- Around a third of all billionaires worldwide don’t have a college degree.
- This list of billionaires who didn’t go to college also includes college dropouts who got admitted but didn’t graduate.
Stories about business tycoons like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg becoming billionaires without finishing college are well-known and often used as arguments against the importance of formal education. After all, what’s the point of going to college if you can become one of the richest people in the world without a degree?
The truth, however, is that the tales of these young tech billionaires aren’t typical of all billionaires. Most billionaires today have degrees, and many have several. Specifically, among the nearly 2,700 billionaires around the globe, around a third don’t have a college degree.
Within this group of self-made billionaires, though, there is a wide range of success stories that prove it is indeed possible to succeed without a college degree. And, these are the remarkable people we’ll be examining today.
These are 20 billionaires who didn’t go to college:
Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s richest men, with an estimated net worth of $110 billion. After stepping down as the company’s CEO in 2000, Bill Gates has largely focused on philanthropy through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has donated $65.6 billion to various causes as of 2022.
While Bill Gates did enroll in Harvard College in the autumn of 1973, he dropped out after two years of studies to start Microsoft with his Harvard friend Steve Ballmer, who lived down the hall of the college dorm while the two were sophomores. Bill Gates spoke about his thoughts regarding leaving college in a 1994 interview, saying that “if things hadn’t worked out (with Microsoft), I could always go back to school”.
Richard Branson is known as the founder of Virgin Group, which has over 400 companies under its umbrella. Some of the most notable examples include Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Galactic, and Virgin Mobile. Branson is as notable for his eccentricities as he is for his business success, with his maverick personality often coming to the forefront of public attention.
In high school, Branson was anything but a stellar academic performer. And, he is still often critical of the formal education system, once saying that “school can stifle creativity”. Upon dropping out, his headmaster famously told Branson that he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. As it turns out, the headmaster was only partially correct – Richard Branson did not become a millionaire. With a net worth of $4.2 billion, he managed to become a billionaire instead.
As the founder and CEO of Dell Technologies, Michael Dell is one of the richest men in the world, with an estimated net worth of $53,2 billion. He started his company with about $1000 in his college dorm room at the age of 19 and grew it into the tech powerhouse that it is today.
Dell did attend the University of Texas. However, he quickly became disillusioned with the school experience. During his commencement speech at the University of Texas in 2019, he said that “almost as soon as I got to college, I wanted out. I’d started a business. It was growing exponentially, and at the time, it felt like college was a distraction.”
One of the most instantly recognizable names in fashion, Ralph Lauren is the founder of Ralph Lauren Corporation, a fashion company that sells products ranging from clothing and accessories to home furnishings. Ralph Lauren Corporation is widely considered one of the most successful fashion enterprises in the United States and the world. As the executive chairman of Ralph Lauren Corporation, Lauren has a net worth of $6.7 billion.
In college, Ralph Lauren studied business for two years, but eventually dropped out to join the army. On the topic of studying design formally, Ralph Lauren said that “I never went to fashion school, but I had a passion for something that I felt inside of me that I was able to express through clothes.”
Jay-Z is one of the most successful rappers and entrepreneurs of all time. In addition to a rap career that has delivered him a whopping 24 Grammy Awards, Jay-Z is also a successful entrepreneur. Of his many businesses, Roc Nation is arguably the most well-known and successful. It is an entertainment company that houses some of the biggest names in music, sports, and fashion. In addition to his work with Roc Nation, Jay-Z has also dabbled in fields such as high-end alcohol, real estate, and streaming services.
With a net worth of $1.3 billion, Jay-Z has been called the first hip-hop billionaire in the world. While Jay-Z has one of the most diverse business portfolios in the entertainment industry, he has never studied business or any related field. In fact, he never finished high school because he decided to focus on his music career instead.
With a net worth of $59.9 billion, Amancio Ortega is consistently ranked as one of the richest men in Europe and the world. He is the founder of Inditex G, a Spanish fashion group that owns brands such as Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Bershka.
Amancio Ortega did not have an easy upbringing. Born into a family of modest means, he left school at 13 to begin working in a local clothing store. This experience allowed Ortega to learn about the clothing industry. Ortega stayed in the industry and created Zara, arguably the most successful fast fashion brand in the world.
