15 Millionaires Who Made Their Fortunes Without a College Degree

College is often a wise investment. But you don’t always need a higher education to become successful.

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Updated July 18, 2024
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Go to school, get good grades, graduate, and land a rewarding job in your field. This path to success often works out, but it’s not the only way to achieve financial freedom. If there’s one thing to learn from many of the world’s wealthiest people, it’s that you can take different routes in life and still be successful. 

Will the non-education path work for everyone? Most likely not. But it can still be a good idea to follow the millionaire lessons taught by the actions of individuals like Bill Gates, Kim Kardashian, and Simon Cowell. Applying these lessons in your life can help you focus on what’s needed for a smart financial future.

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Bill Gates

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Bill Gates is a billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, but he’s most known for his role as the co-founder of Microsoft. The thoughtful and bespectacled computer programmer from Seattle, Washington, has been one of the wealthiest people in the world for decades. But his early departure from Harvard University when he was younger comes as a surprise to many.

Gates attended Harvard to take pre-law courses but dropped out his junior year to pursue a business venture with his friend, Paul Allen. While this was likely a risky money move, it eventually led to the founding of Microsoft, the most successful software company in the world. In this case, that risk definitely paid off.

Bill Gates has an estimated net worth of $120.3 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg

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Mark Zuckerberg is known worldwide as a co-founder and CEO of Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world. His global fame was cemented with the release of the Oscar-winning 2010 film, The Social Network.

As with Bill Gates, Zuckerberg attended Harvard University but never graduated. He dropped out after launching the original form of Facebook and seeing its near-instantaneous success. Zuckerberg moved to California with his roommates, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, to continue growing the Facebook name and business.

Mark Zuckerberg has an estimated net worth of $129.9 billion.

Michael Dell

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Michael Dell is the founder and CEO of Dell Inc., one of the world’s largest and most successful technology and personal computer companies. Dell was interested in computers and technology from a young age, going as far as buying an Apple computer when he was 15 so he could take it apart and see how it worked.

Dell attended the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, where he started PCs Limited. He dropped out of college at age 19 to focus on running his business, which later turned into Dell Inc. and the global company we know today.

Michael Dell has an estimated net worth of $70.6 billion.

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Steve Jobs

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The co-founder and former CEO of Apple and Pixar, Steve Jobs, is known for his visionary leadership and helping to make Apple what it is today. He died on Oct. 5, 2011 of pancreatic cancer, but not before leaving his mark on the world of technology and computers, as well as the film and animation industry.

Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, but dropped out after six months. However, he continued to audit courses he was interested in after dropping out. A few years later, after reconnecting with his friend Steve Wozniak, he helped found Apple Computers in his garage.

An unassuming start in a garage might seem like the story of someone who makes money mistakes, but Steve Jobs had an estimated net worth of $7 billion when he died.

Richard Branson

Postmodern Studio/Adobe Virgin Records logo

British entrepreneur Richard Branson shares at least two things in common with Jay-Z: he’s a billionaire and he dropped out of school at a young age. Specifically, Branson dropped out of school at age 16 and later helped form Virgin Records.

Virgin Records helped kickstart the growth of the Virgin Group empire, which now includes multiple companies within different sectors, like travel, hospitality, and communications. Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace in 2000 for his many achievements as an entrepreneur.

Richard Branson has an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.

Evan Williams

Sundry Photography/Adobe Twitter headquarters in downtown San Francisco

Evan Williams, an entrepreneur and computer programmer, helped co-found Twitter with Jack Dorsey and Chrisopher Isaac Stone. Williams attended the University of Nebraska, but left without earning a degree. This didn’t hamper his success with computer software, though, as Google bought his company, Blogger, in 2003.

Williams eventually became chairman of Twitter before switching to the CEO role. He later left that position to focus elsewhere and then left Twitter altogether.

Evan Williams has an estimated net worth of $1.9 billion.

Ted Turner

Scott Smith/Flickr Cartoon Network

Ted Turner is a broadcasting entrepreneur known for creating multiple TV channels, including CNN, Cartoon Network, and Turner Network Television (TNT). Turner hoped to sign up for the U.S. Naval Academy when he was younger, but ended up attending Brown University instead.

Before he could graduate, he was expelled for having a female in his dorm room. This didn’t deter Turner from working hard at his father’s advertising business and eventually taking it over and making it highly profitable.

Ted Turner has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion.

David Murdock

Tada Images/Adobe Dole sticker on banana

David Murdock is the former CEO of Dole Food Company, Inc. and the real estate company Castle & Cooke. Murdock dropped out of high school his freshman year and later served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was involved in multiple business ventures after returning from overseas, many of which involved food products or real estate.

Murdock owns real estate properties in different U.S. states through Castle & Cooke, but he’s likely more well-known for his role with Dole. It’s hard to miss Dole products like salads, fruits, vegetables, and meal solutions when shopping at your local grocery store.

