Did Bill Gates Ever Go to College or Finish High School?

Did Bill Gates go to college or graduate from high school? Let's take a closer look at the billionaire's educational background to find out.

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Bill Gates speaking at TED conference
Photo by Gisela Giardino / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
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Bill Gates is an entrepreneur, software developer, author, and investor. As one of the founders and key developers of Microsoft, Gates is arguably one of the most important individuals in the history of personal computing.

His success with Microsoft has also made Gates one of the wealthiest people, being featured on the top of the Forbes billionaires list for over two decades, and as of 2022, he is estimated to be worth more than $106,2b.

The impact Bill Gates has made on the world is undeniable, but where did he get his start? Did he ever attend college? Or, what about high school?

In this article, we will explore Bill Gates’ educational background and how it has helped him become one of the key figures in modern history. 

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Did Bill Gates go to high school?

Yes, Bill Gates graduated from Lakeside School, a Seattle elite private high school, in 1973. He was an academically excellent high school student, and due to his academic achievements, Bill Gates was also made a National Merit Scholar at the time of his graduation.

Despite his eventual academic excellence, Gates was not enthusiastic about the rigid rules of Lakeside at first. During the sixties, Lakeside School was as preppy as they come – it was a school that acquired the attendees to wear uniforms and refer to their teachers as “masters” among other traditions.

Ultimately, however, Lakeside turned out to be crucial for setting the foundations of Gates’ future successes – it was here that Bill Gates got a taste of what would become his lifelong passion: computers. And, it was also there where he met Paul Allen, a fellow Lakeside School student who would later become Gates’ co-founder at Microsoft.

Here’s a photo of the two of them in one of Lakeside’s classrooms:

Bill Gates and Paul Allen at Lakeside School
Photo by Joella Marano / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Lakeside had a public computer in the building. Public computers in schools are common now, but back in the sixties, there were only a few schools in the world that had them. And, Lakeside School happened to be one of them.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Gates’ friend and Microsoft co-founder) were instantly captivated by the possibilities of the machine. During one time, the two boys went as far as to hack the machine in order for Gates to be placed in an all-girls class.

Bill Gates still cherishes his time in high school – in a 2005 speech, he went as far as to say: “If there had been no Lakeside, there would have been no Microsoft.”

Did Bill Gates graduate college?

No, Bill Gates never graduated from college, despite enrolling at Harvard University to study law in 1973. In 1975, his college career was cut short as he decided to drop out and pursue Microsoft full-time instead, and he never returned to finish his degree after that.

Nevertheless, Gates’s time at Harvard was as crucial to his development as at Lakeside School.

While attending Harvard, Gates developed the first official product of Microsoft – Altair BASIC. It was a BASIC programming language interpreter that ran on the Altair 8800, one of the first commercially available personal computers.

Here’s a photo of the Altair 8800, the first product of Microsoft that Bill created while attending college:

Photo by Tim Colegrove / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

During his junior year, Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard to put all his time and energy into Microsoft. Together with Paul Allen, they had the long-term plan of making the personal computer a household item instead of a sophisticated gadget that only a few could use and understand. In 2022, it is safe to say that he succeeded in his goal.

So, while Bill Gates did not graduate from Harvard, the university still played a key role in his development as an entrepreneur and software developer – two essential aspects of his identity.

What has Bill Gates said about college?

Despite not finishing college, Gates has always advocated for higher education. Here are some of the most interesting statements Gates has made on American college education and on his own time at Harvard:

  • In one of Bill Gates’ notes, he highlighted that college graduates, in the end, are statistically more likely to find a better job, earn a higher income, and even live healthier lives.
  • In an address to Harvard students in 2018, Bill Gates highlighted that he wishes he had been “more sociable” during his college years. While everything worked out for Gates in the end, he makes a good case for the importance of socialization – networking skills are more crucial than ever, and college is the perfect time to develop them.
  • In another one of Gates’ notes, he predicted that by 2025, more than 66% of jobs in the U.S. would require a higher education diploma. Gates used this statistic to show why America needs a shift in educational policies. Simply put, too many people cannot get their college degrees, yet the demand for skilled workers will only increase.

Many young entrepreneurs use examples like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to justify dropping out. However, Gates does not glorify leaving college – instead, he has always encouraged others to stay in school and get a degree.

So, while Gates deserves to be known as the most successful college dropout of all time, it is important to remember that his story is unique, and he does not necessarily advocate for others to follow in his footsteps. Nonetheless, though, Bill Gates shows us that it is possible to be highly successful without a college degree.