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19 celebrities who found success without a degree

Don't let A-level results day get you down

celebs without degrees
Jenni McKnight
US Lifestyle Editor
August 13, 2020
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After all the sleepless nights and cold sweats, A-level results day has arrived and school leavers across the country will finally find out if they have made the grades to attend their top university choices. Whether students decide to carry on to further education or not, going to university is not the be-all and end-all. Perhaps the world would be slightly less colourful if Richard Branson hadn't decided to pursue selling records aged 16, or Kanye West had continued his studies at Chicago State University instead of fulfilling his musical ambitions.

Take a look at 19 successful VIPs who reached the top of their industries without obtaining a degree.

Simon Cowell

Music mogul Simon Cowell left school after taking his GCE O levels. He started working as a runner on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining before breaking into the music industry.

MORE: What the royals got in their A-level results

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Catherine Zeta-Jones

The Welsh actress dropped out of school to pursue acting full-time at just age 15. She later went on to star in The Darling Buds of May before becoming a huge Hollywood success. 

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Adele is probably one of the biggest recording stars in the world – and she didn't need a degree to get to where she is. While she did attend the prestigious BRIT School to study music, she didn't actually gain any A-levels.

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Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt could have been a journalist had he not made a change in career path before completing his Journalism degree at the University of Missouri.

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Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey made a bold move before completing her degree at Tennesse State University when she decided to take up a job offer working as a reporter in Maryland.

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Cameron Diaz 

Cameron Diaz dropped out of secondary school to pursue modelling full time at age 16. She soon went on to land her first acting gig in The Mask, and the rest, as they say, is history.

READ: Where the royals were educated - from Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle to the Queen

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Kanye West

After high school, Kanye West received a scholarship to attend Chicago's American Academy of Art in 1997 and began taking painting classes, but shortly after transferred to Chicago State University to major in English. However, aged 20, the multi-talented star made the decision to leave university in order to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. 'The College Dropout' was Kanye's debut album winning a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.

nicole kidman

Nicole Kidman

Aussie favourite Nicole left school when she was 16 to turn her attention to acting full-time. She's since become one of the world's most famous actresses! 

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George Clooney

George Clooney started out at the University of Kentucky and majored in Journalism before transferring to the University of Cincinnati and then opting to follow his dream of acting.

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Bill Gates

Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft, the world’s largest personal-computer software company, before finishing his studies at Harvard University. In 2007, more than thirty years after he left Harvard, he received his degree (an honorary doctorate) from his alma mater.

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Kate Beckinsale

Kate Beckinsale attended New College, University of Oxford where she studied French and Russian literature. However, Kate took the plunge when she landed a role in Much Ado About Nothing and began her successful acting career.

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Will Smith

Will Smith turned down an offer to start a pre-engineering programme at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in order to pursue a career in music. He started in the mid-eighties as the MC of DJ Jazzy Jeff and then starred in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

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Madonna was a straight-A student at school. After graduating, she received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan.  In 1978, she dropped out of college and relocated to New York City. She is now one of the biggest music stars in the world!

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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs left Reed College to go on to become the father of Apple. After dropping out of his classes he took a calligraphy class that later inspired him to include a wide range of fonts on the first Macs.

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Jamie Dornan

Jamie Dornan attended Teesside University, Middlesbrough, but made the bold decision to move to London and train as an actor.

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Mark Zuckerberg

Internet entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard to co-found Facebook. Mark became the CEO of Facebook in April 2013 and his personal wealth, as of July 2014, is estimated to be $96.7billion. 

MORE: 12 times royals looked super-smart in school uniform: Prince Harry to Princess Charlotte

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Ellen Degeneress

Ellen DeGeneres decided that university was not for her and left the University of New Orleans after one semester. Instead, Ellen seized the moment and started a career in stand up comedy, which lead to a 1986 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The rest is history!

richard branson

Richard Branson

Richard Branson founded The Student, a magazine he distributed to his fellow students at Stowe School in England, aged 16. Instead of taking the traditional path of attending university, Richard began selling popular records out of the church in which he ran the magazine, seeing the start of Virgin Records.

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Phillip Green

Philip Green, CEO of Arcadia Group, which owns TopShop and Dorothy Perkins, left school aged 15 and worked for a shoe importer before travelling around Europe, the US, and Asia. On his return, he set up his own business importing jeans from the Far East to retailers in London.

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