11 Immensely Successful High School Dropouts : Under30CEO 11 Immensely Successful High School Dropouts : Under30CEO
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11 Immensely Successful High School Dropouts

| July 24, 2013 | 9 Comments

Parents tend to want their children to finish high school. But sometimes parents are met with a child who has unconventional abilities, the kind that can’t be properly fostered in a regular high school environment. They are met with great success after dropping out of high school once they begin to follow their passions, and these kinds of people can be found across various disciplines throughout time. Here are 11 immensely successful high school dropouts that you might not have suspected:

Quentin Tarantino


Arguably one of the most influential directors of his generation, Tarantino admitted on the Howard Stern radio show to dropping out of Narbonne High School in California at the age of 16 to attend acting classes. After two years,  he quickly gained a distaste for that too and found himself working in a video rental store in Manhattan Beach, where his real education began. He discussed cinema and customer video recommendations with his co-workers and paid close attention to the types of films people liked to rent; he speaks of his experiences in the store as inspiration for his directorial career.

Richard Branson


Richard Branson was unable to reach success within the confines of school due to his dyslexia and dropped out of the Stowe School at the age of 16. Ironically enough, he started a magazine publication entitled Student – “I did it because I wanted to edit a magazine. There wasn’t a national magazine run by students, for students,” says Branson. The magazine was not lucrative but it would ultimately be the launchpad for Branson Virgin Records.  Branson ran ads in Student for records at discounted prices and his mail order record business soon became profitable, opening the first store soon after with the staff from Student.

Benjamin Franklin


A hardcore historical drop-out, Franklin dropped out before he even reached high school age, or even middle school, Franklin gave up on schooling at the ripe old age of 10. He decided he would rather work under his father as a soap and candle maker, then moved on to apprentice under his brother who was a printer and the founder of the first independent newspaper in the colonies. His brother denied Ben the chance to publish letters in the paper, so Ben decided to submit letters under a pseudonym. After his brother’s dissatisfaction upon finding out this information Ben took it upon himself to pull an even more badass move – he left his apprenticeship without permission which labeled him as a fugitive, and subsequently ran away to Philadelphia!

John D. Rockefeller


Rockefeller’s drop-out story is slightly strange, rather than being an act of rebellion, his dropping-out was actually insisted upon by his father (only two months before graduation, too). He decided to indulge in his excellence with numbers, so Rockefeller enrolled in Folsom’s Commercial College where he studied double-entry bookkeeping, penmanship, banking, and commercial law. His studies would help him land his first job in at Hewitt & Tuttle, commission merchants and produce shippers – his success only increased from there; good call, Dad.

Walt Disney


Walt Disney started dabbling in drawing during his high school career; he was the cartoonist for McKinley High School’s newspaper sticking to mainly political topics. He dropped out at 16 to join the army, but was swiftly rejected for being underage and joined the Red Cross instead (lying about his age on the application this time around). He was sent to France as an ambulance driver where his ambulance dawned some of his cartoons on the side. Upon returning to America he became a newspaper artist and when that fizzled out he decided to try his hand at being an animator, the rest is history.

Charles Dickens


The Victorian writer of quite a few classics that you’ll probably encounter in your high school literature class, Dickens was not given the opportunity to finish high school in his youth. He had to leave school twice, at age 12 and then again at age 15 to help contribute to his family’s finances. He became an office boy where he learned shorthand, which lead to him trying his hand at freelance reporting. If it weren’t for these dire circumstances, its unclear as to when Dickens would have turned to writing in his life.

David Karp


Developer of the exorbitantly successful blogging platform Tumblr, David Karp’s parents created an encouraging environment for him to feel comfortable enough to pursue his dreams, even if it meant dropping out of school. Karp attributes his desire to drop out not to crappy friends, or a lack of motivation/aptitude for school studies, his passion for computer science just wasn’t being satisfied at the Bronx High School of Science. He figured he could learn more on his own, and with his parents’ blessing he dropped out his sophomore year of high school at 15.

Amancio Ortega


The third richest man in the world did not go to high school. Amancio dropped out of school at 13, to try his hand at retail and sold shirts in a store. He moved on to sell his own bathrobes and then his wife’s designs, launching the first Zara store in Spain that snowballed into an internationally-known brand. The Zara brand makes clothes for kids, men and women, and has also launched a furniture line in recent years, generating huge profits for Amancio – his success is far from attributable to his education.

Dave Thomas


Dave Thomas made a brave choice at a young age to stay behind in Fort Wayne, Indiana while his father moved onto a new state. He decided to drop out of high school at 15 years old to work full time at a restaurant known as the Hobby House and live at a local YMCA. He earned a hefty chunk of change helping run franchises of KFC and sold his shares back to Sanders, his experience in fast food gave him the confidence to open his own chain, Wendy’s. He made the decision to open a new fast food franchise named after his fourth daughter in order to bring something new to the fast food scene with made-to-order freshly ground hamburger patties and a family-style atmosphere within the restaurant.  But Thomas did not want to be known as a high school drop out success story, he earned his GED with the help of a tutor and graduated from a local Fort Lauderdale high school – he earned himself the superlative of most likely to succeed.

