Going to College Without a GED or High School Diploma

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Earning a college degree can lead to many benefits. Graduates often qualify for advanced careers, attain personal satisfaction, and increase their earning potential. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor’s degree-holders earn median weekly salaries about $500 higher than individuals with only a high school diploma. However, learners without a high school diploma may face obstacles when applying for bachelor’s programs.

Many methods exist to enroll in college without a high school diploma or GED certificate. Some schools offer pathways to earn credit and qualify for full enrollment. These institutions make earning a GED diploma achievable through free or affordable test-preparation courses. The following sections detail how prospective students can start college without a GED certificate and advance their education.

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Options for Students Without a GED or High School Diploma

Prospective students planning to attend college without a GED certificate should explore schools with one or more of the following enrollment options. Each option provides learners with opportunities to earn credit and work toward earning a GED certificate. Colleges and universities typically post enrollment policies and pathways online. Prospective students can also contact admissions counselors with questions.

Nontraditional Student Status
Some learners start or continue their college education after a gap in enrollment. Many attend school part time, and these students often earn their degree while working full time and raising children. Colleges and universities may offer these students credit for work experience or military training. Nontraditional learners typically need a high school diploma or passing GED score to receive unconditional admission.
Apply as a Nondegree-Seeking Student
Colleges usually classify learners who are taking courses without declaring a major or pursuing a degree as nondegree-seeking students. These learners typically do not need a high school diploma or passing GED score. Advantages to attending school as a nondegree-seeking student include the ability to explore college courses, enroll in GED-preparation programs, and learn part time. However, these students do not qualify for federal financial aid programs.
Dual/Concurrent Enrollment
Students pursuing dual or concurrent enrollment register at two academic institutions simultaneously. Traditionally, the term refers to students who are earning college credit while in high school. However, the description may also apply to learners taking GED-preparation courses while enrolled in undergraduate courses at another college or university.
Test Out
Some students enrolling in college without a high school diploma skip courses by testing out. To test out, learners may need to complete an interview or a written test. This option typically allows students to save money on their degree and graduate sooner. Not all institutions offer this type of program.
Community College Enrollment
Learners planning to enroll in college without a GED certificate can research local community colleges. These schools may offer GED-preparation courses at little to no cost. Community colleges may also offer low tuition rates and advisors who have extensive experience working with nontraditional learners. After earning an associate degree, many students transfer to a bachelor’s degree-completion program.

Questions About Attending College Without a GED or High School Diploma

  • Q. Can I get a college degree without a high school credential?

    Some community and junior colleges accept credentials other than the GED certificate, such as ACT or SAT scores. However, applicants to four-year schools must possess a high school diploma or pass the GED exam.

  • Q. If I've dropped out and want to return to high school, is the GED exam my only option?

    Public school districts may allow students who are 18 or younger to return to high school and graduate. Generally, prospective college students without a high school diploma who are older than 18 must pass the GED exam.

  • Q. Can I get financial aid if I don't have a GED certificate or high school diploma?

    Although learners without a high school diploma or a GED certificate do not qualify for federal financial aid programs, they can take advantage of free GED-preparation courses.

  • Q. Is it a good idea for students to start a college education without a high school diploma or GED certificate?

    Prospective students can consider beginning college before earning a GED diploma to reduce degree completion time. Learners can also consider specialized programs that help students without a high school or GED diploma develop college readiness skills.

Programs and Organizations Helping Students

  • National Association for College Admission Counseling NACAC connects prospective college students with academic programs nationwide. Individuals can use the advanced search function to find a program in their area. Other resources include a directory of organizations that help nontraditional learners earn a degree.
  • Gateway to College Individuals who dropped out of high school can use this resource to finish their education and prepare for college. Students can use Gateway to College to locate programs from community colleges and begin pursuing their undergraduate degree.
  • Job Corps This federal program helps Americans and permanent residents aged 16-24 prepare for careers. The four-part program emphasizes career exploration, vocational training, and job hunting. Participants work toward achieving 10 career success standards, including communication and interpersonal skills.
  • National Dropout Prevention Center NDPC offers certification programs that train educators and administrators in best practices for dropout prevention. Teachers, including nonmembers, can review the latest research on student retention, such as studies into effective foundational strategies and early interventions.

