Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts
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 and/or successful without graduating from college and/or high school.
James Cagney, actor, song-and-dance man. From the age of 14, he worked as an office boy, janitor, package wrapper, and finally vaudeville dancer. He never graduated from high school.
Sammy Cahn, Oscar-winning songwriter. He dropped out of high school.
Michael Caine, Oscar-winning actor. He dropped out of high school.
Hector “Macho” Camacho, boxer. He was expelled from six schools by the age of 16. He turned professional boxer at the age of 18. He never attended college.
James Cameron, Oscar-winning director, producer, and screenwriter. He dropped out of California State University, Fullerton, at the age of 20. Then he took up street racing while working as a truck driver and a high school janitor, eventually getting a job building models for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including James Cagney, Sammy Cahn, Michael Cain, James Cameron, and Hector Macho Camacho Click To Tweet
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S. representative and senator. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to join the U.S. Air Force, where he earned his GED.He later attended and graduated from San Jose State College.
Glen Campbell, singer, songwriter, actor. He dropped out of high school at the age of 14, then moved to Wyoming to play music on the road with his uncle.
Naomi Campbell, model, TV host. She was discovered by a modeling scout at the age of 15. She did not attend college.
Vince Camuto, founder of Nine West footwear and the Camuto Group. After high school, he became a service manager at a shoe store. He never went to college.
Lizzy Caplan, actress. She was accepted at New York University, but decided not to attend so she could continue to act. As an actress in the Mean Girls movie, she got a taste of the college experience: “It was interesting because that movie was as close to a college experience as I got.”
Nick Caporella, billionaire founder of National Beverage. He worked as a contractor after high school. He never went to college.
Jack Cardiff, cinematographer. His formal education was spotty because his family moved every week or so. He started in the movie business as a gofer and later graduated to camera work.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Glen Campbell, Naomi Campbell, Vince Camuto, Lizzy Caplan, Jack Cardiff, Nick Caporella Click To Tweet
George Carlin, comedian, author, 4-time Grammy winner. He never finished high school.
As he noted, “The fact that I didn’t finish school left me with a lifelong need to prove that I’m smart.” He also noted, “When you’re a dropout and the culture accepts you and begins to quote you and teach your stuff in class and textbooks, this is my honorary baccalaureate.”
Kitty Carlisle, actress, panelist on To Tell the Truth.
I went to boarding schools in Lausanne. And then I went to school in Neuilly. I stopped school when I was about 16. I went to Rome to come out. I never got any degrees or anything, but I am better educated than people who went to college.
John Carmack, founder of Armadillo Aerospace, co-founder of Id Software (sold 10 million copies of Dome and Quake games). At the age of 14, he was sent to a juvenile home after breaking into a school to steal an Apple II computer. He quit college early to become a game programmer.
Andrew Carnegie, billionaire industrialist and philanthropist. He was an elementary school dropout. He started work at the age of 13 as a bobbin boy in a textile mill, but later became one of the first mega-billionaires in the U.S.
Adam Carolla, comedian, radio/TV personality, podcast superstar. He did not attend college.
He was a wrong-side-of-the-tracks North Hollywood high-school graduate who could barely read and who worked a series of menial jobs before breaking into radio and then TV. (Fast Company)
Scott Carpenter, astronaut. He twice flunked out of the University of Colorado.
Jim Carrey, actor, comedian, artist. He dropped out of high school on his 16th birthday. He couldn’t wait to get out of school.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Andrew Carnegie, Adam Carolla, Scott Carpenter, Jim Carrey, Julia Carson, Kitty Carlisle, George Carlin Click To Tweet
Julia Carson, U.S. congress representative. She did not graduate from college. She was the first woman and first African-American to represent Indianapolis.
Amon G. Carter, multimillionaire oilman, civic promoter, newspaper publisher, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He never finished eighth grade.
Gary Carter, Hall of Fame baseball player. He was heavily recruited to play college football but chose to sign with the Montreal Expo baseball team instead.
Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR. He didn’t finish his sports management degree at Western Michigan University. Instead, he apprenticed for a year and a half under a basketball senior director.
Shawn Carter, see Jay-Z (under Z).