While Amancio Ortega has never received higher education himself, he still values educational initiatives and regularly donates to universities and scholarship programs.
François Pinault is the founder and the current honorary chairman of Kering, a corporation that owns luxury brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga, among others. Pinault and his family are currently worth $37.3 billion.
Pinault attended high school in Rennes but dropped out due to bullying at the age of 16. The reason for the bullying was, ironically enough, the rural “peasant accent” that Pinault had due to his upbringing in the French countryside.
Pinault started his first business in 1963, a company that sold timber. From there, the company eventually went on to become Kering, which is now one of the most successful luxury conglomerates in the world.
Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform with over 2.9 billion monthly active users. Zuckerberg has a net worth of $61.5 billion, making him one of the richest men in the world.
Zuckerberg attended Harvard University. In fact, Facebook was originally created as a tool for Harvard students to connect with one another. However, the college career of Zuckerberg was short-lived as he dropped out in his second year to focus on Facebook full-time.
Giorgio Armani is an Italian fashion designer and the founder of Armani, a fashion house that produces everything from clothing to cosmetics. Armani has established itself as one of the most well-known brands in all of fashion. The success of the Armani brand has made the founder Giorgio Armani a billionaire – he is currently worth $6.7 billion.
Armani did not originally plan on becoming a fashion designer. In fact, he studied medicine in the University of Bologna for two years before eventually dropping out and deciding that a career in medicine was not for him. Among other things, Armani realized that he did not stand the sight of blood. Not the best trait for a doctor.
Armani then took a job as a window dresser for a department store. It was through this job that he developed an interest in fashion design. Armani then followed his passion, eventually becoming a designer and establishing one of the most successful fashion brands in the world.
Kanye West is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed musicians of all time. Despite his legendary music career, most of Kanye West’s $2 billion net worth comes from Yeezy, a high-end sneaker company. It is also one of the brands credited for bringing the “sneaker culture” into the mainstream.
At college, West tried studying both painting and English, before eventually dropping out at the age of 20. At first, West’s mother (an English professor) was displeased with her son’s decision to drop out. Eventually, she admitted her somewhat limited views on college by saying that “It was drummed into my head that college is the ticket to a good life, but some career goals don’t require college.”
Kim Kardashian is an American entrepreneur, reality television star, socialite, and model. She rose to fame after appearing on the reality television show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which documents the lives of her large family.
Kardashian has parlayed her reality television fame into a successful business career. Most notable of her business ventures are SKIMS (a shapewear business) and KKW Beauty (a beauty company.)
While the Kardashians have been criticized for being “famous for nothing”, there is no denying the fact that this family knows how to build a successful brand. And, with a net worth of $1.8 billion, she is the wealthiest member of the Kardashian family.
Kardashian did attend Pierce College in Los Angeles but dropped out without graduating to focus on other ventures. It is still clear, however, that Kardashian knows the value of education. She is currently taking a law apprenticeship and recently passed the “baby bar” – an examination for first-year law students in California.
Jan Koum is an American-Ukrainian entrepreneur famous for founding WhatsApp, a messaging app that was eventually acquired by Facebook for $22 billion. Along with his mother, Koum originally immigrated to California from Ukraine after the break-up of the Soviet Union. In America, Koum quickly became interested in programming and even joined an elite hacking group. In 2009, Koum launched WhatsApp, an instant messaging service that ended up making him a billionaire (Koum is currently worth $9.1 billion.)
Koum did not finish college – he dropped out of San Jose State University to focus on his work as an engineer at Yahoo. Reflecting on his decision to drop out, Koum said that “I was a bit bored at the university, and when I got a chance to work at Yahoo!, I caught this opportunity.”
Jack Dorsey is an American entrepreneur and philanthropist who is best known for being the co-founder of Twitter. Dorsey is also the CEO of Block, a financial services company. He is currently worth an estimated $5.6 billion.
In our list of billionaires who didn’t go to college, Dorsey is somewhat special – he is a two-time college dropout. He has dropped out of the Missouri University of Science and Technology to transfer to New York University. After two years, he dropped out of NYU as well. On his decision to leave university, Dorsey has said that “The reason I dropped out is because I was learning more with a higher velocity outside of school than I was in school.”
