Famous College Dropouts

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Received wisdom is that the only way to get on in life is through a good education, as far as you can take it and preferably to university (or college) a place where you earn a degree. That’s not necessarily true for a number of famous successful people who struggled academically or found a different calling in the course of their education, such as this group of very famous people:


1. Roman Abramovich


If there was ever a tale of rags to riches from the old Communist into the modern Russia, then the oil billionaire is it. Orphaned as a child, few expected him to make it and when he dropped out of university as a teenager, he became a street trader and then a mechanic. So how did he go from that to the fifth richest man in Russia? It was perestroika that allowed him to legitimize his previous black market businesses. From there he moved into commodities and then oil, buying up one of the biggest companies for next to nothing

2. Bill Gates


A lot of people have some very strong opinions on the founder of Microsoft but you cannot ignore that he revolutionized the IT industry with home computing in the 1970s. He is persistently ranked in the Forbes list of world’s wealthiest people and is today known not just for his work with Microsoft, but also for his philanthropy. Despite having a place at the prestigious Harvard University, he spent more time playing with computers and decided to drop out in order to start his first IT business

3. Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

It is said that without Facebook we would all have to phone 500 people every morning just to tell them what we had for breakfast. Love it or loath it, Facebook and its emulators are now a big part of our lives and it was started by this man and four of his friends who began designing and implementing an IT project in their first year. It became so successful and so popular within the Harvard campus that they decided to leave their courses to finish Facebook ‘ they never looked back

4. Sting


Eco warrior and former lead singer of The Police spent just one term at the UK’s University of Warwick before deciding to drop out and train to be a teacher. However, this career was not to last long before he moved into music, fronting one of the most famous Brit rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s. He also went on to have a solo career, famous for tracks like Desert Rose and Fields of Gold in the 1990s and early 2000s

5. Brad Pitt


The hunky actor probably claims the crown in the ‘leaving it until the last moment’ stakes. Whereas most drop outs lasted a single term, semester or year, Pitt carried on his studies right until the end ‘ dropping out of university just two weeks before he was due to graduate. With his successful acting career he probably didn’t look back though. Pitt went on to star in Mr and Mrs Smith, Snatch, Interview the A Vampire, Ocean’s 11 and most recently, Inglorious

6. Charles Darwin


The man whose whole life was dedicated to discovering the secrets of the nature of life, and a man on whose ideas an entire biological discipline is built, began a medical career at Edinburgh University but soon dropped out. Oddly, he would go on to study Theology at Cambridge and it would be the death of his youngest daughter that would cause him to question his faith, returning to his interest in biology and anatomy in formulating his ideas about evolution

7. Ralph Lauren


World famous fashion designer you would think worked and studied in some artistic field and that may be true for a lot of others but not in the case of the label famous for the Polo brand. He did start out with a business degree (which no doubt he later put to good use) at Baruch College but dropped out to join the army and then open a shop selling neck ties which he named Polo. It was all uphill from there and he heads a company worth billions of US dollars

8. George Clooney


Another actor who didn’t finish his degree, in fact dropping out of two different programmes at two different universities at Northern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati respectively. It took a while for Clooney to find his direction in life as a baseball career came to an end before it even managed to get properly started. Clooney would eventually find his niche as an actor, starring with Brad Pitt (above) in Ocean’s 11, with Quentin Tarantino in From Dusk Till Dawn and a number of rom coms

9. Albert Einstein


Where some started university and then dropped out for a variety of reasons, history’s greatest physicist was not even permitted into the Zurich Polytechnic because he had been expelled from his previous school. It clearly didn’t faze him as he went on to completely revolutionize physics as we know it, turning over the old Newtonian model and taking physics into a golden age. Oh and he won a Nobel Prize in the process and is now considered one of the greatest scientists of all time

10. James Cameron


Creator of Aliens, Titanic and a number of other big budget movies since the 1980s also did not finish his physics degree in the early 1970s. His first shop was hardly inspiring, he drove a school bus but after seen Star Wars in 1977 decided that that was his new calling. Cameron didn’t look back and is still today one of the most celebrated movie directors of all time.


Education to degree level and beyond is no guarantee of success, and being without a degree is no guarantee that you will not find your calling and make a success of it. Many of those above tried the academic route and didn’t quite get there or realized that their future lie in another direction.

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