Yes, you can go to college with a GED. The GED Testing Service claims that over 60% of recent GED recipients are currently enrolled in college, and over 97% of all colleges and employers accept a GED.
But this is bigger than a yes or no question. Doing the bare minimum is rarely enough, and there’s a lot more you should consider.
What kinds of colleges can you get into?
Can you still get financial aid with a GED?
What does the application process look like when you don’t have a GPA?
What else do colleges look at besides your GED or diploma?
A GED is not the same as a high school diploma—so do colleges treat them differently?
If a GED is your best shot at going to college, these are things you probably want to know, too. Let’s start with the difference between a GED and a high school diploma.
What makes a GED different than a regular diploma?
As you’re probably aware, the way you earn a General Educational Development (GED) credential is pretty different from how you earn a high school diploma. Through a 7.5 hour test, the GED gives you the academic equivalent of a high school diploma—an achievement that takes four years.
The GED test is only available to people who don’t have a high school diploma and aren’t currently enrolled in a high school. That means 100% of GED recipients didn’t complete high school. There are valid reasons why someone might drop out of high school, but a GED may require admissions offices to take a closer look at your application—which they may not be willing to do if they have thousands of applications to sort through.
It’s not that a GED is a bad thing. But it only gives you the academic equivalent of a high school diploma.
An academic equivalent may not be enough
Comparing a GED to a high school diploma is like this: say you order the same meal at two different restaurants. They’re both delicious, and they have similar nutritional value and ingredients—but one of them comes with side dishes and the other doesn’t. A high school diploma comes with side dishes. It shows admissions offices that you have the discipline and commitment to persevere through four or more years of school. It can also show that you’re competent in more specific subjects because they can see the classes you took.
And while you can earn your GED in 7.5 hours (plus study time), the average high school student spends more than 1,000 hours in class every year. In college, you’re going to spend a lot of time studying and a lot of time in class. So if you work in an admissions office and these two credentials are all you have to compare, which do you think is going to give you a better idea of who can handle college?
I don’t say that to discourage you. But if you have a GED—and especially if you barely passed—you’re going to need some good side dishes to make your application stand out. A steady job or consistent volunteer work, for example, could help offset negative perceptions about your ability to follow through with school. Every college application essay is a chance to tell your story and share why the path you took wasn’t “the easy way out.”
That said, a strong score on the GED test—say between 170 and 200 on all sections—should give you an edge over some people with high school diplomas. A score in this range could (and perhaps should) be considered more than academically equivalent to the average diploma.
How does my GED score compare to a GPA?
The challenge for admissions offices is that it’s kind of like saying, “This is a good apple. And this an OK orange. Which is better?” I know that’s my second food metaphor but bear with me. Your GED score doesn’t translate to a high school GPA. The makers of the test won’t even attempt to suggest an equivalent—because GPA standards vary so much school to school.
But there’s still a way to kind of gauge where you’re at.
The GED Testing Service uses a random sample of graduating high school seniors to develop a baseline for the test. So your score report shows the percent of graduates that you outperformed. And you have to score higher than 60% of graduating seniors just to pass.
As a purely academic credential, the GED should theoretically be just as valuable as a diploma. The updated GED even tests you on the same academic criteria as most U.S. high schools. And whatever you believe about standardized tests and their ability to actually measure knowledge, the reality is that you’re probably going to take a lot of them in college.
Just make sure you supplement your GED with extracurricular activities that fill in the gaps.
Colleges that accept students with GEDs
The GED Testing Service says most colleges accept GEDs, but it can be hard to know where to start. And like anyone else who applies to college, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one application. With a GED, you’re probably going to have a little bit harder time getting accepted. The more competitive the school, the more you’ll have to compensate for the holes in your application. So don’t just apply to one school.
Keep in mind that a GED may not be all you’ll need, either. If you want to go to a four-year college or university, you’ll need to take either the SAT or ACT as well.
Here are some of your options to get started:
Any community college, junior college, or technical college
Most community colleges, junior colleges, and technical colleges are “open enrollment.” That means you don’t need a GED or high school diploma to get in. You just have to be at least 18 and fill out an application. Even if a bachelor’s degree is your goal, going to a community college can do several things:
- Get general course requirements out of the way (probably for less money)
- Demonstrate your ability to handle the commitment of college-level classes
- Earn specialized academic credentials like an AA degree or a certificate
- Give you new employment opportunities
Most community colleges don’t offer bachelor’s degrees (although some states are starting to). But that shouldn’t stop you from taking advantage of this opportunity. You could start working on your degree right now. A two year degree from an accredited school can bump your application ahead—especially if you earned a strong GPA to compliment your GED scores.
