When we hear the name Bill Gates, we’re quick to think of a super successful and intelligent billionaire. So does the news of a dropout surprise us all?
Bill Gates did drop out of Harvard University. He was two years into his degree when he decided that he no longer needed college—and he was right.
Ironically, Bill Gates joins the nearly one in eight billionaires who dropped out and didn’t finish college. For some, they had already started businesses and for others, they didn’t really find success until years later.
In Bill Gates’ case, he had already founded Microsoft and left school to focus on his booming business.
Bill Gates’ Early Years
Bill Gates grew up in a family that truly valued education. He was born in 1955 in Seattle, Washington. He and his two sisters were part of an upper-middle-class family. Their father was a lawyer and their mother, for a short time, was a teacher.
As many of us could expect, the Gates family was warm and comforting, but also competitive. All three children were encouraged to strive for excellence.
When Gates was a young boy, his competitive nature wasn’t hard to find. He excelled at athletics and always strived to win his favorite games, Risk and Monopoly.
While he played to win, Bill Gates also had a sweet spot in his heart for helping. His mother spent a lot of time working with charities and organizing local events. She volunteered in a variety of community organizations and oftentimes took Bill with her.
Bill Gates’ Early Education
The young Bill Gates loved reading. He spent hours and hours devouring a variety of books. Surprisingly, he loved spending time with reference books, like the encyclopedia.
In fact, this behavior worried Gates’ parents. He did well in school but was socially withdrawn. At this point, although they were firm believers in the public education system, Bill’s parents decided to enroll him in an exclusive prep school.
At 13 years old, Gates started attending Lakeside School in Seattle. He did very well in all subjects, but particularly excelled at science and math.
He got his first taste of computers through a designated “computer time” at the school. A local company donated computers and Bill’s class was some of the few children who were able to see, let alone use, a computer during this time.
Bill quickly learned how computers worked and ended up working on building a terminal in his spare time. What would have definitely been advanced for teens at this time, Gates even wrote a program in a computer language that allowed someone to play tic-tac-toe against a computer.
In 1973, Gates graduated from Lakeside. With a 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT, he applied for (and was obviously accepted to) Harvard University.
Bill Gates’ Harvard Education
At the beginning of his college education, Gates followed in his father’s footsteps by deciding to pursue a law degree.
However, things didn’t work out according to plan—and for good reason!
During his studies, Gates spent significantly more time in the computer lab than he did in his law classes. He rarely slept, hardly studied, and got by with a decent grade.
Where his time and energy was really devoted was to his friend Paul Allen and their computer business that was started in 1970 while the pair was still in high school! The two experienced early success while Bill Gates was still in high school but his parents were adamant about him at least finishing college before deciding to pursue this venture.
Allen and Gates separated, and after two years Allen dropped out of college to work for Honeywell. At around the same time, he showed Gates magazine that featured a computer kit. Suffice it to say that the men were fascinated by personal computing.
In 1975, Micro-Soft was founded (it blended the words software and micro-computer) which would eventually become Microsoft. It wasn’t smooth sailing initially, but it was successful enough that Bill Gates decided to leave his studies at Harvard University.
At just 23 years old, Bill Gates was a college dropout. But he was also the leader of a company worth $2.5 million and would eventually become one of the world’s most successful billionaires. Not bad.