Minute Meals."
14. Quentin Tarantino
Born: March 27, 1963
Net worth: $120 Million
Bottom Line: Quentin Tarantino
Director Quentin Tarantino is a household name due to movies like "Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill," and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." After graduating high school, he briefly attended various community colleges and tried his hand at different jobs, including working as an usher at an adult movie theater. He even enrolled in acting classes, but nothing stuck.
His true passion was filmmaking. He educated himself about movies by working at a video rental store (remember those?). It was there he gained extensive knowledge of films from various genres and eras. His hands-on education eventually led him to write and direct his own movies.
13. Steve Madden
Born: March 23, 1958
Net worth: $300 million
Bottom Line: Steve Madden
Steve Madden's shoes are everywhere today, but he didn't start out in fashion. He attended the University of Miami to pursue a degree in business. However, his interest in shoe design overtook his passion for any other career.
In 1990, with just $1100, he started Steven Madden, Ltd. and began selling shoes out of the trunk of his car. This marked the start of his billion-dollar journey in the footwear industry.
12. Ted Turner
Born: November 19, 1938
Net worth: $2.5 billion
Bottom Line: Ted Turner
Media-mogul Ted Turner attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island to major in classics (i.e., classic antiquity.) He later changed his major to economics, but he wasn't long for college life. He was expelled in 1959 for having a woman in his dorm room.
After college, Turner joined the family business, billboard advertising, and become general manager at one of its branch offices. After his father committed suicide in 1963, he took over the business and by the late 1960s, started buying TV stations. He would go on to launch CNN, the world's first 24-hour news network, in 1980.
Turner received an honorary degree from Brown in 1989.
11. Oprah Winfrey
Born: January 29, 1954
Net worth: $2.5 billion
Bottom Line: Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University, an HBCU, in 1971 to major in communications. During her time at Tennessee State, Oprah worked at the local radio station, WVOL, where she gained vital broadcasting experience.
However, her college experience was cut short when she left school before completing her degree to pursue a career in media. Oprah later moved on to television, where she became a news anchor and eventually hosted her own talk show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which ran for 25 years and became one of the most successful and influential talk shows in television history.
Oprah finally got her degree in 1986. As she told students at their commencement in 2023, even after she brought home her first two Emmy Awards, her father would ask, "When you going to get that degree? I got my degree from Tennessee State, right around the time I got my third Emmy."
10. Daniel Ek
Born: February 21, 1983
Net worth: $2.9 billion
Bottom Line: Daniel Ek
Spotify gives us easy access to more music and podcasts than we can think of, thanks to Daniel Ek, the co-founder and CEO.
Elk is also a college dropout. He attended the Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan) in Stockholm, Sweden where he studied engineering. But he dropped out, and worked for several Internet companies before founding an online marketing firm in 2006. Soon after, he created Spotify.
9. Jack Dorsey
Born: November 19, 1976
Net worth: $4 billion
Bottom Line: Jack Dorsey
Twitter and BlueSky founder Jack Dorsey attended the Missouri University of Science and Technology, but transferred to New York University (NYU). He dropped out just before completing his degree.
It was during his time at NYU that he came up with the idea for a short messaging and social media app, which eventually became Twitter.
8. David Geffen
Born: February 21, 1943
Net worth: $7.6 billion
Bottom Line: David Geffen
It wasn't for lack of trying — entertainment mogul David Geffen attended multiple colleges during his academic journey, including Santa Monica College, Brooklyn College and the University of Texas at Austin, but he did not complete his degree at any of the schools, attributing his challenges to dyslexia.
By 1964, Geffen had dropped out and started as a mailroom assistant at the William Morris Agency in New York City. He later moved into talent management and music promotion, before founding Asylum Records and, later, Geffen Records. His success extended into film production when he co-founded DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
7. Steve Jobs
Born: February 24, 1955
Net worth: $10.2 billion (deceased)
Bottom Line: Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs' college experience was unconventional but nevertheless played a significant role in shaping his future. Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1972. However, his time at the school was short-lived, as he dropped out after just one semester because he ran out of money.
However, during and after his time there, Jobs audited classes that interested him, such as calligraphy, which later influenced the design and typography of Apple products. It was during this period that he met Steve Wozniak, a fellow college dropout, with whom he would later co-found Apple.
6. Paul Allen
Born: January 21, 1953
Net worth: $20.3 billion(deceased)
Bottom Line: Paul Allen
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen attended Lakeside School, a prestigious prep school in Seattle, where he first crossed paths with Bill Gates. Together, they developed an interest in computers and quickly learned to program and experiment with computer systems.
In 1971, Allen enrolled at Washington State University (WSU), but he left after just two years to pursue a career in the computer industry with Gates, whom he convinced to drop out of Harvard.
Allen died on October 15, 2018 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
5. Michael Dell
Born: February 23, 1965
Net worth: $70.3 billion
Bottom Line: Michael Dell
Michael Dell's parents were set on his being a doctor, so he became a pre-med student at the University of Texas at Austin. However, his interest in computers and business soon took center stage. He started a small business assembling and selling upgrade kits for personal computers in his dorm room — by the end of his freshman year, he had sold about $80,000 worth of units.
He dropped out of college in 1984 to focus on his business full-time. He officially founded Dell Computer Corporation (later Dell Inc.), which became one of the world's leading computer manufacturers.
4. Mark Zuckerberg
Born: May 14, 1984
Net worth: $105.2 billion
Bottom Line: Mark Zuckerberg
If you've seen David Finchers 2010 film "The Social Network," you already know that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while attending Harvard, where he initially pursued a degree in psychology in 2002.
In 2003, Zuckerberg and fellow students Andrew McCollum, Eduardo Saverin, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskovitz, launched FaceMash, Facebook's predecessor, which was designed for students to rate female students by looks (like Hot or Not.) It didn't last long.
FashMash became TheFacebook in 2004 and was limited to Harvard students, but soon expanded to other colleges across the U.S. It became accessible to the general public in 2006 and eventually dropped the "The" and became just Facebook.
3. Larry Page
Born: March 26, 1973
Net worth: $114.6 billion
Bottom Line: Larry Page
Google creator Larry Page first attended the University of Michigan where he received an engineering degree. He then entered Stanford University's Ph.D program in computer science but did not finish.
During his time at Stanford, he collaborated with Sergey Brin on a research project that led to the creation of the search engine that we all use today — they both dropped out to pursue the project.
2. Bill Gates
Born: October 28, 1955
Net worth: $111.4 billion
Bottom Line: Bill Gates
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world's richest people, attended Harvard University in 1973. At Harvard, he initially went into pre-law, but his true passion lay in computer programming.
In 1975, along with his childhood friend Paul Allen, Gates dropped out to pursue a business opportunity in the emerging personal computer industry. His gamble paid off — the duo started Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico shortly thereafter.
1. Larry Ellison
Born: August 17, 1944
Net worth: $152.3 billion
Bottom Line: Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison completed about two years in pre-med at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign but dropped out in 1966 when his mother died. He moved to California for a summer then attended the University of Chicago for one term to study physics and math.
This is also the school where he would discover computer programming, and he became hooked. He dropped out, moved to Berkeley and began a career in computer programming. In 1977, he co-founded Oracle, which went on to become a major player in the database software industry.