Why Is Earning a High School Diploma (or Equivalent) So Important?
If you didn't complete high school, you're not alone. In 2010, over 39 million American adults didn't possess any secondary school credential.* But the good news is that it's never too late to change your own situation.
Having a high school diploma, GED, or other equivalent credential means more than just having greater personal satisfaction or respect from others. It also means that many more doors can be opened up for you.
People who have completed this level of education tend to find better jobs, earn better pay, and experience lower rates of unemployment. Plus, they have the chance to continue their education at colleges, universities, or career schools, which can lead to even better jobs and salaries. For example, just look at these facts from 2013:
- Americans with a high school diploma (or equivalent) earned about 38 percent more money every week than those without one (based on median earnings).**
- The unemployment rate was 3.5 percent higher for people without a high school credential than for those with one.**
- For people who went on to complete a post-secondary education, associate's degree holders earned almost 65 percent more than those without a high school diploma, and bachelor's degree holders earned nearly 135 percent more.**
Many international students and immigrants also find it beneficial to pursue an American or Canadian high school diploma, especially if they plan on working or getting a post-secondary education within one of the two countries.
GED vs. High School Diploma: How Are They Different?
In the U.S. and Canada, a GED credential is considered equivalent to a high school diploma. In both cases, it is used as proof that you have achieved a minimum level of knowledge and ability in subject areas like math, science, social studies, reading, and writing. However, some important differences do exist:
- The GED is a test-based credential, which requires you to pass a comprehensive exam in person at a physical testing location. How you study for the GED test is up to you. In contrast, a high school diploma must be earned by accumulating a certain number of course credits through successful completion of many individual courses, either in a classroom or online. Each course has its own tests, and, in some regions, there may also be a high school exit exam.
- The academic requirements for taking and passing a GED test tend to be a little lower than those required for attaining a high school diploma. As a result, people with high school diplomas are sometimes preferred over GED holders by certain colleges, universities, and employers.
- Adults with high school diplomas tend to go on to earn more money than adults with GED credentials. For instance, in 2009, the difference in median monthly earnings in the U.S. was more than $1,500.***
It's also worth noting that every state sets its own requirements for earning high school equivalency. In most states, the GED is still the standard alternative to a high school diploma. However, a few states are now offering other tests—one is called HiSET, and the other is known as TASC.
Also, the GED test differs a little bit depending on whether you're a student in the U.S. or a student in Canada. Mostly, the differences are related to questions in the social studies portion of the test, which covers areas like history, civics, and government.
How Long Does It Take to Earn a High School Diploma Online?
As an adult, high school diploma programs that allow you to study where and when you want are probably very appealing to you. After all, they can offer a lot of convenience and flexibility. And they can allow you to earn your diploma in a relatively short amount of time. But as you explore such options, be sure to keep a few things in mind:
- When studying for a high school diploma online, you generally get to choose your own pace. That means it may take you more or less time than other students to finish your program. Many students are able to earn a diploma in as little as six to 18 months. Even so, most schools do place a reasonable limit on how long you can take to complete all of your courses, which is sometimes up to three years.
- Some schools will allow you to transfer a few of the credits you earned while attending a traditional high school as long as they are for comparable subjects. That can shorten your program and help you get your diploma sooner.
- Schools with regional accreditation are the ones that award widely recognized high school credentials. Their programs almost always require several months of learning.
When it comes to preparing for a GED, programs vary a lot. Some students use study guides to prepare for the test on their own. But many successful students have found it worthwhile to look into courses offered by GED schools or even to take a high school program that may or may not be accredited. The extra structure helps ensure that they become prepared for the GED test in as little time as possible.
* GED Testing Service, website last visited on December 2, 2014.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, website last visited on December 2, 2014.
*** United States Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce, website last visited on December 2, 2014.