Tom Carvel, inventor of the soft-serve ice cream machine, founder of Carvel ice cream stores. He did not attend college. Before he began selling ice cream, he was an auto mechanic, Dixieland band drummer, and test driver for Studebaker.
Allen Case, actor. He attended Southern Methodist University for two years before dropping out.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Gary Carter, Pete Cashmore, Laetitia Casta, Raul Castro, Tom Carvel, Allen Case, John Catsimatidis Click To Tweet
Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable.com. He founded the blog website when he was 19. As a result he did not complete college. He retired from active blogging three years later.
Laetitia Casta, model and actress. She was discovered at the age of 15 and began modeling right away. She has not attended college.
Raul Castro, Cuban premier. He dropped out of university.
John Catsimatidis, billionaire oilman and real estate magnate, founder of Red Apple supermarkets. He studied engineering at New York University but dropped out to help a friend save his family’s supermarket business. He owned 10 stores of his own by the age of 24 with $25 million per year in income. During college, he “did not study much. I would not tell my kids that.”
Bruce Catton, historian, editor of American Heritage, author. World War I interrupted his studies at Oberlin College. He tried twice after the war to finish college but kept getting pulled away by real jobs at a succession of newspapers.
Henry Cavill, actor. He left school at the age of 17 and hasn’t attended college yet.
It was neck and neck. Acting just pounced before the military did. — Henry Cavill
Wiley Cerilli, model, founder of SinglePlatform. He dropped out after one year at Syracuse University to bike across the country for the American Association for Cancer Research. Then he worked at SeamlessWeb until that company was bought out. He launched SinglePlatform software in 2009.
Gurbaksh Chahal, multimillionaire founder of online ad networks Click Again and BlueLithium. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 to found Click Again.
Herb Chambers, billionaire car dealer. He dropped out of high school during his senior year to join the Navy. He started up as a copier repairman at the age of 22 and built that business into a million-dollar business. He later bought his first Cadillac dealership and built a string of auto dealerships from there.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Bruce Catton, Herb Chambers, Jackie Chan, John Chancellor, Kyle Chandler, Coco Chanel Click To Tweet
Jackie Chan, actor and philanthropist. A grade school dropout, he attended the China Drama Academy, became an accomplished student of martial arts and acrobatics, and began work in films at the age of 8. He spent the years after high school doing construction jobs before finally becoming a successful actor.
John Chancellor, TV journalist and anchorman. He dropped out of high school.
Kyle Martin Chandler, actor. Seven credits shy of graduating, he dropped out of the University of Georgia and flew to Hollywood (after being signed by ABC in an actor development deal).
Subhash Chandra, billionaire founder of Zee TV satellite television channel. He dropped out of college to help his family. He became a rice trader and later founded Essel Propack.
Coco Chanel (Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) fashion designer. She left the orphanage at the age of 18 to pursue a career as a cabaret singer.
Do Won Chang, billionaire co-founder of Forever 21 retail chain. He never attended college.
Jin Sook Chang, billionaire co-founder of Forever 21 retail chain. She never attended college.
Carol Channing, singer, actress, comedienne, Tony-winning Broadway star. She left Bennington College in Vermont after her junior year to find work as an actress in New York City. During lean times, she worked as a big player, nightclub impressionist, model, receptionist, and sales clerk
Charles Chaplin, Oscar-winning actor, screenwriter, producer, director. He dropped out of elementary school.
Ray Charles, singer, pianist. He dropped out of high school.
Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel. He started the company when he was a high school senior. He dropped out of college.
Mack Chase, billionaire founder of Mack Energy. He began working on oil rigs when he was 14 years old. He then served as a mechanic during the Korean War only to return home to work on oil wells with his father and brother. He never attended college.
Jessica Chastain, actress. She dropped out of high school but later attended Juilliard because she received a scholarship. As she noted, “I dropped out of high school. I was not a hard worker. I was a terrible student.”Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Ray Charles, Jessica Chastain, Justin Chatwin, Charles Chaplin, Maurice Chevalier, Chingy, Margaret Cho Click To Tweet
Justin Chatwin, actor. He dropped out of business school at the University of British Columbia to move to Los Angeles and become an actor.
