It’s commonly believed that to be successful, you need to be a star student and then go on to a snazzy university.

However, that’s just not the case.

What makes someone successful is far more complicated yet also far simpler.

For the right person, years of formal training and education isn’t necessary, it’s just about having a sharp mind, a burning desire, and the discipline and the persistence to see your vision through.

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Photo Credit: Jamie McCarthy / Staff

However, decades of social conditioning have made the lot of us jaded and cynical, believing that without a “proper” education, our chances are slim.

And yet, the examples of successful people who weren’t hotshot students abound.

In fact, some of the most successful people in the world dropped out of school, including Walt Disney, Elton John, James Cameron, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.

Others had tumultuous school experiences or were at the bottom of their class, never quite making the cut grade-wise.

I studied everything but never topped… But today the toppers of the best universities are my employees.

Bill Gates

Here are five successful people who didn’t get good grades in school:

1. Al Gore

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Photo Credit: Paul Marotta /Getty Images

Believe it or not, former Vice President Al Gore didn’t do so well in college, finishing in the bottom 20 percent of his class with Cs and Ds.

Among those low marks, he even received a D in natural sciences, a bit ironic for someone who would go on to dedicate his time to increasing awareness of climate change.

2. Drew Barrymore

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Drew Barrymore, successful actor-turned producer and businesswoman, had a difficult childhood after appearing in ET at the age of three, entering rehab at just 13 and dropping out of school shortly after.

However, despite this, she went on to become one of the most well-known actresses in Hollywood and later launched a film production company that has produced films such as Donnie Darko and 50 First Dates.

3. Benedict Cumberbatch

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It turns out even Dr. Strange didn’t get the greatest grades.

In his defense, he started out with great promise. However, as the years went on, the pressure was too great for Cumberbatch and his marks began to slip.

In an interview with Metro, Cumberbatch said “adolescence came late and I discovered girls, pot, and all sorts of other things, so I got a bit lazy. That stagnated my growth a bit as far as being academic.”

Cumberbatch went on to become one of the most well-respected actors in Hollywood, earning both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

4. Richard Branson

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Photo Credit: m.kru / Shutterstock.com

Richard Branson is perhaps the most well-known dropout in recent history, leaving school at the age of 16 to start a magazine called Student.

“On one of my last days at school, the headmaster told me that I would either end up in prison or become a millionaire,” he said.

Branson would go on to found Virgin Records, which would later expand into Virgin Group, an amalgamation of hundreds of companies all over the world, including Virgin Atlantic Airlines, worth roughly $6 billion.

5. Cameron Diaz

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Cameron Diaz, who has had one of the most consistent acting careers of any actress in recent history, originally came to fame after 1994’s The Mask.

However, Diaz didn’t have the greatest schooling experience and dropped out at the age of 16 to pursue a modeling career.

Diaz’ 2011 Bad Teacher and 2014’s The Other Women both surprised at the box office, making roughly $200 million with a low budget and little marketing, landing her on Forbes’ Top Earning Actresses list and proving that, more than 20 years later, she still has incredible star power.


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