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High School Diploma vs GED

Written by Nicole Dalbo on Monday, 29 August 2022. Posted in Helpful Tips

A female teenager sitting on a bench while on her laptop

Whether you’re still in high school and considering an alternative, or have already parted ways with the classroom, you may be wondering: is a high school diploma important? What about a GED? Which one is right for me? Don’t worry, we can give you the information to help you decide. This blog is designed to help you explore the key differences and similarities between a high school diploma and GED to help you make an informed decision about your educational journey.

Are a GED and a diploma the same thing? 

While both a GED and a high school diploma show that you have high school level knowledge, there are definitely differences between them. A diploma is an official marking of completing and passing all courses required for high school graduation. On the other hand, a GED signifies that you have an equivalent level of knowledge compared to a high school graduate, without actually having graduated high school.

Is the GED harder than getting a high school diploma? 

Earning a GED is not necessarily harder than getting a high school diploma, but the process between the two is different. This means while one is not more difficult than the other to earn, one of these options may be a better fit for you and better match your study habits and goals.

To earn a high school diploma, you must pass courses in order to earn credits. A certain number of credits must be earned before being eligible for graduation and receiving a diploma. Although in traditional schools it typically can take 4 years to finish high school, other schools can allow you to have a much more flexible amount of time to earn your diploma.

If you’re wondering how to get high school credits fast, check out our blog on the topic.

Earning a GED is a different process. Instead of taking courses, you will only need to pass an exam covering subjects in math, science, social studies, and reasoning through language arts. Prices for the exam vary by state but are typically between $20-$40 per subject.

Although taking courses is not required, many people in pursuit of their GED benefit from classes that are focused on helping them gain the knowledge required for the test. Of course, those seeking their GED can also study on their own or take the test immediately if they feel like they’re ready.

Is a diploma better than a GED?

A diploma is not necessarily better than a GED. In fact, both a GED and a high school diploma can have their advantages depending on what your future goals are, what your timeline looks like, and what type of learner you are. Check out the list of pros below to see which may be better for you.

Pros to getting a high school diploma vs a GED

  1. It can help develop a learner's problem solving, time management, and other life skills.
    High school can teach a lot of skills beyond what you learn in books. Managing to find time to study and do homework are great ways to develop time management and study skills, while critical thinking problems found in your lessons are great ways to boost your problem-solving skills. Whether your plan for the future involves a career or college, these skills can really help you excel in any environment.
  2. You’ll have learned a full high school curriculum.
    While the GED has you focus on 4 major subjects, a high school education can give you a broader education. Because you’ll have the chance to unravel subjects more in depth, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the world and how it works. You may even develop useful skills for a future job that the GED subject tests don’t cover.
  3. You can receive academic support from your instructors.
    Don’t understand your math problem? No problem. All you have to do is reach out to your math teacher for more clarification. One of the best advantages about high school is being able to reach out to an instructor when you need clarification. When getting your GED, for the most part you are completely on your own for studying unless you register for GED classes.
  4. Electives can help you get a feel for a career path.
    Do you think you like the medical field, but aren’t sure? Or maybe you’re interested in business, or even a trade. Electives are required for credits, but allow you the freedom to choose something you’re interested in. Taking an elective in an area you’re excited about can really help you get an idea if that field might be worth turning into your future career.
  5. On average, high school diploma holders make more than GED recipients.
    While earning a GED can definitely open more doors for hiring and earning potential than someone who has not finished high school, a high school diploma can earn you even more. High school graduates earn $11,000 more per year on average than someone who has not completed high school versus GED recipients, who earn only $9,000 more.

Pros to getting a GED vs a high school diploma

  1. You only need one single test to complete everything.
    Are you a great test taker? Being able to earn your high school equivalency with a single test might be a good fit for you. While high school is made up of many smaller tests, papers, and projects for a passing grade, the GED compacts all of this into one large test.
  2. If you’re prepared, it can be a way faster process.
    While studying for the GED is highly recommended and can definitely take months before you’re ready to dive into the test, this method can still be pretty quick, especially if you have a solid grasp of the 4 subjects. Of course, this is totally dependent on your preparation for the exam to avoid time retaking the exams.
  3. You can focus on major subjects.
    If your career path requires only knowledge from the 4 subject areas in the GED, it may be a good idea to hone in on these instead of spending time learning irrelevant subjects. The Math, Science, Social Studies, and Reading Through Literature exams are designed to cover the most relevant topics in life you’ll need to succeed.
  4. Attending class is not a requirement.
    Maybe a classroom environment isn’t for you, and that’s okay. While some people pursuing the GED choose to attend classes to prep for the exam, it’s definitely not necessary. With the GED you have the option to study in whatever way works for you.
  5. There is no minimum or maximum amount of time required to take your test.
    Ready to go and take your test? Need some extra time to prepare? Whatever your situation is, the GED is ultimately a test that you schedule, so when you take it is totally up to you. Even online schools could require you to attend for six months before you’re able to graduate and may even require you to finish it within a certain number of years. With the GED the ball is in your court.

Do colleges accept a GED?

Yes! According to, 98% of colleges accept applicants with a GED. While there are a select few colleges that don’t accept it, for the most part you shouldn’t have an issue. However, if your plan is to enter college, a diploma may be slightly more advantageous to you. Here’s why:

  1. High school diplomas are accepted at all colleges.
    While this doesn’t mean that all colleges will accept you if you have a high school diploma, this means that all colleges will accept a diploma as proof of high school completion. While a GED is accepted at most colleges, it may be a good idea to check in with an admissions representative from some of your top schools to see what they require.
  2. A high school GPA is one of the main considerations for college acceptance.
    Your GPA, or grade point average, is one of the main factors colleges will take into account when accepting a new student. Although GED test scores can take its place, a solid GPA can help you stand out from the crowd.
  3. A diploma holder’s class rank can make them more appealing in a competitive school.
    Your class rank is what tells your college’s admissions department how you did versus all the other students in the same exact learning environment as you. Because a GED exam is just a test, there’s no class rank to compare. However, you can still appear more attractive to a college with extracurriculars, volunteering, and your college entrance exam test scores (such as the SAT or ACT exams) in order to give you an edge on the competition.
  4. Some financial aid might not be available to you.
    In order to become eligible for federal student aid, the government requires you to show that you’re qualified to obtain a college education. High school diploma recipients that have earned good grades may also qualify for additional financial aid which GED recipients would not be eligible for.

GED vs. high school diploma: which is the best fit for you?

While only you can figure out the best path for you, we’ve broken up some of the main factors between pursuing high school completion through traditional high school, online high school, and the GED to make the process a bit easier.

Traditional High School Online High School GED
Age Limit 21 No Age Limit No Age Limit
Time Length ~4 Years ~4 Years Self-Paced
College Acceptance Yes Yes Yes
Accepted for employment and management tracks Yes Yes Yes
Single, timed test to determine everything No No Yes
Teaches full high school curriculum Yes Yes No
Academic Support Yes Yes No
Career Guidance Yes Yes No

If you’re thinking an online high school might be a good match for you, you can earn a diploma at any age on your terms with James Madison High School. Get an affordable, accredited education on your time and begin your journey toward earning your high school diploma. Reach out to one of our Admissions Specialists at ... for more information on owning your future.

About the Author

Nicole Dalbo

Nicole Dalbo

Nicole Dalbo studied English Literature with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Scranton and is currently working toward her MS in Marketing. When she isn’t writing, Nicole can be found watching the newest Marvel movie, baking something sweet, or jamming out to live music.