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.
Lana Wachowski (born Laurence), transsexual screenwriter, director, best known for The Matrix. He dropped out of Bard College.
Lilly Wachowski (born Andrew), transsexual screenwriter, director, best known for The Matrix. He dropped out of Emerson College.
Donnie Wahlberg Jr., singer (New Kids on the Block), actor, music producer. He started his singing career at the age of 15 and never attended college.
Mark Wahlberg, rapper (as Marky Mark), model, actor, producer, entrepreneur. He dropped out of school at the age of 13. He was in prison by the age of 16 for assault. He is currently working on his GED: “I will have that GED before my kids are old enough to know that Dad never did it.” He has not attended college.
I never made it past the ninth grade. My circumstances were not unlike millions of other teens today, who live in tough working class neighborhoods surrounded by drugs, violence and crime, and who struggle to stay on the right path without positive influences. — Mark Wahlberg
Theodore Waitt, multi-millionaire founder of Gateway Computers. He dropped out of the University of Iowa one semester short of a degree to start Gateway with his older brother in 1985.
Hiro Wakabayashi, fashion photographer. When he came to America from Japan, he enrolled in the School of Modern Photography but quickly became dissatisfied and left. He apprenticed with a few professional photographers before apprenticing with fashion photographer Richard Avedon. The magazine American Photographer once asked: “Is this America’s greatest photographer?”
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia. He attended grade school at a two-room school run by his mother and grandmother. He dropped out of a PhD program in economics at the University of Indiana to become a trader at Chicago Options Associates.
Christopher Walken, actor. He dropped out of Hofstra University after one year to join the cast of a Broadway play. He never returned to college.
Adam Walker, endurance swimmer. He never attended college.
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin. He walked away from Marquette University just 34 credits short of a degree. He left to take a job.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Donnie Wahlberg, Mark Wahlberg, Jimmy Wales, Christopher Walken, Scott Walker, Alfred Russel Wallace, Kate Walsh, DeWitt Wallace, and others Click To Tweet
Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist, co-discover of evolutionary theory. He left school at the age of 14 to go to work to support his family. Wallace was self-taught via frequent visits to libraries and workingman’s institutes, while working as a land surveyor, a builder, and a school teacher.
DeWitt Wallace, founder and publisher of Reader’s Digest, philanthropist. He dropped out of Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, after one year. He dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley after the second year.
Bridget Anna Walsh, see Bridget Phetasy (under Ps).
David Walsh, multimillionaire gambler, founder of the Museum of Old and New Art. He dropped out of college to make his fortune as a professional gambler (when he pooled his talent for mathematics with some friends to make money as a gambler).
Kate Walsh, actress. She dropped out of the University of Arizona at the age of 19 to pursue a career in acting.
Alexander Wang, fashion designer. He dropped out of Parsons The New School for Design after two years. As he noted, “I’m naive to the traditional design formula.”
Alexandr Wang, billionaire co-founder of Scale. Wang is the world’s current youngest self-made billionaire (June 2022). By the age of 17, he was working full-time as a software coder. For one year he attended MIT to study machine learning but dropped out after his freshman year to co-found Scale with Lucy Guo.
I told my parents it was just going to be a thing I did for the summer. Obviously, I never went back to school. — Alexandr Wang
Y.C. Wang, billionaire founder of Formosa Plastics. He never attended high school.
Gertrude Chandler Warner, children’s book author, The Box-Car Children series. She had to drop out of high school in her sophomore year because of poor health. During World War I she was asked to teach first grade (because so many teachers were fighting in the war) and ended up teaching for another 32 years.
Ty Warner, billionaire developer of Beanie Babies, hotel owner, real estate investor. He dropped out of Kalamazoo College to work as a busboy, valet parking attendant, bellman, and fruit vendor. Eventually he went on the road selling encyclopedias, cameras, and plush toys.
K’naan Warsame, aka K’naan the Skinny, Somali refugee, rapper, and rock star. He dropped out of high school after the 10th grade. He was later featured in a $300 million worldwide advertising campaign by Coca-Cola.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Alexander Wang, Ty Warner, K'naan Warsame, George Washington, Naomi Watts, John Wayne, Lil Wayne, Michael Weatherly, and others Click To Tweet
Dennis Washington, billionaire road contractor. The day after his high school graduation, he headed to Alaska to work in construction for two years. By the age of 22, he was working for his uncle on his first interstate highway job. He now owns a copper mine in Montana, a barge business in Vancouver, and Montana Rail Link.
George Washington, U.S. president, military leader, plantation owner. He ended his education after a few years of elementary school.
Of the 44 people who have served as president of the United States, 8 never went to college.
Keith Waterhouse, journalist, comic novelist, Billy Liar. He was inspired to drop out of school and become a writer after reading Mark Twain and P.G. Wodehouse.
Naomi Watts, actress. She quit high school at the age of 17. “I told my mum I’m done with my education.”
John Wayne, actor. He attended the University of Southern California for two years on a football scholarship. He dropped out to work as a propman and stuntman for movie studios.
