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11 Immensely Successful High School Dropouts

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / July 24, 2013

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

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.

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