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These 13 Inspirational People Will Show You That Grades Are Overrated

If you are in the middle of finals week right now, and in need of a good bug out, do it. You'll feel better. And when you come back, relax, because that grade you are currently obsessing about means a little less (maybe a lot less) than you think it does.

Because even if you hypothetically got a perfect grade on this assignment it barely affects your cumulative GPA. Sure, it might be the difference between passing the class or not (If so why are you reading this? Go study!), but if it is just the difference between an okay grade and a good one, you need to stop worrying. The relationship between grades and “success” is anything but clear, as some of the must successful people struggle in structured education systems, or even just drop out entirely.

What seems to be the most common thread between these people is drive. These people had ideas or passions that they pursued, or a creative flair, which is impossible to capture with a grade.

There is a huge collection of famous actors, actresses, models and musicians who chose career over education, but a degree clearly has very little importance in those fields, where talent, exposure and luck create success.

Freakonomics brings up some interesting challenges to the societal idea that success begins with good grades, but beyond that, here is an incredible list of people who either struggled within or ignored the traditional education system:

Winston Churchill

One of the UK's most famous leaders of all time. He had the lowest entrance scores to his private school, and though he excelled at English and History, he got terrible marks on everything else. His brilliant, brutal wit was not kind to the memories of his school years.

“…I had hardly ever been asked to learn anything which seemed of the slightest use or interest, or allowed to play any game which was amusing. In retrospect those years form not only the least agreeable, but also the only barren and unhappy period of my life.”


Thomas Edison

The Wizard of Menlo Park is one of the most famous, innovative minds in history, responsible for the sharing of countless new inventions. As the stories go, however, throughout his schooling his teachers thought he was a dumb, annoying student who asked too many questions. His mom ended up homeschooling him because teachers were so frustrated.


Albert Einstein

He's probably the most famous example of genius struggling within the education system. He dropped out of school at age 15 because he was so constrained by his teachers and the system. After studying on his own for a couple of years, he was admitted to university, but his poor grades (he barely graduated) clearly did not reflect his understanding of the material.

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”


Malcolm Gladwell

The renowned author of “Outliers,” “Blink” and “Tipping Point” initially had hoped to go to grad school but never applied because of his unexceptional grades. Additionally, he first tried to work in advertising but was rejected from every job he applied to (the GPA again?) and eventually took a position writing for “The American Specter.” Four NY Times Best-Seller's later, Gladwell is one of the most well-known thinkers in the world.

“College was not an… intellectually fruitful time for me”


Jon Stewart (Leibowitz)

“You could say that my one saving grace was academics, where I excelled. But I did not.” In a commencement speech at his alma mater, William and Mary, Stewart referenced his own lack of focus in college, and the winding path that took him to becoming one of the most trusted men in America. As the host of “The Daily Show,” Steward offers a vital perspective on contemporary events, politics and the media, and his grades in college had zero impact on his ascent.


Peter Jackson

At age 16, Peter Jackson dropped out of high school to work full time with photography for a newspaper. He never had any formal instruction in videography, teaching himself every aspect of shooting and editing film while working on personal projects. He saved money by living at home until his mid-20s, and spent all of his free time learning by doing. Now he is one of the biggest directors in the world, and the only person who can consistently have me at midnight premieres (I will see you on Thursday night).


Richard Branson

The now billionaire dropped out and founded a magazine, “Student” at age 16, and has never looked back. He was dyslexic and performed poorly by every academic measure, but his insatiable work ethic and creative streak constantly had him thinking of novel new projects. His “Virgin Group” conglomeration started as the name of his mail order record service in 1970.


Bill Gates

The wealthiest man in the world had terrible attendance while at Harvard, and would often go to the classes he was interested in versus the ones he was signed up for. Instead of doing his assigned schoolwork, he instead spent most of his time exploring his interests (computer science), and ended up dropping out to found Microsoft. I'd say there are about 67 billion different reasons that it all worked out.


Steve Jobs

Concerned about the cost of college? So was Steve. After getting into the weird and elite Reed College, Jobs dropped out during his freshman year because he didn't want to be such a financial burden on his parents. He bummed around on campus, living in friend's dorm rooms and attended class anyways. That means no grades at all, but all of the learning. Not a strategy I recommend, but clearly it worked out.


Mark Zuckerberg

The creator of Facebook is now a dominant figure in the tech industry, and as with his predecessors Gates and Jobs, couldn't be bothered with his school work. He was too busy writing the code to let people rate the relative hotness of all his Harvard classmates. Skills and ideas are clearly a more important currency than an actual degree.


Bill Bartmann

The multi-billionaire dropped out of school at age 14 to run away from home and join the circus. Teenage alcoholism and a job working at a meatpacking in his early 20s seem like the logical progressions of that sort of decision, but a fluke meeting with his old high school principal kicked Bartmann into gear. His GED, bachelor's and law degree all followed, and this year he was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his efforts towards financial reform surrounding debt management. Not a bad turnaround.


Steven Spielberg

The man who runs Hollywood was rejected by the USC Film School… twice. He ended up attending Cal State Long Beach, and that clearly had no impact on his career. Though… if that would have made a difference, imagine how good his movies would have been?


Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino left high school at age 15 to go to specialized acting school, but dropped out of that in two years out of boredom. He worked at a video rental store for several years, learning what people like to watch. His unique film style developed from this, and as he himself said: “When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.'”

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Christian La Du

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After years of intense training, Christian emerged from Vassar College as a partially-fledged writer with a degree in economics, who is capable of consistently achieving mediocrity while striving for greatness. He knows how to tie his shoes and ...
After years of intense training, Christian emerged from Vassar College as a partially-fledged writer with a degree in economics, who is capable of consistently achieving mediocrity while striving for greatness. He knows how to tie his shoes and ...

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