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, and the results may be too. View article »

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  • 0:01 Eligibility
  • 0:33 Passing the Test
  • 1:23 Finishing a Diploma
  • 2:25 Credential vs. Diploma

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Video Transcript

Diploma vs. GED at a Glance

Diploma Type GED Traditional High School Diploma
Advantages -Faster to complete
-Ideal for those past high school age
-Quicker path to a vocation
-Life experience
-Prepares students for postsecondary study
-Accepted in the U.S. and abroad
Disadvantages -May not be accepted abroad
-Test is more difficult than most expect
Time to complete


The General Educational Development test (GED) 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 credential.

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 four subject area tests, the GED tests include the following subjects:

  • Reasoning through language arts (RLA)
  • Mathematical reasoning
  • Science
  • Social studies

In addition to multiple choice and short-form answers, the test also includes extended response question-and-answer formats. 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. GED online classes are another option for preparing for the test.

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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. 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 offers 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 provides 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

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 as of 2011.

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 as of 2011, approximately 96% of U.S. employers accept the GED as equivalent to a high school diploma.

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