Image: Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Image: Jason Merritt/Getty Images
We’re not saying it’s always a good idea, but for these 20 rich and celebrated people ditching college may have been among the best career decisions that they ever made. After all, the world would be a very different – and arguably poorer – place if Mark Zuckerberg had kept his head down at Harvard or Courteney Cox had taken up architecture instead of acting. Find out, then, which college dropouts finished first by not finishing at all.
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20. Ellen DeGeneres
She may have the gift of the gab today, but Ellen DeGeneres lasted just one semester as a communications undergraduate at the University of New Orleans. The future sitcom star and talk show host tried everything from pouring drinks to painting houses before finding her comedic calling – and making $75 million from it to date.
19. Cindy Crawford
She may have been blessed with both beauty and brains, but Cindy Crawford chose to make full use of the former attribute when ditching her chemical engineering studies at Northwestern University to model full time in New York City. The one-time world’s highest earning model is now said to be worth $100 million.
18. Courteney Cox
Courteney Cox swapped architecture for acting when she quit Washington, D.C.’s Mount Vernon College for Women, going on to take small roles in a slew of TV shows and movies before eventually finding fame on Friends. The actress commanded $1 million per episode as Monica Gellar in the ever-popular sitcom, a fact that has helped boost her bank balance to the tune of approximately $120 million as of today.
17. Kanye West
Whatever else you might feel about Kanye West, you’ve got to admire him at least a little for taking his failed university career and turning it into Grammy Award-winning album The College Dropout. And the rapper’s various projects since dropping his English course at Chicago State University have netted him approximately $130 million.
16. Bruce Willis
In real life Bruce Willis has played the part of private investigator, blues singer and, after quitting a drama program at New Jersey’s Monclair State University, college dropout. After this last role, the aspiring actor tended a bar before hitting the Hollywood big time and building an approximate $180 million fortune.
15. George Clooney
George Clooney is a college dropout twice over, having quit both Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati. After college he took various odd jobs to make ends meet, even toiling away on a tobacco farm, but Hollywood eventually beckoned. And today the actor and director is said to be worth an impressive $180 million.
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14. Brad Pitt
As a journalism major, Brad Pitt almost ended up on the other side of the microphone. With just two weeks to go before graduation, though, he quit the University of Missouri to give acting a go in LA. A shrewd move, for sure, as now Pitt is worth approximately $240 million.
13. Lady Gaga
The red carpet would be a duller place today if Lady Gaga hadn’t quit New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for the pop world. She promised her dad that she’d go back if music didn’t work out, but given her estimated $250 million fortune, it’s unlikely that she’ll be turning up for class any time soon.
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12. Bruce Springsteen
Perhaps because he had more interest in strumming than studying, Bruce Springsteen dropped out of New Jersey’s Ocean County College. In fact, The Boss’ mom once borrowed $60 to get him a guitar, but considering the fact that Springsteen has gone on to make an estimated $300 million from music, that turned out to be quite the solid investment.
11. Daniel Ek
Swedish college dropout Daniel Ek is the guy you need to thank for giving the world Spotify. And while Ek didn’t finish his classes at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, his net worth from enterprises including the music streaming site was estimated at $300 million in 2012 – so he probably doesn’t care too much about not graduating now.
10. Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks abandoned his acting classes at California State University, Sacramento to intern at a theater festival in Ohio. And after swapping the stage for the silver screen, he became one of the biggest names in Hollywood, amassing an estimated wealth of $390 million and – so far – bagging two Oscars.
Style chameleon Madonna took on one transformation early in life when she abandoned her dance scholarship at the University of Michigan and headed to the Big Apple. At first she was just a dropout serving Dunkin’ Donuts, but hard work and an endless string of hits have turned the pop star into a material girl worth an estimated $520 million.
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8. Tiger Woods
After two years spent studying economics, Tiger Woods dropped out of Harvard to turn pro on the golf course. As it turned out, though, his decision made perfect economic sense, as even after alimony, the multi-major-winning sportsman is estimated to be worth a comfortable $640 million.
7. Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s incredibly successful career is proof that you should never give up on your dreams. Believe it or not, the director didn’t get into film school, so he instead chose to intern at Universal Studios while studying English at California State University, Long Beach. He then eventually got a contract at the studio, quit college and made an extraordinary $3.6 billion.
6. Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes became interested in diagnostics after losing an uncle to cancer. And after quitting Stanford’s chemical engineering program, she launched Theranos – a company so successful that it led to her being crowned the youngest self-made female billionaire to date. Holmes is now worth $4.5 billion.
5. Jan Koum
Jan Koum left his math and computer science studies at San Jose State University to work at Yahoo, then went on to co-invent the hugely popular WhatsApp. And while the tech guru was turned down for a job at Facebook before launching the messaging app, he may have had the last laugh when the social media giant handed over $19 billion for his creation in 2014. Koum is now worth $7.4 billion.
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4. Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren’s story is literally one of rags to riches. The business student dropped out of CUNY’s Baruch College and set up shop in, yes, a drawer in the Empire State Building, where he initiated his career in fashion by selling ties crafted from fabric scraps. The apparel empire that he’s built up since has now netted him an estimated fortune amounting to a cool $8 billion.
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3. Michael Dell
Michael Dell soon ditched any dreams of becoming a doctor after he started upgrading PCs from his bedroom at the University of Texas at Austin. From these humble beginnings, Dell Computers grew to become a multinational company, earning its eponymous founder a net worth of $19.2 billion in the process.
2. Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg had already planted the seeds of his phenomenally successful social networking site by the time he dropped out of Harvard. Since then, of course, Facebook’s popularity has grown incredibly – and Zuckerberg’s fortune has grown with it, reaching an estimated $38.7 billion as of September 2015.
1. Bill Gates
Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to launch his own software start-up – a company that eventually became tech behemoth Microsoft. Gates made quite the triumphant return, then, when he went back to collect an honorary degree from his old school in 2007, and the computing pioneer is now worth an astonishing $76 billion.