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Earn a High School Diploma: Step-by-Step

One can typically earn a high school diploma in four years. An individual who doesn't follow the traditional path to a diploma can still pursue an equivalent credential at almost any age. Proof of a high school diploma or the equivalent is usually the minimum requirement for most jobs and postsecondary academic programs.

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What Are the Steps to Earning a High School Diploma?

A high school diploma can be earned by completing high school. Traditionally, students complete four years of high school - grades 9-12 - to earn their diplomas. The typical high school graduate is 18 years old. Some schools require students to pass a final examination before awarding high school diplomas.

Complete Course Requirements

Requirements to earn a high school diploma vary from state to state and school to school, so candidates should inquire with prospective educational institutions for more detail. However, earning a high school diploma from a public school traditionally entails the completion of courses in mathematics, science, social studies, English and physical education, as well as a foreign language and electives.

In order to earn a high school diploma from a private school, additional coursework in foreign language and fine arts may be required. Alternatively, high school diploma candidates may choose to complete coursework through an accredited online school. Similar core credits must be fulfilled, but online programs typically offer accelerated courses so candidates can earn their high school diplomas in a shorter period of time.

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How to Earn a GED

One may earn a GED (General Educational Development or General Equivalency Diploma) in lieu of a high school diploma. A passing score on the GED - which is actually a group of four subject area tests - demonstrates a level of knowledge equivalent to a high school education.

The GED can be earned at any time in one's adult life; those under 18 may need to provide added documentation or demonstrate a reason for not following a traditional high school path, and the test is not an option for those younger than 16. Recipients of the GED can be adults looking to improve their lives or high-school-age students who want to earn an equivalent credential for some reason. For instance, those who dropped out of school because of disinterest or any other reason can earn their GEDs and continue on to college.

GED training programs, available online or on-campus at training centers and colleges, help prepare individuals for the GED test. Self-study materials are also available for GED test preparation.

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