6 College Dropouts Who Made Millions

Before I go on, I want to make sure we make this clear: I am in no way advocating that anyone drop out of college.

I am a  strong believer in the value of a college education, both in its contribution to personal development and to future success. And in monetary terms, the numbers bear us out: People who go to college, in general, go on to earn more money than those who don’t.

A 2002 U.S. Census, for example, found that someone with a bachelor’s degree earns, on average, over $20,000 more a year and nearly $1 million more over her or his lifetime than a high school graduate.

But then there are those few exceptions who defy convention, dropping out of college or graduate school and becoming gazillionaires anyway.

While I’m not in favor of dropping out of college, I do like a good story, and here I have a chance to tell five of them.

So here are the flukes, the statistical freaks, the six wayward college dropouts who went on to find computer-geek fame and make multibillion-dollar fortunes on some of the most innovative technology platforms of the last 20 years.

1) Bill Gates, Microsoft

Possibly the most world-renowned example of post-dropout success, Bill Gates made the bold decision to leave Harvard his junior year, in 1977. Long before Windows became a worldwide rampant technology, contested monopoly, and household name, Gates was just a slacker college student.

“I had this terrible habit of not ever attending classes,” Gates said.

Gates left Harvard to devote his time to what would later become the world’s largest software company in Microsoft, a venture he had started in 1975 with his childhood friend Paul Allen.

Now 53, Gates is worth an estimated $50 billion. Forbes has ranked Gates as the richest man in the world every year for over a decade, and Gates has given millions to various philanthropic causes.

The foundation he and his wife created in 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has embarked on what some are calling the most ambitious charitable project in history, with an endowment from the Gates’ of more than $28.8 billion (as of January 2005) earmarked for global health and learning initiatives.

2) Steve Jobs, Apple

Just eight months older than Gates and the father of the Mac, that technological nemesis to Gates’ Windows, Steve Jobs followed a similar path to post-dropout mega-riches.

Jobs’ biological parents were dead-set on his getting a college education, and before Jobs was adopted, his adoptive parents had to promise that they would send him to college.

In the fall of 1973, Jobs’ adoptive parents spent their life savings to send him to Reed College in Oregon, where Jobs found the mandatory college courses pointless and uninspiring.

As he told Stanford University’s graduating class of 2005 in his commencement address, “After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out.”

Although he formally dropped out of Reed, Jobs hung around the campus for another year, showing up only at the classes that piqued his interest.

Jobs got his first job with Atari in 1974 and then in 1976 co-founded Apple Computer with his high-school friend, Steve Wozniak.

Jobs was ranked 49th in the Forbes 400 Richest Americans of 2006 list and has a current estimated net worth of over $5 billion.

With the trendsetting family of iPods and iPhones, sleek laptops and desktops, intuitive and user-friendly apps, and a series of visually stunning OS X operating systems, Apple continually sets the industry benchmark for innovations in hardware design, user interfaces, and digital entertainment.

3) Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

With a net worth estimated at $1.5 billion and believed by some analysts to be the country’s wealthiest man younger than 25, Mark Zuckerberg, like Gates, is a Harvard dropout.

After launching Facebook school-wide from his dorm room at Harvard in February 2004, Zuckerberg began devoting more and more time to his program, gradually spreading it to other schools.

By that summer, Zuckerberg and his roommate Dustin Moskovitz had released Facebook to nearly 30 schools, and the website was growing too popular to be run part-time. Like Gates before him, Zuckerberg dropped out to make his technology start-up his sole focus.

Since then, Zuckerberg has received (and turned down) a $900 million buyout offer from Yahoo and pushed Facebook toward overshadowing MySpace as the most popular and fastest growing social networking site in the U.S.

Only 23, he’s Facebook’s CEO and retains control of the company.

4) Shawn Fanning, Napster

Widely known as the man who delivered peer-to-peer file sharing to the masses, Fanning is the mastermind behind Napster, the first-of-its-kind music-sharing application.

In the spring of 1999, as a 19-year-old freshman at Northeastern University in Boston, Fanning wrote a simple program that would allow users to search for and share music files over a peer-to-peer network.

The test version of Fanning’s program was a viral hit, downloaded by thousands of users and with traffic quickly outstripping Napster’s capacity. By the fall of that year. Fanning decided to drop out of school to move to Silicon Valley.

Although Napster drew the enmity — as well as the many-headed legal team — of the Recording Industry Association of America and of member band Metallica, in particular, for allowing users to illegally download free music, Napster forever changed the entertainment industry, forcing it to contend with the advent of digital media.

Fanning resigned from Napster in 2002 and went on to found SNOCAP, another music-sharing platform designed to let users access music inexpensively and legally.

5) Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google

Larry Page and Sergey Brin were busy cooking up Google while they were still aspiring Ph.D. students in the computer science program at Stanford. The pair later went on leave from the Ph.D. program to make Google their primary focus.

Since its launch in 1998, Google has become the world’s dominant online search engine, a provider of popular free e-mail and Web tools, a cutting-edge innovator, a highly sought-after employer, and a profitable public company with stock prices reaching almost $750 a share at their recent peak.

Both just 33 years old, Page and Brin are now billionaires with net worths of about $13 billion each, ranked 27th and 26th on the Forbes World’s Richest People of 2006 list, and still pushing the Google monolith and fortune-making machine forward.

courtesy:  NextStudent.

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