The lack of a high school diploma, or its equivalent, precludes a college education and is a substantial barrier to compete successfully in the workforce. For students currently in high school, it is essential to persevere until graduation. Those who have dropped out of high school need to obtain a GED. This article compares high school diplomas and GEDs in terms of their acceptance by colleges and universities, the business world, and the military. The article also discusses how homeschooled high school graduates show that they have obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Regular High School Diplomas
A high school diploma from a traditional "bricks and mortar" school requiring attendance in classrooms is the gold standard in demonstrating completion of high school and mastery of traditional high school skills. A high school diploma signifies that the holder has attended and successfully completed all the courses required by the applicable school district. A transcript of the courses taken and grades issued, a common requirement for college and job applications, can be furnished upon request.
Acceptance: A regular high school diploma is accepted by colleges and universities, businesses, and the United States military services. For purposes of recruiting requirements, the military categorizes education into three categories or tiers. Most enlistees are in Tier 1, which is for high school diplomas. High school equivalencies are in Tier 2, and non-high school graduates are in Tier 3. Thus, holders of regular high school diplomas, assuming that they pass the physical and other requirements for enlistment, are readily accepted for military service.
Certificate of Completion. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a student who has completed the course work necessary to graduate but has not passed a required exit examination by the end of 12th grade can be issued a certificate of completion or attendance. This is not a high school diploma or an equivalent to a diploma. Numerous false claims have been circulated on the internet about the effect of a certificate of completion. Contrary to these inaccurate statements, holders of certificates of completion can go back and complete the requirements for a diploma and, upon completion, can apply to colleges or trade schools or request federal student aid. In some jurisdictions, a certificate of completion may prevent the holder from taking the GED test. Students who plan to take the GED test should check the local requirements before accepting a certificate of completion.
Note: While there are some online high schools that can issue valid high school diplomas, most programs advertising themselves as an online alternative to traditional high school should be regarded as suspect. Before enrolling in an online high school program, a student should carefully investigate whether a diploma from that program is accepted by colleges and universities, businesses, and the military. The military will accept valid online diplomas, but they are classified in Tier 2 along with GEDs and other high school equivalencies rather than in Tier 1 with traditional high school diplomas.
GED stands for General Equivalency Development. As the name implies, the GED was designed as a high school equivalency test for non-graduates. The GED originated after World War II to allow veterans to complete their high school education and attend college. Subsequently, civilians were allowed to take the GED test as well. The GED provides a second chance for those who have dropped out of high school.
Eligibility. A person is eligible to take the GED test if the person:
● has not graduated from an accredited high school or received a high school equivalency certificate or diploma;
● is not currently enrolled in a regular high school; and
● is at least 16 years old.
Subjects Tested. The GED test is designed to assess the educational and developmental levels of those who did not graduate from high school. The test covers five areas: writing skills; interpreting literature and the arts (reading); mathematics; science; social studies. The questions are all multiple choice with the exception of an essay given in the writing skills part. To pass the GED test, a person must attain a minimum score on each test and a minimum combined score on all tests. Those who pass the GED test receive a certificate acknowledging that state high school graduation requirements have been met.
Administration. The GED test is administered in each state by the General Educational Development Testing Service, which is a program of the American Council on Education. The test must be taken at an official testing center and cannot be taken online. In response to online programs offering GEDs, the American Council on Education issued a warning that a GED cannot be earned online or by correspondence programs. The warning further provides that a purported GED earned online may be of "dubious value" and may not be accepted by employers, colleges and universities, or the military. Hiring personnel, college admissions officers, and military enlistment personnel are encouraged to verify the authenticity of an individual's GED credential by contacting the jurisdiction that administered the test.
Note: In contrast to online GED programs, online GED preparation programs can serve as useful alternatives to attending local preparation courses. Many online preparation programs are state sponsored and contain information about regular classroom instruction and authorized testing centers.
Acceptance. In the academic and business sectors, holders of GEDs have almost the same opportunities as diploma holders. All community colleges and almost all four-year institutions accept GEDs, and most businesses that require high school graduation also accept the GED. There seems to be, however, a general impression that a high school diploma is a better credential than a GED. For example, if two applicants are otherwise equally qualified, the applicant with the high school diploma may be preferred to the holder of a GED.
For purposes of military service, a GED is regarded as Tier 2 education. The armed forces limit the percentage of Tier 2 candidates accepted in any enlistment year. In addition, GED holders must score higher on the ASVAB to qualify. The status of the GED is based on decades of statistics showing that high school graduates have a much lower attrition rate than other enlistees. The percentage of Tier 2 candidates accepted depends upon the particular branch of service. The Air Force accepts less than one percent, and the Navy and Marines accept less than ten percent.
There continues to be a stigma associated with the GED. The negative connotation seems to be related to the perception of high school dropouts rather than to the GED itself. A common assumption may be that students drop out of high school because of behavioral or academic problems, whereas in practice there are a range of circumstances that keep students from finishing high school. In addition, getting a GED may be associated with cutting corners or with a lack of perseverance. Most individuals spend less time preparing for the GED test than they would spend attending one year of high school. Educators assert that GED holders do not get the benefit of the breadth of subject matter and social interactions that are part of a high school education.
Homeschooled individuals are finding success in both the academic and business worlds. Many different tactics are used by homeschooled students to prove their graduation from high school. Some homeschooled students get a GED to have the widely-accepted documentation it provides. Some homeschoolers purchase preprinted form diplomas and some make their own. Some of these homeschool diplomas are eligible for certification by the state education department or local school district. Others attempt to show their achievements by compiling portfolios featuring detailed accounts of their schoolwork and extracurricular activities. When a student is homeschooled, an institution or business may be willing to rely on factors other than the high school credential, such as scores on standardized tests and personal interviews. There are also online homeschool completion programs that offer diplomas.
The status of homeschooled enlistees in the military as changed several times. Although homeschooled enlistees were classified as Tier 1 in 1998, they subsequently were downgraded to Tier 2 because of studies showing higher attrition rates for homeschooled students than for high school graduates. Additional data is being compiled because it is now believed that homeschooled individuals have the same low attrition rates as high school graduates.
Whether your goal is to enter the workforce, go to college, or enlist in the military, a regular high school diploma is accepted as proof of graduation from high school. If you get anything less than a regular high school diploma, you will be limiting some of your options for the future. GEDs may carry less weight than diplomas in the business world and are not accepted at a few colleges and universities. In general, however, the GED serves as an effective high school diploma equivalent when applying for college or jobs. In contrast, the U.S. armed forces limit the number of enlistees with GEDs and require them to score higher on the ASVAB. Homeschooled students have successfully used a variety of methods to satisfy a high school diploma requirement and are readily accepted into the military along with holders of high school diplomas.