Going to College Without a GED or High School Diploma

Students without a GED or high school diploma can still attend college. Here, we outline options for students to attend college without a GED.

September 27, 2021

Going to College Without a GED or High School Diploma

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Contrary to popular belief, going to college without a GED or high school diploma is possible. Learners in this position only qualify for acceptance at a few colleges, so finding the right school may pose a challenge. With research and effort, these individuals can achieve their academic goals.

This guide answers frequently asked questions on this topic. The following sections outline exactly how to get a college degree without a high school credential. This page also features links to helpful programs and organizations.

Can I Get a College Degree Without a High School Credential?

Yes, you can go to college without a high school diploma. Students without a high school diploma should consider taking the GED test. Most accredited schools require either a GED credential or a high school diploma.

GED stands for General Educational Development. The GED includes four exams covering math, social studies, science, and language arts. The math and language sections focus on reasoning. Test-takers complete all four in about 7.5 hours, usually over multiple sittings. GED applicants should take practice tests before attempting the exams.

If I've Dropped Out and Want to Return to High School, Is the GED Exam My Only Option?

Passing the GED test proves the individual understands the topics covered in high school. However, going to college without a GED is also possible. To employers, the GED credential is equivalent to a high school diploma. While most colleges accept GED credentials, not every school holds a GED credential in the same regard as a high school diploma.

Learners seeking acceptance at more schools should pursue a high school diploma. Public school districts and private schools set their own requirements for reenrollment. For example, learners older than 18 typically can not attend school in person with minors. Many online high schools provide diploma-completion programs for adults.

Can I Get Financial Aid If I Don't Have a GED Certificate or High School Diploma?

To receive federal student aid, applicants need a high school diploma or an equivalent credential. The GED is the most commonly recognized equivalent. Individuals who complete a state-approved home-school program also qualify for funds.

Additionally, participants in an ability-to-benefit program may qualify for aid. Only students who enrolled in a college or career school prior to July 1, 2012, can earn aid this way. Most colleges and universities allow students to take an ability-to-benefit exam. Ability-to-benefit students may also receive aid after completing six credits.

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Options for Students Without a GED or High School Diploma

Some schools accept applicants without a high school diploma or GED credential. Institutions may accept these learners as non-degree-seeking students. Other schools require an alternative placement exam. This section explores options for going to college without a GED credential.

How and Where to Take the GED Test

Applicants can locate the nearest testing center through the online lookup tool from the GED Testing Service. Learners can also take the test in an online proctored format. Individuals should study for the exams before registering to take the GED test.

GED test-takers must typically be at least 18 years old. However, individuals as young as 16 may take the exams with permission from their school district.

Most individuals do not complete all four GED exams in one sitting. Test-takers receive results 3-24 hours after completing the test. However, learners should take the GED several weeks before applying to college.

Earning a GED Certificate

Earning a GED credential can be a challenging but rewarding process. Learners can retake the test multiple times. For each area exam, learners can immediately take the test two more times. After a third failed attempt, the individual must wait 60 days to retake the exam. This section covers the four area exams.

  1. Reasoning Through Language Arts (150 Minutes)

    This exam tests reading and writing skills. Test-takers must read for meaning and comprehension. They also identify and create arguments through a written essay. The language arts exam features multiple-choice questions on grammar and language. The exam begins with a three-minute instruction period. A 10-minute break precedes the third and final section. Learners have 150 minutes to complete the exam, including 45 minutes to write the essay.
  2. Mathematical Reasoning (115 Minutes)

    This exam requires basic math skills. The questions also cover advanced high school math topics. Subjects include geometry and algebra. Test-takers interpret graphs and demonstrate knowledge of common math functions. They can use a math formula sheet and an on-screen calculator. The exam comprises two sections with a three-minute break. The test begins with a two-minute instruction period.
  3. Science (90 Minutes)

    The science exam tests the ability to interpret findings. Some questions require students to read graphs displaying scientific information. Learners can use an on-screen calculator but must have basic math skills. The science exam includes only one section and takes 90 minutes to complete. The exam features multiple-choice and short-answer questions. Some questions feature unique formats, such as drag and drop.
  4. Social Studies (70 Minutes)

    The shortest of the four GED exams, the social studies exam does not include a break. Learners do not need to memorize historical facts. Questions require individuals to analyze past events. Test-takers also answer questions about the implications of modern events. Most questions are multiple choice. The social studies exam includes no essays or short-answer questions. Test-takers also read graphs and charts.

Understanding the GED Score

Most individuals receive GED test results in a few hours. Test-takers earn a score of 100-200 on each section. A passing score is higher than 145. Those who earn at least 170 on each exam receive a GED honors certificate. A GED score of 165-174 indicates college readiness. Scores above 175 earn a GED College Ready+ credit.

GED Testing Services provides an online lookup tool to help individuals find schools that accept the GED credential.

Programs and Organizations for College Students

This directory provides information about college access programs throughout the country. College access programs help learners with low grades apply for college. These programs also assist first-generation high school students and underserved students. Students who want to attend college without a high school diploma can contact this organization. Gateway to College helps individuals who have dropped out of high school earn diplomas. Participants complete college-based programs. This organization helps students avoid dropping out of high school. Individuals receive assistance from specially trained staff. Mentors help students hone academic and life skills. This organization offers free career training and education. The Job Corps program prepares students to enter high-growth industries. Participants receive help completing a high school diploma or a GED certificate. This website helps students find free courses to complete their high school diplomas. The organization provides a list of test preparation centers throughout the country. Learners can contact a representative for help selecting resources. This site offers GED study tools. Users complete practice questions and watch informative videos. The website also features information about the GED exam formats.

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