Earning a GED Certificate

Students attending a four-year college without a high school diploma must typically pass the GED exam. The exam covers language arts, mathematical reasoning, science, and social studies. The following section breaks down each of the test’s parts. Learners should consult the official GED website for details regarding test content.

  • Reasoning Through Language Arts (150 Minutes)

    The longest section, this exam component assesses test-takers’ proficiency in reading, argumentation, and grammar. In addition to answering multiple-choice questions, individuals write an extended response to a prompt. Test-takers have 45 minutes to complete the essay and receive a 10-minute break between the second and third parts of the section.

  • Mathematical Reasoning (115 Minutes)

    This section covers basic math skills, along with skills related to geometry, algebra, graphs, and functions. Individuals complete multiple-choice, drop-down, and fill-in-the-blank questions. Test-takers receive access to a math formula sheet and an on-screen calculator. They may also bring an approved calculator to the test site. Individuals receive a three-minute break between the first and second parts.

  • Science (90 Minutes)

    During the one-part science section, test-takers read for meaning, interpret scientific data, and analyze graphs. Individuals do not need to have memorized scientific theories or formulas to earn a high score. Learners complete various question types and may use a calculator.

  • Social Studies (70 Minutes)

    The social studies section requires test-takers to analyze primary source documents and historical events. They also identify arguments and find patterns in graphs and other data sets. Individuals do not need to have memorized information such as historical individuals or locations. This section tests analytical and reading skills.

How and Where to Take the GED Test

Learners who plan to take the GED test must create an account on the GED website. Individuals can then research local test-preparation centers, download resources, and register for the exam. Account-holders can also locate test centers and sign up for a test date. Test-takers may attempt the entire exam on one day or complete it during four separate sessions.

Individuals take the GED exam at an approved testing center. Test-takers may not have food or drink. They must arrive 15 minutes early and may bring an approved calculator. Unfortunately, some states, such as Indiana, Montana, and Tennessee, do not offer GED testing. Individuals in these areas may take the exam in a bordering state.

Test-takers may attempt a failed section twice with no restrictions on test dates. However, those who fail both retests must wait at least 60 days before any following retakes. This break allows test-takers to review content and complete additional practice tests.

Understanding the GED Score

Each of the GED’s four sections awards a score of 100-200. To pass the GED exam, test-takers must earn a minimum 145 score on each section. Individuals who earn a score of 165 or higher on any section increase their likelihood of attending a top school. Many colleges and universities waive some course requirements for these learners. Institutions may also award up to 10 college credits to students with a score of 175 or above.

Some test-takers may not pass all four sections on their first attempt. Fortunately, learners only need to retake failed sections. A passing score overwrites the original failing score.

GED-Prep Resources

  • Finish Your Diploma This resource links visitors with GED-preparation centers and free courses. Users input their zip code to discover local opportunities. Other resources include a detailed question-and-answer section.
  • GED Individuals pursuing a GED certificate begin by visiting the official website. Users create an account, sign up for the test, and purchase study guides and other materials. Visitors can also access career assessments and job guides.
  • Kaplan Test Prep Kaplan offers courses for learners who need individualized, one-on-one assistance. Kaplan's GED Live program delivers live virtual sessions at an affordable price. Individuals can also choose a self-paced program with recorded lessons.
  • Khan Academy Khan Academy provides instructional videos designed for test-takers who need to focus on specific subjects, such as basic algebra or geometry. Videos also cover topics related to language arts, the sciences, and social studies.
  • Magoosh GED Blog Magoosh publishes blog posts on the GED's four sections, along with study tips. Other articles explore test-preparation books and resources. Visitors must create a Magoosh account to access content.
  • Test Prep Toolkit This resource features guides for various standardized tests, including the GED exam. The free study guide covers typical questions, time requirements, and links to practice tests.
  • Union Test Prep Union Test Prep offers users free GED practice tests, study guides, and flash cards. Additional resources include a detailed guide on earning the GED diploma and answers to common questions.

Portrait of Thomas Broderick

Thomas Broderick

Thomas Broderick is a freelance writer and the owner of Broderick Writer LLC. He creates study guides, informational websites, and blog posts for clients in the education field. Thomas is also a published author of over 20 short stories and a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

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