The Ivy Coach Daily

June 17, 2024

10 Successful Ivy League Dropouts

Some Ivy League dropouts go on to great successes (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

Previously Published on January 8, 2014:

So, you’ve made it into the school of your dreams, you’ve taken a few semesters of classes, and suddenly. . . a lucrative business opportunity totally wipes out your will to complete your degree. Does this story sound familiar? Ivy League quitters form a class unto themselves. Many are shocked to learn just how many highly successful individuals made it into an Ivy League school but never made it out with a degree in hand.

A Breakdown of 10 Highly Successful Ivy League Dropouts

Notable PersonKnown ForSchoolYear They Left Campus
Robert FrostPoetDartmouth1892
F. Scott FitzgeraldWriterPrinceton1917
Ted TurnerCNN FounderBrown1959
Dick CheneyFormer Vice PresidentYale1960
Bill GatesMicrosoft FounderHarvard1975
Matt DamonActorHarvard1992
Alicia KeysMusicianColumbia1997
James ParkFitbit Co-FounderHarvard1998
Mark ZuckerbergFacebook Co-FounderHarvard2004
Dustin MoskovitzFacebook Co-FounderHarvard2004

A cursory glance at this list will indicate that these Ivy League quitters are by no means unsuccessful. Whether one graduates or not, simply being admitted to an Ivy League school suggests that a person has admirable intelligence and academic stamina. In order to have made it through the door, every person on this list was above average in many regards. 

Not all of them left school for the same reason. Let’s go through this list and take a look at why each “quitter” broke up with their college.

  1. Robert Frost dropped out of Dartmouth after a mere two months on campus, during which time he joined the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. He left Dartmouth to return home to his mother in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he helped out around the house.
  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton to join the ranks of WWI after a series of failed attempts to woo Chicago socialite Ginevra King.
  3. Ted Turner was expelled from Brown for being caught with a woman in his dorm room, a strict breach of residential policy at the time. He received an honorary B.A. from Brown in 1989.
  4. Dick Cheney dropped out of Yale due to his failure to adjust to campus life, but he did end up receiving a bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin later on in life.
  5. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to pursue his software company, although he states “if things hadn’t worked out, I could always go back to school. I was officially on leave.”
  6. Matt Damon was a member of Harvard’s Delphic final club. He was one semester shy of completing his degree before he dropped out to pursue acting.
  7. Alicia Keys graduated high school early as valedictorian, and enrolled at Columbia at 16. Finding it difficult to balance her growing music career and her studies, she dropped out during her first semester.
  8. James Park studied computer science at Harvard before dropping out in his junior year.
  9. Mark Zuckerberg, as The Social Network (2010) famously depicts, began his Facebook empire in his dorm at Harvard’s Kirkland House. The company began to take off, and so he dropped out in 2004.
  10. Dustin Moskovitz was an economics concentrator at Harvard before dropping out to join Mark Zuckerberg in moving to Palo Alto to work on Facebook.

Is Dropping Out a Smart Business Move? 

According to a 2018 Business Insider report, 1 in 8 billionaires on the Forbes list are college dropouts. Does this mean that dropping out is the way to go to make it big? We at Ivy Coach would not recommend it! Many highly successful entrepreneurs come from families that can afford to support them as they experiment with new business ventures. And as the Bill Gates quote from above indicates, many of these dropouts fully intended to go back to campus if their business ventures didn’t take off. 

Imagine how many stories we don’t hear: those who squandered their opportunities for a world class education by putting all their eggs in a business that was doomed to fail. Now, getting kicked out of an Ivy League school is a different story, but thankfully the days of Ted Turner’s Ivy League, in which you could face disciplinary action for having a romantic partner over to your dorm, are long over! 

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