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High school diplomas vs. GEDs: Do employers care?

High school diplomas vs. GEDs: Do employers care?

For many people in the United States, school is a large part of life. While most students graduate high school, some decide to get a General Educational Development (GED) credential instead. Getting a GED certificate can give you the time you need to get a new job, start a family, or explore other options. If you didn't complete high school, you can go back and earn your GED credential whenever you want.

High school diplomas and GED certificates both provide the basic academic knowledge expected from secondary education, and they each have their own requirements. Read on to learn about the differences between a GED credential and a high school diploma and whether employers care which one you choose.

What is a GED certificate?

A GED certificate is faster and easier to acquire than a high school diploma, but you may not have the opportunity to learn as much. To earn this credential, you must: 

  • Be at least 16-18 years old
  • Not have a high school diploma
  • Not be enrolled in high school
  • Take an exam at a physical test location

The GED exam covers the basic information that you would learn in high school. Getting a GED diploma doesn't require any classes, but many people take a test prep course before the exam. If you stopped attending high school before graduation, taking a course can help ensure that you know everything you need to pass the GED. Many of these classes are available online from private institutions. Their lengths vary, and they often cost less than $100.

"Many employers don't care whether you have a GED certificate or a high school diploma, and they consider these options to be equivalent. However, it depends on the company and the position." 

High school diplomas vs. GED certificates

A diploma is the traditional degree that you receive when you complete all of your high school requirements. More people are finishing high school than they did in the past, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who graduated high school earn about 25% more than those who didn't. 

The individual requirements of a high school diploma can vary by state, but no matter where you live, you must take courses in English, history, math, science, and other basic subjects. High school diplomas can also include classes in computer science, home economics, art, and other topics. These types of classes are known as electives, and you usually need a minimum number of electives to receive your diploma. You can also take more advanced courses in high school, such as calculus. In contrast, the GED exam covers only four subjects: science, social studies, mathematical reasoning, and reasoning through language arts.

It often takes two to three months to prepare for the GED exam, but the time you ultimately take is up to you. In comparison, you typically need to attend high school full-time for four years to earn your diploma. However, depending on the school, there could be some exceptions for people living with illnesses or disabilities. Some students may go to school full-time and finish in less than four years.

To earn the GED credential, you don't need to take all four tests at the same time, but you must have a minimum score of 145 out of 200 per subject. Similarly, high schools usually require a minimum grade point average (GPA) for graduation, though it can vary by state. Each class includes regular exams, and there's usually a final exam at the end of each course that tests all the knowledge that you have acquired. When you're ready to graduate high school, get some career advice from people close to you.

Do employers prefer a high school diploma or a GED equivalent?

Many employers don't care whether you have a GED certificate or a high school diploma, and they consider these options to be equivalent. However, it depends on the company and the position. 

Completing a high school education instead of taking the GED exam may improve your chances of getting hired and increase your earning potential. High school has more advanced classes, and getting a high school diploma shows employers that you can attend regularly, show up on time, obey authority figures, and read, understand, and follow instructions for assignments and exams. These skills are essential for many types of careers.

However, if you didn't attend or finish high school, having a GED credential is preferable to not having either diploma. Companies with more creative cultures, like tech startups, are more likely to hire people with GED certificates. Earning this credential suggests that you can work on your own and think independently.

Improve your education

After getting your high school diploma or GED equivalent, you can continue your education. More and more employers are increasing their educational requirements. If you finished college or another advanced educational program, your secondary school qualifications make no difference to most employers. Completing an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, a skills-based training program, or another type of post-secondary education can make you much more appealing to employers, whether you have a GED certificate or a high school diploma.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you earned a GED certificate or a high school diploma. You can still find jobs with employers willing to hire you if you have the right skills and dedication. It can also help to network with former classmates and mentors. To start searching for jobs in your desired field, create a profile on CareerBuilder so employers can find you. After completing new educational programs, make sure to update your profile to find more relevant positions and advance your career.

Related reading: Jobs you can get with a GED certificate or high school diploma

There are many well-paying jobs that you can get right out of high school or with a GED credential

Working as an administrative assistant is a great way to start your career with a high school diploma or GED equivalent

Here are 20 jobs you can get with a high school diploma

Check out some of the best-paying jobs that don't require a college degree