10 Successful People that made it without a University Degree


As the cost of going to university continues to rise and employers emphasise the importance of experience ahead of qualifications, the decision as to whether or not to go to university has never been deliberated so much.


If you’re thinking that university might not right for you, or that perhaps you might not achieve the grades, fear not! Here is a selection of 10 of the world’s most influential people who managed to gain their success without a degree.



1) Richard Branson


The billionaire businessman and founder of Virgin Group left school at the age of 16. Branson’s headmaster famously told him told him he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire.


Branson suffers with dyslexia and his academic performance was poor, however his net worth is now estimated at $4.9 billion and Virgin Group now comprises over 400 companies.


His first business venture at the age of 16 was a magazine called Student. He later set up a mail-order record business, before opening up the Virgin Records store chain in 1972. In the 1980s he expanded the Virgin Records music label and also set up Virgin Atlantic airline company.


In 2004 Virgin Galactic was founded, an American-based spaceflight company, which aims to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists.


During the course of his career, Branson has made several world record breaking attempts and also helped to establish a number of humanitarian initiatives including the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children.



2) Thomas Edison


The American inventor and businessman, famous for developing a number of world changing inventions left school at the age of 12 to work on a railway.


Amongst a list of influential devices invented by Edison were the long lasting electric light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera.


Edison was also one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass-production and large-scale teamwork and he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.




3) Quentin Tarantino


Oscar winning screenwriter and film director Quentin Tarantino dropped out of high school at the age of 15, and started working as an usher in an adult film theatre, while also taking acting lessons.


He later dropped out of acting school and landed a job in a video rental store, where he would discuss cinema and customer video recommendations at length, before finally writing his first screenplay in 1987.


Amongst a plethora of iconic films, Tarantino’s resume includes Natural Born Killers, Reservior Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 and Django Unchained.


He was nominated for several Academy Awards and won Best Writing Oscar alongside Roger Avary for Pulp Fiction and Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained.



4) Ellen DeGeneres


The multi-award winning American television host, comedienne, actress, producer and writer actually attended the University of New Orleans, however she dropped out after just one semester.


In the 1980s DeGeneres began her career in stand up and in 1986 became the first female comedian to be invited by the iconic host Johnny Carson for a discussion after her set on The Tonight Show. She went on to star in long-running TV sitcom, Ellen, stared in three feature length films and provided the voice of Dory in Pixar’s Finding Nemo in 2003.


DeGeneres famously came out as a lesbian on the Oprah Winfrey Show, before her character Ellen Morgan also came out in the sitcom Ellen. She became the first openly gay actress to play an openly lesbian character on television and the series went on to explore various LGBT issues.


She has been the host her own TV talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, since 2003 and has also hosted a range of awards shows, including the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, and the Primetime Emmys.



5) Steve Jobs


Steve Jobs is another highly influential person that dropped out of college after just one semester, if he had not, it is likely that we would have never seen the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iMac.


The American inventor and entrepreneur was the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple Inc. He also funded what would become Pixar Animation Studios and became a member of the Walt Disney Company in 2006.


Jobs famously left Apple in 1985 after a disagreement with the board of directors, but returned in the late 1990’s as interim CEO when the company was facing bankruptcy. He managed to turn the business around and by 2011 Apple became the world’s most valuable publicly traded company.


6) Walt Disney


The American entrepreneur, cartoonist, animator, voice actor and film producer left school at 16 to join the Army. Due to his age however, Disney could not get in, so he joined the Red Cross instead and was sent to France in 1918 after the armistice was signed.

He moved back to the USA in 1919 to begin his artistic career and after a shaky start, eventually became a Hollywood business mogul.


During his lifetime, Disney won 22 Academy Awards 4 honorary awards from 59 nominations, more than any other person in history. He also won 7 Emmy Awards. He was the original voice of Mickey Mouse and also developed a number of other fiction characters including Donald Duck and Goofy.


 He gave his name to the US theme parks Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort, as well as Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney and Hong Kong Disneyland.




7) Pablo Picasso

The Spanish painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramicist, stagedesigner, poet and playwright dropped out of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.


Famous for co-founding the Cubist movement, constructed sculpture and the co-invention of collage, Picasso is regarded as one of the most revolutionary artists of the early 20th century and was responsible for significant developments in the painting, sculpture, printmaking and ceramics.




8) Mark Zuckerberg


Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of social networking website, Facebook, famously dropped out of Harvard to work full time on the site, after launching it from the dormitory rooms at the university.​​


Facebook was introduced to into a number of other college campuses and eventually rolled out nationally and internationally, reaching a total of 1 billion users in 2012.


Zuckerberg became a billionaire at the age of 23 and his personal wealth was estimated to be $35.1 billion in March (2015).




9) David Karp



The founder and CEO of blogging platform Tumblr never graduated high school, yet according to Forbes, his net worth exceeds $200 million.


In 2013, it was announced that Yahoo” was to acquire Tumblr for $1.1 billion and that Karp would remain CEO. Tumblr now hosts over 238.8 million blogs.






10) Bill Gates


 The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft has been consistently ranked on Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and was ranked as the wealthiest individual several times between 1995-2014.


Gates dropped out of Harvard College in the 1970s to pursue his career, he founded Microsoft in 1976 and never returned to Harvard to complete his studies.




I'm not sure University is right for me -

What else should I consider?


A university education is clearly not necessary to become successful, not to mention the fact that it is hugely expensive and not suitable for everybody.


However, it can be difficult to know how to begin a professional career, especially when you have little to no experience.


At Be Wiser, we understand that academic achievements are not always an indicator of your true potential and appreciate that everybody needs to start somewhere.


We offer a range of entry-level positions with competitive starting salaries and also provide extensive training and career development opportunities.


Be Wiser also runs a range of apprenticeship programmes, including our SureStart programme, which was specifically designed to provide a practical alternative to university.


SureStart apprentices gain hands-on experience working in various business areas over a three year period, whilst studying industry recognised professional qualifications.


There has never been a better time to earn while you learn.


To find out more about the exciting opportunities at Be Wiser give our team a call today on 01264 748181 or email recruitment@careerwiser.co.uk

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