April 5, 2024 | Sammy Tran

Self-Made Millionaires Who Didn’t Finish School


School Dropouts Worth Millions Today

Believe it or not, a large number of the world’s wealthiest people didn’t finish school. Some didn’t even finish high school, while others may have started college but dropped out.

This is proof that education might only be one of the many roads to success.

Here are 16 of the world's wealthiest people who dropped out of school to follow their dreams—and undoubtably made a good choice. 

David Karp and Drew Barrymore Split image

David Karp

Karp dropped out of Bronx Science High School at the age of 15. He had originally planned on continuing his education through homeschooling while he did side projects.

Image of David Karp - 2007Marco Arment, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

David Karp: Success

He didn’t end up homeschooling at all, and instead he built the blogging and social networking platform Tumblr from his bedroom in his mother’s apartment.

He has since sold Tumblr to Yahoo! for $1.1 billion.

David Karp at Web Summit 2017 in Lisboa.Stefan Schäfer, Lich, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino dropped out of high school at 15 to work at an adult film theater. He had no plans of ever returning to school, assuming he would make it in the acting world.

Director Quentin Tarantino at the premiere of Grindhouse, Austin, Texas - 2007Jeff Balke, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Quentin Tarantino: Success

Tarantino was right. He took a job in a video game rental store while he was taking acting classes, and wrote several movie scripts in his spare time.

This led him down the very successful path as a screenwriter with a current net worth of over $120 million.

Quentin Tarantino. Taken at the 2007 Scream Awardspinguino k, USA, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore dropped out of high school as she was already an acting sensation. However, acting isn’t her only success.

Drew Barrymore at the Kathy Hutchins, Shutterstock

Drew Barrymore: Success

Aside from acting, Barrymore is the founder of the production company Flower Films. She also launched a range of cosmetics, wines, housewares and clothing.

Her current net worth is $130 million.

Drew Barrymore at Going The Distance August 19th, 2010Chris Harvey, Shutterstock

Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson dropped out of high school at age 16 to start a magazine called Student. Although this was how he started, the magazine eventually started losing money and he had to change directions.

Sir Richard Branson - Gulltaggen 2010Gulltaggen, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Sir Richard Branson: Success

In 1971, Branson launched the first British discount record store. Over time, his company expanded to become Virgin Records.

Branson’s net worth in 2023 was $2.1 billion.

Sir Richard Branson - British Polo Day Morocco - 2014Land Rover MENA, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Carl Lindner Jr.

Carl Lindner Jr. dropped out of school at the young age of 14 to deliver milk for his family’s dairy farm. He borrowed some money to start an ice cream shop with his siblings.

Milk delivery boy - 1920Library of Congress, Picryl

Carl Lindner Jr.: Success

Lindner Jr. expanded his family’s dairy business into United Dairy Farmers, a large chain of convenience stores. He then went on to control 42% of American Financial Group—an insurance and investment firm.

Today his net worth is an estimated $1.7 billion.

United Dairy Farmers - 2016pasa47, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Jay-Z

Jay-Z grew up in one of the roughest housing projects in Brooklyn. He dropped out of school at a young age, and began performing in the streets.

Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter Foundation Carnival 2011.Joella Marano, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Jay-Z: Success

Later, Jay-Z and his friends founded their own company, Roc-A-Fella Records, and things just went up from there.

With multiple business ventures now, Jay-Z’s current net worth is $2.5 billion.

Rapper Jay-Z poses with his Best Rap/Sung Collaboration awardKevin Winter, Getty Images

Uma Thurman

Uma Thurman left high school at 15 to pursue an acting career. She started as a model before being spotted by talent scouts at a drama school she performed at—quickly becoming Hollywood’s leading female actress.

Uma Thurman at Festival del cinema di Venezia - 1994Gorupdebesanez, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Uma Thurman: Success

Thurman has since starred in well over 60 films, and has added producer and screenwriter to her list of professions.

In 2023, her net worth was $45 million.

Uma Thurman facts Jiyang Chen, Wikimedia Commons

George Foreman

George Foreman dropped out of school at 15 to pursue a career in boxing—which proved to be a good choice. He went on to become a two-time world heavyweight champion and an Olympic gold medalist.

Portrait of George Foreman - 1973Bert Verhoeff, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Wikimedia Commons

George Foreman: Success

When he retired, he changed directions into the business world and became the spokesperson for the George Foreman Grill—which earned him about $138 million just from that.

Foreman’s current net worth is $300 million.

George Foreman speaking at the 2016 FreedomFest.Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro dropped out of school at 16 to study acting. After working in a few off-Broadway plays, he appeared in his first film, The Wedding Party, and had been successful ever since.

Screenshot of Robert De Niro - from film Novecento (1976)Bernardo Bertolucci, Wikimedia Commons

Robert De Niro: Success

De Niro has starred in more than 90 films and has also become a successful businessman with a chain of eateries across New York, as well as his own film studio and various real estate endeavors.

De Niro’s net worth in 2023 was $500 million.

Robert De Niro wearing black suit is looking at side - 1997John Mathew Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Katy Perry

Katy Perry dropped out of high school at 15 to pursue a career as a musical artist. She started by singing gospel music but then reinvented herself emerging as one of the world’s most successful female pop artists.