Rihanna is a Barbadian singer, songwriter, model, and entrepreneur. She is one of the best-selling musicians of the 21st century and has won numerous awards, including nine Grammy Awards. With a net worth of $1.4 billion, Rihanna is one of the richest female musicians in the world. While the majority of her wealth has come from her music career, Rihanna has also seen success as the founder of the beauty company Fenty Beauty and the lingerie brand Savage x Fenty.
Rihanna did not finish her education – she dropped out of high school in Barbados to pursue her music career in the United States. Funnily enough, she got her big break after auditioning for Jay-Z, a fellow degreeless billionaire.
While Rihanna has admitted that school “was a grind”, she still values education and often funds programs that improve the accessibility of education in impoverished countries.
Roman Abramovich is an entrepreneur consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest people in Russia and the world. He made his fortune in the tumultuous Russian 1990s through privatizations and acquisitions in the oil industry. In Europe and America, Abramovich is mainly known for his stint as the owner of the Chelsea Football Club.
Immediately after acquiring Chelsea FC in 2003, he started investing heavily into the club, eventually developing it into one of the most successful clubs in the UK and the world. In 2022, Abramovich sold Chelsea FC for $5.2 billion due to international pressure and concerns over his ties to the Russian government. Abramovich is currently worth an estimated $8.6 billion.
Abramovich did not finish college. Instead, he focused on finding ways to make money in the freshly capitalist Russia. Funnily enough, one of his first successful business ventures was selling rubber ducks from his apartment in Moscow. It is hard to imagine one of the richest oligarchs in Russia starting with such a humble product.
With a net worth of $106.7 billion, Larry Ellison is comfortably one of the richest men in America. He is the founder and former CEO of Oracle, one of the world’s largest enterprise software companies. Ellison is also on the board of directors for Tesla and has invested heavily in other tech companies.
Larry Ellison dropped out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago before eventually finding success in software development. In a commencement speech given at the University of Southern California, Ellison highlighted the importance of experimentation and staying true to one’s interests.
David Geffen is an American record label executive, film producer, art collector, and philanthropist. Widely considered one of the richest men in Hollywood, Geffen is mostly known for founding Geffen Records and DreamWorks. His current net worth is estimated to be $10.1 billion.
Despite having a school named after him (UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine), David Geffen himself never graduated college. Not for the lack of trying, though – Geffen attended three different colleges but dropped out of all of them.
At the beginning of his career, Geffen wanted a job as a talent agent. However, a college degree was a requirement for this job. This did not stop him from eventually landing the job – he feigned having a degree from the University of California and was able to get his foot in the door. We are not including this story about David Geffen to encourage you to fake your way to a job. Instead, it is a great example that sometimes a degree has nothing to do with how qualified someone is for a job.
LeBron James is a professional American basketball player. He is one of the best and most well-known basketball players worldwide and has often been compared to other all-time greats such as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. LeBron James currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers and has a net worth of $1 billion.
LeBron James is one of the most successful athletes in the world, but he does not have a college degree. After being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron decided to forgo college and go straight to the NBA. This was a risky decision, but it certainly paid off – he is currently one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.
Steve Jobs is perhaps the most well-known example of a successful dropout. He is the co-founder of Apple and is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in the development of modern technology. Jobs was also the CEO of Pixar, which he sold to Disney for $7.4 billion.
At the time of his death in 2011, Jobs was estimated to have a net worth of about $7 billion. Steve Jobs attended Reed College but dropped out after six months. During a famous commencement speech delivered at Stanford, Jobs reflected on his decision to leave college by saying that “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out.”
At 26, Henrique Dubugras is one of the youngest people on our list of billionaire college dropouts. He is the co-founder of Brex, a financial technology company that provides credit cards to startups. Valued at about $12.3 billion, Brex is one of the darlings of Silicon Valley. Dubugras himself has a personal net worth of $1.5 billion.
Dubugras attended Stanford University to study coding. However, after eight months of attendance, he dropped out of school because he managed to secure an investor for one of his startup ideas. The rest, as they say, is history.