GED vs. High School Diploma: Differences and Similarities

    Staff Writers by: Staff Writers

    The first step toward developing a successful career starts with completing your high school diploma or getting a GED. The common path for most people involves choosing between one of these educational programs, whether they want to start a job immediately or pursue a college degree. 

    If you are considering taking the GED, it is common to have several questions about qualification. What is the difference between a high school diploma and a GED? Do colleges and employers have a preference for one over the other? Are there limits to the opportunities available with a GED vs diploma? 

    This article answers these and more. It discusses the major differences and similarities between these two academic qualifications and the potentials each of them holds for your career or post-secondary education. You can be sure that one is not necessarily better than the other. Instead, they are different and cater to people of different needs.

    Differences Between a GED and High School Diploma

    A high school diploma and a GED both show that a student has acquired a set amount of knowledge, but there are significant differences. For example, the time it takes to earn these qualifications, as well as the experiences, are not the same. Also, the test requirements and minimum age requirements are completely different. The best option for each person depends on their individual needs and what they expect to get in return.  

    What Is a GED?

    Nearly everyone (in America, at least) knows that a high school diploma is an academic award earned after completing a four-year (grades 9 – 12)coursework covering science, language arts, social studies, math, English, and other subjects. But what exactly is a GED?

    A General Educational Development (GED) program is an alternative to a traditional high school diploma. High school dropouts and individuals who were unable to attend a high school during their teenage years have the option to take a GED test and earn the GED credential. 

    The GED is an excellent option for people considering getting a high school equivalent diploma since their age, and perhaps full-time job and family commitments may hinder them from going back to high school. One huge advantage of a GED is that anyone can pursue it at any age, even if they left high school decades ago. 

    A person who wants to earn a GED must meet the following criteria:

    • They must be at least 16 years old
    • They have not completed a high school diploma
    • They are currently not enrolled in any high school

    In the past, GED exams must be taken at a physical test location. However, all that is changing now with online GED tests available in selected states in the United States. With online certification programs, no one should feel stuck about their academic pursuits. 

    The process of earning a GED involves taking exams on four subjects, including science, math, social studies, and reasoning through language arts. Many people often wonder if there is such a thing as a GED diploma. Those who pass all four exams in a GED test earn a GED credential that serves as an effective diploma. It signifies that the GED recipient has a 12-grade level of knowledge, even if they didn’t attend or graduate from a traditional high school. 

    While there are many online high school diploma programs where nontraditional students can graduate on flexible terms, it is important to be wary of diploma mill scams. Some of them are not legitimate or accredited online schools. You want to avoid internet highs schools that offer degrees for only work or life experience, or those that require little to no coursework and dole out diplomas within a few weeks.  

    What Is the Difference Between a GED and a High School Diploma?

    The major differences between these two credentials are:

    Age Requirement

    Age is one of the most obvious differences when it comes to the requirements for earning a GED vs a diploma. In many states, anyone thinking of getting a GED can do so at any age after their sixteenth birthday. The only other condition is that they must not be currently attending or previously graduated from high school.

    Generally, there is no minimum age limit for being eligible for a high school diploma. Anyone with the drive to complete their high school education and earn a diploma can do so regardless of age. Some states and many online schools have high school courses specifically for adults or nontraditional students. Instead of a GED, though, the end result is a high school diploma.

    Time Requirement

    Another notable difference between a high school diploma and a GED is the time it takes to earn the credentials. Typically, high school diplomas take four years to complete. However, it is possible for some people to complete high school in about three years. 

    On the other hand, a GED is only approximately seven hours exam. Students can take all the subjects at once or individually at different times. 

    Educational Requirement and Test Format

    For students to be eligible for a high school diploma, they must have completed certain coursework requirements. The specific requirements may vary between states, but students are generally expected to attend classes regularly and complete coursework in mathematics, science, social studies, history, and other topics. Also, students need to take and pass final exams with the required grades to earn a high school diploma.

