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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.

Al Pacino, actor. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to try acting.

Jared Padalecki, actor. He originally planned to attend the University of Texas after graduating from high school in 2000, but he decided to move Los Angeles instead to pursue an acting career.

Anita Pallenberg, actress, model. At the age of 16, she was expelled from a German boarding school. She soon began modeling in Italy and then New York. 35 years later, she did get a fashion degree from a London art college.

Dheeraj Pandev, founder of Nutanix. He dropped out of his second year in the PhD program at the University of Texas to become an engineer.

Dan Panoz, founder of Panoz Auto Development car design firm. He dropped out of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Gainesville College.

Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Patti Page, Arnold Palmer, Gwyneth Paltrow, San Panoz, Sean Parker #college Click To Tweet

Larry Page, billionaire co-founder of Google. He dropped out of the Stanford Ph.D. program in computer science to start Google in 1998 working out of a friend’s garage. Unlike his co-founder Sergie Brin, he never returned to finish the Ph.D. program.

Patti Page, aka Clara Ann Fowler, singer. As a teen, she took a job in the art department of KTUL radio. She never attended college.

Arnold Palmer, professional golfer. He attended Wake Forest University but dropped out after his best friend died in an automobile accident. He then served in the U.S. Coast Guard for three years before beginning his golfing career.

Gwyneth Paltrow, actress, entrepreneur, founder of Goop. She dropped out of the University of California at Santa Barbara to try to be an actress.

Charlie “Bird” Parker, jazz musician and father of modern jazz. He attended Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri but left after a year and a half to join the local musicians union.

Sean Parker, billionaire co-creator of Napster, founding president of Facebook. He barely finished high school (he was not interested in school). He has never made it to college.

I kind of refer to it as Napster University. It was a crash course in intellectual property law, corporate finance, entrepreneurship, and law school. — Sean Parker

Formal education becomes less and less important. We should expect to see the emergence of a new kind of entrepreneur who has acquired most of their knowledge through self-exploration. — Sean Parker (quoted in The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg)

Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer. She dropped out of high school.

Dolly Parton, Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and Oscar-nominated actress. The day after graduating from high school, she left her Smoky Mountain home to head to Nashville.

Adam Passey, vice president of information and technology for a marketing agency. He was then hired by IGN Entertainment. He never graduated from college.

Danica Patrick, race car driver. Instead of going to high school, she went to London when she was 16 to train as a driver (and where she got her GED). She has not yet attended college.

Robert Pattinson, actor. He was expelled from high school.

I was stealing porno magazines and selling them in school. — Robert Pattinson

Damien Patton, founder of Banjo. He dropped out of high school to venture out on his own. But he later graduated from the University of North Carolina in Greensville.

Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Danica Patrick, Aaron Paul, Jeno Paulucci, Harvey Pekar #college Click To Tweet

Aaron Paul, actor. He has not finished college.

Jake Paul, videomaker and Vine celebrity. He finished his junior year in high school and flew out to Los Angeles to make his way in the world of entertainment. He has not yet attended college.

Kevin Paul, founder of KPaul, an Inc. 500 company. He joined the army straight out of high school. He never attended college.

Nate Paul, multi-millionaire real estate developer, World Class Holding. He dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin after his sophomore year.

Jeno Paulucci, multi-millionaire founder of Chun King and Jeno’s. He left school at the age of 16 to sell fruits and vegetables. Twenty years later he borrowed $2,500 to begin canning his own version of chow mein. He sold Chun King 11 years later for $63 million. Several years later, he founded Jeno’s where he created pizza rolls. He sold that company 17 years later for $140 million.

Lil Peep, aka Gustav Ahr, rapper. He left high school early but eventually got his diploma. He never attended college.

Harvey Pekar, comic book author. He dropped out of Case Western Reserve University. His reason? He quit “when the pressure of required math classes proved too much to bear.”

George Pelecanos, crime novelist, TV writer, producer. When his father suffered a heart attack, he dropped out of the University of Maryland to run his family’s diner.

Nelson Peltz, billionaire leveraged buyout investor. He dropped out of Wharton Business School.

Robin Wright Penn, actress. She never attended college. She was already modeling in high school and had a steady acting job at the age of 19 in the soap opera Santa Barbara.

Pinetop Perkins, blues pianist. He left school after the third grade.

Andrew Perlman, co-founder of GreatPoint. He dropped out of Washington University to start an Internet communications company, Cignal Global Communications, when he was 19.

Barry Perlman, co-founder of Lucky Brands jeans and Civilianaire clothing. He opened his first retail clothing store at the age of 17. He never attended college.

Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Robin Wright Penn, Andrew Perlman, Katy Perry, Markus Persson #college Click To Tweet

Katy Perry, singer. She left home at the age of 14 to make it on her own in Nashville. She then moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17. She did not attend college. She worked various crappy jobs and sank into debt until she signed a deal with Capitol Records and released her bestselling album, One of the Boys.

I didn’t go to high school, didn’t go to college. It’s not like I’m a book-smart person, and I know that. How I learn is through my eyes and my ears. But I grew up with a lot of things that I’ve had to let go, rework, reroute, rechange. I will definitely make sure my children have all of the tools to have a fantastic education. So I will stop that in my generation now. — Katy Perry

Markus Persson, billionaire game developer of Minecraft. He did not finish high school.

Stefano Pessino, billionaire, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance drugstores and pharmaceutical wholesaler. He attended the Politecnico di Milano but dropped out when he was disgusted with the lax grading standards.

John Pestana, multimillionaire co-founder of Omniture. He dropped out of Brigham Young University during his final semester to co-found MyComputer.com, which became Omniture.

Thomas Peterffy, billionaire founder of Interactive Brokers Group. Immigrating to the U.S., he started as a draftsman and moved from one dingy apartment to another in Spanish Harlem.

Roberta Peters, opera singer. She left school after junior high to take voice, drama, fitness, and language lessons. She became a star after the lead singer at the Metropolitan Opera got food poisoning. She was called in at the last minute and nailed the live performance.

Jon Peters, movie producer, hairdresser. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade. He later moved to New York City to learn how to be a hairdresser.

Tom Petty, singer and songwriter. He dropped out of high school at 17 to play in local rock bands.

Pewdiepie. See Felix Kjellberg.

Bridget Phetasy, nee Bridget Anna Walsh, is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. Not a college graduate, she was once the iconic Playboy Advisor for Playboy magazine’s monthly advice column.

Todd Phillips, screenwriter, director, and producer, Green Hat Films. He dropped out of film school at New York University to promote his first documentary, Hatred.

George Phippen, artist, cofounder of Cowboy Artists of America. He quit school before the eighth grade.

Joaquin Phoenix, actor, director, producer, singer. He did not attend college.

River Phoenix, actor, singer, songwriter. He did not attend college.

Phosphorescent, country singer. He left home at 18 to tour the Southwest. He lived out of his pickup for six months.

Pablo Picasso: Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot. Others transform a yellow spot into the sun. - Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, modern artist, painter, sculptor, co-founder of Cubism, co-inventor of collage. At the age of 16, he attended the Royal Academy of San Fernando (Spain’s foremost art school), but he disliked the formal instruction and soon quit attending classes altogether.

Mary Pickford, Oscar-winning actress, co-founder of United Artists. Home schooled, she had six months of formal education.

James A. Pike, Episcopal bishop. He dropped out of the University of Santa Clara after his sophomore year.

Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Pablo Picasso, Mary Pickford, Pink, Chet Pipkin, Brad Pitt, Ellen Pompeo, Sydney Polloack #college Click To Tweet

François Pinault, third-richest man in France, billionaire owner of Gucci, Samsonite, Puma, and Christie’s auctions. He quit high school to work at his father’s lumber mill.

Pink, aka Alecia Moore, singer. She dropped out of high school at the age of 15. After her mother kicked her out of the house, she moved to Los Angeles to become a singer.

Chet Pipkin, billionaire founder of Belkin. He dropped out of UCLA after less than a year to invent personal computer accessories.

Brad Pitt, actor. He left the University of Missouri two credits short of graduating so he could begin his acting career in California. He began his career in California sleeping on a couch in singer Melissa Etheridge’s home.

Ian Player, South African game warden who saved the white rhino. He left school at the age of 16 to join the army.

Maya Plisetskaya, ballerina. After graduating from the Boishoi ballet school, she began dancing professionally. She never attended college.

Sidney Poitier, Oscar-winning actor. He only finished a few grades. He could read at the fourth-grade level until a friend taught him how to read better when he was a struggling actor in New York City.

Kevin Pollack, actor and comedian. After graduating from high school in San Jose, California, he moved to San Francisco to work as a comedian.

Sydney Pollack, movie director, producer, and actor. He skipped college and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied under drama coach Sanford Meisner.

Eugene Polley, inventor of the wireless remote control. He attended the City Colleges of Chicago and the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), but did not have enough money to graduate from college. He joined Zenith as a parts clerk at the age of 20 and rose from the stockroom to the engineering department based on his mechanical aptitude. Eventually he earned 18 U.S. patents for his inventions.

Ellen Pompeo, actress. She has not attended college. As she once noted, “I only have a 12th grade education and I wasn’t a great student, but I’ve gotten an education here at Shondaland.”