Katy Perry 'Part Of Me' movie premiere in Sydney, Australia - 2012Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Katy Perry: Success

Perry then went on to start various projects, including two businesses—a shoe brand called Katy Perry Collections and a non-alcoholic beverage brand called De Soi.

Her net worth in 2023 was $340 million.

Katy Perry - Part Of Me Australian Premiere - June 2012Liam Mendes, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Bill Gates

Bill Gates became interested in computer programming at age 13. He made his first $20,000 at age 15 when he developed a program to monitor Seattle traffic patterns.

Bill Gates in blue suit and white shirt looking at camera - 1993Rob Crandall , Shutterstock

Bill Gates

Although he did go on to take classes at Harvard University, he dropped out not long after to start a multinational software company, Microsoft, with co-founder and friend Paul Allen.

His net worth in 2023 was $115 billion. 

World's Wealthiest FactsFlickr, OnInnovation.com

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren made it to college, but dropped out now long after to join the Army. He didn’t stick that out either and dropped out to get married and start a job at a tie manufacturing company.

Photograph of Ralph Lauren looking at camera.Edgar de Evia, CC BY-SA 2.5 ,Wikimedia Commons

Ralph Lauren: Success

Lauren challenged the typical design and made his mark by designing wide ties (in an era of thin ties) and decided to start his own business, selling $500,000 worth of ties in the first year.

Lauren’s net worth in 2023 was $11 billion.

Designer Ralph Lauren attends the ribbon cutting ceremony - 2014Debby Wong, Shutterstock

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school when he caught the attention of AOL and Microsoft by co-creating a Winamp plug-in that built customized playlists.

Image of Mark Zuckerberg - 2008JD Lasica, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Mark Zuckerberg: College

Rather than drop out of school, Zuckerberg actually turned down jobs so that he could attend college. He went on to study at Harvard University, where he launched Facebook from his dorm room.

Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's first F8 event - 2007AndersFrick, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Mark Zuckerberg: Success

The social media platform became an instant success and that’s when Zuckerberg made the choice to drop out of school and run the platform full time.

His net worth as of 2023 was $139 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook IncKevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray isn’t a high school dropout, in fact she even attended university for two years. She quit school simply to work and save some more money.

Rachael Ray, Red Dress Collection 2007The Heart Truth, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Rachael Ray: Cooking

Growing up with an array of cooking style, Ray decided to use these skills to make some extra cash. She developed “30 Minute Meals” while working at a gourmet food store, which unexpectedly were picked up by a local TV newscast.

Rachael Ray at an in store appearance signing copies of her book - 2006s_bukley, Shutterstock

Rachael Ray: Success

The cooking segments then led to Ray’s first book deal and then a contract with the Food Network. Her net worth in 2023 was $107 million.

Rachael Ray posing next to her personalized decal in front of a double-decker bus - 2010Douglaspowers1, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell dropped out of school at the age of 16, after being kicked out of numerous schools for bad behavior. He knew he wanted in the music industry, so he started at the bottom, and got a job in the mailroom at EMI Music Publishing.

Simon Cowell in black t-shirtFrazer Harrison, Getty Images

Simon Cowell: Success

Cowell worked his way up the ladder eventually becoming a producer and A&R professional, and later a TV personality on various entertainment talent shows.

His net worth in 2023 was $600 million. 

Simon Cowell in gray t-shirt and sunglassesIan Gavan, Getty Images

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak had a knack for building electronics from scratch at a very early age. While he did finish high school, he only briefly attended University before being expelled in his first year for hacking the school’s computer system.

Image of Steve Wozniak - 1985Tony Wills, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Steve Wozniak: First Success

Wozniak re-enrolled in a different school the following year and designed and built his first computer—which got blown up after a newspaper reported stepped on the cord.

Steve Jobs factsJobs (2013), Open Road Films

Steve Wozniak: Apple

Shortly after that, Wozniak worked at Hewlett-Packard (HP), where he designed calculators. But that didn’t last long—he then dropped out of school and quit his job to pursue Apple with friend, Steve Jobs.

Apple factsJobs (2013), Virgin Produced

Steve Wozniak: Success

With little money, the pair spend many nights perfecting their invention in the garages of their family’s homes. Eventually their inventions caught attention and they were given funding, which helped launch their massive success.

Wozniak’s net worth in 2023 was a modest $10 million—due to his extraordinary philanthropic devotion.

Steve Jobs factsJobs (2013), Open Road Films

Other Self-Made Millionaires

The list of self-made millionaires who didn’t finish school is quite long and it goes on to include: Steve Madden, James Cameron, Steve Jobs, Coco Chanel, Sean Combs, Larry Ellison, Wolfgang Puck, and Ted Turner, to name a few.

Coco Chanel In Los Angeles, 1931Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Education and Success

While there are plenty of success stories where regular people dropped out of school and became millionaires, it is worth noting that 81% of Forbes 400 Wealthiest People list hold post-secondary degrees.

Diploma and academic cap with red tassel on dark surface on grey.LightField Studios, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

What holds true is that, education aside, most successful business people have a strong ambition and work toward achieving a specific goal.

The one thing all of the people on this list have in common is that they never gave up on their dream.

Portrait thinking handsome man looking up with idea light bulb above head isolated on gray wall backgroundpathdoc, Shutterstock

Sources: 1, 2


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