What is a GED?

84 percent of public high school students receive a diploma within four years of beginning ninth grade, according to numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics.

That's a decent rate, but it means 16 percent of students aren't getting their diploma on time. If they drop out, what happens to them?

Growing up, most of us heard that dropping out of high school was a quick ticket to poverty and failure. A GED offers an alternative path.

What is a GED? It stands for General Equivalency Diploma or General Educational Diploma, and hundreds of thousands of students test for their GED every year.

Read on to find out more about the difference between a GED and high school diploma.

What Is a GED and What Does It Test?

If you remember high school, you know that there were core subjects you had to take in high school. You could go beyond those minimums if, for instance, you wanted to take trigonometry instead of geometry, but everyone had to take certain classes before they could graduate.

High school also had electives like theater, journalism, yearbook, and other activities that helped you gain life experience.

A GED can't replicate the high school experience, so it doesn't even try. It does, however, attempt to create a uniform standard that test-takers must meet.

To that end, there are five subject areas in the GED: reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. The written portion includes an essay.

The reading and writing segment of the test takes the longest. It's divided up into three sections. You get 35 minutes for the first section, 35 minutes for the second, and 60 minutes for the third and final section.

Math, social studies, and science have a time limit of 90 minutes each. All total, that means you have a maximum of 7.5 hours to complete your GED test.

That's a lot of work, but you don't have to finish it all in a single sitting. If the testing center you choose is open long enough for you to take them all, you can try it, but if not, you have up to three years to finish and pass all the sections.

Is the GED Easier Than Finishing High School?

Like so many things, that depends on your definition of "easy." It's not a walk in the park; you have to study for it like you would any other test.

When looking at a GED vs. high school diploma, you should know that the GED got a big makeover in 2014. In the first year of the new test, the passing rate dropped from almost 76 percent to a bit less than 63 percent.

In high school, you can get a diploma even if you finish dead last in your class. The new GED, though, requires you to score as good or better than the top 60 percent of graduating seniors.

At first, the new GED required a score of 150 to pass, but officials soon began tinkering with that number.

The minimum passing grade dropped 5 points to 145. Students who get that score are prepared to graduate high school.

A score of 165, however, means that student is ready for college. If they get a 175 or higher, then the testing service thinks that shows they already possess some college-level skills.

The College Readiness Gap

Why is there a distinction between passing high school and being ready for college? It's the same reason that being good at your job doesn't mean you're ready to manage the office; you can do something very well without being ready to advance to the next step on the ladder.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of evidence to indicate that schools are sending students to college when they're not ready. There's a popular idea that college is the next step for anyone wants to succeed, but that ignores the fact that not every student is going to be a good fit for higher education.

Some students will simply need to find the right school, but for others? No school will be right enough.

In late 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 90 percent of adults 25 and older had a high school diploma. That sounds promising, but just over one-third of all Americans manage to obtain a bachelor's degree.

The new GED scoring system is partially a response to that readiness gap. The testing service wants to give students kudos for their hard work, but it doesn't want to tell them they're ready to enroll in college if that's not the case.

Regardless of if you decide to go on to college, you'll still make more money with a GED than you would without one. The mean annual salary for someone with less than a high school education is $27,800, while obtaining a high school diploma or GED bumps that up to $36,700.

Is a GED the Same as a High School Diploma?

In most cases, a GED will work as well as a high school diploma. If you want to enroll in college, the vast majority of American colleges will be fine accepting a GED instead of a high school diploma.

What if you want to study abroad? That's a much trickier question, as international colleges aren't as happy to accept an American GED. Contact the school where you want to study and ask about their high school diploma requirements before you waste money on an application fee.

What about job applications? If the job only requires a high school diploma, a GED should be enough to get you in the door. If the employer is going to get fussy about the difference between a GED and a high school diploma, then it probably wasn't going to be a good fit anyway.

Going Beyond a GED

By now, you should be able to answer the question, "What is a GED?" That's not the same as being able to answer all the questions on the GED, but it's a start.

Unfortunately, being awarded a GED doesn't mean you get a fancy diploma. That's not really fair to you, so check out our website to create your own personalized GED diploma.


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