Although a college degree can certainly help you land a dream job and snag a high salary, it’s not the only key to success. In fact, rich people have been able to achieve millionaire and billionaire status without ever setting foot on campus or completing higher education.
20 Self-Made Millionaires and Billionaires
Self-made millionaires, not to mention self-made billionaires, so it is always interesting to see the paths that were taken to get them from sometimes humble beginnings to some of the richest people in the world. Here are 20 self-made millionaires who didn’t go to college:
- Bill Gates
- Ralph Lauren
- Steve Madden
- Steve Jobs
- Sean Combs
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Rachael Ray
- Coco Chanel
- Simon Cowell
- James Cameron
- Steve Wozniak
- Richard Branson
- Larry Ellison
- Wolfgang Puck
- Ted Turner
- David Murdock
- Russell Simmons
- Evan Williams
- John Mackey
1. Bill Gates
- Estimated net worth: $115.3 billion
It’s hard to believe that this smart man is a Harvard dropout. Bill Gates became interested in computer programming at age 13 and made his first $20,000 developing a computer program monitoring Seattle traffic patterns with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen at age 15. The two founded the multinational software company five years later.
He currently has a net worth of over $115 billion, making him one of the richest men in the world.
2. Ralph Lauren
- Estimated net worth: $7.4 billion
After studying business for two years at Baruch College in Manhattan, Ralph Lauren dropped out of school and joined the Army. He left the Army in 1964, married Ricky Low-Beer and got a job at tie manufacturer A. Rivetz & Co. Lauren made his mark going against the grain by designing wide ties in an era of skinny ties and started his own business, selling half a million dollars worth of ties in the first year.
Today, Lauren is a fashion tycoon worth over $7 billion with a global empire consisting of menswear, womenswear, jeans, fragrances, accessories and homewares.
3. Steve Madden
- Estimated net worth: $300 million
Steve Madden attended the University of Miami for a short time but quickly landed back in his native New York in 1978 after his father stopped funding his education due to his fun-loving ways. He gained experience working for a variety of footwear companies before starting his own in 1990 with just $1,100 in his bank account.
Madden has now amassed a fortune of $300 million and has expanded his footwear company into a lifestyle brand offering clothing and several accessories.
4. Steve Jobs
- Estimated net worth: $10.2 billion at time of death
Steve Jobs passed away in 2011 but the Apple co-founder’s impact on the tech industry will never be forgotten. He attended Reed College for six months and then dropped out and worked for a few months as a video game designer for Atari before traveling to India to find spiritual enlightenment. In 1976, when he was 21 years old, he partnered with Steve Wozniak to start Apple Computer.
5. Sean Combs
- Estimated net worth: $900 million
Hip hop mogul, businessman, designer and TV personality Sean “Diddy” Combs might have a $900 million net worth — but he didn’t need a college degree to get there. According to Forbes, Combs dropped out of Howard University. However, Billboard reported that Combs did receive his honorary doctorate from the university in 2014. It is projected that this self-made millionaire could soon become a self-made billionaire.
“Howard University didn’t just change my life — it entered my soul, my heart, my being and my spirit,” said Combs.
6. Mark Zuckerberg
- Estimated net worth: $104.6 billion
While he was still in high school, Mark Zuckerberg caught the attention of AOL and Microsoft by co-creating a Winamp plug-in that built customized playlists. He turned down job offers to attend college, and in February 2004, he launched “The Facebook” from his Harvard dorm room. The social networking site became an instant success, and Zuckerberg dropped out of school to run the platform.
7. Rachael Ray
- Estimated net worth: $100 million
The celebrity chef, cookbook author and Emmy-winning talk show host grew up surrounded by different styles of cooking and has held some roles in the food service industry. Rachael Ray attended Pace University for two years before stopping to work and save money.
She developed “30 Minute Meals” classes while working at a gourmet food store in New York and then got her big break when her classes were picked up by a local television newscast. The cooking segments eventually led to her first book deal and a contract with Food Network.
8. Coco Chanel
- Estimated net worth: $8 million at time of death
The fashion icon was raised in an orphanage and taught to sew by nuns. In 1910, she opened a hat store on Paris’s Rue Cambon. Her first clothing venture started on a cold day when she made a dress out of an old jersey. She eventually expanded her high-fashion empire to include clothes, perfume and cosmetics.
