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    What is a GED?

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: June 25th, 2024
    What is a GED?

    If you didn’t graduate from high school, you can still earn an academic equivalent by getting your GED. The GED is a substitute for a high school diploma, and can be earned by passing a series of exams. Many individuals who don’t complete high school choose to obtain their GED as a way to further their educational and professional opportunities. 

    What exactly is a GED?

    The GED (General Educational Development) is a credential earned by passing the GED Test. This test is designed to evaluate if students possess the academic skills equivalent to those of graduating high school seniors. 

    The GED Test is composed of four separate exams, each one focusing on a different academic area. The GED Test includes the following subjects:

    • Reasoning Through Language Arts
    • Mathematical Reasoning
    • Social Studies 
    • Science

    Those who pass the GED Test earn a GED credential. This credential, awarded in the form of a diploma or certificate, is equivalent to a high school diploma. 

    Is the GED actually the same as a high school diploma?

    On paper, yes, a GED credential is the academic equivalent to a high school diploma. GED holders and high school graduates possess the same academic knowledge, but not necessarily the same experience. Those who earn their GED do so after dropping out of high school, while high school graduates finish their schooling and obtain a diploma. Below, we’ll discuss the educational and professional opportunities available to GED holders. 

    What options do I have with a GED?

    If you didn’t earn a high school diploma, obtaining a GED credential is an important way to expand your educational and professional opportunities. Keep in mind, though, that some colleges and employers may not necessarily view GED holders the same as high school graduates.  

    Read more: College admissions guide for low test takers


    If you’re looking to continue your education and go to college, the GED can be listed on your application as a substitute for a high school diploma. According to the GED Testing Service, more than 98 percent of colleges and universities in the U.S. accept the GED in lieu of a high school diploma. 

    However, some colleges may view GED holders differently than high school graduates. Even though a GED credential is the academic equivalent of a high school diploma, unfortunately sometimes the GED is perceived as a shortcut to completing four years of high school. 

    To demonstrate your academic commitment when applying to college with a GED credential, it’s important to have a well-rounded application. This means that your application may include:

    • A good score on the GED
    • A high SAT or ACT score (If required)
    • Extracurricular activities
    • A strong essay (If required)

    Depending on the context of your individual situation, you may choose to talk about your experience getting a GED in your personal statement or in the context of an interview. 

    See also: Top Scholarships for Nontraditional Students


    The GED is also a great option if you’d like to immediately enter the workforce. Most employers view the GED as equivalent to a high school diploma. This means you shouldn’t have trouble applying for jobs that require a high school diploma or equivalent, as long as you have the necessary skills and experience for the position. You also have the potential to earn a higher wage with a GED. 

    As to how employers view GED holders compared to high school graduates, it can vary based on the company. For workplaces where rules and protocols are very important, such as banks and the military, a completed high school diploma may be viewed as an indicator of an individual’s ability to follow rules. However, for startup companies and creative job positions such as video game developers, a GED may be viewed as an asset. 

    How to get your GED


    To be eligible to take the GED test, you cannot be enrolled in high school. In addition, you must be at least 18 years old. However, some states allow students to take the GED at age 16 or 17. Check your local requirements to see if you’re eligible to take the exam.

    Preparing for the test

    It’s important to prepare for the GED so that you know what to expect when it’s time to take your exam. 

    How long should you study

    On average, it takes about three months to prepare for the GED according to the GED Testing Service. However, this varies based on skill level and education. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available to help you get ready to take the GED. 

    Practice tests

    Taking a practice test is a great first step when preparing for the GED exam. GED Testing Service offers the official GED practice test, which is $6 per subject. This test is written and designed by the creators of the actual exam. Therefore, it will give you a good indicator of how likely you are to pass the real test. GED Testing Service also provides free sample tests, which are less in-depth but will still give you an idea of what to expect. 

    Other study options

    Once you’ve taken a practice test, it’s time to study. By now, you should have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses and what you should focus on for the test. Plenty of GED study materials are available online. For instance: 

    • GED Live offers access to online prep classes in all four test subjects for $129
    • GED Flash offers thousands of interactive practice questions on all four subjects for $25
    • Hire a test prep tutor to help you study. There may also be community-based organizations that offer free test prep support.

    There are also a variety of free study materials available. Online search phrases such as “free GED resources” or “free GED practice” should turn up hundreds of potential resources. If you’d prefer to take an in-person class to prepare for the test, many community colleges offer GED prep courses. Visit GED Testing Service to find a GED prep center near you.

    Scheduling your test

    Once you feel like you’re prepared to take the GED, schedule your test with GED Testing Service. The cost of taking the exam varies by state, but the average cost of all four tests is around $120. You can schedule your exams one at a time, or you can take all four at once. The GED can be taken in person at an approved testing location, or online in the majority of states

    What happens if you don’t pass?

    It is possible to take the GED and pass or fail only part of it. If you don’t pass one of your GED test subjects, you are given two retests with no restrictions between retakes. However, if you fail the third or any subsequent GED retest, you’ll have to wait 60 days until retesting again. You should note that individual states may have other requirements for retesting which you can find here.

    Is the GED worth it?

    The GED is absolutely worth pursuing if you didn’t finish high school and you’re looking to expand your educational and professional opportunities. Having a GED credential can be your ticket to college, or the route to a higher paying job. Even though some colleges and employers may perceive GED holders differently than high school graduates, don’t let this stop you. Remember, the majority of colleges and employers accept GED holders, so it definitely can open doors.

    Keep on reading: ACT vs. SAT: How to decide which test to take

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • The GED is an academic equivalent to a high school diploma
    • While each state may vary, individuals generally need to be at least 18 years of age and not enrolled in a high school in order to complete their GED
    • The GED is broken into four separate tests, which means it is possible to pass some parts and not others, however, students can retake certain sections of the test as they study and prepare for them
    • There are lots of study materials available for the GED, which means if it is something you are thinking about completing, you should have plenty of resources to start your test prep 

    Frequently asked questions about the GED

    Is it hard to pass the GED test?

    How difficult the GED feels is relative to how much you study before taking it. For adults who may be far removed from high school, the GED may feel like a lot to take on. However, for students who may be choosing to go back to get their GED after leaving highschool, and are not so far removed from high school age, the test may feel easier.

    What is the difference between the SAT and the GED?

    The GED is designed to test an individual’s ability to demonstrate the same academic abilities as someone who holds a high school diploma. The SAT is designed to be a test for colleges to evaluate students’ college readiness level. If you are planning to attend college, you should check to see what their SAT and ACT test policies are for students that hold GEDs.

    Do employers look down on GEDs?

    How an employer views your GED will depend on who the employer is and the job that they are hiring you for. Remember that in addition to education, your experience will also be an important part of a resume as you look for jobs. After earning your GED, you will also have the necessary credentials to move on to degree or certificate programs at colleges and universities.

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