Is a general education diploma (GED) comparable to a high school diploma? This article reviews requirements for a GED vs. high school diploma, new changes coming to the GED, and how a GED compares to a high school diploma.

GED Tests were originally intended to help veterans of World War II complete their education and transition back to civilian life. Although the GED Test is used as a high school equivalency measure, it is not exactly the same as a high school diploma. To understand more about what the GED Test is . . . and isn't, continue reading this article.

What Is the GED?

The GED certificate is earned through passing a five-part exam with sections on:

  • writing skills
  • social studies
  • science
  • interpreting literature
  • mathematics

In the sixty years it's been available, about 15.2 million people have benefited from the GED, amounting to one ninth of the total number of people who have gained a high school diploma or equivalent. GED certificate holders make up about a twentieth of the first year college students.

People taking the GED test must be a minimum of 16 years of age and not enrolled in high school at the time of the test. Some places may have a higher age requirement.

What Changes Are in Store for the GED?

If you are considering a GED, it may be important for you to know that a new version of the test�"the fifth in its history�"will be brought into service on January 1, 2012. This new version is designed to better reflect the current standards for high school graduates.  New preparation books and practice tests will be made available in 2011.

How Does the GED Compare to a High School Diploma

In some ways, having a GED certificate is like having a high school diploma. For someone applying to college, a GED certificate along with the results of college entrance exams�"such as the SAT and ACT�"can help gain admission. And for someone entering the workforce, holding either a GED certificate or a high school diploma is both less likely to be unemployed than a person with less education and statistically likely to earn significantly more each week.

But this does not mean that a GED and a high school diploma are exact equivalents. For one thing, there is more to the academics of high school than writing, social studies, science, interpreting literature, and mathematics. Typical pre-college high school curriculum includes the following:

  • 4 credits in English
  • 3 credits in Mathematics
  • 3 credits in Science
  • 3 credits in Social Studies
  • ½ credit in Health
  • ½ credit in Physical Education
  • 1 credit in Visual/Performing Arts
  • 2 credits in Foreign Language
  • 1 credit in Computer Skills/Keyboarding
  • 7 or more Electives

You can see that there are elements to a high school diploma that are not covered in the GED certificate test. As a result, despite the statistics quoted, employers and institutions of higher education may not look as favorably on a GED certificate as a high school diploma. But at that point, other relevant factors may come into play, such as standardized test scores, extracurricular studies, and the individual's reasons for acquiring a GED rather than a diploma.

In the case of a person who, for example, has been kept away from high school by a medical condition or a student has completed their high school education in another country, a GED certificate may be a significant contribution to a demonstration of their academic accomplishments. Students with disabilities may also benefit by having the opportunity to demonstrate their accomplishments through taking the GED test.

Opinion is divided on whether homeschooled students should take the GED, but it may prove helpful for their college application process. If you are in a homeschooling situation, you should check with the colleges your child is interested to secure their advice.


American Council on Education (ACE) website

CollegeBoard website

Various websites showing pre-college curricula

Written by Mary Elizabeth