Peter Jennings


Jennings was an eminent journalist who led ABC’s broadcast “World News Tonight” for over 20 years. At age 9 he hosted his own children’s radio-show in Ottawa known as “Peter’s Program”, and became America’s youngest news anchor at 27 years old in 1965 after being hired by ABC the previous year. He has reported from practically every major capital across the globe and war zone, including all 50 states, but he never saw his high school graduation. Jennings dropped out of high school at the age of 17, Jennings is quoted as saying that it was out of “pure boredom” that he failed his last year in high school, “I loved girls,” he said, “I loved comic books. And for reasons I don’t understand, I was pretty lazy”.

Wolfgang Puck


Puck decided leave high school at 14 to pursue his culinary career by becoming a full-time apprentice at a hotel. His success as a chef increased exponentially during his youth in Europe, going on to work in Maxim’s in Paris, the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and the L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence. He has opened several restaurants in the US and launched a chain of casual eateries called Wolfgang Puck Cafes, as well as a line of signature frozen pizzas and canned soups, distributed at local supermarkets throughout America. He couldn’t have made a better choice at such a young age.

By Mai Bar of Fueled, mobile app developers in NYC

About the Author: Fueled

We are Fueled, a digital product design and development incubator globally recognized for its work in the mobile space. At Fueled, we don't just build apps; with teams of designers, developers and strategists based in New York, Chicago and London, we create visually stunning products that redefine the technical boundaries of today's mobile development standards. We've built award-winning iPhone, iPad and Android apps used by millions of people for clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to up and coming startups including Barney's, Coca Cola, UrbanDaddy, JackThreads and MTV. We hold ourselves to the highest standard of usability, stability and design in every project that we touch.

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  • cesar romero

    Dropping out of high school is so frowned upon by society because there’s the misconception that having a high school diploma equals education; this is not necessarily the case. Can anyone get a diploma without an education? of course they can because the development of the mind takes years and it’s through experiences that we learn and grow. All this high-school dropouts all they did was substitute the traditional formal education for live, real-world experiences, which ultimately paid off big time.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/mypragna Pragna

    Kudos to Under30CEO team for sharing such an empowering article. I think i can relate this with a saying – “Its not about the cards you have in hand. But, its all about how you play with what you have”

    In this world, most people chase the money – doing this, may be they make a decent living.

    But, very few like the listed HERO’es chase for the satisfaction – which creates a brand and eventually creating career to the most.

    Even am a Dropped-Out. Due to family situation and for society’s sake, i needed to work for about 10 years now. Am living in my 29, and i recently broke all my family limitations and tried to search for my actual satisfaction. So, initiated PCS – a consulting and sourcing firm for small and medium retail channel businesses. Its been 2 months for me to start working for myself and am enjoying each and every minute of my work life, unlike my past experiences.

    Any advices for me are most invited. please drop them at write2pragna@gmail.com

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  • Ed Davis

    This is so true Cesar. The inverse is also true – just because you went through High School or even University, doesn’t mean you are now “educated.” Education comes from a hunger to learn within.

  • Mike Darche

    You’re definitely right Cesar. I think a lack of formal education will really come into play if your dream job is something technical that requires a specific degree. You won’t be a doctor or a lawyer without the schooling. But people who drop out to face the working world learn resourcefulness and a handful of virtues that can take their formally educated counterparts years to learn. Certainly salesmanship and entrepreneurial endeavors gain much more steam from real world experience.

  • Ally Sherally

    Truly inspiring. knowledge is not bound to a classroom,

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  • anna willoughby

    Every once in a while, I get really down on myself for dropping out of high school. It was a terrible environment. I went to a rural school with few resources devoted to science, foreign language, or art (my favorite subjects). I was under-stimulated in terms of academics, and over-stimulated by emotional and physical threats from my peers and teachers; completely isolated for much of my schooling due to a lack of conformity in dress, behavior, appearance (pale, gangly ginger kid with hipster/punk style before that was really a thing), and religious belief (that is, precisely none). I also faced physical challenges that, until recently, I thought were just “awkwardness” “weirdness” and “laziness,” but which I now know were an unmanageable cocktail of chronic migraines, a dysfunctional family, chronic sinus infections from a rotting house, and undiagnosed Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Since I’ve moved to a cleaner home, started addressing my physical issues, and working as a web designer, I’m finally beginning to understand that my dropping out was not due to listless laziness, but was just my caving to unsustainable pressure.

    I have no doubt that as I get my illness under control and get out of the frustratingly unpredictable climate of the Ohio Valley and Midwest in general, I will be able to return to college and pursue a more stimulating, or at least more varied array of hobbies and professions. Currently, I have a hard enough time managing my job and social life, and barely squeak by in the cold, dark winter months.

    Anyway, this is exactly the kind of thing I need when I’m feeling so cowed by our society’s obsession with the K-12 model. This reminds me that we all learn different ways, and in fact continue learning every day. We can, with will and determination, overcome our circumstances, even if perhaps not on the timeline our peers think is appropriate.

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