Binod Chaudhary, Nepal’s first billionaire, hotel owner, banker, and more. He skipped college to join his family trade at the age of 18.
Cher, see Cherilyn Sarkisian (under S).
Maurice Chevalier, Oscar-winning actor, singer. He dropped out of high school.
Chingy, aka Howard Bailey Jr., rapper. He began writing lyrics at the age of 9 and recording raps when he was 10. He never attended college.
Margaret Cho, comedienne and actress. She dropped out of the San Francisco School of the Arts during her senior year.
Todd Christopher, billionaire founder of Vogue International. He dropped out of high school to work at a cousin’s hair salon. At the age of 22, he opened his own salon and later founded Vogue.
Winston Churchill, British prime minister, historian, artist. Rebellious by nature, he generally did poorly in school. He flunked sixth grade. After he left Harrow, he applied to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, but it took him three times before he passed the entrance exam. He graduated 8th out of a class of 150 a year and a half later. He never attended college.
Madonna Ciccone, multimillionaire pop singer and actress. She dropped out of the University of Michigan, where she was studying dance, to move to New York to pursue a singing career.
Joe Cirulli, founder of GHFC, a multimillion dollar fitness club company. After two years at Corning Community College, he decided to take a year off and travel around the country. He ended up following his girlfriend to Gainesville, Florida, where he started his health and fitness centers.
Louis C.K., see Louis Szekely.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Winston Churchill, Madonna, Gary Clark Jr., Guy Clark, Kelly Clarkson, Mark Twain, Grover Cleveland Click To Tweet
Gary Clark Jr., guitarist. He turned down a full scholarship at the University of Texas at Austin to tour with Jimmie Vaughan and promote his first record.
Guy Clark, country singer and songwriter, guitar maker, member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. After a short stint in the Peace Corps and a little time at the University of Minnesota before dropping out, he moved to Texas to open a guitar repair shop.
James H. Clark, billionaire founder of Silicon Graphics and co-founder of Netscape. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and entered the Navy. He later took night classes and attended the University of New Orleans, where he earned a Master’s degree in physics. He eventually earned a PhD in computer science from the University of Utah.
Kelly Clarkson, pop singer. She received several college music scholarships but passed on them to move to Los Angeles to pursue a singing career.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens. See Mark Twain.
Grover Cleveland, U.S. president (22nd and 24th). He dropped out of school to help his family. He later studied law while clerking at a law firm.
Of the 43 people who served as president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
Eleanor Clift, reporter, Newsweek. No college degree. She went to night school for several years while working as a secretary.
Lee Clow, global director of media arts, TBWA\Worldwide. He is a college dropout.
Hank Cochran, country singer and songwriter. He worked in the oil fields of New Mexico while still a teenager. He then moved to California to sing before moving to Nashville and building a career as a songwriter of such hits as “I Fall to Pieces,” “Make the World Go Away,” and “She’s Got You.” He never graduated from high school.
Wayne Cochran, rhythm-and-blues singer and songwriter, aka the White Knight of Soul. He dropped out school in the ninth grade to pursue music.
Paulo Coelho, songwriter, bestselling novelist. He was institutionalized from age 17 to 20. He later enrolled in law school but dropped out after one year, became a hippie, traveled the world, and later worked as a songwriter before writing his first novel. His novel The Alchemist has sold more than 100 million copies.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Eleanor Clift, Hank Cochran, Wayne Cochran, Paulo Coelho, Bram Cohen, Toni Collette, Jackie Collins Click To Tweet
Bram Cohen, software programmer, developer of BitTorrent. He attended the State University of New York at Buffalo for one year and then left. As he noted, “Were I to have to redo high school, I would just drop out immediately.”
Ryan Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Chewy.com. After graduating from high school and dropping out of college, he started an internet marketing company with a friend. That company eventually turned into Chewy.com. In April 2017, he sold Chewy.com to PetSmart for $3.35 billion (the largest e-commerce acquisition up to that time).
Taylor Cole, actress and model. She started modeling after graduating from high school.
Tom Colicchio, founder of Crafted Hospitality and head judge at the Top Chef TV competition show. After graduating from high school in Elizabeth, New Jersey, he worked as a busboy, prep cook, and line cook before moving up to being an executive chef and finally owner of his own restaurants.
