GED vs. Diploma – What’s the Difference

GED vs. Diploma – What’s the Difference?

If you never finished high school, you can still earn a GED and reap similar benefits of a high school diploma. High school equivalency certificates, such as the GED, can open doors — and we mean, like, a lot of doors. Whether you’re interested in trade school jobs or want to continue your education, a GED is basically your passport to more career opportunities and better earnings.

But what is a GED, exactly? And how does it stack up against a high school diploma? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a GED?

The General Educational Development test, or GED, is an exam designed to measure your high school-level knowledge. The credential is commonly considered the equivalent to a high school diploma and is widely recognized and accepted by the vast majority of U.S. colleges, universities, and employers.

The GED was first developed in 1942 by the American Council on Education (ACE) to provide military veterans with a way to earn a credential they could use to launch their careers or go on to college. Today, the GED is meant to provide high school dropouts with a second chance at higher education and a more fulfilling career path

What Is the Difference between a GED and a Diploma?

A high school diploma is the certificate you get upon completion of your high school education. Getting a high school diploma usually takes four years – although some overachievers have been able to do it in less time.

A GED, on the other hand, can be earned through a 7.5-hour exam. The exam is split into four subjects — math, science, language arts, and social studies — which you can take one at a time. 

Another key difference between a GED and a diploma is the age requirement. GED test-takers must be at least 16 years old to take the exam. However, many states require GED test-takers to be at least 18 or 19 years old before they can take the exam.

Should I Get My GED or Finish High School?

We know what you’re probably thinking: Why even bother with four years of high school if you can just get your GED in 7.5 hours? The GED sounds like an amazing shortcut!

And it is a shortcut in some ways. But shortcuts aren’t always better.

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For one thing, the GED exam isn’t nearly as easy as many people seem to think it is. Back in 2014, ACE completely overhauled the GED exam, making it more difficult and more expensive. These changes were made in hopes of discouraging students from dropping out of high school, as well as making the GED credential more meaningful.

If you’re still in high school, you should definitely stick it out and get your diploma. Here’s why:

  • A diploma generally carries more weight. When all things are otherwise considered equal between two candidates, both employers and college admissions officers will often choose the candidate with a diploma over a GED credential. The reason is that employers and colleges tend to look more favorably upon someone who has put in the four years of work to earn their diploma.
  • You’ll be better prepared for college. Sure, the high school experience can be frustrating and cliquey AF, but the skills and study habits you develop there can better prepare you for college or vocational school. You’ll also learn how to work with people with a wide range of personalities.
  • The GED exam costs money. The GED exam usually costs $120 to take, whereas a public high school education is F-R-E-E. ’Nuff said.

Reasons to Earn a GED

All that being said, maybe you’ve already dropped out of high school and are too old to re-enroll. Should you bother getting your GED? Answer: absolutely! Here are a few reasons why taking the next step and getting your GED credential is well worth your while:

  • Better employment opportunities. A GED credential could easily be your ticket to a variety of employment opportunities, including high-paying trade school jobs, job certificates, and federal job programs. With a GED, you can expand your career opportunities and potentially earn more money.
  • Boosts your college prospects. Most colleges and universities require a diploma or its equivalent to enroll in their degree programs. So, by getting your GED, you’ll open up doors to higher education that would normally be closed off to you.
  • Improves your confidence. Earning a GED credential is a big accomplishment. If you dropped out due to unfortunate circumstances, getting a GED is the first step to getting back on track with your career goals.

Again, the GED is not an easy exam, so studying for it is key to passing all four tests with flying colors. You can find free GED sample tests and study guides on the GED Testing Service website. 

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Taking the Next Step

In an ideal world, every high school student would graduate and leave with their diploma. But that simply isn’t a reality for many students. Some teens run into financial hardship and decide to quit school after taking a full-time job, while others don’t know what to do after high school and lose the motivation to continue their education. 

Whatever the reason, it’s important for you continue your education. If a diploma is no longer an option for you, invest in yourself by getting your GED. Your future self will thank you for it.


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