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These 9 Universities Were Once Home to Some of the World's Most Successful College Dropouts

Michael Fein | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Some say a college diploma is the start to a long, successful career. Billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg might disagree.

The two ex-Harvardians are among the world's most famous college dropouts ⁠— but certainly not the only people who have left school to make it big elsewhere. Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell left the University of Texas at age 19, for example, while Oracle co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison dropped out of the University of Illinois.

Some of the world's other wealthiest people didn't attend particularly prominent colleges. Here's a list of schools some of the most successful people in the world once called home:

Harvard University

Getting the biggest name out of the way first: Harvard University did indeed host both Bill Gates and Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz for a spell.

Gates matriculated in 1973, leaving during his junior year to work full-time on building Microsoft. Zuckerberg and Moskovitz, who roomed together on campus, both dropped out while launching Facebook. Moskovitz later founded work-management app Asana in 2008.

Combined, these three men alone have amassed a wealth of over $300 billion.

University of Illinois

Oracle founder and software billionaire Larry Ellison dropped out of the University of Illinois in 1966, to focus on his software programming skills. Now, he consistently ranks among the richest people in the world alongside Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and others.

If making billions in the software industry isn't enough to measure his success, consider this: In 2012, Ellison purchased 98% of the Hawaiian island of Lanai. At the time he said he wanted to build a "health utopia." Ellison's portion of the 141-square-mile slice of paradise includes a $3,000-per-night spa called Sensei Retreat and a solar-powered hydroponic greenhouse. In total, Ellison has spent roughly half a billion dollars on the island.

University of Texas at Austin

Michael Dell, founder of Dell Technologies, launched his company in the 1980s after dropping out of the University of Texas at Austin when he was 19. He is currently worth $51 billion, according to Forbes, ranking him among the wealthiest of the world's university drop-outs.

Serial entrepreneur David Geffen, perhaps best known for co-founding DreamWorks Pictures in 1994, also dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin in 1961 after one semester, according to a PBS timeline of the agent-turned-media mogul.

Missouri University of Science and Technology

One man and his chatty bluebird can call the Missouri University of Science and Technology his would-be alma mater: Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey dropped out a semester short of graduation in 1999. Since he founded Twitter fifteen years ago, the company has made him a multi-billionaire with an estimated net worth of $14.7 billion.

It's not all Twitter money: Dorsey is also the co-founder and CEO of financial payments company Square.

University of Miami

Plenty of successful people have graduated from the University of Miami, from Gloria Estefan to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But some of Miami's most famous ex-students never finished.

Footwear designer and fashion mogul Steve Madden left the University of Miami in 1978, after his grades suffered and his father stopped paying his tuition. Success wasn't immediate: Over the ensuing decade, he picked up as many manufacturing and marketing tips as he could while working at L.J. Simone, a shoe wholesaler. In 1990, he finally launched his eponymous company by selling shoes out of the trunk of his car.

Micky Arison dropped out from the university in 1972 to join the sales department for his father's company, Carnival Cruises. Today, he's the chairman of Carnival and the owner of the NBA's Miami Heat.

One former University of Miami student certainly lived long and prospered off after dropping out: In 1966, more than 25 years after he left the school, television screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry first brought sci-fi series "Star Trek" to the small screen. Roddenberry also spent time at Columbia University and the University of Southern California, but never graduated.

San José State University

Upon getting a job at Yahoo, Jan Koum left San José State University in 1997. Fast forward 12 years: In 2009, the Ukranian native went on to launch WhatsApp, which he and co-founder Brian Acton sold to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion. The move sent his current net worth to an estimated $10.9 billion.

City University/College of New York

CUNY boasts a handful of notable drop-outs like Ralph Lauren, chairman and CEO of Polo Ralph Lauren, and actress and singer Jennifer Lopez. Record executive Russell Simmons, who matriculated in 1975, left the City College of New York during his senior year to promote local musicians. His list of clients would grow to include famous artists like Run-D.M.C, LL Cool J and  The Beastie Boys.

Tennessee State University

In 1975, a young speech communications and performing arts student named Oprah Winfrey left Tennessee State University one credit shy of graduating for a broadcasting job. Like others on this list, she eventually returned to complete her degree, but only after launching her successful talk show in 1986, earning a Best-Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for The Color Purple in 1985 and becoming a national icon.

Chicago State University

This list would be incomplete without including the university that inspired "The College Dropout," Kanye West's 2004 debut album. West attended both Chicago State University and the Chicago-based American Academy of Art, but graduated from neither. In the 24 years since West left school, he's won 22 Grammy awards and launched his Adidas clothing partnership, Yeezy.

Dropped out before college

A few more of the world's richest people didn't wait until college to drop-out. Sir Richard Branson, for example, left the Cliff View House School in Sussex, England, at age 15. "I was dyslexic," said Branson in a 2007 TED Talk. "It was one of the reasons I left school when I was 15 years old." The school doesn't exist anymore. Branson, meanwhile, became the first billionaire in space last month.

Spanish retail entrepreneur Amancio Ortega, with a net worth of $78.8 billion, ranks among some of the wealthiest people in the world. Ortega, founder of retailer Zara, left school in Spain at only 14 years old to work as a delivery boy for a local tailor and thirteen years later opened his first store.

Li Ka-shing, the 43rd-richest person in the world according to Forbes, also dropped out as a teenager. The Hong Kong native's father died when he was just 15, forcing him to leave school and find a job at a plastics trading company to support himself and his family. In the 1950s, he launched a plastic manufacturing company, Cheung Kong Industries — which eventually expanded into industries including electricity, telecommunications, real estate and retail. He now has a net worth of $34.5 billion and the nickname "Superman," as one of Asia's most influential businessmen.

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