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.
Ice T, nee Tracy Lauren Marrow, multi-millionaire rapper, record producer, songwriter, actor. After high school in south Los Angeles, he joined the army for a few years. After being discharged from the army, he spent some time in criminal activity before becoming a rapper and record producer.
Ville Tapio, co-founder Vastaamo. He did not attend college. Instead, he founded an online shop selling computer parts. A number of years later he co-founded Vastaamo.
R.F. “Rawley” Taplett, founder of R.F. Taplett Fruit & Cold Storage Company, multi-millionaire investor. He had only a high school diploma.
Quentin Tarantino, movie director, producer, and screenwriter. He was a high school dropout.
Benedikt Taschen, publisher of Taschen Books. At 18, he opened his first comic store. At 19, he founded Taschen Books, publisher of fine art books. As he once noted, he saw no point in going to a university.
Channing Tatum, actor. He dropped out of the University of South Florida at the age of 18 after one semester. He became an actor after stints as a male dancer/stripper, construction worker, perfume spritzer, and model. Here’s what he said about college: “Wow, this isn’t who I am. This isn’t what I want to do.”
Alfred Taubman, billionaire chairman of Sotheby, real estate investor, mall operator. He dropped out of the University of Michigan. He made his first fortune investing in shopping malls. In 2012, he pledged a donation of $56 million to the University of Michigan.
Jack Crawford Taylor, billionaire founder of Enterprise Rent-a-Car. He dropped out of Washington University to serve as a fighter pilot in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he sold cars before starting a car leasing company.
James Taylor, Grammy-winning singer and songwriter. He is best known for Fire and Rain as well as You’ve Got a Friend. He never attended college.
Noel Taylor, costume designer (stage and movies). He dropped out of school at the age of 16 to work in the theater, first as an actor, then as a designer.
Zachary Taylor, U.S. president, general. He had little formal schooling. He was home schooled.
Of the 44 people who have served as president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
Timmy Teepell, chief of staff for Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. A product of home schooling, he never attended college.
Rod Temperton, band member and songwriter. He taught himself to play drums while skipping school. He never attended college. Among his biggest hits: “Thriller,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Off the Wall.”The College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Quentin Tarantino, Benedikt Taschen, Channing Tatum, Noel Taylor, Rod Temperton, Clark Terry, Irving Thalberg, and others Click To Tweet
Gen Terao, founder and president of Balmuda appliance maker, also rock musician. He dropped out of high school.
Clark Terry, jazz trumpeter. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he began playing for many of the top jazz orchestras. He never attended college.
Julian Terry, movie director. He dropped out of film school to shoot his own short 6-minute movie which, in turn, got him a job directing a $10 million movie.
Abel Tesfaye, see The Weeknd.
Irving Thalberg, producer and studio executive. Sickly and convinced he’d never see 30, he skipped college to become a high-level executive at Universal Studios (at the age of 21!). He later became co-head of MGM.
Charlize Theron, actress, model. During high school, she was bullied for her clothes and nerdy glasses. She dropped out of high school to model.
Justin Theroux, actor. He has joked about getting kicked out of school.
Kelly Thiebaud, model and actress. Her mother made her finish high school, but she never attended college. As she noted about staying in high school, “At the time I hated it. There’s so much opportunity out there! But I’m thankful for it now, because the experience helped me stay grounded.”
Danny Thomas, actor, producer, humanitarian. He dropped out of high school.
Dave Thomas, billionaire founder of Wendy’s. As a youngster his family moved around a lot. While working as a busboy at the age of 15, he refused to move once again with his family. Instead, he dropped out of high school and went to work full time in a restaurant (moving in with the family that owned the restaurant). After he became a multimillionaire, he hired a tutor so he could pass the G.E.D. high school equivalency exam (which he did in 1993).
Tim Thomerson, actor. He began his career as a stand-up comedian before going on to great success as a charactor actor in movies and TV shows. While he never attended college, he did study acting with the legendary teacher, Stella Adler, in New York City.
Robert Thompson, founder of Punch Bowl Social restaurants and bars. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16. He eventually got his GED and studied philosophy in college although he never finished college. He got a job as a busboy and worked his way up to waiter and then bartender before becoming a restaurateur.
Bella Thorne, actress. She has not yet attended college.
Tim Thornhill, owner, Mendocino Wine Company and green entrepreneur. He dropped out of high school after the 9th grade and started working on ranches near his home town of Houston, Texas.The College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Charlize Theron, Justin Theroux, Danny Thomas, Dave Thomas, Bella Thorne, Billy Bob Thornson, Uma Thurman, and others Click To Tweet
Billy Bob Thornton, actor. After taking some classes at Henderson State University in Arkansas, he dropped out and headed for New York City to become a rock star. Four years later, he headed to Los Angeles to become an actor.
Uma Thurman, actress. She left boarding school at the age of 15 and moved to New York City to become an actress. She has not attended college.
Kip Tindell, founder of the Container Store. He dropped out of the University of Texas. As he noted, “I crammed a four-year program into about eight years.”
Vick Tipnes, founder of Blackstone Medical Services. He never finished college.
Ashley Tisdale, singer and actress. She has not yet attended college.
