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10 Brilliant and Famous College Dropouts


Image by Jason McELweenie

Whether you’re stuck studying for the SAT, sweating over a final term paper or dreading the start of next semester, the last thing you probably want to hear about is famous college dropouts.

These lucky people managed to score fame and fortune without ever going through any (or much of) your current pain.

It’s especially smarting to realize that Kanye West belongs to that crowd. (He didn’t graduate — he decided he was finished.)

Spend your next study break perusing our list of famous college dropouts and celebrities who never went to college at all. Feel free to rant about the unfairness of it all!

1. Mark Zuckerberg

Probably the most famous college dropout of the moment, Mark Zuckerberg is living proof that you don’t need a college degree to strike it rich. There’s no doubt that the Facebook founder/president/CEO is a smart guy — after all, the school he chose to drop out of was Harvard!

2. Edgar Allan Poe

If you go to Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of the University of Virginia, you can nab a great t-shirt with Edgar Allan Poe’s face on it and the words “drop out” written underneath.

You can even take a look at the famous author’s old dorm room, with furnishings that include a fake raven in tribute to Poe’s best-known work.

3. Andrew Carnegie

One of the first mega-billionaires in the United States, Andrew Carnegie was an industrialist who never even made it to college, dropping out of grammar school at a young age.

Carnegie did plenty of good deeds with his money. For example, he founded the Carnegie Technical Schools, which served as the basis for what is now Carnegie Mellon University, one of the premiere institutions of higher education in the country.

4. Ansel Adams

One of the best-known photographers in US history, Ansel Adams is an example pointed to by people who say fine arts degrees are a waste of time: the famed shutterbug never completed high school.

5. Woody Allen

Director, screenwriter and actor Woody Allen gave college a go but it never seemed to stick. He briefly attended New York University and, later, the City College of New York, but never completed a degree.

6. George Washington

George Washington is actually one of several US presidents not to hold a college degree. Others include Grover Cleveland and Abraham Lincoln.

7. James Dean

James Dean is one of many Hollywood stars who never completed college. Current stars who followed in his footsteps include Ben Affleck, Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, Megan Fox and plenty of others who skipped school to pursue acting instead.

8. Walt Disney

As co-founder of the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney made a lasting impact on the entertainment industry – without ever attending college.

9. Henry Ford

The founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford is a great example of the benefits of hands-on learning. Although he never attended college, Ford learned all he needed to know to develop the famed Model T while working as a machinist and, later, engineer in the Motor City — Detroit (which is also home to rapper and high school dropout Eminem).

10. Herman Melville

If you’ve ever suffered through “Moby Dick,” you’re sure to be bitter about this one. You’re stuck studying for a final about this guy’s book and he didn’t even finish college? Frustrating, I know.

Other literary figures who you’ve surely written an essay or two about – who never had to write any college exam essays of their own – include Robert Frost (who left Harvard) and William Faulkner (an Ole Miss dropout). Grrr …

But as successful as these famous college dropouts turned out to be, that doesn’t mean you should follow their example!

There’s a reason this list is so short: successful college dropouts tend to be the exception rather than the rule. On average, those with college degrees out-earn their peers by a million dollars throughout the course of their lifetime — so you should probably get back to studying, and stop dreaming about becoming a college dropout.



3 Responses to “10 Brilliant and Famous College Dropouts”

  1. The Guy Next Door Says:

    Wow, No Bill Gates? This is madness!!

  2. Kelly Queijo Says:

    Steve Jobs?

  3. Kaytie at University Language Says:

    We wanted to at least slightly stray from the obvious — we hope you enjoyed the post!

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