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The Difference Between a High School Diploma and a GED

The difference between high school diploma and GED

For whatever reason, you didn’t finish high school. Maybe life circumstances got in the way. Or maybe, you just didn’t take the whole high school experience seriously.

Whatever the situation was that prevented you from receiving your diploma, it happened—and it doesn’t mean your life is over.

GEDs were created for students who need an alternative. But really, what IS the difference between a GED and high school diploma? And how is one better than the other? Let’s explore high school diplomas and GEDs (as well as High School Equivalency exams) and how they benefit or affect your professional future.


GED is an acronym for General Educational Development, aka the General Education Diploma. It’s a core subjects exam that evaluates your educational skill level in math, science, language arts, and social studies. In other words, how much did you actually learn in school? Even if you stopped going to high school in 9th grade, you can still pass this exam, because there are all types of ways to study for it. Whether you take a GED study class, hire a tutor, or take all the practice exams online, you can easily prepare to sit for, and pass, the GED.

The GED was created in the early 1940s to service the military when they came back from war. Because many men couldn’t finish high school once they enrolled in the service, the GED was created in order for them to be able to prove they could continue on to college if they scored well enough. Also, back then, a high school diploma was considered good enough to be able to find a decent paying job. There have been nearly 20 million people who have gotten their GED since it started.


High School Equivalency diplomas are different from GEDs. They were created mostly for migrant or farm workers and their children, age 16 and older, who are not currently enrolled in school. A HSE gives them the chance to obtain postsecondary education or training for skilled trades. It’s an alternative to a GED. However, with a HSE diploma, the material covered is more extensive than a GED, so some military and skilled trades actually prefer it to a GED. When it comes down to it, though, the GED and HSE diploma are treated similarly by employers and postsecondary education institutions. They are accepted by most places in lieu of a diploma. Those with GEDs or HSEs who choose to further their education go to a community college or trade school first. Then, they may head off to a university.


Realistically, the best case scenario is going through those four years and getting your high school diploma. But, as mentioned earlier, everyone’s story and circumstance is different. Say, in a perfect world, you could finish high school and get your diploma. How you’d differ from your peers who took the GED or HSE are:

  • You met all the graduation requirements and on time
  • Your grade level core classes were all passed to your state’s specifications
  • You are now acceptable to the military, colleges, and trade school
  • You are eligible for financial aid (with a high school certificate, you are not)
  • You are hireable to employers

Those don’t sound so different from a GED or HSE diploma, do they? The main difference is, diplomas from high school prove you were able to stick it out and finish. But, GEDs can say the same thing, too.


NO! Getting a GED could NEVER be a bad thing. It’s a second chance. It means you’re determined. It means you know you’re moving forward, as your circumstances allow. It also means you don’t like to leave things unfinished; just because you left high school early doesn’t mean you are done with it yet! Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you aren’t enough because you have your GED. Getting your GED speaks volumes, which is why so many places accept it in lieu of a diploma. So, whether you are thinking about getting your GED or you already have it, wear it as a badge of honor and move forward!


GED (passing scores)


Language Arts Reading

145 or higher


Language Arts Writing

145 or higher

8-20 w/a 2+ in the essay portion


145 or higher



145 or higher


Social Studies

145 or higher


If you don’t pass the GED the first time, you can retake it up to twice per year. If you receive a score over 165, that means you’re college ready and therefore, you may not have to take college placement tests when you’re applying. If you score over 175 on each of the four sections of the GED, this shows that you’ve mastered the skills, and may have even surpassed some college expectations. This means, depending on the school, you could get some college credits out of the way, simply by scoring high on the GED.

In most states, each section of the GED costs, on average, $30. There are four sections, so the average cost is $120. There is a significant discount for each retake. The test is a total of 7 hours.

The HSE test costs an average of $10 for each subtest, and that includes the exam, scoring, and reporting. Each state may host different prices, however. There are adult education courses in most states, and these may be free to take. It will take 3-5 business days to receive your scores. Scoring between 15-20 on each of the subsets indicates you are college ready and in the 75 percentile of your high school graduating peers. To pass the HSE, your total score, based on all five subsets, must be a minimum of 45 out of 100.


Well, there is a yes and no answer to that question. We’ll break it down.

  • College or Trade School and GED: The fact is, six out of every 10 GED holders do go onto college. And most colleges will allow it, especially if you go to community college prior to transferring to a four year university. Each educational institution has its own set of rules regulating GED holders, though, so it’s important to check the admissions requirements before applying.
  • The Military and GED: The different branches of the military do allow a certain amount of GED holders to enlist but they prefer high school graduates. This makes it a very competitive process. One way to stand above your competition is to have at least 15 college credits to your name before enrolling.
  • Employers and GED: On most employee applications, you have to check a little box stating you have either a high school diploma or GED. It does not ask you to differentiate. However, for more advanced positions, employers may not care as much about your earlier education as they do about your college degree. And after your first professional job, it matters even less if you had a GED or high school diploma.

Whatever your situation was that prevented you from finishing high school, that shouldn’t be a roadblock for your life. With determination, perseverance, and a GED or HSE, you can confidently move forward into the next stage of your life.

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