Lil Wayne (Dwayne Carter), rapper. He never attended college.
Michael Weatherly, actor, Dark Angel, NCIS, and Bull. He dropped out of American University at the age of 21 to pursue acting full time.
Charlie Weaver, see Cliff Arquette.
Alli Webb, founder of Drybar. After high school, she tried college but did not go to many classes. So she dropped out and moved to New York City to try a career in fashion. She later attended beauty school but never finished college.
Jacques Webster II, see Travis Scott.
The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, singer and songwriter. He dropped out of school at the age of 17 and ran away from home. Shortly afterward, he started recording party blend music and uploaded it free to YouTube.
Sidney Weinberg, managing partner of Goldman Sachs, aka Mr. Wall Street. He dropped out of the seventh grade in Brooklyn.
David Weinreb, CEO of Howard Hughes, TV commercial actor. He dropped out of New York University and wound up in Texas selling real estate.
Bob Weinstein, movie producer. He dropped out of the State University of New York at Fredonia to work with his brother on movies.
Harvey Weinstein, movie producer, accused serial rapist and sexual predator. He dropped out of university to launch a concert promotion company. He later founded Miramax and other movie companies. In the fall of 2017, he was accused by dozens of women of rape, sexual harassment, and related debauchery.
Jerry Weintraub, movie and music producer. He joined the Air Force instead of going to college. After getting out, he went to work at the MCA talent agency. He later formed his own management company. At one point he managed a national tour for Elvis Presley. He also worked with Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, John Denver, and the Moody Blues before getting into producing movies.
H.G. Wells, science fiction author. He dropped out of high school to help support his family. Eventually he completed high school and went on to college.
Cai Wensheng, billionaire co-founder of Meitu, creator of apps. He is a high school dropout.
Daria Werbowy, model. She has not yet attended college. She became the new face of Prada at the age of 19.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes The Weeknd, Bob Weinstein, Jerry Weintraub, H.G. Wells, Daria Werbowy, Paul Wesley, Kanye West, Leslie Wexner, and others Click To Tweet
Herbert Wertheim, billionaire optician, inventor, investor, philanthropist, founder of Brain Power Incorporated. A dyslexic, he often skipped school to hunt and fish with the Seminole Indians. At the age of 16, he joined the U.S. Navy (as an alternative to going to the state reformatory because of his truancy). After the Navy, he sold encyclopedias door-to-door before attending Brevard Community College and then the University of Florida. He studied engineering but never graduated. Later he received a scholarship to the Southern College of Optometry, from which he did graduate. He became a multi-billionaire primarily from his investments in Microsoft, Apple, Heico, GE, BP, Google, and other companies.
Paul Wesley, aka Paul Wasilewski, actor. “I was going to high school in Guiding Light but getting kicked out of school in real life.” He attended Rutgers University for one semester before dropping out to act full time.
Kanye West, rapper, record producer, fashion designer. He attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago for one semester and then transferred to Chicago State University, but dropped out to focus on his music career. He had a hit album called The College Dropout.
Some career goals don’t require college. It was more about having the guts to embrace who you are. — Kanye West
Leslie Wexner, billionaire founder of Limited Brands, owner of Victoria’s Secret retail chain. He dropped out of Ohio State law school to work with his dad in retail. He started the Limited with a $5,000 loan from an aunt.
Betty White, Emmy-winning actress, comedienne, producer, radio host, and game show participant. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School but did not attend college.
Dean White, billionaire hotelier and billboard magnate. He dropped out of the University of Nebraska to join the Merchant Marine Academy. He served during World War II. He then took over the family business after the war and built it into a billboard and real estate empire.
Shawn White, multi-millionaire Olympic snowboarder and X-Games skateboarder. He did not attend college. Instead, he turned pro in skateboarding at the age of 16.
Walt Whitman, poet, self-publisher. He dropped out after the third grade and became a printer’s apprentice. He later self-published his first great work, Leaves of Grass, at the age of 35.
Kristen Wiig, comedienne, actress. She took an acting class her freshman year at the University of Arizona, got the acting bug, dropped out after one year, and headed to Los Angeles to make it as an actress. But according to an interview in Marie Claire, Kristen went to college in Virginia and dropped out after a year, headed to Mexico for three months of vagabonding, and then worked in Arizona before heading to Los Angeles.
Dan Wilks, billionaire co-founder of Wilks Masonry and Frak Tech. He did not attend college.
Farris Wilks, billionaire co-founder of Wilks Masonry and Frak Tech. He did not attend college.
Olivia Wilde, actress. Instead of going to Bard College after graduating from Andover Prep, she left for Hollywood to become an actress. She has not yet attended college.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Shawn White, Walt Whitman, Olivia Wilde, Will.i.am, Evan Williams, Michelle Williams, Vanessa Williams, Marianne Williamson, and others Click To Tweet
Will.i.am, see William Adams.