Chuck Todd, political director, NBC News, and host of Meet the Press. He’s six credits short of graduating from George Washington University (according to him, a financial decision). He intends to finish before his children start college.
Leo Tolstoy, count, novelist (War and Peace, Anna Karenina). He dropped out after three years at the university.
Marisa Tomei, Oscar-winning actress. She transferred from Boston University after one year to attend New York University, but she dropped out within a year to continue her career as an actress.
George Tomsco, rock musician, Fireballs. He dropped out of New Mexico Tech to become a rock star.
Adam and Matthew Toren, founders of YoungEntrepreneur.com. As they noted on their website:
Entrepreneurs at an early age, Matthew and I had already started six (toot toot) businesses by the time we graduated high school. We were both offered college scholarships, but turned them down – it was clear to us that college was not in our future. Within a week of graduating high school, we bought a bar/café/billiards location, which we overhauled, re-branded and turned into a hot spot; and on the 12-month we sold it for a great profit.
Lynsi Torres, billionaire owner of In-N-Out Burger (inherited). She did not attend college.
Ritchie Torres, U.S. congressperson. He dropped out of college because of severe bouts of depression.
Nick Tosches, novelist and biographer. He never attended college. As he noted in an interview in Esquire magazine: I wanted to just get a job so I could have enough money for my own apartment and be able to get drunk.
Nina Totenberg, radio show host. She dropped out of Boston University.The College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Ashley Tisdale, Chuck Todd, Marisa Tomei, Nina Totenberg, George Tomsco, Leo Tolstoy, John Travolta, Derek Trucks, Brian Tracy, and others Click To Tweet
Tenille Townes, country singer and songwriter. At the age of 17, she was nominated for a Canadian Country Music Award for Female Artist of the Year. She has not attended college.
Brian Tracy, motivational speaker and bestselling book author, did not graduate from high school. He also did not pass high school English, but he has written many, many bestselling books.
Doris Eaton Travis, a Ziegfield Follies girl, actress, singer. She started at the Follies the day she finished eighth grade. She finally earned her high school diploma at the age of 77. And she finally graduated from college at the age of 88.
John Travolta, actor. His parents allowed him to drop out of Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey for one year to pursue a theatrical career in New York City. He never returned.
Derek Trucks, singer and musician. He attended high school on the road while playing for the Allman Brothers Band. He never attended college.
Harry Truman, U.S. president. He never went to college.
Of the 44 people who have served as president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
Isaac Tshuva, billionaire builder, industrialist, and hotelier. At the age of 12, he started working as a laborer to support his family while attending school at night. After three years in the army, he skipped college to begin working in construction.
Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, former slave, humanitarian, spy, nurse, suffragist. She was a big promoter of education even though she was illiterate.
Tanya Tucker, Grammy-winning country singer. She dropped out of the ninth grade to sing. Soon she had sung five #1 hits.
Frederick Tudor, the Ice King. He dropped out of school at the age of 13. After loafing for a few years, he retired to his family’s country estate to fish, farm, and hunt. Eventually, he began shipping ice from his Massachusetts pond to tropical countries for use in cooling drinks and making ice cream.
Ted Turner, billionaire founder of CNN and TBS, owner of Atlanta Braves, philanthropist, America’s largest landowner with 1.8 million acres. He was asked to leave Brown University during his fourth year. He got suspended twice, once for having a girl in his room and he doesn’t remember the second reason.
I’m down to a little more than a billion. You can get by on that if you really economize and don’t buy a lot of planes and yachts and stuff. — Ted Turner
Nicholas Turturro, actor. He majored in theater at Adelphi University for two years, but left to marry and raise a child. His older brother John introduced him to Spike Lee, and thus started his acting career.
Fred Tuttle, dairy farmer, actor. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade and spent most of his life as a farmer. He became a celebrity as a 77-year-old actor in the movie Man with a Plan.
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), printer, riverboat pilot, prospector, newspaper reporter, humorist, bestselling novelist. He left school a year after his father’s death; he never went beyond the fifth grade. Nonetheless, he still wrote the first great American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Leeann Tweeden, model and TV correspondent. After graduating from high school at the age of 16, she won a model-search contest and moved to Hollywood to pursue a modeling and TV career.
21 Savage, rapper. He is a high-school dropout.
Jamie Tworkowski, surfer and founder of To Write Love on Her Arms. She dropped out of high school but eventually went back to finish. She started college but soon dropped out.
It wasn’t my choice to walk away from school. I was hanging around with guys older than me, and I’d skip school to play with them. I kept missing more and more school, and I got busted for it finally. But I went back. I felt like I’d be a real stooge if I didn’t at least finish high school. — Jamie Tworkowski
Sujay Tyle, founded Hired, a job-search website, before joining Sherpa Ventures. As a Thiel Fellow, he skipped college to start his company.
Mike Tyson, heavyweight champion boxer; the first boxer to hold the WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight titles at the same time. He made his professional boxing debut at the age of 18. He never attended college.The College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Harriet Tubman, Ted Turner, Nicholas Turtorro, Mark Twain, Leeann Tweeden, 21 Savage, Mike Tyson, Jamie Tworkowski, and others Click To Tweet
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