Can You Go to College Without a GED or High School Diploma? Yes — Here’s How

Thomas Broderick
Updated January 4, 2024
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In order to get into college, you’ll typically need either a high school diploma or a passing score on the GED test. Many colleges accept other high school equivalency tests as well.

But what if you don’t have any of these credentials? Can you go to college without a GED certificate or high school diploma?

The answer is yes!

Many accredited colleges, including many online schools, don’t require a high school or GED diploma to enroll in classes. Some even help students pass the GED exam while enrolled, allowing them to jumpstart their degree or certificate program.

Discover how you can attend college without a high school or GED diploma today.

Did You Know?

  • check-circleAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those without a high school diploma earn, on average, $275 less per week than those with some college.
  • check-circlePeople without a high school diploma can expect higher unemployment rates.
  • check-circle98% of colleges accept applicants with GED diplomas, according to the GED Testing Service.
  • check-circleOver 20 million students around the world have earned a GED certificate.

5 Ways to Attend College Without a High School Diploma or GED Certificate

Not all accredited U.S. colleges require you to have a high school or GED diploma. If you don’t have either of these credentials, you can get a college education by enrolling in individual classes, vocational programs, or adult high school before applying to a degree program.

Here are five moves you can make if you want to attend college without a GED certificate or high school diploma.

  1. 1

    Find Colleges Without High School Diploma or GED Test Requirements

    Colleges that don’t require a high school diploma or GED certificate often follow a multistep application process. For example, you may need to speak to an admissions officer, submit high school transcripts, or take an ability-to-benefit test like ACCUPLACER.

    College applicants without a diploma should primarily focus on accredited local community colleges and vocational schools. These institutions cater to prospective students who need to pass the GED test or take remedial courses.

  2. 2

    Take Individual Classes

    Many junior and community colleges allow students to enroll in individual classes, usually for personal enrichment or professional development.

    Students without a high school diploma can also enroll in a GED preparation course. These courses emphasize the writing, math, and reading skills tested on the GED exam.

    Some colleges that don’t require a high school diploma allow you to earn college credit as you prepare for the GED test. This, however, means that the school may limit which courses you can take.

  3. 3

    Attend a Vocational School

    Trade and vocational schools focus on career development, offering career-specific majors like automotive technician, business office administration, and electrician technician.

    These programs prioritize hands-on learning and normally take one or fewer years to complete.

    You’ll usually need a GED certificate or high school diploma to enroll, but you might be able to find a trade school that requires neither or will help prepare you to pass the GED exam.

  4. 4

    Enroll in Adult High School

    Many private organizations and school districts offer adult high school, where nontraditional students learn in a classroom setting with other adult learners.

    Some programs offer night and weekend courses for adults working full time. Participants who meet their school’s education requirements will receive a high school diploma upon completion. School districts normally limit enrollment to residents and do not charge a fee.

    Similar programs include free GED test preparation courses and adult basic education courses. The latter may charge tuition.

    Once you earn a diploma through adult high school, you can use the credential to apply to an associate or bachelor’s degree program at any accredited college or university.

  5. 5

    Pass the GED Exam or Another High School Equivalency Test

    Many accredited colleges allow you to enroll as long as you pass a high school equivalency test, like the GED test or HiSET exam.

    You must submit official scores with your application. Some schools may use a score cutoff for admission or enrollment in specific programs.

    If you don’t meet a school’s cutoff, you may still receive conditional admission. This means you must maintain good grades for a specific period while taking remedial courses. Once you do that, you’ll receive full admission to the college.

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How to Get Your GED Certificate

Although you may be able to find options for attending an accredited college without a high school or GED diploma, you’ll have more options for higher ed with a GED certificate under your belt.

Here’s a brief look at what you should know about the GED test.

starWhat Does the GED Test Entail?

The GED exam is a combination of four subject tests. You must pay to take each test, and fees vary depending on the state you’re in.

You can space out the four exams however you want — you’re not required to take them all at once.

GED Exam Structure
SubjectTimeTopics Tested
Mathematical Reasoning1 hr 55 minsBasic Math, Geometry, Basic Algebra, Graphs and Functions
Reasoning Through Language Arts2 hrs 30 minsReading for Meaning, Identifying and Creating Arguments, Grammar and Language
Social Studies1 hr 10 minsReading for Meaning, Analyzing Historical Events and Arguments, Using Numbers and Graphs
Science1 hr 30 minsReading for Meaning, Designing and Interpreting Science Experiments, Using Numbers and Graphics

Source:GED Testing Service

In order to earn a GED certificate, you must score a minimum of 145 out of 200 on all four tests. Those who earn a 175 or higher could get 10 undergraduate college credit hours to apply toward their college degree.

starHow Do You Register for the GED Test?

You can register for the GED test online through the GED Testing Service website. Simply make an account, log in, choose the GED tests you want to take, and select a date and time.

You’ll also get to decide whether you want to take the tests in person at a testing center or at home with an online proctor.

Testing accommodations are available to those with documented disabilities.

GED Test Prep Resources

The official site for the GED exam offers various resources, including practice tests and online and in-person GED prep classes.
The famous test prep company provides a wealth of GED resources, such as prep books and online prep classes.
This site offers plenty of free and easy-to-use GED practice tests for each exam subject.

Resources for Students Who Didn’t Finish High School

This site provides students who did not finish high school with academic and career services. Other resources include tutors available 24/7 and free online learning technology.
This organization offers resources to unemployed Americans ages 16-24. You’ll receive free education, counseling, and training in the construction industry. The construction training involves building homes for low-income residents.

Frequently Asked Questions About Attending College With No GED or High School Diploma

question-mark-circleCan I go to college without a high school or GED diploma?

There are many no-GED diploma colleges throughout the country. These schools allow you to take single courses and register for a GED preparation program. You may also be able to take the GED exam or another high school equivalency test on campus.

Passing the GED exam or another high school equivalency test allows you to enroll in most certificate and degree programs in the U.S.

question-mark-circleWhat are the college admission requirements if I don’t have a high school or GED diploma?

Some colleges use special enrollment processes for applicants without a high school or GED diploma. These steps often include submitting an application and taking a skills assessment.

Like the GED test, the skills assessment measures basic academic knowledge. You’ll likely also need to fill out the FAFSA.

Note that you may not qualify for some forms of financial aid until you pass the GED exam or another high school equivalency test.

question-mark-circleWhat degrees or certificates can I get without a high school diploma?

Colleges that don’t require a high school diploma or GED certificate can still offer many academic programs, many of which lead to certificates instead of degrees. These may include skilled trades like cosmetology, HVAC maintenance, and massage therapy.

question-mark-circleAm I eligible for financial aid if I don’t have a high school diploma?

Only high school graduates and students who pass a high school equivalency test can qualify for federal financial aid. However, students without a diploma or GED certificate may still receive institutional aid.

First-year students should speak with a financial aid advisor to review their options. Private financial aid can help you pay for a GED preparation course as well as your degree.

question-mark-circleWhat can I do if I was homeschooled and didn’t receive a traditional high school diploma or GED certificate?

If you were homeschooled, you still have several options when it comes to applying to college.

A parent, guardian, or teacher must create a unique transcript and diploma based on your schoolwork to prove your education met federal and state law requirements. Work closely with the college’s admissions office to ensure you are providing all necessary documentation for the admissions process.

This should also make you eligible for federal financial aid.

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