GED Recipients Have Lower Earnings, are Less Likely to Enter College
High School Diplomas vs. GEDs: Do Employers Care?
Earning the Credential vs. Earning the Diploma
GED vs High School Diploma
High School Diploma vs. GED

GED Recipients Have Lower Earnings, are Less Likely to Enter College

Although most people complete high school by earning a traditional high school diploma, some complete a high school equivalency by passing the GED test. Most states and many federal programs consider the GED certificate to be formally the same as a high school diploma, yet GED recipients and high school graduates differ in levels of educational attainment and earnings.

In 2009, 16.9 million adults earned a GED certificate to satisfy their high school requirements. While 73 percent of those who received a high school diploma went on to complete at least some postsecondary education, less than half (43 percent) of GED certificate recipients did so. Furthermore, only 5 percent earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. In contrast, of high school diploma holders, 33 percent earned this level of education.

GED certificate holders had lower earnings than those who earned a regular high school diploma regardless of sex, race and ethnicity or age. Overall, high school diploma holders earned approximately $4,700 in mean monthly earnings compared with GED certificate holders, who earned $3,100.

Ged holders

That said, having a GED certificate is much better than having no high school diploma at all. Those with some high school had mean earnings of about $2,400 a month, and those with only an elementary school education earned an average of about $2,100.

In addition to being less likely to pursue a college education, GED certificate holders earned less than high school diploma recipients even when they did achieve higher education. Among adults who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, the mean earnings of those who earned a high school diploma were approximately $6,300, while the earnings of those who earned a GED certificate were approximately $4,900.

For more details, see our report What It’s Worth: Field of Training and Economic Status in 2009


High School Diplomas vs. GEDs: Do Employers Care?

For most Americans, school is a large part of your life. From the time you turn five until the time you're 18, you've probably spent thousands of hours in a classroom. Although the common path is to move from elementary school to high school and then decide what to do next, many students take a different route.

As anyone knows, life often has its own idea about how your plans should go. Some students leave school because they need to help with the bills, they start a family or school doesn't seem like the right option for them at the time. Whatever the case, they can always return to high school or they can earn their GED®, which stands for General Educational Development.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.8 million people over 15 have a GED, which proves that a significant amount of people are opting to take a different path. This large number of people with GEDs also means that more employers are faced with job seekers with backgrounds that don't fit the traditional model. Still, plenty of people are left wondering whether or not their decision to opt for a GED will come back to haunt them.

How can a GED impact your career?

Brett Yardley, a marketing and communications specialist for MAU Workforce Solutions, has helped recruit many job seekers, including many who have GEDs. In his experience, many employers focus on whether or not you made the effort to complete your education at all.

"The biggest difference is degree -- GED or high school diploma -- versus no degree," Yardley explains. Employers want to know they're hiring someone who can complete a goal they've set for themselves. "In our experience with trade skills and labor positions, GEDs are typically considered an equivalent of a high school diploma and rarely have any impact on job seekers. Years of relevant experience or technical skills usually become the deciding factor. Proof of the degree is all that's required. It's when a job seeker doesn't have a GED or a high school diploma that employers move on to the next applicant."

The case isn't quite the same when you move from the labor positions into specialty areas.

"Job seekers for professional [or] specialty positions rarely, if ever, show GEDs," Yardley says. "A GED may raise questions in the mind of hiring managers for this type of work due to the perceived stigma that GEDs are somehow less than high school diplomas," Yardley explains. "In our experience, if individuals with GEDs are applying for professional type work, they leave any references to their GED off their résumé. At this level, bachelor degrees and above are typically the deciding factors, with high school diplomas and GEDs as more of an afterthought."

The good and bad of a GED

A GED can mean two different things to employers, depending on the context, says Maya Frost, author of "The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education."

"What matters most is not whether you earn a GED or high school diploma but whether you use the GED as a way to advance or to catch up," Frost says. "The GED can be a very powerful tool as part of a strategy to begin college early. For those who want to blast forward, veering off the SAT/AP/GPA path and taking the GED at 16 may be the smartest move they can make."

That doesn't necessarily bode poorly for anyone who earns a GED for any reason other than to jump start college. It does mean, however, that employers are always looking for job candidates with ambition and commitment.

"Workers who earn a GED after the age of 18 are viewed far less favorably by employers. Unless you have a few college courses or exceptionally relevant experience under your belt, a GED may be seen as an indication of a lack of ability or follow-through," Frost warns.