Evan Williams, billionaire co-developer of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium social blogging platform. He dropped out of the University of Nebraska to write computer code.
Michelle Williams, actress. She was legally emancipated at the age of 15 from her family. She got her high school diploma through a correspondence course from the back of a magazine. She has never attended college.
Serena Williams, multi-millionaire pro tennis player, fashion designer, investor (Serena Ventures). Homeschooled by her father, she turned pro at the age of 14.
Vanessa Williams, actress, singer, model, Miss America. She received a scholarship and attended Syracuse University as a Musical Theatre Arts major. She left during her sophomore year to fulfill her duties as Miss America and subsequently left the university to focus on her entertainment career. Twenty-five years later, she graduated from Syracuse by earning her remaining college credits through her life experience.
Venus Williams, multi-millionaire pro tennis player, fashion designer. Homeschooled by her father, she turned pro at the age of 14.
Marianne Williamson, spiritual author, politician, cabaret singer, new age guru. She attended college in Pomona, California, for two years before dropping out. She ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president in 2019.
Bruce Willis, actor. He dropped out of the theater program of Montclair State University after his junior year. He asserts that a college diploma “is just a trophy. I have some bowling trophies I think would be worth about the same thing.”
August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 (after being accused of plagiarizing a 20-page paper on Napoleon). He then joined the army and did a series of itinerant jobs until his mid-thirties.
Gretchen Wilson, country singer. She quit school after the eighth grade, but finally earned her GED equivalency degree in 2009.
I’ve wanted to go back and get my GED for years, ever since I quit school after the eighth grade. I had a troubled childhood and I just wanted to get out of the house and on with life as quickly as possible. And back then I thought it wasn’t important to have a high school diploma to chase my music dreams. But I always knew that finishing high school would make me feel a little more complete. — Gretchen Wilson (Redbook magazine)
Kemmons Wilson, multimillionaire founder of Holiday Inns. He dropped out of high school.
Owen Wilson, actor, screenwriter. He dropped out of the University of Texas.
Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president, college president. He dropped out of Davidson College, but eventually graduated from Princeton University.
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief, Vogue magazine. She did not attend college.
Reese Witherspoon, Oscar-winning actress and model. She starred in her first film at the age of 14. After high school she enrolled in Stanford University but dropped out to pursue acting full time.
I remember a room full of men who were asking me questions about being a coed and being in a sorority even though I had dropped out of college four years earlier and I have never been inside a sorority house. — Reese Witherspoon talking about auditioning for Legally Blonde
Lee Ann Womack, country music singer. She attended South Plains Junior College for one year and then took a few classes at Belmont University, but she never graduated.
I interned at MCA Records and learned more from that internship than I ever did in the classroom. — Le Ann Womack (Woman’s Day magazine)
Jack Wong, CEO of Meizu (Chinese phone maker). He is a high school dropout and one-time factory worker.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Bruce Willis, August Wilson, Gretchen Wilson, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Lee Ann Womack, Anna Wintour, Shailene Woodley, Tiger Woods, and others Click To Tweet
Tyrone Wood, director of Scream Gallery, son of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. Education: “The school of life.”
Shailene Woodley, actress. She has not yet attended college.
I definitely want to go to college, but right now I’m taking my life lessons backpacking and gardening and learning how to make tables. — Shailene Woodley
Tiger Woods, first billionaire golfer, at one point the best golfer in the world. He turned pro at the age of 20 after attending Stanford University for a year or two. He has earned more than $1.7 billion as a golfer.
Steve Wozniak, billionaire co-founder of Apple. He dropped out of college.
Frank Lloyd Wright, architect, interior designer, leader of the Prairie School of architecture. He was voted as the greatest American architect of all time by the American Institute of Architects. He attended a high school in Madison, Wisconsin, but apparently never graduated. He was admitted to the University of Wisconsin as a special student and took classes part-time for two semesters. He left school at the age of 20 to work at an architectural firm in Chicago, Illinois.
Orville Wright, inventor of the airplane. He dropped out of high school in his junior year to open a printing business.
Wilbur Wright, inventor of the airplane. He completed four years of high school but never received his diploma. He never attended college.
William Wrigley Jr., founder, Wrigley’s chewing gum. He was also owner of the Chicago Clubs, Wrigley Field, Arizona Biltmore Hotel, and Catalina Island. He was expelled from grammar school. He never attended high school or college.
Brianna Wu, game designer, founder of Giant Spacekat. She attended the University of Mississippi but never graduated. She left school once to start a video animation company, then returned to college, but again left to work in Washington.College Dropouts Hall of Fame includes Steve Wozniak, Frank Lloyd Wright, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, Noah Wyle, Ed Wynn, Jason Wu, Brianna Wu, and others Click To Tweet
Jason Wu, fashion designer. After high school, he studied at Parsons New School for Design but left before graduating to intern with a designer.
Noah Wyle, actor. After private high school, he went straight to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor. He never attended college.
Ed Wynn, comedian and actor. He left home at the age of 16 to join a theater company.
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