9. Simon Cowell
- Estimated net worth: $600 million
Simon Cowell dropped out of school at age 16 after being kicked out of many institutions for bad behavior. He worked his way up the ladder in the music industry to become a producer and A&R professional, eventually founding the now-defunct Fanfare Records.
Cowell later landed a gig as a judge on the talent show “Pop Idol” on British TV, which led to smash hits like “American Idol.” His own production company, SYCOtv, later debuted “The X Factor.”
10. James Cameron
- Estimated net worth: $800 million
He’s now an Academy Award-winning movie producer and director, but James Cameron was once a college dropout earning a living as a truck driver. He made his first film in 1978, which scored him a job at New World Pictures. In 1984, Cameron made a name for himself by writing and directing “The Terminator,” and since then, he has worked on numerous hits, such as “Aliens,” “Titanic”, “Avatar” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
11. Steve Wozniak
- Estimated net worth: $100 million
The Apple co-founder and inventor of the Apple I and II computers had a knack for building electronics from scratch at an early age. He briefly attended the University of California at Berkeley, which is when he met high school student Steve Jobs through a mutual friend. Steve Wozniak worked for Hewlett-Packard for a short time before quitting to join forces with Jobs to found Apple.
12. Richard Branson
- Estimated net worth: $2.9 billion
Richard Branson dropped out of school at age 16 to start the youth-culture magazine, Student. The success of this publication led to the creation of a mail-order record company called Virgin. He eventually built a recording studio and founded the Virgin Records label. Since then, he has expanded the Virgin portfolio to include more than 200 companies in 30 countries.
13. Larry Ellison
- Estimated net worth: $151.2 billion
After dropping out of two different colleges, Larry Ellison moved to Berkeley, Calif., where he picked up basic computer skills at various jobs. He found work as a programmer at Amdahl, eventually founded Software Development Labs with two colleagues and scored a contract to build a database-management system they named Oracle. The co-founder of the multinational tech company is now one of the richest men in the world.
14. Wolfgang Puck
- Estimated net worth: $120 million
The celebrated chef began cooking as a child, started formal training at age 14 and worked his way through some of the best restaurants in France. He came to the United States at age 24 and quickly became a Hollywood favorite. He is a two-time winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year.
15. Ted Turner
- Estimated net worth: $2.5 billion
After being kicked out of Brown University, Ted Turner’s father gave him a job as the manager of Turner Advertising’s Macon, Ga., branch. When his father died in 1963, he took over as president and CEO of Turner Advertising, which he eventually rebranded as Turner Broadcasting Company.
- Estimated net worth: $2.5 billion
Shawn Corey Carter, also known as Jay-Z, made his fortune as a rapper, producer and all-around entrepreneur. Though Jay-Z is often referred to as hip hop’s first billionaire, he never attended college as he never finished high school.
17. David Murdock
- Estimated net worth: $2.3 billion at time of death
Former CEO of Dole Food Company, Inc. and real estate company, Castle & Cooke, David Murdock was technically a high school dropout. Even without going to college, this self-made billionaire made his mark in the business, food and real estate industries.
18. Russell Simmons
- Estimated net worth: $340 million
If you are a fan of hip hop, you will definitely have heard of Russell Simmons who is a prolific music producer as well as a co-founder of Def Jam Records. Though he briefly attended the City College of New York, he never earned his degree and therefore it was never instrumental to how he made his millions.
19. Evan Williams
- Estimated net worth: $1.8 billion
Though he went on to become a successful entrepreneur and computer programmer, Evan Williams never graduated from the University of Nebraska and therefore never got his degree. In 2003, Williams sold his company, Blogger, to Google and then went on to help co-found Twitter where he served for a period as CEO before leaving.
20. John Mackey
- Estimated net worth: $85 million
John Mackey was a college dropout who went on to co-found Whole Foods Market, Inc. and later served as CEO of the company before selling it to Amazon in 2017 for 13.7 billion. Whole Foods now has hundreds of stores internationally.
Final Take To GO
If you are looking to become a self-made millionaire, and are starting with no money, you can see from this list there are many paths you can take depending on your skill set or current circumstances. Though a college degree doesn’t hurt the process of becoming rich, it isn’t necessarily a requirement.
Jennifer Taylor contributed to the reporting for this article.
Information is accurate as of Sept. 1, 2023.
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