    Generally, there is no specific coursework to be completed to earn a GED. However, many students choose to prepare for the exam by completing a test prep course before the exam. Indeed, it takes less time and no coursework to earn a GED, but that does not necessarily mean it is academically easier to obtain the credential than a high school diploma. 

    Every few years, a few graduating high school students are chosen to take the GED test. All candidates taking the GED exam need to score better than 60% of the selected high school grads to be awarded a GED certificate. 

    The content and format of a GED exam include the following:

    • Reasoning through language arts (150 minutes)
    • Mathematical reasoning (115 minutes)
    • Science (90 minutes)
    • Social studies (70 minutes)

    These tests comprise short-form answers, multiple-choice questions, and extended response questions and answers. People who have left the classroom for a long time may want to consider taking test prep courses in adult education centers in readiness for the exam.

    Experience

    High school students have the opportunity to gain more than the only academic experience of attending school. They build friendships and networks that may last a lifetime, join clubs and organizations that hold their interest, and test out hobbies.

    Conversely, candidates who choose to go the path of a GED mainly have experiences that involve academic activities. 

    What Are the Requirements for a High School Equivalency Diploma?

    A High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) is another alternative to a traditional high school diploma. Like a GED certificate, many colleges and employers consider the HSED diploma equivalent to a high school diploma. 

    In fact, the HSED is preferred over a GED in some military branches because the requirements for the former are more all-embracing. However, that could also be seen as a disadvantage since students choosing the HSED will have to take more classes and tests. 

    Earning a High School Equivalency Diploma requires students to take the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET). The test is offered in certain states, including California, New Jersey, Montana, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Mexico, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Wyoming, Nevada, Missouri, Tennessee, and Maine. 

    The HiSET is usually presented in English and Spanish and covers five different subjects that last anywhere from 65 minutes to about two hours. The subjects are:

    • Mathematics (50 multiple-choice questions)
    • Science (50 multiple-choice questions)
    • Social Studies (50 multiple-choice questions)
    • Language Arts-Reading (40 multiple-choice questions)
    • Language Arts-Writing (50 multiple-choice questions and an essay)

    There are usually 50 multiple-choice questions in mathematics, science, and social studies, while the language arts (reading) have 40 multiple-choice questions. The language arts (writing) feature 50 multiple-choice questions and an essay. 

    Unlike a GED certificate, earning an HSE diploma entails fulfilling extra requirements in other subjects, such as civic literacy, health, and employability skills. Other requirements vary from state to state but generally stipulate a minimum age of 16 or 17 to take the HiSET. You cannot be currently enrolled in a high school and must be out of school for a specific amount of time, depending on your state’s conditions. 

    Pros and Cons of a GED vs Diploma

    The General Education Development credential paves the way for employment and educational opportunities for those without a high school diploma. However, a GED certificate is not always accorded the same regard as a diploma in some instances. 

    Advantages of a GED

    In some cases, finishing high school is not always an option. A GED diploma is the next best thing and opens the door to get ahead without a high school diploma. Those who had trouble with traditional schooling can seize the alternative and make good. 

    Many entry-level jobs require candidates to possess at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. High school dropouts are less likely to hold full-time employment compared to GED graduates. Besides, earning a GED can lead to a job promotion because of the knowledge and hard work required to pass the test. Dropouts who already have a job may lack the necessary certification and training to move up in their careers without a GED. 

    Another huge advantage of having a GED diploma is that it is often a requirement for entrance into some technical schools or admission into some career-oriented training programs available in colleges. A GED is a quicker path to a vocation, so individuals who have passed high school age can take the test and get into gainful employment faster.

    Disadvantages of a GED

    The advantages of having a GED notwithstanding, the certificate may have the following drawbacks. Although most colleges recognize and accept a GED, those with the qualification are less likely to attend. Statistics from the US Census Bureau indicate that only about 43% of GED graduates completed post-secondary education of some sort as opposed to 73% of high school graduates who did the same. Also, only about 5% of GED students who enrolled in a four-year college finished the program and earned a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33% of high school grads.