Therein lies the trick for anyone with a GED. If you can continue your education in any capacity, you'll have the ability to frame your educational narrative and not let employers make their own assumptions.

Career adviser Megan Pittsley decided to forgo the usual four years of high school in order to start her college career early. Now, she not only has an associate degree, but she also has a successful career and has nearly completed her bachelor's degree.

"In my experience as a job seeker, recruiter and career adviser, I would say that as long as you continue to further your education beyond high school, it doesn't matter whether you formally graduated or received a GED," she says.

You don't have to earn a bachelor's or even an associate degree to show that you're serious about your education. You can take relevant courses that will help your work or get an appropriate certification. Whether it's a foreign language course or a public speaking seminar, you can show that you possess a serious commitment to education, and therefore a future employer.

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Earning the Credential vs. Earning the Diploma


The GED test is designed for adults over the age of 16 who haven't earned a high school diploma and aren't currently enrolled in high school. For current students who are considering leaving high school early, the GED test can also provide an alternative to graduation.

However, unless extreme circumstances are forcing an individual out of high school, it typically makes more sense to earn a diploma. At a minimum, all students should need to meet with a school counselor before choosing to drop out and pursue the GED certificate.

Passing the Test

Although the GED test represents less of a time commitment than a high school diploma, it's not academically easier. The test is graded on an equivalency scale compared to current high school students. To pass, test takers must perform on a level comparable to or above 60% of high school seniors.

Made up of five subject area tests, the GED tests include the following subjects:

  • Science
  • Social studies
  • Mathematics
  • Language arts, reading
  • Language arts, writing

In addition to short-form answers, the writing test also involves an essay. Individuals considering taking the GED test need to study. Adult education centers across the country offer test-prep courses, and students may also purchase study books or find free practice exams and questions online.

Finishing a Diploma

For people who are no longer an appropriate age to enroll in high school, pursuing the GED credential is the best path for them. However, students who still have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma need to consider their options carefully. Most students only have 2-3 years of coursework remaining when they qualify to take the GED exam. Although this timeframe is certainly longer than the couple of months required to prepare for the GED tests, there are other advantages to earning a high school diploma.

High school can offer a variety of valuable life and educational experiences outside of the classroom, from hands-on study experiences to extracurricular clubs and activities. Furthermore, high school may provide social development opportunities that will aid individuals through college and the workforce. Finally, although passing the GED test requires strong foundational academic skills, it doesn't offer the advanced educational opportunities that are available in most high schools. The knowledge gained in these courses can help graduates be much more prepared for postsecondary study than a test ever could.

Using the Credential vs. Using the Diploma


As noted above, earning a high school diploma may more likely prepare students for the academic challenges of college. However, obtaining the GED credential doesn't mean that postsecondary education is no longer an option. According to the American Council on Education (ACE), the national organization that oversees the GED exam, about 95% of U.S. colleges and universities accept the GED credential in place of a high school diploma ( On the other hand, students considering studying abroad may find that fewer international universities are willing to accept the credential. Students interested in enrolling at postsecondary institutions may want to contact the admissions departments to determine whether or not a high school diploma is required for matriculation.


Because earning the GED credential can be faster than finishing a high school diploma, it's a good choice for individuals who are interested in accelerating their paths to the workforce. Recent studies reported by the ACE show that approximately 96% of U.S. employers accept the GED as equivalent to a high school diploma. Most 2-year colleges and vocational programs are included in the ACE statistic on college admissions for applicants with the GED credential. This means that students who take the GED exam can still access additional training for their prospective careers, if necessary.

GED vs High School Diploma

How do you know if getting a high school diploma or a GED is the right choice for you? A diploma doesn't make you smarter than someone with a GED. A diploma takes years to get and a GED can be received after preparing for and taking a battery of tests in a single day. So, which is the right for you?

Here are some facts about high school diplomas and the GED that may help you decide:


GED - students who take the GED exams can not be enrolled in or graduated from high school, must be over the age of sixteen, and must meet other state requirements.

Diploma - Laws vary from state to state, but most schools will allow students to work on completing their high school diploma at a traditional public school for 1-3 years after they turn eighteen. Special community schools and other programs often provide older students the opportunity to complete their work.


GED-The GED is awarded when a student passes a series of tests in five academic subjects. In order to pass the each test, the student must score higher than 60% of the sample set of graduating seniors. Most people who take the GED exams spend a great deal of time preparing for them.

Diploma-In order to receive a diploma, students must complete coursework as dictated by their school district. Curriculum varies from district to district.

