In 2020, there were 2,095 billionaires in the world with a combined net worth of $8 trillion, according to Forbes. You might wonder what kind of education it takes to join the ranks of the world's wealthiest individuals. What do you need to study to become a billionaire? Is billionaire status reserved for those who graduate from elite universities? And just how important is an advanced degree to achieving extreme wealth?

To answer these questions, we take a look at five billionaires and their educational histories.

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates went to an exclusive college prep school and then attended Harvard University for two years before dropping out.
  • Carlos Slim Helu, who was the world's richest person from 2010 to 2013, graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico with a degree in civil engineering.
  • Spanish fashion executive Amancio Ortega, who has a net worth of $68 billion, grew up poor in a small town and dropped out of school at age 14 to find a job to help his family.
  • Warren Buffett purchased his first securities at age 11, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska, and then went on to Columbia University where he earned a master’s degree in economics.
  • Billionaire Larry Ellison dropped out of college twice before moving to California where he worked as a programmer and eventually started the company that would become Oracle.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft (MSFT), has a net worth of $115.8 billion. Gates attended an exclusive private college prep school where he, along with other students, had access to a teleprinter and a General Electric computer.

Gates began learning the computer language BASIC. One of his classmates was future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. While in high school, Gates wrote his first computer program, an application that allowed people to play tic tac toe against the machine.

Gates was an excellent high school student. After graduation, he attended Harvard University for two years before dropping out. Soon after, he reunited with his high school computer buddy Paul Allen, and they started the company that would become Microsoft.

Carlos Slim Helu

Carlos Slim Helu, a Mexican investor and telecom CEO, has a net worth of $52.8 billion. Slim, who was the richest person in the world from 2010 to 2013, is sometimes called the Warren Buffet of Mexico. Through his company Grupo Carso, he has massive holdings in many industries. He is also the CEO of Latin America’s largest mobile phone carrier.

Slim’s father was a Lebanese immigrant who started with a dry goods store and branched out into real estate. Slim was put to work in the family business at a young age. He learned enough about business from his father that by age 12 he had already purchased shares in a Mexican bank. Slim graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico with a degree in civil engineering. 

Amancio Ortega

Amancio Ortega, the founder of Zara, has a net worth of $68 billion. Ortega is a Spanish fashion executive and founding chairman of the Inditex fashion group, which includes international fast-fashion giant, Zara. Ortega grew up poor in a small town where his father was a railway worker. Ortega dropped out of school at age 14 to find a job and help his family. He found work with a local shirtmaker and that is where he started his education in fashion. 

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, businessman and investor, has a net worth of $80.1 billion. Now known as the Oracle of Omaha, Buffett was the son of a congressman and a precocious student. As a child and teen, he engaged in many side jobs and money-making schemes including delivering newspapers, selling magazines door-to-door, and buying and installing pinball machines at local businesses. At age 11, he had already bought his first securities. In high school, he was able to buy a farm.

Buffett enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen to study business and finished his degree at the University of Nebraska. Buffett completed his formal education at Columbia University where he earned a master’s degree in economics. He is also fond of noting that he took a Dale Carnegie class in public speaking.

Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle (ORCL), has a net worth of $78.9 billion. Ellison is the only billionaire on this list to drop out of not one, but two colleges. He enrolled at the University of Illinois but dropped out after two years. After spending time in California, Ellison returned to the Midwest and completed just one term at the University of Chicago, where he first became interested in computers. Ellison moved to California where he worked as a programmer and eventually started the company that would become Oracle. 

The Bottom Line

As of 2017, out of the Forbes list of the 400 richest people, 23 had just a high school diploma. These include Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Sean Parker. As Warren Buffett often says, "The best education you can get is investing in yourself. But that doesn't always mean college or university."