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High School Diploma vs GED vs HSED

High School Diploma vs GED vs HSED

GEDs were created for students who need an alternative. But really, what is the difference between a GED and high school diploma? And 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: General Educational Development

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 are still eligible to sit for and pass the exam. There are many ways to study for the GED, you can take a GED study class, hire a tutor, or take online practice exams.

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 its implementation.

Is Getting a GED a Bad Thing?

Getting your GED 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 your education and goals. So many places accept GEDs in lieu of diplomas because they are a strong overall representation of what one learns in preparation before college. So whether you are considering getting a GED or you already have it, receiving a GED is a very smart investment in your future.

Read Myths and Misconceptions About the GED

HSED: High School Equivalency Diploma

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 employers 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 place of a diploma. Those with GEDs or HSEs who choose to further their education generally go to a community college or trade school first. Then, they may head off to a university.

How are the GED and HSED Different from a High School Diploma?

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 only a high school certificate, you are not)
  • You are hirable to employers

Those don’t sound so different from a GED or HSE diploma, do they? Really the main difference is that a high school diploma is earned by students who had the ability to attend high school for all 4 years. However, GED and HSE scores show that students have received a quality education as well.

Understanding Your GED or HSE Scores

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.

Colleges, Trade Schools, Employers, and the GED

  • College or Trade School and GED: The fact is, 6 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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