Length of Study

GED-Students aren't required to take traditional courses in order to earn their GED. The exams take several hours to take. Students may take preparation courses in order to get ready for the exams, but they aren't required to do so.

Diploma-Students generally take four years to complete their diploma.

Reception from Employers

GED-The majority of employers will consider a GED score as comparable to an actual diploma. If a student continues school and receives a college degree, his employer will probably not even consider how he completed his high school education.

Diploma-Employees with diplomas may earn significantly more than those without. Students who wish to advance in their place of employment may find it necessary to receive a college degree.

Reception at College

GED-Most community colleges admit students who have received a GED. Individual universities have their own policies. Most universities will see a traditional diploma as superior to a GED.

Diploma-Most students admitted to colleges have earned a high school diploma. However, a diploma doesn't guarantee acceptance. Factors such as grade point average, coursework, and extracurricular activities are, also, taken in to consideration.

Take the time to research the GED and a high school diploma. Weigh the pros and cons of each and make a decision only after you have given both of them serious thought.

High School Diploma vs. GED

The lack of a high school diploma, or its equivalent, precludes a college education and is a substantial barrier to compete successfully in the workforce. For students currently in high school, it is essential to see it through until graduation. Those who have already dropped out of high school need to obtain a GED in order to put their best foot forward in the workforce. This article compares high school diplomas and GEDs in terms of their acceptance by colleges and universities, the business world, and the military. The article also discusses how homeschooled high school graduates show that they have obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Regular High School Diplomas

A high school diploma from a traditional "bricks and mortar" school that requires attendance in a classroom is the gold standard in demonstrating completion of high school and mastery of traditional high school skills. A high school diploma signifies that the holder has attended and successfully completed all the courses required by the applicable school district. A transcript of the courses taken and grades issued, a common requirement for college and job applications, can be furnished upon request.

Acceptance: Colleges and universities, businesses, and each branch of the United States military accept a regular high school diploma. In order to attend college, a high school diploma or GED is required for admission. Students who have a high school diploma and have demonstrated good grades will often be able to get financial aid that individuals with a GED cannot get. In the business world, many entry-level positions require a high school diploma or GED. But again, those with a diploma will often be hired before those who have a GED. For the military, potential recruits are categorized into three categories or tiers based on their education. Most enlistees are in Tier 1, which is for high school diplomas. High school equivalencies are in Tier 2, and non-high school graduates are in Tier 3. Thus, holders of regular high school diplomas, assuming that they pass the physical and other requirements for enlistment, are readily accepted for military service.

Certificate of Completion. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a student who has completed the coursework necessary to graduate but has not passed a required exit examination by the end of 12th grade can be issued a certificate of completion or attendance. It is important to note that this is not a high school diploma or an equivalent to a diploma – it simply certifies attendance at a high school. According to the US Department of Education, these certificates are most often awarded to children who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Certificates of Completion are not considered by colleges to meet the necessary minimum requirements for admission. However, holders of Certificates of Completion can go back to high school and complete the requirements for a diploma and, upon completion, can apply to colleges or trade schools or request federal student aid. In some jurisdictions, a Certificate of Completion may prevent the holder from taking the GED test. Students who plan to take the GED test should check the local requirements before accepting a certificate of completion.

Note: While there are some online high schools that can issue valid high school diplomas, most programs advertising themselves as an online alternative to traditional high school should be regarded as suspect. Before enrolling in an online high school program, a student should carefully investigate whether colleges and universities, businesses, and the military accept a diploma from that program. The military will accept valid online diplomas, but they are classified in Tier 2 along with GEDs and other high school equivalencies rather than in Tier 1 with traditional high school diplomas.

GED stands for General Equivalency Development.

As the name implies, the GED was designed as a high school equivalency test for non-graduates. According to the GED Testing Service, the GED originated after World War II to allow veterans to complete their high school education and attend college. Subsequently, civilians were allowed to take the GED test as well. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the GED was taken primarily by individuals who were seeking to improve their credentials for work purposes. Since 1978, the GED test has been revised four times, the most recent of which was launched in January 2014. Today, the GED provides a second chance for those who have been unable to complete their studies in a traditional high school setting to demonstrate their mastery of high-school level coursework.

Eligibility. A person is eligible to take the GED test if they meet three criteria. First, a person cannot have graduated from an accredited high school or received a high school equivalency certificate or diploma. Second, the person cannot be currently enrolled in a regular high school. Lastly, individuals must be at least 16 years of age.

