Will Getting a GED Instead of a High School Diploma Affect My Chances of Getting into College?


Many Americans turn to getting a GED in lieu of finishing a high school diploma. When exercising this option, you have to consider how getting the GED may impact your chance of getting into college down the road.

Origins of the GED

The General Education Development test or GED exam dates back to 1942. During World War II, a lot of young men enlisted before they were able to finish high school. The exam was created to give veterans a way to finish their high school education so that they could apply for jobs or college. Since then it has expanded to become a second chance for people who struggle in high school. However, many who earn the GED wonder what the future holds. Can I apply to college? What are my options with a GED? The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple one.

Is a GED a Ticket to College?

Many who take the GED wonder about their college options. The vast majority of colleges will accept a GED instead of a high school diploma as part of the application. However, be diligent in researching colleges because unlike a high school diploma, not all colleges across the U.S. accept a GED. Another issue with applying to college with a GED has more to do with perception. If two applicants set side by side, and one had a high school diploma and the other a GED, odds are colleges and employers would lean towards the one with a high school diploma. The reason is simple: students with GEDs often lack other key data sources colleges look at when determining college admissions. Unfortunately, a GED is often perceived as a shortcut and not as challenging as finishing four years of college.


Lack of Transcripts

One issue for many who take the GED instead of completing a high school diploma is the lack of a transcript to show academic performance in different courses. For example, colleges will want to see how potential applicants did in English because reading and writing are important in just about every major. When applying for any science related major, math skills, and perhaps even high school biology or chemistry will be key factors in the admission process. So when there's no high school transcript, it makes it a bit more challenging for colleges to see the potential in any applicant.

When applying to a college with a GED, talk to an admissions officer at the college. Engaging in that conversation well ahead of the application deadline can help provide you with suggestions of how to improve the chance of being admitted. You won't have a high school GPA or class rank on a transcript to help admissions officers determine college potential, so find other ways to showcase your academic abilities. For example, a four-year college may recommend spending a semester taking a math, English, and history course at a community college to build a transcript.

Other options may include taking placement exams to show skill levels in different subjects. For example, the ACT and SAT exams both have components to measure writing and math skills. Colleges also typically have placement exams for the core subjects you will be required to take. Finally, try earning credit in certain college courses by taking College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams to stand out from the crowd.


Demonstrating Your Strengths with a GED

Just like any other college applicant, it is important to stand apart from the crowd. Demonstrating community involvement and interests will help colleges determine leadership potential, and interests beyond just getting into college. Earning a GED doesn't mean there aren't ways to demonstrate this on a college application.

The actual score on the GED sections matters. It is not enough to just pass the test if you want to use the GED to apply to college later on. Colleges will look at your score in each component to help make decisions about admissions.

Additionally, showcase community involvement as part of the application. Do you serve at a church, mosque, or temple in some capacity? Do you volunteer at a local hospital, animal shelter, or any other community group? All of these activities are ways to increase the chance of getting into college with a GED. Letters from places you volunteer within the community or even employers can help show contributions to the world.

Finally, tell your story through the college admissions essay. Odds are, the road to earning a GED was not easy. Telling the story can demonstrate the ability to embrace challenges, and persevere, which are qualities colleges look for in applicants. Sharing will help change admissions officers perceptions of the GED. Present yourself as a go-getter, an achiever rather than just a person who took the shortcut and got a GED.


Applying to College with a GED

Applying to colleges with a GED isn't the same as applying with a high school diploma. Whether we like it or not, there are stereotypes and perceptions about a GED versus a high school diploma. However, plan and think strategically during the application process. Make yourself a stand out candidate and do not let a GED negatively impact your chance of getting into college. has courses, video lessons and practice tests you can use to prepare for the GED. Learn more here.

By Rachel Tustin
June 2019
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