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

There are plenty of reasons students drop out of high school. Though the stigma around it is still negative within some circles, the truth is that some students need to help their parents with the bills, some had promising paths to success in music, arts, or athletics, and some needed to help take care of sick family members.

No matter the reason, it is never too late to get your high school credentials, and they can, indeed, open many doors for employment as well as higher education.

The two options students who initially left high school have are a GED (General Educational Development) and an online high school diploma.

The major differences are the “who,” and this article will dig into those differences, as well as the others.


GED’s are given to people who have studied for, and passed, a variety of tests that demonstrate proficiency in mathematics, social studies, reading, science and writing.

People who cannot take GED exams are: people under the age of 16, people currently enrolled in high school, and people who have already graduated high school.

There is no age limit and in 2002, a fellow named Cecil Smith studied for and earned his GED at the ripe age of 94!

Unlike college and high school, there is no credit hour requirement for a GED. One simply must study hard and pass a number of exams.

The measurement for passing is based on high school students’ performance in your area. To pass a GED exam, you must score equal to or higher than what 60% of high school students are performing in a given field of study. These numbers are based off of other standardized tests that students take.

Health education and legal education are run very similarly. One can have a nursing degree, but still needs to pass his or her NCLEX exam (National Council Licensure Exam) to be able to hold a position as a nurse. As well, aspiring lawyers need to pass the Bar Examination before they can practice their craft professionally.


The easiest way to get a high school diploma is to stay in school and walk across the stage with your peers. However, many online high school diploma programs now exist, and just like college, they all require a certain number of credit hours to achieve.

There are also specific courses that are required for graduation, but luckily students are able to study for one or two courses at a time, which also makes online diplomas appealing to some current traditional high school students.

Ultimately, anyone and everyone can pursue their diploma online, and the pace of study can be changed for a given student.

Final Exam

In the end, the two are pretty similar as far as gained knowledge goes, but there are a couple of important differences to keep in mind.

Diplomas come with a GPA, which can help students get into college.

Diplomas also have a per-course structure, meaning you don’t have to know the entire breadth of the “mathematics” portion, you just need to study for one class, pass a test, and move on to the next.

This style of learning also can be very appealing to current students who may struggle with a typical high school workload, or who may have found the COVID-19 “stay at home” orders to actually bolster their learning abilities. Some folks just learn better in seclusion.

On the GED side, many states award high school diplomas to people who pass their GED exams, so be sure to scope out the legalities in your area. You may be able to kill two birds with one stone if you take the GED route!

Either way you go, earning one of these credentials will open many doors for employment and education, and learning can be quite enjoyable when the time is right for it.

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1 Comment

  • I only went to high school till my sophomore year was completed, I missed my junior/senior of high school. Can I still get my GED? Or do I have to complete my junior year of high school in able to get my GED?