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High School Coursework Required for a Diploma

Adults who didn't graduate from high school can still earn diplomas through adult high schools, accredited online schools, equivalency exams, and work/study programs. While these programs have different formats, they all require adults pursuing diplomas to have the basic knowledge and skills expected of high school graduates.

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Earning a High School Diploma as an Adult

In order to compete in today's workforce or enroll in a college or training program, you usually need at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. For adults who didn't finish high school, the following options are the most common pathways to a high school diploma:

  • Adult High School - Offered in many states, adult high schools allow those who did not graduate to pick up where they left off and take classes and complete course work to earn whatever credits they need for a diploma.
  • Online High Schools - A growing number of accredited online high schools now accept adult learners who can earn a diploma by completing online programs. Many of these schools will allow students to transfer any credits earned while enrolled in high school.
  • Equivalency Exams - Many people are familiar with the General Education Development or GED high school equivalency exam. Some states have replaced the GED with the HiSET or TASC Test. All three equivalency exams are comprehensive tests that cover core academic subjects and assess high-school level skills and knowledge.
  • The National External Diploma Program - Geared toward older students, this program allows adults to earn high school diplomas by demonstrating their skills through work responsibilities and life experiences.

What You Need to Know to Earn a High School Diploma

In most states, high school students must earn a set number of credits in language arts, math, social studies, science, and elective courses in order to earn a diploma. While there is no national curriculum, 41 states have adopted the Common Core Standards, an extensive list of the skills and knowledge students should have at each grade level, K-12. Alternative diploma programs have also adopted those standards and aligned their requirements to the Common Core. Whether you want to enroll in an online diploma program or take an equivalency exam, the Common Core Standards are a basic outline of the types of knowledge and skills needed for a high school diploma.

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Common Core Standards

The Common Core Standards are goals set for students. They were developed to make sure that everyone who has a high school diploma is ready for a career or college. The standards list the types of reading, writing, and math skills students should have by the 12th grade. The following list is a sample of Common Core Standards for high school graduates:

Common Core Reading Skills

  • Analyze a text and provide evidence to support your ideas
  • Determine an author's point of view
  • Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information
  • Analyze 17th, 18th, and 19th century documents and literature

Common Core Writing Skills

  • Develop written arguments and support claims with evidence from informational or literary sources
  • Write informative texts to express complex ideas
  • Write narratives to describe real or imaginary events with concise words and phrases
  • Write research papers to examine an issue or problem

Common Core Math Skills

  • Use numbers and quantities to solve problems
  • Write equations that express numbers or relationships
  • Solve equations and inequalities
  • Understand and build mathematical functions or models
  • Understand geometric constructions and formulas

Why Get a High School Diploma?

The advantages associated with getting a high school diploma include access to higher education and better-paying jobs. High school graduates earn an average of about $10,000 more annually than those who have not completed high school, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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