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GED vs. High School Diploma: What’s the Difference?

September 6, 2022

A high school diploma signifies high school graduation. It shows you attended and passed all the required classes in a traditional high school setting.

The GED credential is a high school equivalency diploma. It shows you passed four high school equivalency tests, demonstrating you have the same knowledge as a traditional high school graduate.

Perhaps the time requirement is the key difference in the GED vs. high school diploma question. Traditional high school students typically need four years to complete classes and graduate. The GED is a 7-hour test. For most people, preparing for it takes less than a year. In most states, you can take the GED tests any time after age 16.

As you can see, the difference between a diploma and a GED is not significant. Both allow students to join the workforce, launch a career, or attend college.

Is a GED Equivalent to a Diploma?

Most colleges and employers see the GED and a high school diploma as the same. Just under 100% of U.S. schools accept the GED, including community colleges, private secondary or technical institutes, and universities.

Coupling your GED with a decent ACT or SAT score will improve your chances of getting accepted into a top school. Or, you can bypass other standardized tests with a GED College-Ready score, awarded to those who earn a high score on their GED tests.

Because the GED is equivalent to a high school diploma, in addition to using it to register for college, you can also use it to apply for a job.

Many employers view these achievements equally when it comes to a GED vs. a high school diploma, and getting a GED can lead to a higher salary. Many GED graduates can make around $8,500 more annually than those without a GED or diploma.

Which Option Is Best for You?

What’s the difference between a high school diploma vs. GED? And which should you pursue? Both choices open up possibilities for a higher salary, additional education, and professional advancement.

High school diplomas can provide excellent preparation for an entry-level job or college studies. It’s an ideal option for those with the time and whose personal life situations make it possible to attend.

However, some students may need to leave high school for many reasons, including family obligations. In those instances, a GED may be the best option.

What Is a GED?

The General Educational Development Test consists of four subject tests that, once passed, earn you a high school equivalency credential. The four subjects are language arts, math, social studies, and science.

Does this sound familiar? If so, it’s because they’re subjects commonly taught in high school. You will have earned your credential after you successfully pass these four exams. What does this do? It proves you have a grade 12 education—even without a traditional diploma.

How Did the GED Get Started?

The American Council on Education developed the GED in the 1940s to help veterans who had joined the military without finishing high school. Passing the test allowed them access to colleges or jobs requiring a high school diploma. In the 80 years since, millions of Americans have earned their GEDs, including many celebrities.

Explore the Benefits of Earning Your GED

Now that you know the difference between a GED vs. diploma, which option is right for you? makes it easy to work toward earning your GED with online resources, study guides, progress goals, practice tests, and more. Learn more about the benefits of earning your GED and how to get your GED as an adult today.


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