Toni Collette, actress. She quit high school at the age of 16 to study musical theater at Australia’s National Institute for Dramatic Art, but then left school there after she got her first paying gigs.
Jackie Collins, actress and novelist. Expelled from high school at the age of 15, she immediately threw her school uniform into the Thames River and never looked back. She has written 28 bestselling novels with 400 million copies sold worldwide.
Phil Collins, actor, singer, songwriter, drummer, keyboardist. He never attended college. He has been a successful solo singer as well as lead singer for Genesis.
John Collison, software wizard, co-founder of Stripe. He dropped out of Harvard to start Stripe, the online service for accepting payments on the web.
Patrick Collison, software wizard, co-founder of Stripe. He dropped out of MIT during his freshman year to help two friends develop and eventually sell Automatic for millions of dollars.
Christopher Columbus, explorer, discover of America. He had little formal education. He was home schooled.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Phil Collins, Christopher Columbus, Sean John Combs, Sean Connery, Harry Connick Jr., Kevin Connolly Click To Tweet
Christine Comaford-Lynch, founder of Artemis Ventures (venture capital firm) and Mighty Ventures. She dropped out of high school. She also dropped out of the University of California at San Diego and UCLA. She dabbled as a model, trained as a geisha, spent years as a Buddhist monk, dated Bill Gates and Larry Ellison. She is the author of Rules of Renegades.
Sean John Combs, rapper, producer, fashion designer, entertainer, actor, and entrepreneur. He did not finish college. As he said in an interview in Time magazine:
I’m just not that type of person. As soon as I got out of the womb, I was ready to do this. Then there’s other times—I’m not really high-tech computer savvy, and there’s some things that I do have weaknesses with. I don’t know if school would have made that better for me. I’m cool the way I’ve turned out.
Sean Connery, nee Thomas Sean Connery, Oscar-winning actor. He dropped out of high school and went to work as a milkman in Edinburgh, Scotland. At sixteen, he joined the Royal Navy but was discharged three years later because of a duodenal ulcer. He returned to work as a milkman, then worked as a lorry driver, a lifeguard, a laborer, an artist’s model, and a coffin polisher. His work as a model led to acting jobs where he became famous as the first James Bond actor.
Harry Connick, Jr., Grammy-winning pianist, singer, actor. He has sold over 25 million albums. At the age of 18, he left New Orleans to move to New York City. He did study at Loyola University, Hunter College, and the Manhattan School of Music, but apparently did not graduate.
Kevin Connolly, actor. He skipped college, moved to Los Angeles to live with a bunch of unemployed actors, and finally had success as an actor in Entourage.
Casey Connor, celebrity DJ. When her mother and father died when she was 16, she started an in-home day care center so she could keep her 12-year-old sister out of foster care. She is now a celebrity DJ in great demand in the LA area. While she never attended college, she is most proud of helping her sister get through college.
Lauren Conrad, reality show actress, bestselling novelist, fashion designer. She moved to Los Angeles fresh out of high school to pursue acting.
Terence Conran, award-winning furniture designer. When he left school at the age of 18, he began sharing a workshop with two other artists. He never attended college.
Jackie Coogan, actor. He flunked out of Santa Clara University and transferred to the University of Southern California, but never graduated.
Jack Kent Cooke, billionaire media mogul, owner of Washington Redskins football team. He dropped out of high school.
James Fenimore Cooper, novelist. He was kicked out of college for a prank.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Lauren Conrad, Jackie Coogan, Jack Kent Cooke, James Fenimore Cooper, James Corden, Al Copeland Click To Tweet
Al Copeland, multimillionaire founder of Popeye’s Fast Food. He left high school at the age of 16 to work in a supermarket and later at a doughnut shop. While he never finished high school, he supported educational programs through his donations.
James Corden, actor, comedian. He did not go to university.
Rick Corman, founder of R J Corman Railroad Group. He founded the company in 1973 when he was 18 years old. He did not attend college.
Don Cornelius, creator, producer, and host of Soul Train TV show; the high priest of soul, funk, and disco. He joined the marines after high school, then sold insurance, and finally became a radio DJ on a local AM radio station before founding Soul Train with $400 of his own money.