    One huge setback of having a GED is in the aspect of employment. Indeed, many employers accept a GED, but there are still those who don’t. A GED holder is often likely to find employment in a labor and trade job easier than seeking a professional position. 

    Many recruiting experts view a high school diploma holder as someone who has a high dose of determination and drive and can work toward long-term goals, regardless of any difficulties. On the other hand, some employers consider a GED an easy way out, even though that may not necessarily be the case.

    The earning potential of a GED graduate may also be lower than high school grads in some cases. Of course, having a GED can mean earning better pay than high school dropouts with no GED, but high school graduates tend to earn higher than GED graduates. 

    High school graduation is an event that happens only once in a person’s lifetime. Students should seriously think about their decisions before dropping out of high school and opting for a GED. Earning a diploma is no small feat and comes with a sense of pride and accomplishment, as signified during high school graduation. 

    If you are considering dropping out, it is best to weigh the pros and cons of missing out on the high school experience as well as the future prospects of a GED vs diploma before making a final decision.

    What Careers Are Available With a GED?

    A GED certificate will qualify you for jobs in a wide range of fields, a few of which are:

    A large percentage of jobs in the legal field require post-secondary education and training. Still, a GED will qualify you for jobs such as a searcher or an abstractor and a title examiner.

    Administrative and Office Support

    A GED holder can work in supportive administrative roles, including receptionists, customer service representatives, administrative assistants and secretaries, information clerks, tellers, bill and account collectors, and financial clerks.

    Sales

    GED recipients can also build a career in sales, starting as insurance sales agents, retail sales workers, or cashiers.

    Food Preparation and Service

    There are several job opportunities for the GED holder in the food preparation and service industry. GED graduates can work as cooks, bakers, bartenders, food preparation workers, and waiters or waitresses. 

    Community and Social Service Careers

    This field’s requirements usually do not include post-secondary education and training, particularly to become a community health worker or social service assistant. However, a higher degree might be required to take on the role of mental health, behavioral disorder, or substance abuse counselor. 

    Building and Grounds Cleaning

    You can qualify for certain roles in this field with a GED. These include a pest control worker, building cleaner or janitor, and grounds maintenance worker.

    Service, Personal Care, and Healthcare

    There are many opportunities for the GED holder in these fields, including a childcare worker, gaming service worker, psychiatric aide, physical therapy aid, orderly, home health aide, occupational therapy aide, and personal care aide.

    Protective Services

    Candidates with a GED can work in a handful of positions in this field, such as private detectives, bailiffs or correctional officers, and gaming surveillance officers or security guards.

    Which Option is Right for You?

    Given some of the disadvantages of the GED vs diploma mentioned above, it might be tricky for some people to decide which credential to choose. Consider the following when trying to choose between the two:

    Where Are You Academically? 

    A good place to start is by asking where you stand academically? Your academic progress to the current point in your life is a big factor when deciding what path to take. If you left high school with only a few more coursework to graduation, you might want to go back and complete your diploma. However, if you have left high school for many years, coping with the demands of high school might be challenging. A GED might work better in that case. 

    Keep in mind that if you left school very early, you might need to spend many months preparing for a GED test. If that is your case, you may want to look at an online high school that may take just about the same time or a little more to complete. The quality of education online is not any different or less than what is obtainable in a brick-and-mortar traditional high school. 

    A typical high school teacher has a secondary education degree or some other similar credentials, training, and experience that qualify him or her to prepare students in both settings for post-secondary education or a career immediately after high school.

    What Are Your Career Goals?

    It is important to think about your career goals when deciding whether to choose a GED vs diploma. Consider the academic requirements associated with your career choice, and let that guide your decision, especially if you plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree sometime in the future. 

    Most colleges, especially community colleges, make no distinction between a GED and a high school diploma. Still, some universities and four-year colleges might require students seeking admission to have a regular high school diploma. 

    The life skills gained from a high school might not appear on any list of requirements for gaining admission to any college or getting employed in specific jobs. However, teamwork, project management, problem-solving, and organizational abilities often stick to the high school diploma holder. When these skills transfer to a career or college, it makes the candidate stand out and become more competitive. 

