A High School Diploma V. the GED

Passing the General Educational Development (GED) tests can result in a credential that's commonly considered equivalent to a high school diploma. However, the requirements are very different for receiving a GED credential and earning a high school diploma, and the results may be too. Read on to learn more about the differences between a diploma and the GED.

Earning the Credential vs. Earning the Diploma


The GED test is designed for adults over the age of 16 who haven't earned a high school diploma and aren't currently enrolled in high school. For current students who are considering leaving high school early, the GED test can also provide an alternative to graduation.

However, unless extreme circumstances are forcing an individual out of high school, it typically makes more sense to earn a diploma. At a minimum, all students should need to meet with a school counselor before choosing to drop out and pursue the GED certificate.

Passing the Test

Although the GED test represents less of a time commitment than a high school diploma, it's not academically easier. The test is graded on an equivalency scale compared to current high school students. To pass, test takers must perform on a level comparable to or above 60% of high school seniors.

Made up of five subject area tests, the GED tests include the following subjects:

  • Science
  • Social studies
  • Mathematics
  • Language arts, reading
  • Language arts, writing

In addition to short-form answers, the writing test also involves an essay. Individuals considering taking the GED test need to study. Adult education centers across the country offer test-prep courses, and students may also purchase study books or find free practice exams and questions online.

Finishing a Diploma

For people who are no longer an appropriate age to enroll in high school, pursuing the GED credential is the best path for them. However, students who still have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma need to consider their options carefully. Most students only have 2-3 years of coursework remaining when they qualify to take the GED exam. Although this timeframe is certainly longer than the couple of months required to prepare for the GED tests, there are other advantages to earning a high school diploma.

High school can offer a variety of valuable life and educational experiences outside of the classroom, from hands-on study experiences to extracurricular clubs and activities. Furthermore, high school may provide social development opportunities that will aid individuals through college and the workforce. Finally, although passing the GED test requires strong foundational academic skills, it doesn't offer the advanced educational opportunities that are available in most high schools. The knowledge gained in these courses can help graduates be much more prepared for postsecondary study than a test ever could.

Using the Credential vs. Using the Diploma


As noted above, earning a high school diploma may more likely prepare students for the academic challenges of college. However, obtaining the GED credential doesn't mean that postsecondary education is no longer an option. According to the American Council on Education (ACE), the national organization that oversees the GED exam, about 95% of U.S. colleges and universities accept the GED credential in place of a high school diploma (www.acenet.edu). On the other hand, students considering studying abroad may find that fewer international universities are willing to accept the credential. Students interested in enrolling at postsecondary institutions may want to contact the admissions departments to determine whether or not a high school diploma is required for matriculation.


Because earning the GED credential can be faster than finishing a high school diploma, it's a good choice for individuals who are interested in accelerating their paths to the workforce. Recent studies reported by the ACE show that approximately 96% of U.S. employers accept the GED as equivalent to a high school diploma. Most 2-year colleges and vocational programs are included in the ACE statistic on college admissions for applicants with the GED credential. This means that students who take the GED exam can still access additional training for their prospective careers, if necessary.

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