Online colleges that accept GEDs
If you don’t know what to look for, applying to online schools can be risky. There are a lot of legitimate colleges and universities that offer online degrees—but there are also a ton of frauds. The secret to knowing the difference is accreditation, which basically means making sure that a reputable organization gave them the thumbs up. Any school that suggests you can buy a degree is definitely fake.
Good online degrees won’t be much different than what you’d get on-campus. (And nobody will know you got it online.) The standards shouldn’t be any different than what the school expects from on-campus students, but there are a couple of reasons it could be the best fit for you. Like if you dropped out of high school because:
- You struggled with a traditional classroom environment
- You had other commitments, which you still have
I would caution against an online school if you dropped out because you didn’t have the support you needed to succeed in high school. Good online programs give you a personal advisor and have accessible faculty, but without a lot of personal motivation, it’d be extremely easy to run into those same problems again.
If online school is in the cards for you, we have a handy list of the best online schools in the country. For those who already know what you want to study, you can search through our lists of top online degree programs, too.
Here are a few online degree programs that definitely accept students with GEDs:
Traditional colleges and universities
If you’ve set your sights on attending a four-year college and enjoying the traditional on-campus experience, a GED can still get you there. Whether you’re thinking about a public school, private school, or you don’t care, you’ve got plenty of options.
Since not every school will treat the GED the same as a diploma, I’d recommend you focus your efforts on schools that specifically mention GEDs in the application requirements. Note that some schools require you to earn a specific high school equivalency diploma—that means you have to pass the GED in that state to be eligible. So if you’re looking for a traditional college experience, it’s probably safest to start with schools in your state.
Here are some schools that accept GEDs from any state:
- Arizona State University
- University of Florida
- New York University
- Penn State University
- University of Texas
There are a lot more, but be sure you do your research before you get your heart set on a school.
Is the admissions process different with a GED?
In most ways, your application will be pretty similar to that of someone who has a high school diploma. We already touched on the biggest way it will be different: your GED score doesn’t translate to a GPA. Every school handles GEDs a little bit differently, but it should just be a matter of submitting your official scores. Some schools may have you fill out a separate application form, and others won’t.
You’ll probably still need to submit your high school transcript, even if you only went to high school for a year. This is the same for any other applicant. Other than that, you’ll just need to provide SAT or ACT scores and anything else they ask for.
Can you still get financial aid with a GED?
Absolutely. With a GED, you’re still eligible for federal financial aid like grants and loans, and there are a ton of scholarships you can apply for. In fact, odds are that you’re a “nontraditional student,” which could mean you’re eligible for some unique scholarship opportunities.
To find out what you’re eligible for, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is how the federal government determines how much help you need and connects you to the government financial aid programs you can apply for.
You might even be eligible for scholarships from the colleges you apply to. When you apply to a school, take a quick peek at their financial aid section.
If you want to know more about the types of financial aid, we can give you a quick rundown here.
Do employers see a GED differently than a diploma?
If you graduate from college with a degree, an employer probably isn’t going to care (or even know) if you had a high school diploma or GED. They may not even care very much about your degree if the position doesn’t require it. Employers should be most interested in whether or not you have the skills, knowledge, or experience necessary to succeed in the role you applied for.
But suppose you don’t finish college, or you want a job while you’re in school.
The GED is more relevant to the workforce than it used to be. But the test has been around for more than 70 years, and its most recent update was in 2014. You shouldn’t assume that a potential employer is familiar with the update, or that they’ll see the GED the same way you do. Unfortunately, most employers probably have no idea it’s changed, and some are bound to have a negative perception of it.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise to you though—remember what we were saying about side dishes? For an employer, the side dishes (work experience, volunteer experience, etc.) might even be more important than the main course—the academic equivalent. They want to know they can count on you, and dropping out of high school isn’t a good sign of that.
I would recommend that you assume employers have the lowest opinion of the GED and that you prepare to give the best explanation of its merits. That way you won’t be caught off guard, and hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that they don’t care, or they see it as equivalent to a diploma.
Ultimately, the GED is a legitimate path to college and a career, but it’s up to you to decide if it’s the right path for you. If you want to brush up on how the GED works, what the test is like, and how you can prepare for it, here’s everything you need to know.