Where the Rich and Famous Went to College

Published Oct 26, 2009

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Many of the country's richest and most famous celebrities attended college at some point before they hit it big. Not all of them earned a degree--but the majority did make it through at least a few classes before achieving massive success in their various fields.


  • Bill Gates, non-executive chairman and founder of Microsoft, entered Harvard University as a freshman in 1973 after achieving a nearly perfect score on the SAT. Two years later, Gates dropped out of college to pursue his dream of developing software for personal computers. He has since received honorary doctorates from colleges all over the world, including Harvard University, Waseda University, Tsinghua University and the Royal Institute of Technology.


  • Donald Trump, businessman, TV personality and king of the cotton candy combover, flirted with the idea of attending film school but opted instead for a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Fordham University. He went on to attend the highly respected Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania as an economic major.


  • Oprah Winfrey, one of the most well-known and successful media personalities of all time, attended Tennessee State University on a full scholarship. She graduated in 1976 with a degree in speech and drama. Oprah was also awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Princeton University and Duke University.


  • Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, studied philosophy at Evergreen State College, a liberal school with no grading system or required classes. Groening has admitted in several interviews that he probably wouldn't have made it all the way through college had he attended a more traditional school.


  • George Lucas, one of the world's most successful independent directors and producers, was studying to become an anthropologist at a junior community college before realizing his love of filmmaking. He eventually transferred to the University of California School of Cinematic Arts where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.


  • Steven Spielberg, director of blockbuster films like E.T., Jaws, and Schindler's List, wanted to attend the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film, and Television but was denied admission three times because of his low GPA. Spielberg was accepted to California State University, Long Beach. Thirty-five years after enrolling at CSULB, he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in Film Production and Electronic Arts after completing enough independent film projects to earn the required credits.


  • Meryl Streep, who is considered by many to be the greatest living film actress, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Drama at Vassar College in the early 1970's. She also received a Master of Fine Arts from Yale School of Drama.


  • Adam Sandler, comedian, actor, and most recently producer, honed his skills at New York University while performing stand-up routines. He graduated in 1991 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Drama.


  • James Patterson worked as a chairman for an advertising company before becoming one of the most prolific and successful writers of all time. He received an undergraduate degree from Manhattan College before earning a master's degree at Vanderbilt University.


  • Stephenie Meyer's vampire romance novels have garnered worldwide attention and won multiple awards. Before becoming a famous writer, Meyer attended Brigham Young University. She graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.


  • Michael Jordan, one of the world's greatest basketball players and one of the most marketable sports stars of all time, studied cultural geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a basketball scholarship. He left school one year before graduation but finished his degree a couple of years later.


  • Tiger Woods, whose success as a professional golfer has been unprecedented, was urged by his father to study economics at Stanford University. Tiger attended college for two years before dropping out to pursue a career as a pro golfer.


  • Madonna studied modern dance at the University of Michigan before embarking on what would become an immensely successful singing career. Her ballet instructor encouraged her to drop out and pursue a professional career in dance. Madonna took the advice in 1977 and relocated to New York with $35 in her pocket.


  • Kenny Chesney, one of the highest-grossing country music stars, studied advertising at East Tennessee State University. He graduated with a bachelor degree in 1990 and received his first record deal two years later.

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