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What Is a High School Equivalency Diploma and How to Get It in 2024

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If you haven’t yet completed high school, getting a high school equivalency diploma can change your life! Often viewed as an academic stepping stone, a high school equivalency diploma (HSED) will open doors to higher education, trade and vocational training, personal pride, and a career you love. Earning your HSED is much easier than you might think, and the benefits of receiving a diploma may surprise you. Follow along as we outline a few high school equivalency basics, answer some frequently asked questions, and equip you with the information you need to get your high school equivalency diploma.

What Is a High School Equivalency Diploma?

Have you ever heard someone say, “I got my GED?” Maybe you’ve read something about earning a high school equivalency credential. Perhaps you’ve searched for online options to complete your high school education or earn a certificate. Are all of these options the same? Which one is better? How does it all work? Let’s see if we can clear up any confusion.

female debating between certificate or diploma

A high school equivalency diploma (HSED) is a terrific option for anyone who has yet to graduate from a traditional high school program. Sometimes, this achievement is called a high school equivalency credential or certificate. All of these terms refer to the same certification. It’s just different terminology. Regardless of word choice, a high school equivalency provides the same rights and opportunities as a standard high school diploma.

No matter your age or past experiences, this achievement will greatly improve your chances of furthering your education, getting a better job, and earning more money. In fact, 97% of all colleges and universities consider a high school equivalency diploma to be just as valuable as a traditional diploma. Even highly prestigious Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale accept high school equivalency credentials.

With an HSED in hand, your potential earnings also increase. Research shows candidates with a high school equivalency diploma stand to earn $10,000 more than applicants without this recognizable achievement. Job candidates also enjoy access to more jobs with on-the-job training opportunities.

Despite these benefits, many people hesitate to pursue their high school equivalency diploma because they think the process is too complicated or takes too much time. They think of all the classes and courses involved in getting a traditional diploma, and the mountain seems too high to climb. What’s great about earning an equivalency diploma is that you just have to pass ONE test!

Depending on your state, earning your HSED begins with studying for and passing the GED or HiSET test. Some states tell you which test to take, and others allow you to choose the test that is right for you. Pass either exam, and you have earned your high school equivalency diploma!

graduate receiving diploma

How to Get a High School Equivalency Diploma?

The GED and HiSET exams were designed for individuals who have not yet completed high school and are not currently enrolled in a traditional high school program. Most states require students to be 18 or older to take the exam. However, some states allow 16 and 17-year-olds to test with special permission.

While some states require test-takers to be residents of the state where they are testing, other areas allow for non-resident testing. GED requirements vary by state or province, so check your state’s specific rules and regulations. The content of the exams does not change from state to state, but test type (GED and HiSET) and test center options may differ.

All testers must register with the national testing service specific to their exam. Registration requires activating a free account where all tests are scheduled and scores are recorded. These national test sites are also where you will return to request a copy of your high school equivalency diploma and any test transcripts required by a college or university.

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You Can Get It Online

In recent years, online testing was made available through the GED and HiSET testing boards. Test takers can take the exams in the comfort of their own homes under the guidance of a certified proctor. Online testing options are available in most states but have special rules and requirements of which you should be aware if considering testing at home.

Those hoping to take the GED online need to check their state's specific guidelines for testing. This can include a number of technology requirements such as a strong internet connection, computer, webcam, and rules regarding dress, personal items, and snacks.

High School Equivalency vs. High School Diploma

It’s logical to ask, “Which is better: GED or High School Diploma?” While both certifications show proof of a high school education, each distinction has unique benefits. For those who left a traditional high school environment, the high school equivalency diploma may prove to be a faster, more accessible option than a standard high school diploma.

Traditional high graduates must complete a certain number of credit hours and required courses to earn their diploma. This process can take a great deal of time and money, depending on the program chosen. Students must take several classes and complete a series of quizzes, tests, and projects. On the other hand, a high school equivalency can be obtained much faster, as it only requires the candidate to pass one exam, which includes four to five subjects.

In addition, accredited, cost-effective high school diploma options are rarely available for those over 21 years of age. There is no age limit to take the GED or HiSET exams, and test takers have the assurance that their HSED is certified and approved by the national testing services.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to get a high school equivalency?

There are two steps to receiving your high school equivalency credential: 1. Study for the GED or HiSET. 2. Pass the GED or HiSET. The time required to prepare and pass varies from person to person. Many GED Academy students are ready to test in as little as 6-weeks, while others prefer to take their time and prep at a pace that best fits their lives and schedules.

The GED and HiSET tests are designed to measure critical thinking skills. While you cannot prepare for either exam overnight, you may be surprised at how much you recall or how your life experiences have prepared you to take the exams.

  • Which high school equivalency test is easier: HiSET or GED?

The GED and HiSET are equal in their degree of difficulty, and each provides a fully certified credential to those who pass. The two exams are scored differently and break down the subject exams in dissimilar ways. The biggest difference between the two exams is how the test questions are asked. The GED has a great deal of variety in its question type, including fill-in-the-blanks, drop-down menus, and standard multiple-choice questions. The HiSET only asks multiple-choice questions. Both test individuals on their knowledge of math, science, social studies, and language arts. However, the GED test is made up of 4 subtests, while the HiSET exam has five subtests, one for each reading and writing.