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Should I Get My High School Diploma or GED?

Although passing the General Educational Development (GED) exam results in a high school equivalency credential, it doesn't always offer the same opportunities as a high school diploma. This article explores some of the differences between the GED and a high school diploma that you should consider when making your decision.

Eligibility for the GED

The first thing you need to consider is whether or not you're eligible to take the GED exam. Test takers must be:

  • Over the age of 16
  • Not graduated from high school
  • Not enrolled in high school at the time of the exam

Your home state may also have additional requirements for taking the test. Visit the American Council on Education (ACE) website for more information about qualifying to take the GED in your state (www.acenet.edu).

Younger students and individuals who are very close to graduating from high school may find it more advantageous to finish their diplomas. However, the GED offers a useful alternative for adults who have already left high school.

Diploma vs. GED

There are several important factors to consider when deciding if you should drop out of high school and pursue a GED instead of a diploma. These include time commitment, academic preparation for the GED, postsecondary options and professional opportunities.

Time commitments

On average, students complete their high school diplomas in four years. This is a much longer time commitment than the GED, which can typically be prepared for and completed within a few months. However, individuals who qualify to take the GED are likely to have already completed two to three years of high school.

If you are struggling to complete your high school obligations or have a pressing need to enter the workforce, the GED does offer a faster way to earn your high school equivalency credential.

Preparing for the GED

It is important to understand that taking the GED is not academically easier than earning your high school diploma. According to ACE, the national organization that oversees the exam, test takers must have a level of knowledge and skill in math, science, social studies and language arts equal or greater to 40% of graduating high school seniors.

Many adult basic education centers around the country offer preparation courses for the GED exam. Students can also find free practice tests online or purchase official GED study books through ACE. Individuals considering dropping out of high school to take the GED exam should be prepared to spend a couple of months studying for the test.

Postsecondary options

According to ACE, about 95% of U.S. colleges and universities accepted the GED in place of a high school diploma as recently as 2011 (www.acenet.edu). However, you will still have to take college entrance exams and meet other admissions requirements, many of which are difficult to complete outside of high school. In addition, many international schools do not accept the GED in place of a traditional diploma.

If you're considering postsecondary study, check with your prospective schools to ensure that they do accept the GED and that you can meet their other admissions requirements.

Professional opportunities

ACE also reported in 2011 that about 96% of American employers accept the GED in place of a high school diploma, which can make the GED a particularly good option for students who are eager to move quickly into the workforce.

However, many career paths do require some postsecondary study for advancement, whether it's vocational training or a college degree. If you're interested in a particular profession, do some research into your prospective field's requirements before you make your final decision. You may choose to earn your GED and accelerate through a workforce training program or finish your high school diploma and put off working for a few more years so you can earn a necessary college degree.

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