    Acquiring these skills is almost natural in a high school setting since they form an integral part of the school’s activities. But it takes a self-motivated GED candidate to seek out volunteer opportunities during GED prep programs to gain similar experiences and skills. 

    Consider Your Schedule and Commitments 

    You will need to invest about four years of regular class attendance on a full-time basis to earn a diploma. This high school schedule is usually not practicable for everyone, especially adults with full-time jobs or those who are raising a family. 

    A GED would be a better choice if you already have heavy commitments since you won’t be required to take multiple classes. If you are still very young with no job or family responsibilities, you might find the high school schedule feasible. 

    Do Your Research

    Whether you think it is better to get a GED vs diploma or vice versa, it is important to determine the requirements for each type of degree. If you have a particular career path in mind or plan to apply to a specific college for a bachelor’s degree, it is best to research their minimum education requirement before making your final choice between a GED and a high school diploma.

    Higher Education with a GED vs. Diploma

    Many people considering a GED will like to further their education, but how does a GED compare to a diploma when it comes to securing a college admission? Is post-secondary education no longer possible for people with a GED? Does applying to college with a GED come with the same advantage as homeschooled college applications?

    Most colleges, particularly community colleges, have do not have problems admitting candidates with a GED. In fact, the American Council on Education, which is responsible for overseeing the GED exam, estimates that about 97% of colleges and universities in the US and Canada accept the GED credential as a valid alternative for a high school diploma. 

    However, a few four-year colleges and universities may not accept a GED. If you have a GED, but the college you prefer requires a high school diploma, consider spending a year at a community college. Doing so will prove your academic skills to a university or four-year college of your choice.

    How Much Do Your GED Scores Count Towards Your College Admission?

    GED test credits are grouped into passing, college-ready, and college-ready plus, with the passing score being 145. While the passing score is okay, it doesn’t reflect a desire to pursue post-secondary education. Even colleges with high acceptance rates are interested in accepting students who will succeed at their school. For this reason, individuals looking to take a GED test to pursue higher education should aim for a score of at least 165.

    Can You Turn Your GED into a High School Diploma?

    You cannot directly convert a GED to a high school diploma, but you can enroll in an adult education school if you are serious about earning a high school degree. You can get in touch with your former high school to collect your transcript for this purpose. 

    Earning Potential with a GED vs a High School Diploma

    The fact is most employers are more interested in the resume, references, and job skills you can offer than whether you hold a GED vs diploma. With that said, there are differences in the earning potentials of each credential. 

    Average Salary with a High School Diploma

    The average salary for high school diploma graduates is about $38,792 per year or $746 per week. These categories of workers have an unemployment rate of 3.7%, which is lower compared to GED graduates. 

    By completing high school education, candidates can expect to earn about $8,000 more than those without a regular high school diploma. Every other level of education achieved after high school increases this earning potential. 

    For example, getting an associate of arts degree can boost the average pay to more than $7,000, and a bachelor’s degree hikes the pay up to more than $26,000.

    Average Salary with a GED

    The average salary for GED graduates is approximately $30,784 annually or $592 weekly. The average unemployment rate for these categories of workers is 5.4%. However, there are some high-paying jobs for people with a GED. A few examples with their median annual salaries include:

    • Electrician – $51,110
    • Loan officer – $62,620
    • Farmers and Ranchers – $68,050
    • Power plant operator – $$72,910
    • Elevator Installer – $78,620
    • Commercial pilot -$103,390
    • Air traffic controller – $122,340

    Getting a GED is a good way to pursue a college or university education or improve your career options. But it would be best to go back and complete your high school coursework if you still have the chance to do so, especially considering how a GED is valued. 

     A regular high school diploma is often more highly valued because it shows that you endured several years of assignments and fulfilled the requirements of several courses. This is opposed to completing a few requirements and passing a test. However, if returning to high school is completely out of the question for you, a GED is an excellent alternative.

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