Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts
I’m a firm believer that most college students would be better off dropping out of school and investing the money they now spend on college. Then take the four years they would have spent on college and travel, work, play, and spend time with smart people talking about important things. It would be your choice on what’s important, not a professor, not a dean, not a faculty committee.
You don’t have to go to college to be a success. Even if you go for awhile, you don’t have to graduate to be a success. Here are just a few of the people who have become famous or successful without graduating from college and/or high school.
A survey conducted by Bloomberg in 2010 show that the school of hard knocks was the number one source (tied with the University of California) for CEOs of S&P 500 companies. Harvard was the #3 source. The school of hard knocks features CEOs who never graduated from college.
Of the 400 richest Americans in 2011, twenty-seven graduated from high school but did not attend college. Another thirty-six were college dropouts.
Malcolm Abbott, rapper. He did not go to college.
S. Daniel Abraham, billionaire founder of Slim-Fast. He joined the Army at the age of 18 and fought in Europe during World War II. He never attended college.
Roman Abramovich, the richest man in Russia, billionaire. He studied at the Moscow State Auto Transport Institute before taking a leave of absence from academics to go into business. He later earned a correspondence degree from the Moscow State Law Academy.
Aaron “Jay” Adair, billionaire CEO of Copart, a dealer in damaged cars. He was hired as a manager at Copart by his eventual father-in-law.
Abigail Adams, U.S. first lady. She was home schooled.
Ansel Adams, photographer. He dropped out of high school.
Bryan Adams, singer and songwriter. He was a high school dropout.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Abigail Adams, Ansel Adams, Bryan Adams, Don Adams, William Adams aka Will.i.am. Click To Tweet
Calpernia Adams, transsexual showgirl. She never attended college. As she noted, “My parents thought that college leads you away from God, so they hadn’t saved any money.”
Don Adams (born Donald James Yarmy), comedian, actor, game show host, voice talent. Most famous for his role in the Get Smart TV series, Adams dropped out of DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City to work as an usher before entering the Marine Corps during World War II. After a variety of jobs, he began working in television in 1954.
Sandy Adams, U.S. congressperson. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to join the Air Force. Later got her GED and attended the police academy before being hired as a deputy sheriff. She took night classes at a nearby college and finally received a college degree.
William Adams, aka Will.i.am, singer, songwriter, music producer, founder of the Black Eyed Peas, actor, entrepreneur. He formed his first group in high school. He hasn’t attended college.
Gautam Adani, billionaire solar power producer and commodities trader. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 and started a job sorting diamonds.
Adele, aka Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, singer and songwriter. Intended to go to college but got signed to a recording deal just after her high school graduation.
Sheldon Adelson, billionaire casino owner. He dropped out of City College of New York to become a court reporter. He made his first fortune doing trade shows.
Trace Adkins, country music singer and songwriter, actor. He attended Louisiana Tech University to play football, but dropped out after a year when he injured his knee and couldn’t play football anymore. Instead, he went to work on an oil rig before launching his singing career.
Mortimer Adler, author, educator, editor. He left high school at the age of 15 to work. He later received his high school equivalency degree and attended Columbia University.
Anthony Anderson, actor. He dropped out of Howard University during his junior year because he was broke. But, almost 35 years later, he finished his degree work and graduated in 2022.
Andrey Andreev, billionaire founder of Badoo and co-founder of Bumble dating apps. He attended the University of Moscow for less than a year. He dropped out at the age of 18.
Ferran Adria, chef. Called the world’s greatest chef by some, he did not finish high school.
Miguel Adrover, fashion designer. He was a high school dropout.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Adele, Sheldon Adelson, Trace Adkins, Mortimer Adler, Yael Aflalo, Ben Affleck, Andre Agassi. Click To Tweet
Yael Aflalo, model, entrepreneur, founder of Reformation. She enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley but dropped out to attend the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising instead. She also dropped out of the Institute after selling her first designs.
Ben Affleck, actor, screenwriter, director. He left the University of Vermont after one semester. He then moved to Los Angeles and attended Occidental College for a year and a half before dropping out to pursue acting and writing.
