Getting A High School Diploma After Earning A GED?

Last Updated on May 16, 2024.

Yes, when you’ve earned a GED, you can still go to high school if you’re under 21 years of age in most states.

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Older students with a GED can get a high school diploma as well by enrolling in an adult school or signing up for an accredited online high school program.

Some people say that holding a high school diploma is better than having a GED, and there are indeed situations where diploma holders are preferred, such as if you want to enlist in the US armed forces.

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Earning a high school diploma requires basically that you’ll have to put in more work and time, but it might pay off.

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It’s not that a GED is bad. On the contrary! Holding a GED shows that you command knowledge and skills at the level of graduating high school seniors, and technically and legally, the GED is equivalent to a common HS degree.

But the GED doesn’t require 3 or 4 years of a standard high school curriculum. You just have to take and pass four separate tests in order to get one.

The entire GED exam requires just over 7 hours to complete, but you can take the four GED tests one at a time.

So if you are a GED graduate and are looking to qualify for more specialized positions, earning your HS diploma might be a good idea, as there are situations where a high school degree is preferred.

With a GED, you may enroll in a local community college provided you meet the school’s other admission requirements, just like high school graduates.

If you want to enroll in credit-bearing courses provided by colleges and universities fast, getting your GED might be your best option.

You may be required to submit ACT/ACT scores or take a state-specific college entrance test to see if you require some remedial coursework to enroll.

An increasing number of colleges and universities, however, recognize GED College-Ready scores as well.

So, except for the branches of the U.S. Army, earning your high school diploma when you hold a GED may be redundant and also not necessary.

It would be more effective and less time-consuming to go to community college and earn a certificate or an associate’s degree instead. This may well be your stepping stone to a 4-year college where you can earn a bachelor’s degree.

Your GED demonstrates you were smart enough, so there’s no need to stop there but move on with your education!

Who Qualifies?

The GED (General Education Development) diploma is for individuals who didn’t complete high school.  You cannot convert a GED into a high school diploma, but you can take steps to earn a high school diploma.

If you’re serious about getting your high school degree, contact your former high school counselor to obtain your transcripts and advice about enrolling in an adult education school.

Usually, your counselor will be able to refer you to an educational institution that offers classes that will match your schedule.

You may very well develop a fast-paced schedule toward completing your secondary education degree through high-school-level coursework and earning the necessary credits.

If needed, and if you can afford it, you may also want to hire a private GED tutor who will provide you with a manageable study plan and individual support.

Online Accredited High School

You can also enroll in an accredited online high school, but make sure the school is legit. For good advice, check with your former high school counselor and the Board of Education.

If all is good, you can enroll online in an accredited online high school, but well-respected online high schools often are pretty expensive.

Keep in mind that it’s never too late and always worth the effort. Your high school degree is your passport to a well-paying and more interesting job.

People with a high school or GED diploma are making at least $9900 more annually than those who didn’t get a secondary education degree.

Lacking a high school or equivalent diploma is a substantial hurdle to success in the workforce and precludes education in college and universities.

So, for students currently signed up for high school, it is key to see school through until graduation. Students who have already quit school need to earn a GED to continue their education or be successful in the workforce.

Check out also this article about Missouri, where recently, a new program was introduced that allows residents 21 and over to earn a high school degree at no cost.

Certificate of Completion

High school students who completed the coursework required to graduate but did not pass the exit exam by the end of 12th grade can receive, under the No Child Left Behind Act, a Certificate of Completion or Certificate of Attendance.

These certificates are not the same as a high school or GED diploma. They merely state that the holder attended a high school.

Often, these certificates are awarded to students who have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Certificates of Attendance or Completion are not recognized by institutions of higher education to meet minimum admission requirements.

Holders of these Certificates of Completion, however, can return to high school or sign up for an adult school and complete the diploma requirements. Once that hurdle is taken, they can apply to a trade school or community college and be eligible for federal student aid.

When exploring online high schools, be aware that many programs that advertise themselves as online alternatives to traditional high schools are suspect.

Before signing up for an online high school program, please carefully investigate if the “diplomas” issued by these programs are recognized and accepted by universities and colleges, businesses, employers, and branches of the military.

The U.S. military accepts valid online diplomas and GED certificates, but these credentials are classified in Tier 2, whereas traditional high school diplomas are classified in Tier 1.

Adult High School

In the U.S., many high schools also provide Adult High School Diploma Programs to allow adults 21 and over to earn a high school diploma.

Generally, these programs utilize highly flexible methods to match the adults’ busy schedules. Often, offer high school diploma programs as well as GED preparation.

In America, you’re allowed to sign up for high school until you’re 21. So once you’re older and looking to earn a high school diploma rather than a GED, you’ll need to attend an adult high school.

Many adult students, however, are not aware that earning a GED is not the only possibility of obtaining a secondary education degree.

Many community high schools provide classes in evening or weekend sessions especially targeted toward adult learners who didn’t complete high school and whose academic competencies are at the 9th-grade level or above.

Fast-Track Online High School Programs

Most adults who left high school prematurely think that taking the GED high school equivalency test is the only way to acquire a secondary education credential.

