The Myth of the Successful Dropout

Author: Sue C. | Category: Psychology | Date: 03-02-2020


The other day I was visiting with some old college friends and a couple of them said that they had encouraged their kids to focus on finding their “passion” instead of focusing on grades when they were not doing well in high school.  The two mothers said they had encouraged their children to follow in the footsteps of famous college dropouts such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg.  

The surprising thing was that both mothers said they regretted having taken that attitude, because they realize now that they had adopted these mindsets mostly to comfort themselves when their kids were not doing well in school. Also, their regret was based on the fact that their children went on to  drop out of college, and, as young adults now in their late 20s and 30s, they are living hand-to-mouth working in the gig economy (driving for Uber/lyft) and at other low wage jobs.

The myth that spotlights a few phenomenally high-achieving people who were college dropouts is deceiving and can be harmful if people take it to heart and decide to deemphasize the value of college degrees.


Because the college dropouts who became extremely successful are far and few.  The vast majority of high achievers (95 plus percent) are college graduates. 

Besides, people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were Harvard dropouts.  Dropping out from a top school means that they had the work ethic, intelligence, and  drive to succeed in high school already—otherwise, they wouldn’t have gotten in.  Also, going to Harvard opens the door to tons of resources and connections, so even if you drop out, people such as venture capitalists are much more likely to fund  your business ideas than those of people without college degrees or those with degrees from mediocre universities.

Here is an article that discusses the myth of the successful college dropout and presents studies showing that the vast majority of high achievers are college graduates, and what’s more, they tend to be graduates of top universities.

So, next time, if you feel like comforting yourself with the thought that you or your children can still be phenomenally successful later on in life—just like Gates and Zuckerberg—even if you or they lack the work ethic and drive to succeed now, think again.


About: Sue C.

Hi All: Like most people in the Bay Area, I'm sheltering at home. I'm trying to use this opportunity to catch up on projects that are on my back burner and trying not to feel too anxious about the worst case scenarios that are circulating.


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Roy Ho
This was pretty interesting but it made a lot of sense. A lot of college dropouts do not find themselves to be successful in the future. For the few that do, such as Gates and Zuckerberg, to be completely honesty probably found success with some dumb luck. Maybe it is not all just luck but also the ...Read more work ethic and intelligence mentioned Less
Rishab Gupta
I completely agree with this article! A college education is very important for most people to go on and find jobs in the workforce. Gates and Zuckerberg? One must not become complacent because there are a few exceptions in society. After doing research on this problem, I found that college ...Read more dropouts earn an average of $21,000 less than people with a college degree. As this obviously isn't the case for Zuckerberg and Gates, most people go on to lead worse lives than they would have if they didn't drop out of college. Less
Kylee Kim
Even though there are a few very successful dropouts, this doesn't apply to everybody. Especially when these students are not doing well even in high school, while these millionaires are dropouts of the top schools such as Harvard. Even though it might sound hopeful when comparing someone to ...Read more these people, it's highly unlikely, so it doesn't outweigh the lack of effort one might put in. Less
Audrey Kong
I feel that this article is related to the book we are currently reading. Many people may see these successful people and assume that that is the best route to earn tons of money and gain popularity. Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg are just a few people who are "gifted" in their own field. Not everyone ...Read more is going to be lucky and just become successful. They have to have grit, in which they have to work hard IN college so that they can get into where they want to be. If they have already dropped out and nothing has worked out, they too also have to have grit so that they CAN get to where they want to be Less
Belicia Tang
Totally agree! Honestly, how many Gates and Zuckerbergs are there in this world? They are anomalies, visionaries, and geniuses. To get to where they are requires not only a stellar work ethic, intelligence and talent, but also finding the right opportunities and knowing the right people. The ...Read more likelihood of a college drop-out to find success of that magnitude is little to none. Most successful people are indeed college graduates. The value of a college degree cannot be understated, and I agree that the myth of the successful dropout should be dispelled, lest one wishes to undermine their chances of becoming "successful", however one defines this word. Less

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