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School's Out Forever: 6 Notable Dropouts Who Left School to Pursue Their Passion

Samuel Edwards

When you think about the typical makeup of a successful 21st century entrepreneur, CEO, or business owner, a pretty standard mold likely comes to mind.

That mold probably involves the individual possessing a progressive and innovative mind, excellent educational credentials, a college degree, and likely an extra graduate degree or two. However, the prototypical individual you envision is becoming less and less commonplace.

Just take a look around the current business landscape and you’ll see it’s littered with atypical business men and women who’ve bucked the trend of finishing high school and college and pursued their passions at very young ages. Let’s take a look at six examples of this trend.

1. Mark Zuckerberg

When you think successful college dropout, Mark Zuckerberg automatically surfaces to the top. He’s sort of the poster child for college dropouts, after leaving Harvard in 2004 to pursue his dreams of working on Facebook full-time in Silicon Valley.

However, it wasn’t just his decision to leave the prestigious institution that caught the attention of so many, it was his brashness. When he started working on Facebook as a college sophomore, he was in part fueled by the school’s attempts to create their own campus-wide online directory. “I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week,” he told the school newspaper at the time.

He was right. Some 11 years later, Facebook is worth more than $200 billion and recent estimates suggest Zuckerberg is worth a cool $36.3 billion himself.

Steve Jobs quote

2. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is someone that comes to mind when the average person thinks about college dropouts. However, his reasoning was much different than the average person. He simply dropped out so he could sit in on classes that he found interesting and useful. And as he famously said in a Stanford commencement speech, “Do what you love. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

For Jobs, it was necessary for him to drop out. He ended up building Apple, one of the world’s most influential and recognizable brands, and would have been worth somewhere around $36 billion at the time of his death in 2011.

3. Bill Gates

While Bill Gates would prefer you not call him a college dropout, he’s a dropout nonetheless. He left Harvard after three years, no diploma in hand, with a dream of making computers affordable for the average person.

He attributed his decision to leave to timing. “I loved college. It was so exciting to have conversations with lots of really smart people my age and to learn from great professors,” he said. However, after his friend Paul Allen showed him an issue of Popular Electronics with the Altair 8800 on the cover, he knew it was time to start innovating. He ended up founding Microsoft and is now worth approximately $80 billion.

4. Richard Branson

Not to be outdone, Virgin CEO, Richard Branson dropped out of high school at the age of 16. And unlike his counterparts who suggest dropping out is a very personal decision, Branson has publicly spoken against the university system on many occasions. He’s believed to be worth around $4.9 billion and is one of Britain’s wealthiest individuals.

5. David Karp

If you’re looking for another high school dropout, look no further than David Karp, founder of Tumblr. He dropped out of the renowned Bronx High School of Science at 15 and founded the blog-hosting company in his mother’s small apartment. He eventually sold the company to Yahoo for $1.1 billion and is believed to be worth somewhere north of $200 million.

6. Frank Lloyd Wright

Dropouts are nothing new, though. You can turn back a few pages in the history book and you’ll find famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright on the list of successful people who never finished school. He attended the University of Wisconsin in 1886 and took classes for two years. However, he dropped out to work for a Chicago architectural firm and never returned. Wright ended up designing some of the most iconic homes and buildings in the modern era and many of his works are now worth millions. Not too shabby for a college dropout.

Stay in School, Kids

While the majority of successful business men and women stay in school and pursue education, the old mantra of “Stay in school, kids” may not hold the same weight it once did. After all, can you really say all high school and college dropouts are unsuccessful after reviewing this list of six ultra-wealthy individuals who pursued their passions over the education system?

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Samuel Edwards Member
In his five-plus years as a digital marketing strategist, Sam has worked with countless local businesses as well as large enterprise companies and organizations including: NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, D.C.-based law firm Price Benowitz LLP, and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a public speaker and has given a TEDx Talk, spoken at the Sundance Film Festival, and is a frequent speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series. Today he continues to work with and establish SEO, PPC, and SEM campaigns across all verticals.