Online High School Diploma vs. GED: The Ultimate Guide

Posted on March 03 2020

Student sits at a table working on a laptop.

Educational credentials play an important role in career growth. If you weren’t able to earn a high school diploma, it’s never too late to earn your high school credentials. You may have been forced to leave high school to help with the financial or medical needs of a family member, or perhaps you left high school to pursue an athletic, musical, or an artistic job opportunity. Whatever the case may be, you have two options to prove your academic ability: You can take the General Educational Development (GED) exam or earn an online high school diploma. Both options work toward the same end — to help you become more prepared for life and more competitive in the workplace.

However, there are differences between earning an online high school diploma and a GED certificate. When considering the differences, it’s important to understand who’s eligible to receive a GED versus who’s eligible to earn an online high school diploma. It’s also important to address how a GED or an online high school diploma will affect future educational and professional prospects. If you’re vacillating between taking the GED exam or earning your high school diploma through a virtual high school, here are some considerations that may help you to make a decision.


Who Can Earn an Online High School Diploma or a GED?

It’s important to understand who can earn an online high school diploma versus a GED, because different requirements contribute to the process of earning these high school credentials, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The GED exam is a series of tests created and administered by the GED Testing Service (GEDTS). GEDTS determines the procedures and standards of the tests. However, local jurisdictions award the high school credential to individuals who pass the exam. To take the GED exam, you must meet state requirements and be at least 16 years old. GED test-takers can’t currently be enrolled in high school and can’t be high school graduates.

Individuals who didn’t complete high school can also earn an online high school diploma. This high school credential is available for all, regardless of age or personal circumstances. Whether you’re high school age or a working professional with a family of your own, if your circumstances prevent you from attending a traditional school, an online high school program may be the most accommodating solution.


Differences: Online High School Diploma and GED Diploma

While either earning an online high school diploma or taking the GED exam can benefit individuals in their future endeavors, it’s important to understand the process that goes into earning each. Taking and passing the GED exam is a process that consists of rigorous preparation. Depending on an individual’s education, it can take 3-8 months to study for the exam. U.S. News explains how the GED exam itself is a battery of tests that demonstrates knowledge of five academic subjects: mathematics, social studies, reading, science, and writing. To pass the GED exam, you must receive a score that’s higher than 60% of the scores of current graduating seniors. 

Meanwhile, as Forbes discusses the benefits of online education, earning an online high school diploma requires completing a certain amount of credited units. Different online programs will offer different types of courses and have various requirements for academic achievement. Similar to traditional high school, online programs require you to take specific courses in order to graduate, but the amount of courses you take at one time is up to you. Opting to focus on one or two courses may be more manageable, especially for students who have been out of school for a longer period of time.


Continuing on to College

Individuals who take the GED or earn an online high school diploma can further their education by attending a college or university. Almost all community colleges and four-year institutions will accept either a GED or a high school diploma. Ultimately, many factors influence a student’s acceptance to a four-year college or university, including educational accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and standardized test scores. However, high school diplomas include a GPA, which may give you more of a competitive edge during the application process. 

Students who earn an online high school diploma may also be better prepared for the academic rigor of college. Since an online high school requires more academic work and participation than taking the GED exam, students are more familiar with completing academic coursework.

Earning a high school diploma can also be advantageous for those interested in joining the military. The military considers a GED as Tier 2 education and limits the percentage of Tier 2 candidates accepted in any enlistment year.


Future Employment 

In today’s competitive environment, employers are looking for people who know how to work hard and overcome challenges — a skill demonstrated by taking the GED exam or earning an online high school diploma. In addition, many job opportunities have specific educational requirements for, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If given a choice, employers may choose someone with more educational credentials. Because of the preference for applicants with formal academic degrees, someone with a GED diploma may be at a disadvantage in the job application process. However, this can be offset by continuing on to college, where high school credentials become less of an issue.


Choosing Between the GED or Online High School Diploma

Whether you decide to go with a GED or an online high school diploma, it’s important that you use the credential as another steppingstone to further education. This will show potential employers that you have your eyes set on a goal and that you’re willing to follow through with the tasks set before you. 

While you consider the differences between an online high school diploma and the GED, remember that by working toward and achieving your educational goals, you can expand your career horizons. 



Forbes, “Education as a Benefit: More Companies Support Degree Pathways” 

Forbes, Online Education: From Good To Better To Best? 

National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics

The Hechinger Report, “GED and Other High School Equivalency Degrees Drop by More Than 40% Nationwide Since 2012”  

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Education Level and Jobs: Opportunities by State”