But there are more ways to earn a high school diploma, for example, through a properly accredited online high school diploma program.

With a good and accredited Fast Track High School Diploma program, students can transfer their credits earned in a public school to the online program and finish the remainder of the required credits required in the online high school diploma program.

These online high school programs do not offer online high school equivalency (HSE) programs such as a GED prep course, but they provide accredited high school diploma programs in an online format.

These programs allow adult students to pick up their education where they left off, and they will be able to complete their high school diploma program at their own pace.

GED vs High School Diploma

Let’s take a closer look at some pros and cons in relation to earning a traditional high school degree and earning a GED diploma.

Pros of a GED

  • A GED is much faster to complete than a traditional high school degree
  • A GED is a quicker pathway to a vocation
  • A GED is perfect for students past the age of 21

Pros of a high school diploma

  • A high school diploma is more widely accepted than a GED, especially in the military
  • A high school education leads to more social and life experience
  • It prepares students more widely for post-secondary study in college

Cons of a GED 

  • The GED is sometimes not accepted overseas
  • For some branches of the military, a GED is valued less than a high school degree
  • The GED exam is more difficult than many students expect

Cons of a high school diploma

  • It takes much longer to complete than a GED
  • Three or four years in high school is more expensive than earning a GED

Finishing High School

So, for students no longer in the age range appropriate to enroll in high school, going after a GED is a perfect path.

But students who still have the option to earn their high school diploma should really consider their options very carefully.

Most students who quit school have only one, two, or sometimes three years of coursework left before graduation. Sure, this is a longer timeframe than is required to get all set for the four GED subtests, but there definitely are some valuable advantages associated with earning a high school degree.

While in high school, students will get valuable educational and life experiences in and outside of their classrooms, something GED students have to miss out on.

In high school, students can gain hands-on study experiences and engage in extracurricular activities, sports clubs, or other interesting and life skills-enhancing activities.

Furthermore, life in high school provides so many social developmental opportunities that will prove to be important to the students both in college and beyond.

And also, keep in mind that although earning a GED requires pretty strong basic academic skills and some serious studying, it doesn’t provide the advanced educational and social opportunities that most high schools provide.

The knowledge gained through these programs often helps high school graduates be far better prepared for the challenges of postsecondary study in college or university than GED graduates.

Academic Challenges

While securing a high school degree may prepare students perhaps better for the academic and other challenges of college, acquiring a GED doesn’t imply that postsecondary education will not be an option.

According to GED Testing Service (the organization that oversees the GED program in cooperation with the American Council on Education-ACE), more than 98 percent of North American colleges and universities recognize and accept the GED diploma in lieu of a common high school diploma.

Then again, students looking to study abroad may have some problems as only a limited number of international colleges and universities accept the GED credential.

So earning a GED is the perfect solution for individuals over the high school age and who are looking to complete a high school level education fast. But again, keep in mind that there are some significant advantages to holding a traditional high school diploma.

Significant Differences between a GED and a High School Degree

So while both a GED and a common high school diploma signify that the holder has demonstrated that they command skills and knowledge at an equivalent level, there are some major differences between the two.

To figure out which option is the best for you will take some thorough evaluation on your behalf. Consider what you will need and what you’re expecting to receive in return.

First, as stated earlier, it is the amount of time that students will have to put into earning their high school diploma versus earning a GED.

Then, there are some varying maximum and minimum age requirements. GED test-takers cannot be under the age of 16 in most states, and high school students cannot be over the age of 21 in most states

So one of the main differences lies in the age requirements. In most states, as said, GED test-takers need to be at least 16 years old, though requirements vary from state to state, and they cannot already hold a high school diploma or be currently signed up for another school program.

To qualify for a high school diploma, students don’t need to meet some minimum age requirements, but they need to have completed all of the coursework required by the state and to the satisfaction of the high school they attend.

In most states, high school students are given between 1 and 3 years after their 18th birthday to complete all their high school curriculum, but there are also states that offer high school completion programs for adult learners that lead to a high school degree, not a GED diploma.

As stated above, another major difference between a high school diploma and a GED is the time frame it takes to complete. To earn a high school degree, students are required to invest as much as three or four years.

The GED exam is a 7-hour exam that includes four separate subtests, also referred to as modules. The GED subtests are graded on a 100-200 scale, where the passing score on each of the modules is 145.

The GED is a very challenging exam. The passing criteria are such that of all high school graduates, some forty percent would not be able to pass the subtests on their first try.

While in most states, no formal study is or taking the GED Ready practice test is required, test-takers are really recommended to take a prep course, be it at a physical prep site or through an online course, and spend a good chunk of their time on getting optimally preparing for the exam. The fastest way to earning a GED diploma is probably by signing up for the comprehensive, engaging, and accredited online GED prep course from Onsego.

Most community colleges admit GED holders in the same way as high school graduates, but if students are looking to enroll in a 4-year college or university, they may want to earn a high school degree or sign up for a community college first to earn a certificate or diploma to later transfer to a school that awards bachelor’s degrees and higher.

If, on the other hand, people are simply planning on getting an interesting job, qualifying for job promotion, and getting a rewarding career, acquiring a GED might well be a faster and better option.