GED to DBA: How a High-School Dropout Earned a Doctorate in Business Administration

Everything changed when Strong discovered his first child was on the way. “I knew I could either stand up and start taking responsibility for my actions, or I could run,” he says. “I decided to get my GED.”

By: Bailey Gerber & Jake Hreha

James Strong is nine months away from getting his Doctor of Business Administration Degree – but that hasn’t always been his plan. In fact, his path to becoming Dr. Strong has been a little bumpy, and he’s taken more than one wrong turn. “I dropped out of high school when I was a teenager,” Strong says. He liked living wild, and he didn’t care about his future.

Everything changed when Strong discovered his first child was on the way. “I knew I could either stand up and start taking responsibility for my actions, or I could run,” he says. “I decided to get my GED.”

His First Business Administration Program

Despite his past distaste for school, Strong passed his GED on the first try – and he did so with honors. He went on to pursue an undergraduate degree in criminal justice before earning a paid assistantship that enabled him to get his MBA. The kid who dropped out of high school now possessed not only his GED, but a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. “At that point, I had two sons,” Strong says. “I wanted to be an inspiration to them; they motivated me to keep going.”

Strong decided to take the GRE and apply for PhD programs in business. “The GRE exposed a lot of my deficiencies because I wasn’t a great test-taker,” he says. “But I knew my GRE scores were not indicative of my ability to be successful – and of the seven PhD programs I applied to, I was accepted into all but one.”

After officially enrolling in his chosen program, Strong moved across the country to pursue his PhD in Business, but it wasn’t smooth sailing. “I didn’t connect with my department chair at all,” Strong remembers. “If he didn’t like something I wrote, he would literally shred it and hand it back in a box. On top of that, I was driving hundreds of miles on weekends just to see my kids for a few hours, and it was exhausting.”

Strong’s kids were the reason he turned his life around – the reason he decided to pursue his education. He couldn’t justify spending three more years in school and only seeing them on weekends. “I dropped out of the program,” he says. “I came back home and basically started over, and that was really hard. I remember bawling on the way home because I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

For the next few years, Strong kept doing what he was best at: defying the odds and making something out of nothing. He worked in a call center for about a year before moving on to sell insurance for GEICO. “I made good money selling insurance,” Strong says, “but I was still empty.”

In search of a job where he could put his heart into his work, Strong began flipping houses. He became his own boss, buying fixer-uppers, turning them into beautiful homes, and selling them for a profit. Then, he began investing in cryptocurrency. The combination of house-flipping and investing eventually led him to a realization: Despite the bitter ending of his PhD pursuit, he was successful in business. He was smart and practical, and he was thriving as his own boss – which led him to consider a different kind of doctorate.

Learning More About a DBA Degree

“I got a call from someone at IWU who asked me if I’d ever considered a DBA,” Strong says. “I was like, ‘What am I going to do with that?’”

As it turned out, a DBA was right up Strong’s alley. “A PhD is more focused on research – but a DBA program centers on practical application and final solutions. It also opens doors for becoming a professor, which is definitely something I’d like to do.”

DBA programs offer students the ability to learn more about the business world, business management, business operations, business leaders, business theory, and much more. Doctoral programs and business schools know that not every student is interested in pursuing research, so business administration programs are developed to help students reach their personal and professional goals.

A doctor of business administration is an exceptional program for a wide variety of career paths. Whether you aspire to work in healthcare management, become a chief financial officer, or are interested in business education a DBA degree is a valuable pursuit.

Notable programs like Harvard business school are renowned for their research methods and studies in business research but there are many other programs producing successful DBA graduates. When looking for an accredited institution that offers business professionals the opportunity to expand their knowledge it's important to learn more about these programs. Consider the alumni these programs produce. Are they holding executive positions, working as a business professional in a field you are interested in, working in international business, or handling financial management for a successful organization? Consider reaching out to alumni to learn about their experience in the DBA program. Ask about the business challenges the face, the organizational behavior they've experienced, and the career opportunities they have after graduating with their DBA degree.

Finding the Right DBA Program

When Strong attended his first residency in IWU’s DBA program, he realized he was surrounded by CEOs and renowned business experts. “My first thought was just, ‘I don’t belong here,’” he remembers. “But then I got to know my cohort and started building relationships – and everyone was so approachable. They’re the type of people I see myself staying in touch with even after graduation. By the time I left that first residency, I knew this was my calling. I was exactly where I was supposed to be.”

Today, Strong is less than a year away from graduating with his DBA. He has three kids now – two sons and a daughter – and he’s a far cry from the teenager who dropped out of school all those years ago. “If I make eye contact with any of my kids when I walk across that stage, I will sob,” Strong says. “They’re the reason I’ve worked so hard for this. I want them to believe that if they have hope, they can do anything.”

No matter what your background is, IWU is a place where you belong. Maybe, like Strong, you dropped out of high school and are looking for a path to a career – or maybe you love your career and want to take the next step toward advancing it. Either way, you belong here. Jump in today. We have more than 160 online programs for you to choose from.

Bailey Gerber

Content Creator, IWU National and Global

Bailey Gerber is a vocabulary geek and grammar enthusiast at IWU – National and Global, so she spends most of her time reviewing webpages, video scripts, flyers, and – of course – blog articles. She loves all things involving words, and in her spare time you’ll find her buried in a book (probably with a cup of coffee in hand).

Jake Hreha

SEO Copywriter, IWU

Jake Hreha is a graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in advertising with a concentration in media presentation and design. He is passionate about design, and in his free time he enjoys cycling, traveling, and reading.

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