20 Most Successful College Drop Outs

Paul Allen

A childhood friend of Bill Gates, Paul Allen dropped out of Washington State University in 1975 to help Gates found Microsoft and was known as the “idea man” that helped Gates plot the course for the company. He resigned from Microsoft in 1983 after receiving a Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis. He is the founder of Vulcan ventures and Interval Research, think tanks that are based in Silicon Valley. He is estimated to be worth $20.1 billion.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is one of America’s most recognizable talk show host; she is also an actress, producer, and philanthropist. But before becoming the host of one of the longest-running talk shows in the history of tv, she was born into poverty and left Tennessee State University in 1976 to work as a news reporter. A decade later, she would host The Oprah Winfrey Show and begin a long career as a producer and actress, as well as a philanthropy. She is currently worth $75 million.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs had humble beginnings that led to him dropping out of Reed College in 1972; the strain of his education was too much for his working-class adopted parents, who had hoped he would become a doctor.

Instead, Jobs co-founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976 to sell Wozniak’s personal computer. He was forced out of Apple in 1985 but returned in 1997 to become CEO after Apple, which was on the edge of bankruptcy, merged with his other company, NeXT. He passed away in 2011 and was worth $10.2 billion at the time of his death.

John Mackey

John Mackey was born in Houston, Texas, to an upper-middle class family. He began his college in the 1970s and was in and out of various colleges, including Trinity University and the University of Texas at Austin, until 1978, when he finally dropped out. He then co-founded Whole Foods Market, the company that he serves as CEO. The company now operates retail chains all over the country and in Europe. He is currently worth an estimated 100 million.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg is Harvard’s most famous dropout and the fifth-richest person in the world. He launched Facebook, the world’s most widely-used social network, from his dorm room at Harvard in 2004 and dropped out the same year to work for the company full-time, moving the company and some of his co-founders to Palo Alto, California, to be closer to Silicon Valley. The network reported having one billion users as of 2012; Zuckerberg himself is worth $62.8 billion.

Bill Gates

Harvard has had many famous college dropouts, but Bill Gates is the most successful. Born to a middle-class family, Gates attended Harvard for two years before dropping out in 1975 to found Microsoft with his friend and business partner, Paul Allen. He served as chairman and CEO of Microsoft before retiring in 2014 and is now a successful author, writing and co-writing several books, and philanthropist. He is currently worth an estimated $86.9 billion.

Lawrence Ellison

Lawrence “Larry” Ellison is an American businessman and philanthropist who is a co-founder of Oracle, object-relational database management system and web browser company.

Before his success, however, Ellison was the adopted child of government employees that attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He left school in 1966 after his adoptive mother died and moved to Northern California to work for Ampex Corporation, a job that would lead to the founding of Oracle and his success. He is estimated to be worth $55 billion.


Madonna is arguably the most famous female pop singer of all time and has over 300 million record sales as well as a long list of Grammy and Golden Globe awards to her name. She is also a philanthropist, focusing on LGBTQ rights.

But before she was a Material Girl, Madonna was a student at the University of Michigan. She dropped out of college after two years in 1977 in order to learn dance in New York City under Alvin Ailey. By 1984, she was already a successful musician. She is currently worth an estimated $800 million.

Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg is an online social media entrepreneur that made his mark on the world as the developer and founder of WordPress, which is currently managed by The WordPress Foundation, a company that he began with an idea he had at the age of 19.

Mullenweg co-founded WordPress with the help of Mike Little before dropping out of the University of Houston in 2004; he ended up taking a job with CNET to help them utilize his software for their online publication. He is currently worth $40 million.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren is one of America’s most recognizable fashion designers; he has designed dresses for first ladies and even created uniforms for the American Olympic team. He is the founder, executive chairman, and chief creative officer of the Ralph Lauren Corporation.

But Lauren was not always so successful; Lauren attended Baruch College as a business major in 1957 but dropped out in 1959 to enter the Army. After a two-year stint in the Army, Lauren went on to work as a salesman for Brooks Brothers and now owns a successful and long-lasting fashion company. He is estimated to be worth $6.3 billion.

Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons is an American entrepreneur and producer that was a co-founder of the music label Def Jam Recordings and the creator of Phat Farm, a streetwear fashion line. He attended the City College of New York in Harlem in 1975 but dropped out later that year to make hip hop his career.

Simmons co-founded Def Jam in 1983 with producer Rick Rubin. In 1985, he began producing tv and movies through his production company, Rush Communications Inc., and was one of the producers behind the 1996 hit film The Nutty Professor. He is currently worth an estimated $340 million.

Ted Turner

Ted Turner is one of the most world renown businessmen and is the founder of CNN, a company that would soon revolutionize the way the public looks at the new; he also created the Cartoon Network. He is also a philanthropist that promised a $1 billion gift to the United Nations and currently lends his voice to other issues, such as the environment and nuclear proliferation.

But before Turner became an American media mogul, he was a Brown University student that was expelled from the school in 1960 after being found living with his girlfriend during his second suspension period.

James Cameron

James Cameron is one of the film industry’s best-known directors with an Oscar to his name, but he is also a college drop out. Cameron attended Fullerton College to study physics in 1973 and left the following year to pursue a career in film. In the 1980s, Cameron shot to fame with THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS, two films that are considered cult classics today. He is the director of AVATAR, which is the world’s highest-grossing film of all time; he is currently writing and directing the sequels to this film. Cameron is worth an estimated $700 million.

Alexa Von Tobel

Alexa Von Tobel is a strong voice in the personal finance industry, and she proved it in one very special way: she dropped out of Harvard Business School in 2008 to focus on her company, LearnVest. The company, which focuses on personal finance advising for women, is currently estimated to be worth $100 million; von Tobel herself is estimated to have a net worth of $100 million as well. Von Tobel currently serves as CEO of the company.

Michael Dell

Michael Dell lends his name to Dell Inc., the company he founded and still serves as CEO and chairman. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, but dropped out in 1983 after one year to set up a company called “PCs Limited.” He later changed the name of the business to Dell Computer Corporation. He was 23 when the company had its IPO debut in 1988 and by 1996, the company was reporting one million dollars in sales every day. He is currently worth $15.3 billion.

Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and attended two universities Missouri University of Science and Technology and New York University, but dropped out in 2005 and worked various tech jobs for a few years. In 2008, Dorsey founded the social media giant Twitter along with business partners Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Dorsey currently is a chairman of Twitter, The Walt Disney Company, and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company. He is estimated to be worth around $1.2 billion.

Daniel Ek

Daniel Ek was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and has been obsessed with music and technology from a very young age; he began learning how to write code around six years old. He attended the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm but dropped out in 2001 after just one year.

Ek is no stranger to start-ups; he set up his first company at the age of 14 and was already a millionaire by 2006. In 2008, he set up Spotify, the world’s largest music app, in partnership with Martin Lorentzon. He is currently worth an estimated $310 million.

Arash Ferdowsi

Arash Ferdowsi was always a fan of computers and engineering, but it wasn’t until he dropped out that he realized his full potential. Ferdowsi attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but dropped out in his final semester in 2007 in order to commit to the creation of DropBox, the cloud-sharing service used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. He is currently the Chief Technology Officer at DropBox and is now a millionaire.

Jan Koum

Jan Koum was born in Kiev in the Ukraine and immigrated to America when he was 16. Both Koum and his mother were on welfare as soon as they arrived, with Koum working as a janitor to help his mother make ends meet.

Koum enrolled at San Jose State University but dropped out in 1997 to work for Yahoo. In 2009 Koum and his business partner Brian Acton created WhatsApp; in 2014, Facebook acquired WhatsApp Inc. for $19 billion. Koum is currently estimated to be worth $9.3 billion.

Travis Kalanick

Travis Kalanick grew up in Northridge, California, and began his first business at 18, which was an SAT-prep course called New Way Academy. He eventually attended UCLA to earn a degree in computer engineering but dropped out in 1998 to work on a peer-to-peer search engine called Scour. He became a millionaire in 2007 after selling a subsequent business, RedSwoosh, to Akami for $23 million.

Kalanick came to Uber in late 2008 and took over as CEO in December of 2010, expanding the business throughout the US and worldwide. He’s currently worth $5.3 billion.