David Murdock has an estimated net worth of $3.4 billion.


Gagandeep/Adobe Brooklyn Bridge at night

American rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z is the world’s first rap artist billionaire, a feat he achieved in 2019. Jay-Z came from humble and often turbulent beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, but he persevered through the hardships and ended up starting his own record label, clothing line, and entertainment company.

Jay-Z doesn’t owe any of his success to a higher education, as he never attended college. In fact, he didn’t graduate from high school either. But don’t let this stop you from using investing advice from Jay-Z to kickstart your own financial pursuits.

Jay-Z has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion.

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Kim Kardashian

Анна Демидова/Adobe multi-colored lipstick testers in the store

Kim Kardashian is a TV personality and entrepreneur who first rose to fame for her personal exploits and TV series, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. However, her business ventures with cosmetics, fragrances, and shapewear account for much of her wealth. These include the companies KKW Beauty and Skims.

Kardashian attended Pierce College but didn’t earn her degree. However, this hasn’t stopped her from wanting to become a lawyer, like her deceased father, Robert Kardashian.

Kim Kardashian has an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion.

Simon Cowell

Beth/Flickr People on American Idol stage

Simon Cowell’s fame is often attributed to his appearances as a judge on TV shows like American Idol , The X Factor , and America’s Got Talent . However, his career in TV began only after he first made it in the music industry.

Cowell dropped out of school at age 16 and went to work in the mailroom of a music publishing company. This led to an opportunity to find new musical talent, and Cowell eventually became a premier talent consultant in the industry. Later, he helped develop new formats for singing and talent competitions, which led to his roles on TV and discovering talented artists like One Direction, Olly Murs, and Leona Lewis.

Simon Cowell has an estimated net worth of $600 million.

Russell Simmons

Renan/Adobe Def Jam Recordings label on computer

Classic rap and hip-hop enthusiasts know about Russell Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings and an accomplished music producer. He was instrumental in launching the careers of famous artists and musical groups like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and The Beastie Boys.

Simmons attended the City College of New York, majoring in sociology. However, he never earned a degree and instead focused on his music career and helping other artists get record deals. Apart from music, his other successful business ventures include multiple clothing lines and a financial services company.

Russell Simmons has an estimated net worth of $350 million.

John Mackey

Sundry Photography/Adobe Whole Foods Market

John Mackey is a co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., which was bought by Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017. Mackey, a college dropout, and Renee Lawson borrowed money from family and friends to open SaferWay Natural Foods in Austin, Texas in 1978. They were kicked out of their shared apartment and ended up living at their store. Two years later, they merged SaferWay with another store to create the first Whole Foods Market.

Today, Whole Foods has more than 500 stores across North America and the U.K. and is a global leader in natural and organic products. The company also has tens of thousands of employees.

John Mackey has an estimated net worth of $85 million.

Rachael Ray

Courtesy of foodnetwork.com Food Network logo

Rachael Ray may not be a world-famous technology CEO, but she’s known for her prowess in the kitchen and for translating her skills and talents into millions of dollars. The celebrity chef and Food Network star says she’s not a chef, she’s a cook. This is because she never attended a formal culinary school.

Ray did, however, attend Pace University in New York state, but left after two years and started her career in food. This led to different opportunities, including her show idea of 30 Minute Meals being picked up by a local TV station, which caught the eye of Food Network. Ray then signed her first big contract with the massive cable channel.

Rachael Ray has an estimated net worth of $100 million.

Anna Wintour

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Anna Wintour is a British fashion icon and magazine editor known for her work with American Vogue magazine, including its revitalization since the 1980s. Although Wintour wasn’t born to humble beginnings and likely had ample opportunities for her career, that shouldn’t shadow her numerous achievements.

Wintour dropped out of the North London Collegiate School and decided to focus on her love of fashion instead. She worked as a fashion editor for multiple magazines and eventually ended up with American Vogue magazine. She continues her work with American Vogue magazine and Condé Nast today.

Anna Wintour has an estimated net worth of $50 million.

Interestingly enough, a successful movie was made with Anna Wintour as the inspiration for the title character played by Meryl Streep — The Devil Wears Prada. Anne Hawathay makes some serious money starring in this film and, like Anna Wintour, is another multi-millionaire who never finished college.

Bottom line

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You never know what the future holds, but one thing is certain: if you work hard to do what you love, your opportunities for success will improve. This might include getting an education, or it might not.

Maybe you’re not looking for the wealth and fame of these individuals, but you’d still like to achieve a level of financial success. This is a worthy goal that’s more than attainable. Starting small and staying consistent with your efforts can help you reach your goals. As you make progress toward your objectives, your increased knowledge will help turn your actions into habits.

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Author Details

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®, is credit cards specialist. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.