Earning Your Pennsylvania High School Diploma!

Mar 29, 2018

For adult residents of Pennsylvania without a high school diploma, the Pennsylvania Department of Education offers the option of a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma. This diploma is issued upon completion of 30 college credits or at least one full year of study at an accredited postsecondary institution that accepts students based on their ability to benefit from going to college.

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How to Earn the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma

You may be surprised to learn that Pennsylvania residents without high school diplomas have several options to earn an equivalent diploma to help increase their educational and career opportunities. The avenues to earn a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma (CSSD) include passing the GED test, HiSET test, or pursuing the 30 College Credit option. Requirements include being at least 18 years-old, having proof of Pennsylvania residency, and not having a secondary school diploma from anywhere in the United States as well as not being enrolled in any public or private form of secondary school.

Getting a GED

One of the most common paths to receiving a high school equivalency is to take the widely accepted General Education Development test (GED). To take the test, a candidate must:

  • Be at least 18 years old and a resident of Pennsylvania, with proof of identity (age exceptions may be made for 16-17 year olds, pending special permission requirements and written approved requests)
  • Not have received a high school diploma or equivalency certificate
  • Not have graduated from high school
  • Not be enrolled in a public, licensed nonpublic, licensed private, or registered accredited secondary school

A practice test is not required, but it is recommended. You must score 145 on each section to pass the GED test. After a candidate earns a passing score on the GED test, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will issue a Commonwealth Secondary School diploma.

There are no online GED tests that are recognized by the GED Testing Service of the American Council of Education (ACE) or by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Candidates must take the GED test at one of Pennsylvania's GED testing centers and must pass all four sections in order to earn a Commonwealth Secondary School diploma.

Taking the HiSET

The HiSET, or High School Equivalency Test, is another great option for those pursuing their CSSD. Although it has the same eligibility requirements as the GED, the HiSET is different in many ways, including but not limited to:

  • There are five subjects tested - reading, writing, math, science, and social studies
  • The exam, though always taken at a designated facility, is available on paper and on computer (not all testing locations offer both options)
  • The minimum passing score is 45 - one must score at least an 8 on each individual section and between 2 and 6 on the written portion of the exam
  • A practice test must be completed before being allowed to take the final exam

The 30 College Credit Option

To earn a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma, students can gain acceptance at an accredited postsecondary institution in the United States that offers admission to students based on their demonstrated ability to benefit from a college education; typically, community colleges, for-profit schools and career colleges will admit students on this basis. After gaining admission and satisfactory completion of at least one year of college or 30 credits, students are then eligible to apply for the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma.

Application forms can be obtained from the student's postsecondary institution. On the application, students sign and certify that they have met the requirements for the secondary school diploma. Applicants then submit the completed and signed application form, along with proof of Pennsylvania residency, to the registrar's office of the college or university where they earned the qualifying academic credits. Proof of residency may include copies of any of the following documents: bank statements, a driver's license, bills, a voter registration card, W2's, or tax records.

At the student's request, the registrar's office will then send the application, proof of residency and an official transcript to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on the student's behalf for evaluation and processing.

To gain admission to a participating postsecondary institution, students seeking a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma are required to demonstrate the ability to benefit from a college education. Students must choose one of the following two options to demonstrate this ability:

  • Pass an Ability to Benefit (ATB) test. An ATB test is any one of several commonly administered standardized tests. As a condition of matriculation, the school will obtain, directly from the testing facility, a report verifying that the student took and passed a valid ATB test.
  • Successfully complete six college credit hours (or the coursework equivalent) in subjects related to a certificate or degree offered by the institution. When accepting credit hours or coursework in lieu of an ATB test, an institution must document a student's eligibility through official transcripts or other information received directly from the school where the coursework was completed.
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