Female Dropouts Who Made It Without a Degree


Oct 17, 2014

Female Dropouts Who Made It Without a Degree

As midterms start, many students might be questioning their motives for staying in school. Electing to drop out has become more acceptable as some of the most successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and entertainers chose to forego academia in favor of "real world" pursuits. In 2012, PayPal founder Peter Thiel made news with his 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, a program that encourages "creative and motivated young people" to bring their projects to life--outside of school. But while his program provides mentors and business connections to ambitious teens, many dropouts don't have the luxury of that alternative structure.

Sophia Amoruso, founder of clothing store Nasty Gal, is frank about her life after she dropped out of college. She details her past--in which she stole the first item of clothing she sold online and dumpster dived for food--in her best-selling book, #GirlBoss. She now channels her tenacity and perseverence into running her million-dollar business. Who are the other surprising stars who never made it through school? We always hear about Zuckerburg and Jobs, but what about Oprah? Meet women who made it without a degree, and the ideas that drove them forward instead.


“A sense of entitlement is a healthy thing and it is something I have like the rest of my generation,” Amoruso told Fortune, who is No. 30 on Fortune's 40 Under 40 list. “But my entitlement came about with an understanding that it was me that was going to put me where I wanted to be.”
Donna Karan at the Fashion 4 Development (F4D) 4th Annual Official First Ladies Luncheon. Anne Klein, Karan's mentor, persuaded her to drop out of Parsons. 
Comedian Tig Notaro dropped out of 9th grade and moved away from home. She told MAKERS, "I just got up and left." 
Lucille Ball dropped out of high school at 15 and moved to New York to study acting. Her show "I Love Lucy" would later be known as America's favorite TV show.
Though Oprah only needed one more credit to graduate, she left Tennessee State University to pursue a job in broadcast media. But 13 years later, when Oprah was an Academy Award-nominated actress with a national talk show -- TSU invited her to speak at its commencement in 1987. She said no, on the grounds that she wanted to finish her studies first. "So, I finished my coursework, I turned in my final paper and I got the degree," she said in a speech at Stanford. Hear her full life story, in her own words, here.
Ellen DeGeneres dropped out of the University of New Orleans to pursue comedy. After several successful shows, she's now #46 on Forbes' Power Women list.  She talks more about growing up and coming out on MAKERS.
Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank dropped out of high school after receiving poor grades due to her chattiness. “It was kind of the relentless, ‘Stop talking, Hilary. You’ve got to stop talking,’” the actress told Today. “On the report cards it said, ‘Hilary will not stop talking. She’s a jabbermouth.’ That kind of thing.”
Legendary standup comedian Roseanne Barr dropped out of high school at 17. MAKERS: Women in Comedy captures the impact Roseanne had on generations of comedians. Here she is on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Elizabeth Holmes is now the youngest self-made female billionaire. She left Stanford at 19 to found Theranos, a medical technology company that aims to change the future of blood testing.  "I think a lot of young people have incredible ideas and incredible insights, but sometimes they wait before they go give their life to something," she told CNN. "What I did was just to start a little earlier."

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