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4 Billionaires Who Dropped Out of Harvard

Investopedia logoInvestopedia 24-11-2015 Warren Cassell

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 Attending an Ivy League school is a surefire way to stand out in the job market. This is especially true if you graduate from a prestigious college like Harvard University. Established in 1636 and located in Massachusetts, Harvard University is one of the world’s most respected learning institutions. The university has produced many of the wealthiest and most accomplished people in the United States. Their impressive list of alumni includes former Barclays (BCS) chairman Marcus Agius, Bain Capital co-founder and Republican 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and renowned writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. Eight Harvard graduates also served as U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Theodore Roosevelt.

 There are many instances where college dropouts are just as successful, and sometimes even more successful, than people with degrees. While many of the America's most accomplished professionals have graduated from Harvard University, many of their dropouts have been able to create extremely successful careers and businesses. Here are four people who became successful despite dropping out of Harvard University.

1. Bill Gates

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Dropping out of Harvard University did not stop Bill Gates from becoming the wealthiest man in the world. As the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), Gates has an estimated net worth of $79.2 billion. He started the technology giant, along with his business partner Paul Allen, while studying at Harvard. Fast forward to today, Microsoft has a market capitalization of more than $450 billion and is the 31st largest company in the United States, according to Fortune magazine.

After finishing high school and scoring 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT, Gates successfully enrolled at Harvard in 1973. When he initially started college, Gates was hoping to follow the footsteps of his father who was a lawyer. However, he had little interest in his studies and instead spent the majority of his time exploring his interest in computers.

In 1975, a microcomputer called the MITS Altair 8800 came onto the market and Gates saw a business opportunity to develop computer software for computer manufacturers. He partnered with Paul Allen, a high school friend, to start Microsoft later that year. Shortly after, Gates decided to drop out of Harvard to work on the company full-time.

Although Gates was able to create wealth despite not completing his college education, he believes that dropping out of college is not a wise decision. In a June 2015 blog post written by Gates, he said, “Although I dropped out of college and got lucky pursuing a career in software, getting a degree is a much surer path to success.” He elaborated by saying, “College graduates are more likely to find a rewarding job, earn higher income, and even, evidence shows, live healthier lives than if they didn't have degrees. They also bring training and skills into America's workforce, helping our economy grow and stay competitive.” 

2. Mark Zuckerberg

© Bloomberg

Facebook (FB), the world’s largest online social network, was launched by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 from a dorm room at Harvard. After completing prep school in 2002, Zuckerberg enrolled at Harvard. During his time there, Zuckerberg studied psychology and computer science. He also developed a reputation as a "programming prodigy".

Following the start of his sophomore year at Harvard, Zuckerberg developed and launched what we now know as Facebook. A year and a half after going online, Facebook became one of the ten most visited websites on the Internet as well as the world's second largest online social network, right behind MySpace. In 2005, Zuckerberg decided to suspend his studies at Harvard to dedicate most of his time on Facebook.

In just 11 years, Zuckerberg has led the growth of Facebook from a small online community for college students to a multinational corporation operating one of the most visited websites in the world. According to Forbes, Zuckerberg's personal fortune is $45.4 billion. As of Nov.13, 2015, the market capitalization of Facebook Inc. is $305.4 billion. 

 In retrospe ct, Zuckerberg regrets offering many of his college friends large equity states, and senior positions at Facebook because these decisions became both a ligation nightmare and costly endeavor for the company. He once notoriously said, " The dynamic of m anaging people and being CEO in a company is a lot different than being college roommates with someone." 

3. Dustin Moskovitz 

© Bloomberg

Mark Zuckerberg is not the only person who made a fortune from Facebook. Dustin Moskovitz was Zuckerberg's college roommate at Harvard and one of Facebook's co-founders. Like Zuckerberg, Moskovitz dropped out of university to work on Facebook on a full-time basis. He initially took on the role of the company's chief technology officer and later served as the vice president of engineering. He left Facebook in 2008 to work with another company. However, he still holds a sizeable amount of Facebook shares. In March 2011, Forbes reported that Moskovitz became the youngest self-made billionaire in history. Today, his personal net worth is estimated to be $9.3 billion.

4. Gabe Newell

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Gabe Newell is another one of the world's richest 400 people who have not graduated from college. With an estimated net worth of $2.2 billion, Newell is the 464th wealthiest man in the United States. After dropping out of Harvard, he became Microsoft's 271st employee. Following thirteen years at Microsoft as a developer, Newell left to co-found a video game development and distribution company called Valve Corporation. He started the company with $15 million that he gained from selling his equity stake in Microsoft. Today Valve Corporation is worth more than $3 billion and currently serves 70% of their market. (See also, Are U.S. Colleges Still A Good Investment?)

The Bottom Line

Historically there has always been a demand for Ivy League graduates. As a result, those privileged enough to attend and graduate from an Ivy League college have usually been able to advance their career a lot faster than others who may have studied at less prominent schools. Although most employers still value a college education, many individuals have achieved great success without one such as the four businessmen featured in this article.

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