Casey Affleck, actor. He spent a semester at George Washington University in DC before transferring to Columbia University in New York City. He dropped out after a few years to pursue acting.
I would do a semester of school, go do a movie … Opportunities kept presenting themselves that were hard for me to turn down … By then, I didn’t really have roots at the school or a group of friends.
Andre Agassi, tennis player, winner of 8 Grand Slam titles. He quit school in the ninth grade and turned tennis pro at the age of 16. His father would drive his kids to school but, instead, actually took them to local tennis courts to practice.
Dianna Agron, singer, dancer, actress. After graduating from high school, Dianna decided to become an actress. She soon began appearing in commercials and television shows before hitting it big with her role in Glee.
I didn’t take the typical path and go to college after high school. Instead, I saved up money from teaching dance classes and moved to L.A. — Dianna Agron
Christina Aguilera, singer, songwriter. She never finished high school.
Gustav Ahr, see Lil Peep.
Danni Ahse, multimillionaire businesswoman, adult entertainment website operator, model, producer, dancer. She was a high school dropout who later earned an equivalency degree.
Danny Aiello, actor. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to join the army. He later received a high school equivalency degree, but never attended college.
Troy Aikman, Superbowl-winning football quarterback, TV sports commentator. In 2009, he finally graduated from UCLA, 20 years after leaving college to play in the National Football League. Aikman had promised his mother, when he left school just two courses shy of a degree, that he would return and finish. In 2009, at the age of 42, he finally fulfilled that commitment, earning A’s in his last two courses, thus earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Dianna Agron, Christina Aguilera, Danny Aiello, Malin Akerman, Edward Albee, Jack Albertson, Harold Alfond Click To Tweet
Malin Akerman, model, actress. She enrolled in York University (Toronto) but left after about a year to see what else was out there. She moved to Los Angeles to become a model and actress.
Dennis Albaugh, billionaire founder of pesticide company Albaugh Inc. He earned a 2-year agriculture business degree from Des Moines Community College. He did not continue on to a 4-year degree.
Edward Albee, playwright. He dropped out of Trinity College after three semesters. Previously he had been expelled from several private high schools.
Jack Albertson, Oscar-winning actor. He was a high school dropout.
Harold Alfond, billionaire founder of the Dexter Shoe Company which he sold for a stake in Berkshire Hathaway. He never went to college.
Chuck Allen, banker, co-founder of the National Scholastic Surfing Association, and founder of the U.S. Amateur Snowboard Association. At the age of 19, he moved from Oklahoma to California and began working odd jobs until he was established enough to move on to a banking career.
Paul Allen, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, founder of Xiant software, owner of Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. He dropped out of the University of Washington to work for Honeywell. A year later he convinced Bill Gates to drop out of Harvard and move to Albuquerque, New Mexico to start up Microsoft.
Peter Allen, singer, songwriter, composer. He was a high school dropout.
Rick Allen, rock star member of Def Leppard. He was a high school dropout.
Woody Allen, screenwriter, actor, director, and producer. He was thrown out of New York University after one semester for poor grades. He also dropped out of City College of New York.
I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics final. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me. — Woody Allen
Kirstie Alley, actress. She dropped out of Kansas State University to become an interior designer and, later, an actress.
Glen Allsopp, internet marketer, founder of ViperChill. He dropped out of college at the age of 18 to move to Cape Town, South Africa to work as a social media manager.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Paul Allen, Rick Allen, Woody Allen, Wally Amos, Anthony Anderson, Hans Christian Andersen Click To Tweet
Steven-Elliot Altman, author. He left school at the beginning of the 10th grade and ran away from home. He then entered college at the age of 16 and earned a degree at 19.
Joy Alukkas, billionaire jeweler. He never attended college. Immediately after high school in India, he moved to the Gulf to open a jewelry store.
Canelo Alvarez (nee Santos Saúl Álvarez Barragán), multimillionaire boxer and entrepreneur. He has not attended college.
Camila Alves, see Camila Alves McConaughey.
Dhirubhai Ambani, billionaire Indian businessman. He is a high school dropout.
Ed Ames (born Edmund Urick), singer and actor. He graduated from Boston Latin School in Massachusetts, but never attended college. He later did attend an acting school for awhile.
Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal and author of Nasty Gal axy and #GirlBoss. She dropped out of community college.
Wally “Famous” Amos, multimillionaire cookie entrepreneur, author, talent agent. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to join the U.S. Air Force.
Hans Christian Andersen, short story author, fairy tales. He left home at the age of 14 to find work. He later attended Copenhagen University.
Anthony Anderson, actor and producer. He attended Howard University but dropped out after he lost his scholarship.
George “Sparky” Anderson, baseball player and manager. He did not attend college.
Pamela Anderson, actress and model. She left home at the age of 17 and never attended college.
My life took off without me. I joked that my breasts had a career of their own, and I was just tagging along. — Pamela Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson, director of such movies as Boogie Nights and Magnolia. He attended film school at New York University but quit after two days because one professor dissed Terminator 2 and another gave him a C on a writing assignment.
Tom Anderson, co-founder of MySpace. He was a high school dropout.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Sparky Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Mario Andretti, Julie Andrews, Jennifer Aniston Click To Tweet
Walter Anderson, publisher, editor. He was a high school dropout who later earned an equivalency degree.
André 3000, see André Benjamin.
Mario Andretti, race-car driver, author. He was a high school dropout who later earned an equivalency degree.
Anthony Andrews, actor. He was a high school dropout.
Julie Andrews, Oscar-winning actress, singer, author. She dropped out of high school. She did not go to college because she was working, “But I always wished I’d had a real education.”
Jennifer Aniston, actress. She never attended college. Instead she moved to Los Angeles to become an actress.
Jennifer Aniston says getting a nose job was the best thing she ever did. But keep in mind, she didn’t go to college, her marriage failed, her mom hates her, and she was in that Kevin Costner movie. — Danielle Fishel, The Dish
Carmelo Anthony, basketball player. He left college after his freshman year to play in the NBA.
Oliver Anthony (nee Christopher Anthony Lunsford), singer and songwriter. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 but later received his GED. He never attended college.
Clifford Antone, founder of Antone’s blues club in Austin, Texas. He dropped out of the University of Texas after he was arrested for smuggling pot.
Rocky Aoki, multimillionaire founder of the Benihana chain of restaurants, national champion wrestler, world champion Backgammon player, first person to pilot a hot-air balloon across the Pacific, and magazine publisher. He attended Keio University in Japan where he was a wrestler but he was expelled for fighting. He later attended Springfield College in Massachusetts and CW Post College in New York. And, finally, he obtained an associate degree in restaurant management at New York City Community College.
Shiri Appleby, actress. She went to the University of Southern California for a year and a half before landing a role in the Roswell TV show. In 2010, she worked on her associate degree via the University of Phoenix and then intended to transfer to UCLA.
Christina Applegate, actress. She was a high school dropout.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Carmelo Anthony, Shiri Appleby, Christina Applegate, Micky Arison, Joan Armatrading, Louis Armstrong Click To Tweet
Edwin Apps, British artist. He was a high school dropout.
Masaaki Arai, bilionaire founder of Open House real estate company. After high school, he moved to Tokyo to work in real estate.
Micky Arison, billionaire chairman of Carnival Cruise Line, owner of the Miami Heat NBA team. He dropped out of the University of Miami to join his father’s Carnival Cruise Line.
Joan Armatrading, singer, songwriter. She was a high school dropout.
Billie Joe Armstrong, front man for Green Day punk rock band. He was a high school dropout.
I finally realized that high school didn’t make any sense for me then. So I quit.
Louis Armstrong, jazz musician, singer. He dropped out of high school.
Antony Armstrong-Jones, aka Lord Snowdon, photographer. After flunking out of Cambridge University, he set up a photo studio in London. Later, he married Princess Margaret.
Peter Arnell, advertising executive. He never attended college. He talked his way into the advertising business after graduating from high school.
Eddy Arnold, country music singer and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was 11 when his father died, so he turned to singing at church picnics and other venues to support his family. By the age of 17, he was singing in nearby honky-tonks and made his first radio appearance. He debuted at the Grand Ole Opry in 1943. Between 1945 and 1983, 145 of his songs made the country charts, with 28 of them at #1. He sold more than 85 million records.
