By Paul Schrodt
November 9, 2017

You’re likely to earn significantly more if you go to college and get your bachelor’s degree, or make it even further, according to government statistics. But for the richest of the rich, the normal rules don’t seem to apply.

Whether through innate ambition and skill or sheer luck, a number of extremely wealthy leaders like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Richard Branson made it to where they are without the traditional educational credentials. In fact, research firm Wealth-X found in 2016 that nearly a third of the world’s billionaires didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. Here’s 15 insanely successful people that you may not realize never went to college, or abandoned higher education once they got there.

Ellen DeGeneres

ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" features a week of guest hosts filling in for Jimmy, starting Monday, October 30. The guest host for Wednesday, November 1 was Channing Tatum with guests Ellen DeGeneres ("The Ellen DeGeneres Show") and panelist and musical guest P!nk.
Randy Holmes—ABC via Getty Images

Net worth: $400 million

DeGeneres is one of the most successful comedians and hosts in Hollywood history, but she had to work her way there over time. She enrolled in the University of New Orleans, but dropped out after only one semester. She worked odd jobs from house painter to vacuum salesperson to oyster shucker (yes, really). In the ‘80s, she was doing standup at comedy clubs and finally got a national spotlight on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. By the ‘90s, she had her own sitcom, and of course, now she’s the queen of daytime TV with her talk show Ellen.

Ted Turner

Ted Turner speaks at UNICEF's Evening for Children First to Honor Ted Turner on March 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ben Rose—Getty Images for UNICEF.

Net worth: $2.2 billion

Turner didn’t actually drop out of college. Instead, he was kicked out of Brown University for having a woman in his dorm room. Luckily, he was able to work for his father’s successful advertising company, which he later turned into the Turner Broadcasting Company, launching the first 24-hour cable news network, CNN.

 

Anna Wintour

Editor in chief of Vogue Magazine, Anna Wintour, attends the Nina Ricci show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2018 on September 29, 2017 in Paris, France.
Mireya Acierto—Getty Images.

Net worth: $35 million

Fashion designers the world over seek the capricious approval of Anna Wintour, who has been editor in chief of American Vogue since 1988. The Brit attended the all-girls school North London Collegiate School, but never pursued higher education. The daughter of a newspaper editor, she quickly rose through the ranks of fashion publications. “I think my father really decided for me that I should work in fashion,” she said in the documentary The September Issue.

 

Larry Ellison

Billionaire Larry Ellison, executive chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle Corp., delivers a keynote speech at the New Economy Summit 2015 in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, April 8, 2015.
Kiyoshi Ota—Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Net worth: $61.1 billion

Ellison has had a colorful life, from being born the son of a single mother in the Bronx to buying his own Hawaiian island. He also dropped out of college twice. The first time, he left the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in his second year when his aunt died. He tried going back to school at the University of Chicago but only lasted a semester. After developing computer and programming skills in several jobs, though, he was able to launch his own software company, Oracle, and went on to become a tech legend.

Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons attends Casamigos Halloween Party on October 27, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevin Mazur—Getty Images.

Net worth: $340 million

The hip-hop world is populated by many self-made strivers, but not just on the talent side. Simmons, one of the godfathers of rap and the cofounder of Def Jam Recordings, never finished his education at City College of New York. He’s become a bestselling author and inspiration to people who want to become the best at what they do.

Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils the latest improvements to the company's Mac software as it looks to increase market share gains against Microsoft Windows-based PCs during a news conference at Apple Inc. headquarters in Cupertino, California October 20, 2010.
Norbert Von der Groeben—Reuters

Net worth (at time of death): $10.2 billion

The Apple mastermind was a rebel in so many ways, and that extended to education. He showed an early interest in computing and went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, but dropped out after only one semester. He ended up pursuing Eastern spiritualism in India before returning to the United States and convincing his friend Steve Wozniak to start a business with him.

Michael Dell

Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies, speaks at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado on July 17,2017.
Robert Lever—AFP/Getty Images.

Net worth: $23.5 billion

Like many of the other tech mavens of the 1980s and ‘90s, Dell showed an early interest in computers. But his parents wanted him to be a doctor, so he enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin as a premed student. He left after only one year because his side work refurbishing and selling computers became so successful. Today he’s still in the same basic business as CEO of Dell Technologies.

Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray attends Cameron Diaz in Conversation with Rachael Ray at 92nd Street Y on April 5, 2016 in New York City.
Laura Cavanaugh—FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Net worth: $60 million

Food stars don’t come bigger than Rachael Ray, who has dominated book aisles, the Food Network and daytime TV. But not only did she forego a bachelor’s degree—she also has no formal training in the culinary arts. But her accessible approach to food has brought her a massive fan base.

David Geffen

David Geffen receives the UCLA Medal During UCLA's Hippocratic Oath Ceremony at UCLA Campus on May 30, 2014 in Westwood, California.
Gabriel Olsen—Getty Images.

Net worth: $8.2 billion

Geffen has had a classic self-made rise in his career. Hollywood’s richest man, who founded or cofounded DreamWorks and Geffen Records, started in the mailroom of the major talent agency William Morris. He enrolled in Santa Monica City College, Brooklyn College, and the University of Texas, but dropped out of all of them. He even lied about graduating from UCLA when applying to William Morris, then forged a letter saying he had graduated from the university.

Kim Kardashian

ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" features a week of guest hosts filling in for Jimmy, starting Monday, October 30. The guest host for Thursday, November 2 was Jennifer Lawrence with guest Kim Kardashian West (KKW Beauty) and musical guest Linkin Bridge.
Randy Holmes—ABC via Getty Images

Net worth: $175 million

No one personifies millennial fame quite like Kim Kardashian and her family, who put their lavish lifestyle in front of cameras for Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and successfully built a mammoth business off their names. Kourtney and Rob Kardashian are the only children in the Kardashian and Jenner clan who graduated college. Kim attended Pierce College in Los Angeles and worked at the family’s Dash store when the E! reality show got going, and she soon left both behind. Now virtually synonymous with selfies, Kim has said she would like to continue her education when she’s older and perhaps even get a law degree.

Paul Allen

Medalist Paul Allen accepts award at the 2015 Carnegie Medal Of Philanthropy Award Ceremony at New York Public Library on October 15, 2015 in New York City.
Steve Mack—Getty Images.

Net worth: $20.7 billion

Bill Gates’ right-hand man were buddies going back to high school, even creating their own data tracking tool. While they parted ways when Gates went to Harvard and Allen entered Washington State University, they reunited only two years later, dropping out to make Microsoft what it is.

John D. Rockefeller

circa 1930: American philanthropist, John Davison Rockefeller (1839 - 1937).
General Photographic Agency—Getty Images

Net worth: $340 billion (in today’s money)

In previous eras, it was less common to graduate from college, but it’s still stunning that Rockefeller, who’s one of the wealthiest Americans of all time, didn’t get any higher learning. The Standard Oil Company founder, magnate, and philanthropist only got a high school education and brief bookkeeping studies before he went to work at the age of 16.

Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas's homespun ads built Wendy's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers into one of the world's most successful fast-food franchises.
Chris Kasson—AP/REX/Shutterstock

Net worth (at time of death): $99 million

No one knew how to sell a burger with a smile like Dave Thomas. The founder and former CEO of Wendy’s didn’t make it to college, having left high school to work at the Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He opened his first Wendy’s in 1969, and eventually turned it into a fast-food empire thanks in no small part to his role as charming mascot in a number of TV ads.

Kevin Rose

Kevin Rose at the A. Lange & Sohne Boutique Opening, New York, September 25, 2014
Carly Erickson—BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Net worth: $8 million

One of the rising stars of tech, much like moguls in the industry before him, decided to make his way without a bachelor’s degree. Online entrepreneur Kevin Rose studied computer science at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas for two years before dropping out. It worked out: The onetime TechTV star has gone on to cofound Digg, Revision3, Pownce, and Milk, and he’s a board member of the Tony Hawk Foundation and an adviser for Google Ventures.

Henry Ford

Portrait of American inventor and industrialist Henry Ford (1863 - 1947) sitting in the first automobile he built, a 'quadricycle', in front of his former workshop, 58 Bagley Avenue, Greenfield Village, Michigan, June 1946.
Hulton Archive—Getty Images.

Net worth: $199 billion (in today’s money)

Ford revolutionized manufacturing and transportation with his car company’s innovation, the assembly line. But he did so without a fancy engineering or business background: He left his family’s farm at 16 to move to Detroit, and became an apprentice in a machine shop. He went on to build his first car in 1896.

 

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