High school diplomas vs. GEDs: Do employers care?

Differences between a high school diploma and GED, find out what really matters to employers.

For most Americans between the ages of five and 18, school is a large part of life. While the traditional path involves moving from elementary school to high school and then deciding what to do next, many students choose a different route.

There are a number of reasons someone may opt to drop out of high school: to help with bills, start a family, or simply because school doesn’t seem like the right option for them at the time. Students who leave before completing high school always have the option to go back and earn their General Educational Development, or GED®.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 8.5 million people over the age of 25 have a GED, which proves that this path may not be as uncommon as you might think. That means more employers have access to a talent pool of job seekers with backgrounds that don't fit the traditional model.

So, what do employers think of job candidates whose resumes include a GED rather than a traditional high school diploma?

How a GED can impact your career

The most important difference here is between having a formal education – high school diploma or GED – and having none. Attaining a high school-level education improves your chances of getting hired, and increases your earning potential.

Having a GED is preferable to no high school degree at all. And in terms of educational qualifications, employers generally consider GEDs and typical diplomas to be equivalent.

“The distinction between a high school diploma and a GED in the eyes of an employer is very negligible. Most employers do not in fact care whether a candidate has a high school diploma or a GED unless there is a relevant reason to,” says Nate Masterson, director of HR for Maple Holistics.

By design, there should be little to no material difference between a GED and a high school diploma – both denote the same level of educational attainment, just by different means. Still, they’re perceived a little differently.

“For companies where rules and protocols are sacred — like banks and the military — then a completed high school diploma demonstrates that you follow the rules and will most likely do the same as an employee,” says Roy Cohen, career counselor, executive coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “For environments and roles that are unstructured and somewhat chaotic — for example, start-up companies or a role that requires an out-of-the-box thinker like a video game developer — a GED may be viewed as an asset. It suggests an ability and a preference to think and work independently.”

Further your education

Getting your GED or high school equivalency also offers you another important benefit: more opportunities for continuing your education. With more and more employers increasing their educational requirements, a GED can be seen as a necessary stepping stone to pursuing higher education.

How you completed high school makes absolutely zero difference to an employer if you went on to college and graduated or completed a skills-based training program,” says Cohen.

You don’t necessarily have to earn a degree to show potential employers you're serious about your education. Taking courses related to your profession or getting relevant certifications can show your commitment to ongoing training and development, which can ultimately mean more to an employer than how you got your diploma.

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