These 19 Insanely Successful College Dropouts Prove You Don't Need A Degree

As the school year starts up again, the class of 2017 is heading off to college for the first time, and a whole crop of high-school seniors is beginning to consider where they’ll go next year — or whether they should go at all.

College still pays off in the long run, but as tuition prices continue to climb, debt loads are higher than ever. And the first years out of school are extremely tough.

Some, like PayPal Co-Founder Peter Thiel, claim that college just isn’t worth it in the age of startups. He’s giving 20 bright young people $US100,000 each to start a company instead.

Despite the fact that Thiel himself is a Stanford graduate, people who choose to follow his advice and drop out find themselves in pretty good company. Beyond Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, some of today’s most successful businesspeople didn’t graduate from college. Here are a few that prove a college degree isn’t the only path to success.

Matt Mullenweg started WordPress, which now powers 16% of the web.

Mullenweg dropped out of the University of Houston in 2004. Even then, he was so precocious that he didn't bother with their computer classes. At 20, he had already developed the beginnings of WordPress and was fielding job offers from tech companies. He dropped out to work for CNET in San Francisco, with a promise that he could continue developing his side project 15% of the time.

He left to found Automattic, the company behind WordPress. WordPress alone gets 140 million visits a year with a staff of just 140, and all of Automattic's sites see nearly half a billion visitors.

Aaron Levie started enterprise software company Box, which could IPO at a valuation as much as $US3 billion.

When Levie was a sophomore at the University of Southern California, he was bouncing ideas back and forth with Dylan Smith, a friend at Duke. A marketing class helped Levie come up with the idea that became, a cloud content management system.

An unsolicited email to Mark Cuban got them $US350,000 in funding, and they haven't looked back since. The company has its eye on an IPO some time this year.

Mark Zuckerberg has built Facebook into the world's largest social network, with over a billion monthly active users.

Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard University in 2004 during his sophomore year to move to Silicon Valley and work on Facebook full time. The site was first launched from his dorm room in February of that year.

The site has grown exponentially since then, and went public in the fall of 2012 in what was the biggest tech IPO of all time at $US16 billion dollars.

20-year-old Stacey Ferreira turned a tweet from Richard Branson into an investment.

In 2012, Ferreira decided to drop out of New York University when she received news that Virgin mogul Richard Branson and Jerry Murdock would be investing in her cloud-based startup,

Ferreira had started the business with her brother, Scott, in high school and continued working on it in her first two years of college. When she saw a tweet from Branson asking people to 'donate $US2,000 to charity' for a chance to meet him in Miami for 'intimate cocktails,' Ferreira and her brother decided to borrow the money from their parents.

They were able to meet Branson and interest him enough that he came on as an investor and later brought on Murdock.

Daniel Ek co-founded the wildly popular music streaming service Spotify at age 21.

Ek left his studies in engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden after eight weeks in 2005. He became a millionaire just a few years later.

At the age of 14, Ek founded his first company. He applied for an engineering job at Google at age 16. Five years later, he co-founded Spotify. The company now has more than 32 million paying subscribers worldwide.

Danielle Morrill was the first employee at Twilio and named as one of the top tech people to watch by Forbes.

Morill dropped out of college in 2007 and is well-known in the tech world as the first employee of cloud communications platform Twilio.

In 2011, she was named one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 for Social/Mobile Technology. The next year, Morrill left Twilio to start her own company, Referly, which provides tools for collecting, sharing, and tracking links across the web.

Sahil Lavingia helped design Pinterest and launched his own company, Gumroad, as a teenager.

Lavingia dropped out of his first semester at the University of Southern California to become the second employee and lead designer at Pinterest. One year after joining the company, the entrepreneur left to start his own company, Gumroad, which lets people sell anything they can share, such as a song or blog post.

The company raised $US7 million in its Series A round from Kleiner Perkins. Lavingia started designing iPhone apps at the age of 14.

Zach Sims started Codecademy, which has over one million users and raised more than $US10 million from investors, including Richard Branson.

Sims dropped out of Columbia University in 2011 to build Codecademy. The startup was inspired by the fact that Sims wasn't as good of a coder as classmate and co-founder Ryan Bubinski. Within just a few years it's being used in some 200 countries.

Last year, the company raised more than $US10 million in funding from investors, including Sir Richard Branson, to support its vision of making it possible for anybody to learn how to code.

Ben Milne took his payment platform from a $US1,200 investment to a multi-million-dollar company by the age of 22.

A decade ago, 28-year-old Ben Milne dropped out of the University of Northern Iowa to start his first company, Elemental Designs. In 2008, he moved on to Dwolla, an online payment system that allows you to eliminate credit cards completely.

'I started college because I thought that's where I was supposed to go,' Milne told Business Insider. 'I applied to one college, I got in, went, and realised it wasn't for me. I had customers, so I stopped going to class.'

Four years after starting Dwolla, the company is moving more than $US350 million.

JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman dropped out of college with a year left until graduation.

Neeleman discovered his knack for business when he was a child working at his grandpa's grocery store, but he never excelled quite the same way in school due to a learning disability.

After three years at the University of Utah, Neeleman dropped out of college. He went on to found the commercial airlines Morris Air, JetBlue Airways, and Azul Brazilian Airlines.

The recently named CEO of AOL's content brands and former Gilt CEO, Susan Lyne dropped out of UC Berkeley.

Lyne spent time at George Washington University, the University of California at Berkeley, and at an art school before dropping out. That didn't stop her from having an incredibly successful and varied career. In the early 2000s, she was the president of ABC Entertainment, greenlighting 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Desperate Housewives.'

She moved on to become a CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Gilt Groupe, and was recently named the head of AOL's content brands.

Gabe Newell dropped out of Harvard to work at Microsoft, like its founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. He went on to launch Valve Corporation.

Outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer convinced Newell to drop out of Harvard to come work at Microsoft, where he worked on the first releases of Microsoft's iconic Windows and was an early Microsoft millionaire. After 13 successful years there, he left to create Valve Corporation.

Valve's an incredibly successful video game developer and digital distribution company known for creating the Half-Life, Portal, and Counter-Strike series, and for its unique corporate culture.

Whole Foods Founder John Mackey dropped out of the University of Texas several times, never graduated, and never took a business course.

John Mackey

Mackey dropped out of several different Texas colleges in the mid '70s. At the age of 25, he was a religion and philosophy major at the University of Texas. He joined a vegan co-op, met a girl, dropped out for the final time, and borrowed money to open his first store.

20-five years later, Whole Foods has gone international and does more than $US12 billion in sales.

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