Debra Ponzek, chef and owener of Aux Délices stores. She dropped out of Boston University to become a chef. She later graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York City.

Ron Popeil, multimillionaire founder of Ronco, inventor, infomercial pitchman, and producer. He dropped out of college. He did, though, receive the Ig Nobel Award for Consumer Engineering. He was the inventor of the Solid Flavor Injector, Mr. Microphone, Showtime Rotisserie, and more.

Katherine Anne Porter, novelist, short story writer, and journalist. She left home at the age of 16 and got married. She never attended college.

Dean Potter, climber and slack-liner. He enrolled at the University of New Hampshire and joined the rowing team, but quit soon thereafter. “I didn’t fit in,” he has said. “I wanted to destroy everybody on my team and establish my dominance, and that’s all I cared about.”

Monica Potter, actress. In a recent interview, she suggested she might start college: My oldest son is in college now and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to go to school with him?”

Joe Poulin, founder of Luxury Retreats, started developing websites when he was a teen. He flew to Barbados to build a website for a local villa-rental group. That, in turn, led to his starting Luxury Retreats. He has not attended college.

James Pound, multimillionaire founder of Hello. As a Thiel Fellow, he skipped college to start his company.

Charlie Powell, football player and boxer. When he graduated from San Diego High School, he received offers to play football at UCLA and Notre Dame. But, instead, he accepted an offer to play baseball for the St. Louis Browns. After playing in the minors for a year, he joined the San Francisco 49ers to play football professionally. He played professional football for seven years while boxing professionally in the off-season. At one point he was ranked #4 in the world as a heavyweight contender (he fought Mohammad Ali and Floyd Patterson in their prime).

William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook. Dropped out of high school. Later applied to attend Windham College, but did not spend much time there. Eventually he did earn a master’s degree in English and taught school for many years.

William J. Powell, developer and owner of the Clearview Golf Club, the first U.S. golf course designed, owned, and operated by an African American; also competed in the first U.S. interracial collegiate golf match. He left Wilberforce University early because he had an enlarged heart.

Terry Pratchett, bestselling fantasy author. He sold his first short story at the age of 15 (and immediately bought his first typewriter). After he dropped out of school, he worked as a journalist while writing fantasy novels on the side.

Chris Pratt, actor. He tried community college for a semester but dropped out midway to sell coupons door-to-door. After two years of that he moved to Hawaii to live on the beach and work at a restaurant. While there he met a Hollywood star (Rae Dawn Chong) looking for an actor to co-star in a horror movie. He got the job.

Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro. He dropped out of Stanford University to rush home to India to take care of his family after his father died. He built Wipro into a multi-billion dollar company. Many years later he completed his Stanford degree via correspondence course. “If my father had not died, I probably would have stayed in the U.S. and completed my master’s degree.”

Lisa Marie Presley, singer. She dropped out of high school.

André Previn, composer, pianist, and conductor. A relative found the teenage Previn a job in the music department of MGM where he composed movie scores. He never attended college.

Seth Priebatsch, chief ninja of scvngr.com and founder of PostcardTech. He dropped out of Princeton University after one year.

John Prine, country music singer and songwriter. He never made it past high school. In 1966, he was drafted into the Army where he worked as a mechanic. After getting out of the Army, he returned home and got a job as a postman. He made up songs as he walked his route. Soon he was playing his songs at clubs in the Chicago area.

Man, I hated school. I’d stare at the buttons on the teacher’s shirt the whole class. — John Prine

Jeff Probst, host, Survivor TV series. He dropped out of college after three and a half years to pursue a career as a singer in a rock ‘n roll band.

Bob Proctor, success speaker, bestselling author of You Were Born Rich, teacher of The Secret, and co-founder of Life Success Publishing. He went to high school for two months.

Wolfgang Puck, multimillionaire chef, owner of many restaurants and 80 express bistros. He quit school at the age of 14 and got a job as a cooking apprentice at a hotel. When he told his father, his dad said, “Well, you’re good for nothing. Cooking is for women.”

James Brian Mark Purefoy, actor. After leaving school at the age of sixteen, he worked on a pig farm and as a porter at Yeovil District Hospital before succeeding as an actor.

Ian Purkayastha, prince of truffles, North American sales director for PAQ. He dropped out of Baruch College during orientation week. He has not yet gone back to college.

David Putnam, Oscar-winning producer. He dropped out of high school.

Ernie Pyle, journalist. He left high school early to become a cub reporter.

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!

More: The College Dropouts Hall of Fame

Famous, Rich, and Successful People Who Were High School or College Dropouts, including Ernie Pyle, Wolfgang Puck, Bob Proctor, David Putnam, Jeff Probst, Chris Pratt #college Click To Tweet

College Dropouts Hall of Fame


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