Difference between GED and High School Diploma

January 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

A GED and high school diploma both serve as certification that a certain individual has a certain level of proficiency in high school subjects. While both documents are supposed to be equivalent, there are some stark differences between the two certifications. This article will tackle their similarities and differences.


A sample GED certificate issued by the District of Columbia

An individual receives a GED (General Education Development) certificate after passing four standardized tests in science and mathematics, social studies, reading, and writing. The GED program offers an opportunity to earn a high school equivalency credential to those unable to complete high school. Individuals take computerized GED exams at an official testing center. To qualify for the GED tests, an individual must be at least 16 years old and currently not enrolled in high school. The individual must score an average of at least 145 per exam to earn the certificate.

State and territorial school boards award GED certificates. Many employers and individuals consider the GED less prestigious than a high school diploma. Many colleges and universities also require higher GED scores for applicants as well as the certificate.

high school diploma
A high school diploma from Monroe High School in Alaska

A high school diploma certifies that a student has finished four years of secondary school. Most high schools require science, mathematics, social studies, English, and a choice of electives across grades 9 to 12. Many states also require the student to pass a high school graduation exam during or after grade 10. To gain entry into high school, a student must first complete middle school or junior high school (grades 7 and 8).

High schools typically award high school diplomas in elaborate graduation ceremonies. Many people see high school graduation as a rite of passage for young adults. Along with the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT), the high school diploma forms part of the requirements for college and university admission. Many employers also accept high school diplomas for entry-level jobs.


While they are both certifications of aptitude in practically the same subjects, they differ in their eligibility requirements, the requirements for completion, and the level of acceptance.


To qualify to take the GED examination, an individual must be at least 16 years old and not currently enrolled in any high school. Meanwhile, a student has to complete middle school or junior high school (grades 7 to 8) before gaining admission to high school.


To earn a GED certificate, an individual must get an average score of 145 in the four GED examinations covering science, mathematics, social studies, reading, and writing. In contrast, a high school student must complete grades 9 to 12; these grade levels include science, mathematics, social studies, English, and elective subjects. Many states also require a high school graduation exam.


While the GED is a secondary qualification, it does not hold a lot of prestige among employers and colleges. On the other hand, employers and college admissions offices hold high school diplomas in high regard.

Comparison Chart

GED CertificateHigh School Diploma
Individual must be at least 16 years old and not currently enrolled in high school to take the testStudent has to complete middle school or junior high school to begin working towards it
Individual must earn an average of 145 across four GED examsStudent must successfully complete four years of high school and possibly a graduation exam
Widely accepted but not considered as prestigious as a high school diplomaConsidered to be a rite of passage for adults; highly regarded by employers and colleges


Click on the video below to watch a short documentary about the differences between the GED and high school diploma.