Subjects Tested. The GED test is designed to assess the educational and developmental levels of those who did not graduate from high school. The test covers five areas: writing skills, reading (interpreting literature and the arts), mathematics, science and social studies. The questions are all multiple choice with the exception of an essay given in the writing skills portion of the test. To pass the GED test, a person must attain a minimum score on each test and a minimum combined score on all tests. Those who pass the GED test receive a certificate acknowledging that state high school graduation requirements have been met.

Administration. The General Educational Development Testing Service administers the GED test in each state, which is a program of the American Council on Education. The test must be taken at an official testing center and cannot be taken online. In response to online programs offering GEDs, the American Council on Education issued a warning that a GED cannot be earned online or by correspondence programs. The warning further provides that a purported GED earned online may be of "dubious value" and may not be accepted by employers, colleges and universities, or the military. Hiring personnel, college admissions officers, and military enlistment personnel are encouraged to verify the authenticity of an individual's GED credential by contacting the jurisdiction that administered the test.

Note: In contrast to online GED test-taking programs, online GED preparation programs can serve as useful alternatives to attending local preparation courses. Many online preparation programs are state sponsored and contain information about regular classroom instruction and authorized testing centers.

Acceptance. In the academic and business sectors, holders of GEDs have almost the same opportunities as diploma holders, although the edge does go to those who graduated from high school. All community colleges and almost all four-year institutions accept GEDs, and most businesses that require high school graduation also accept the GED. There seems to be, however, a general impression that a high school diploma is a better credential than a GED. For example, if two applicants are otherwise equally qualified, the applicant with the high school diploma may be preferred to the holder of a GED.

For purposes of military service, a GED is regarded as Tier 2 education. The armed forces limit the percentage of Tier 2 candidates accepted in any enlistment year. In addition, GED holders must score higher on the ASVAB to qualify. The status of the GED is based on decades of statistics showing that high school graduates have a much lower attrition rate than other enlistees. The percentage of Tier 2 candidates accepted depends upon the particular branch of service. The Air Force accepts less than one percent, and the Navy and Marines accept less than ten percent.

There continues to be a stigma associated with the GED. The negative connotation seems to be related to the perception of high school dropouts rather than to the GED itself. A common assumption may be that students drop out of high school because of behavioral or academic problems, whereas in practice there are a range of circumstances that keep students from finishing high school from personal medical issues to family emergencies or other life circumstances that prevent an otherwise capable student from completing their studies. In addition, getting a GED may be associated with cutting corners or with a lack of perseverance. Most individuals spend less time preparing for the GED test than they would spend attending one year of high school. Educators assert that GED holders do not get the benefit of the breadth of subject matter and social interactions that are part of a high school education. Nevertheless, those who pass the GED test demonstrate that they have achieved a comparable level of knowledge as those in their state who graduated from high school.

Homeschool Credentials

Homeschooled individuals are finding success in both the academic and business worlds. Homeschooled students can prove their graduation from high school in many different ways. Some homeschooled students get a GED to have the widely accepted documentation it provides. Some homeschoolers purchase preprinted form diplomas and some make their own. Some of these homeschool diplomas are eligible for certification by the state education department or local school district. Others attempt to show their achievements by compiling portfolios featuring detailed accounts of their schoolwork and extracurricular activities. When a student is homeschooled, an institution or business may be willing to rely on factors other than the high school credential, such as scores on standardized tests and personal interviews. There are also online homeschool completion programs that offer diplomas.

The status of homeschooled enlistees in the military as changed several times. Although homeschooled enlistees were classified as Tier 1 prior to 1998, they subsequently were downgraded to Tier 2 because of studies showing higher attrition rates for homeschooled students than for high school graduates. Additional data is being compiled because it is now believed that homeschooled individuals have the same low attrition rates as high school graduates.


Whether your goal is to enter the workforce, go to college, or enlist in the military, a regular diploma is accepted as proof of graduation from high school. If you get anything less than a regular high school diploma, you will be limiting some of your options for the future. GEDs may carry less weight than diplomas in the business world and are not accepted at a few colleges and universities. In general, however, the GED serves as an effective high school diploma equivalent when applying for college or jobs. In contrast, the U.S. armed forces limit the number of enlistees with GEDs and require them to score higher on the ASVAB. Homeschooled students have successfully used a variety of methods to satisfy a high school diploma requirement and are readily accepted into the military along with holders of high school diplomas.