Chris Cornell, aka Christopher John Boyle, singer, songwriter, and founder of Soundgarden. He dropped out school at the age of 16 and founded Soundgarden.
Steve Corona, chief technology officer of Twitpic. He dropped out of the Rochester Institute of Technology in his sophomore year.
I basically said, going to class is not worth my time. I ended up failing out. I was 19 or 20 years old, making 10 bucks an hour at a little job, and I was like “Holy crap, I’m screwed.” …
You need to have a history of making things, a history of being successful outside college. You need that inner fire when exploring things outside what you’re doing in the classroom. I didn’t really give myself that diagnostic test, but looking back, I see that I was doing things on my own, I was building stuff outside of the classroom. I was building all sorts of web applications. I was doing web hosting online, and I remember the thrill of running my own company. The first time a dollar came in, even though it was only a dollar, it was such a thrilling roller coaster, I just wanted more of it.
Esteban Cortazar, fashion designer. He never attended college but instead went directly to designing and presenting at New York Fashion Week at the age of 18.
Petra Cortright, artist. She went to California College of the Arts but later transferred to Parsons in New York City. She also dropped out of Parsons. As she noted, “Some of my teachers, I really thought they were idiots.”
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, actor. He has not attended college.
Noel Coward, Oscar-winning actor, playwright, director, producer, composer. He dropped out of elementary school.
Simon Cowell, TV producer, music judge, American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, and The X Factor. A member of Forbes 2008 Celebrity 100, he made $72 million in 2007. He dropped out of boarding school at the age of 16.
Courteney Cox, actress, model, producer. She moved to New York City at the age of 18 to pursue acting and modeling. She did not attend college.
James M. Cox, billionaire newspaper publisher, 3-term governor of Ohio, presidential nominee in 1920, founded Cox Enterprises. He was a high school dropout.Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Noel Coward, Simon Cowell, Courteney Cox, Daniel Craig, James M. Cox Click To Tweet
Gerard Craft, restaurateur. He dropped out of culinary school, saying, “I never did well in the classroom—I got bored.” Then he worked at a car wash and pool hall before starting up a restaurant.
Daniel Craig, actor. He dropped out of school at the age of 17. He did not attend college, but he did attend the National Youth Theatre.
Frank Crail, co-founder of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. He dropped out of college after two years and joined the U.S. Army. He never finished college.
Simon Crane, stunt person and stunt coordinator for movies. He dropped out of law school and joined the circus before starting stunt work in a James Bond movie.
Cindy Crawford, actress, model, entrepreneur. She graduated high school as the valedictorian. Then she studied chemical engineering at Northwestern University for half a year before dropping out to model.
Joan Crawford, Oscar-winning actress, dancer. She dropped out of high school.
Davy Crockett, frontiersman, U.S. congressman. He had less than six months of formal education. He was mainly home schooled.
Tom Cruise, actor, producer. He never attended college.
Brunello Cucinelli, billionaire fashion designer. He dropped out of engineering school. “In three years I completed one exam.”Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Cindy Crawford, Joan Crawford, Davy Crockett, Tom Cruise, Robert Culp, Kaley Cuoco, Miley Cyrus, Elisha Cuthbert Click To Tweet
Roy Cullen, oilman billionaire. He dropped out of fifth grade.
Robert Culp, actor. He bounced around 4 colleges before dropping out and moving to New York to study acting and pursue an acting career.
Charles Culpeper, multimillionaire owner and CEO of Coca Cola. He dropped out of high school.
Kaley Cuoco, actress. She has not attended college.
I hated school more than anything. I told my parents when I was 16, “I’m gonna be an actor for the rest of my life, and I want to homeschool, graduate early and do what I want,'”which I did.
Tom Currier, founder of Black Swan Solar and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Founder’s Fund. As a Thiel Fellow, he skipped college to start his company.
Elisha Cuthbert, actress. She took off for Los Angeles right after high school to develop her acting career. She gave herself six months to succeed. During the last week of those six months, she got a key role in the 24 TV series. She has not yet attended college.
Miley Cyrus, singer, actress. She has not yet attended college.
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!