Cliff Arquette, aka Charlie Weaver, comedian, entertainer. He was a high school dropout.
Patricia Arquette, actress. She ran away from home at the age of 14. She has never attended college.
Mathangi Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., rapper. He did not attend college.
Ermias Asghedom, known as Nipsey Hussle, rapper (see more at H).
Hal Ashby, movie director. He was a high school dropout from northern California. He move to Los Angeles when he was 19 to work as a gaffer and worked his way up to an editor for movies before turning to directing.
Ed Asner (nee Yitzhak Asner), Emmy-winning actor. He briefly attended the University of Chicago but soon left and was drafted to fight in the Korean War.
Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, software programmer. He studied mathematics at the University of Melbourne but dropped out because other students were doing research for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Brooke Astor, wealthy socialite, author, philanthropist. She dropped out of high school.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Eddy Arnold, Hal Ashby, Brooke Astor, Chet Atkins, Jane Austen, Steve Austin, Gene Autry, Richard Avedon Click To Tweet
John Jacob Astor, multimillionaire businessman. America’s first multimillionaire. He dropped out of high school.
Chet Atkins, country singer, author. He was a high school dropout.
Efva Attling, musician, jewelry designer. She dropped out of silversmith school to become a model. She later joined a band called X Models. She finally returned to designing her own jewelry.
Jerry Lee Atwood, fashion designer, founder of Union Western Clothing. He is an art school dropout.
Jane Austen, novelist. She and her sister attended schools in Oxford, Southampton, and Reading until the age of 11. After that time, their father taught them at home. She did not attend college.
Bill Austin, billionaire founder of Starkey Hearing Technologies. He dropped out of college after a month to found his own hearing aid company.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, WWE champion wrestler, actor. He dropped out of the University of North Texas a few credits shy of a physical education degree. He then took a job as a freight dockworker. And then enrolled in the Dallas Sportatorium wrestling school.
Gene Autry, singing cowboy, actor, songwriter, producer, businessman, author, baseball team owner. He was a high school dropout.
Richard Avedon, photographer. He was a high school dropout.
Willy Aybar, baseball player. He was a high school dropout.
Dan Aykroyd, actor, comedian. He dropped out of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
Iggy Azalea, nee Amethyst Kelly, singer and songwriter. She is a high school dropout from Australia.
2/3 of workers have regrets about their higher education, most importantly about the high cost of college (PayScale survey in May 2019).
If you know of any other famous, successful, or rich people who did not graduate from high school and/or college, please comment below. Thanks!
“Eventually I came to conclude that I could not find real knowledge in academic life, only hierarchies of knowledge that led, ultimately, to more hierarchies, not to more knowledge. I began to see university learning as limited, human, and relative. What was seen as absolutely up-to-date did not consider the infinite and timeless.” — Sharon Daniels, author, The World of Truth
45% of Americans with debt from student loans said that college was not worth the cost. Of those who said college wasn’t worth the cost, 78% earn less than $50,000 per year and 69% are having trouble re-paying the loans. — Consumer Reports
“Schools teach children to obey. They espouse the things we—the ruling generation—want kids to know. No wonder most schools are pressure cookers where bored teachers meet bored children…. Modern education is a wasted investment. It doesn’t deliver what we need the most: creative answers to the challenges of our times… It isn’t a surprise that many of the people who’ve had the greatest influence on our times were—from the perspective of education—failures.” — Jurriaan Kamp, Ode magazine editor
A reason to attend college: White males aged 50 years old who have no schooling beyond high school have mortality rates more than twice as high as those white males with college degrees. Will college help you live longer? Probably not by itself, but apparently there is some correlation.
When Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel, was asked by Newsweek magazine, “As a young man you worked summers in a slaughterhouse. What did you learn from that.” His answer? “To go to college.” Sometimes, college is a better alternative.
“Unwelcome news for educators: Net worth of Forbes 400 members known to have graduated from college is around $625 million. The average for those who never attended college: $652 million.” — Forbes magazine, 1990
Less than 5% of Major League baseball players have a college degree (Alex Rodriguez).