Should I Complete My High School Diploma? (Is it Better Than a GED?)

Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned.

People dropout of school before finishing their diploma for all kinds of reasons.

Sometimes it’s personal issues such as an unexpected pregnancy or health problems that may prevent some students from completing their education.

Other students may have very little parental support to stay in school or feel socially disconnected from other students and choose to end their education and try to find work. Sometimes even high achievers drop out of school opting to try to find work when they find they’re not being challenged enough and become bored and restless.

Sooner or later though, the realization sets in that getting their diploma seems to be the only way to move ahead.

Why a high school diploma is important

Man reading a book. High School Diploma versus GED American High School Academy

Having a high school diploma tells people that you completed all the individual requirements needed to be awarded a high school diploma. It also lets them know that you have the set of knowledge and skills necessary to meet those requirements.

Because of that, it answers basic questions for people about what they can trust you understand and what you can do. That’s why when you’re looking for a job or applying to college or the military, having your high school diploma is an advantage.  Employers, college admissions officers and military recruiters don’t have to wonder whether you have the skills they need for you to succeed.

But what do you if you can’t or are too old to go back to high school? What are your options then?

Options for student and adult high school dropouts

If you’re an older student or an adult, it’s not too late to get your high school diploma or GED.  Some states, including Florida, offer programs to help you do this. Your options are to attend an accredited privately run high school or writing the GED exam.

What is the GED?

The GED  – General Educational Development – is a set of standardized, supervised tests that, when passed, certify that the test-taker has demonstrated high-school level academic skills.

The test’s difficulty level is set to the same standard that it takes to earn a high school diploma. This means that the GED will assess the test-taker’s knowledge and skills in order to determine that it is equal to the same level of a high school graduate.

The GED is actually a set of four tests which are written on a single day, over 7 and a half hours.

The tests cover Reasoning Through Language Arts, Mathematical Reasoning,  Social Studies and Science.  Each separate test must be completed with a specified time takes uses various question formats.  These include multiple choice, extended answer, short answer, and long-form (essay) questions.

Questions on the exam are classified into three DOK (Depth-of-knowledge) levels: DOK-1 being easier and DOK-2 and DOK-3 being progressively more difficult. It’s important when studying for the GED to know that 80% of your exam questions will fall into level DOK-2 & DOK-3.

Overhauled in 2014, the new GED standards require a score of 145 on a scale of 100 to 200 in order to pass. But, if you are taking the GED test in order to be apply to for entry into a college or university program, you must score a minimum of 165.

If you are taking the GED because you want to apply to join the military, having your  the GED will put you at disadvantage to someone who has a high school diploma. But we’ll look at that in  more detail later on.

Completing your Diploma Through an Accredited High School

The option to getting your GED is to enroll in an accredited high school in order to complete your high diploma.

In another post, we talked about the advantages going back to school to earn your high school diploma after dropping out will provide you in today’s economy. But you may wonder if it’s really necessary for you to earn your high diploma when you can write the GED instead.

What are the Benefits of a High School Diploma over a GED?

Is there a difference between high school graduates and people who hold a GED instead? Statistics tell us yes.  Earning your high school diploma will give you advantages in a number of areas.

1. Earning Potential with a GED versus a High School Diploma

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average weekly income for people without a high school diploma is $493 or $25,636 per year per year.

But, even getting that job without a diploma is doubtful as the unemployment rate for Americans with less than a high school diploma is 8% – higher than for any other category of worker based on education level.

They found that while high school graduates averaged about $ 4,700 a month, GED recipients earned about $3,100.  Another interest fact they found was that even if someone with a GED went on to earn a college degree afterwards, they still earned about $1,400 less a month than degree holders who held a high school diploma before earning their degree.

2. Higher Education with a GED versus a High School Diploma

College Study group. High School Diploma versus GED American High School Academy

That last statistic is important to think about, because reports also indicate that if a GED holder succeeds in getting into college or university, the likelihood that will graduate from their program is less than 5% (U.S. Census Bureau).

Why? Studies have shown that not only are GED holders less prepared for college in terms of having the study skills required to succeed in their courses, but their general knowledge falls below that of  high school graduates.

GED holders consistently score lower on college placement tests than high school graduates.  (National Bureau of Economic Research) and 77% of GED holders choose to leave college after their first semester.

That’s why, that even though more colleges and universities will admit GED holders into their programs since it was overhauled in 2014, you’re going to be at a disadvantage to high school school graduates when it comes to being granted admission. And, in most cases, schools demand that GED applicants meet additional requirements.

Because of competition for program spaces, schools want to make sure they accept applicants who they believe will follow through with the program.  To make themselves more competitive and prove their ability to commit to work at a post high school level, GED holders often have to attend a community college prior to applying to a four-year degree program.

3. Joining the Military with a GED Versus a high School Diploma

Many students wonder about getting into military with GED vs diploma. Is it more difficult getting into military with GED vs diploma?

While the the Department of Defense reports that some branches do allow individuals with GED to enlist, it’s much more difficult to do so.

Why? Statistics show that the military service dropout rates for GED holders is 45% compared to 24% for high school graduates. It costs a lot to train recruits, because the likelihood that a GED holder will prove to be a wise investment is almost half that of a high school graduate, enlistment officers aren’t going to risk it.

Four Army Commandos and a helicopter. High School Diploma versus GED American High School Academy

That’s not to say that you can’t at all get into the military with a GED, but all services strictly limit the number of high school dropouts that will take and GED holders are classified as dropouts.  And there are always a lot more GED-holders who apply to enlist than there are slots available.

With this fierce competition as a GED applicant, your score on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) must be much higher than that required by a recruit with a high school diploma.
The military classifies applicants with a high school diploma or higher, as a Tier 1.  If you have a GED without college credits, you are classified as Tier 2.  For a GED applicant to be moved into a Tier 1 classification and be equal to a high school graduate, they have to have completed 15 college credits.
There are benefits to being classified Tier 1.  Those in Tier 1 have to perform in the 30th percentile and above on the ASVAB to be eligible for service, whereas a Tier 2 student has to perform above the 50th percentile to be eligible.

Because the Air Force enlists less than 1% of recruits without a high school diploma, the Marines no more than 5% and the Army and Navy no more than 5 to 10%, the GED applicant is going to have to score much higher than in the 50th in order to make the cut.


Circumstances often mean we sometimes make decisions in life that, in the long term, make it more difficult to move forward with our dreams, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to recover from those decisions.

You can get your GED or go back and complete your diploma at an accredited high school.

It does require less time to attempt to pass the GED examination than returning to school, but statistics show that it’s not at all equal to completing the requirements to qualify for your high school diploma.

You’re less likely to succeed in making a higher income, less likely to have the skills you need to succeed at higher education, and you less competitive in the workforce – both civilian and military.

While getting your GED definitely has benefits above having nothing at all, long-term, it’s worth the extra time and work to get your high school diploma

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