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The Difference Between a High School Diploma and GED?

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Since the U.S. military developed the GED exam after WWII, there has been two options for people looking to finish high school or prove the equivalency of knowledge. That poses a major question, what is the difference between the two? Many people might think there is no difference and the two terms are synonymous. At first glance they may seem similar but passing the GED and earning a high school diploma are not really perceived to be the same. 

General Education Development (GED)  

The GED, General Educational Development, also known as General Education Diploma, was developed as to be a quick alternative for those without a high school diploma. Individuals will study and take a series of 4 tests to certify their aptitude, knowledge and skills. These 4 test include: 


Reasoning Through Language Arts

Mathematical Reasoning


Social Studies

Time Allowed

150 minutes (including a break)

115 minutes

90 minutes

70 minutes

When passed, individuals will receive a certification verifying that the test taker (American or Canadian) has met high-school academic levels in the four subject areas.

High School Diploma 

To earn a high school diploma, a student typically must pass grade-level English, mathematics, social studies, science and other classes such as foreign language, music, etc. The number of credits students must successfully complete varies by state and district. In many states they require students to pass an end of course test or high school exit exam to earn their diploma. Once completed successfully, students will receive a diploma symbolizing they have earned the proper amount of credits and have passed the required state exams. 


Most people understand what a high school diploma is. Once the student has completed four years of study, they will receive a diploma declaring that they have successfully passed all the required classes and exams. 

A GED is much different. Depending on who you talk to, the GED means different things. Some say it means General Education Diploma or Graduate Equivalency Degree. Although the technical term and definition is General Education Development exam. 

As mentioned above, the GED is a series of tests used to show if you have attained a high school level of education or not. In order to take the GED, the individual must be at least 16 years old and cannot be enrolled in high school. That individual must take the actual GED exam at a physical, certified location. It cannot be taken online. 

The number of people earning their GED has declined significantly over the past couple of years. Studies show roughly 248,000 people took the exam last year. At least 86,000 successfully earned a GED according to preliminary data from GED testing services. That is far below previous year’s numbers: 800,000 test takers and nearly 560,000 GED recipients. 

This is where Smart Schools can help. Students can earn their high school diploma online from a fully accredited online high school program. Smart Schools is an excellent option for students who are leaving the traditional high school for whichever reason, as well as adults who want to complete their high school diploma. This is particularly true for students who are just a few credits from completing their diploma requirements. 

As discussed above, there are many advantages to earning your high school diploma. By completing the work to earn the diploma, students gain knowledge and a sense of achievement that cannot be provided by just taking an exam.