How to Find a College That Doesn’t Require the GED or High School Diploma

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Kevin N. Ladd Chief Operating Office & Vice President of Scholarships.com Read bio

Dropping out of high school may sound like it’s the end of the education road, but it’s never too late to get back on track. Even if you don’t have a diploma or your GED, there are still alternatives available if you’re interested in pursuing a college education. Learn more about your options, including how to get your GED.

FAQs

States and individual colleges control requirements for admission, so the answer to this question isn’t straightforward. Kevin N. Ladd, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Scholarships.com, says most public universities as well as private colleges will require a high school diploma or equivalent, but notes there are some exceptions such as community college and trade school.

While most four-year universities require a diploma or equivalent to enroll in a degree program, many community colleges have become more flexible in their admission requirements. In some states, such as California, students without a diploma or GED need to be 18 years old to be admitted. Ladd adds, however, “You’ll probably need to take some sort of placement test and/or remedial courses so that the institution knows which courses you’ll be able to successfully complete.” Evidence of academic achievements through alternate studies, projects and reading lists is also considered. Many colleges also assess students’ abilities and previous accomplishments through essays or personal statements and recommendations from teachers and/or professional colleagues. Finally, students likely will be required to submit standardized test scores from the SAT or ACT. Although commonly taken in high school, these tests are also open to adults.

Ability to Benefit, or ATB, allows students who didn’t receive a high school diploma or its equivalent to be eligible for Title IV financial aid if they successfully complete a series of alternative requirements and government-approved tests. The ATB provision was cut in 2012, but was revised and reopened in 2015.

Basic eligibility requirements for federal financial aid – such as Pell Grants, federal student loans and work study – state students must have either a GED or high school diploma, or have been homeschooled at the time of finishing high school coursework. However, the U.S. Department of Education amended the Ability to Benefit provision in 2015, making it possible for some students to qualify for federal financial aid if they:

  • Enroll in a career pathways program that receives Title IV funding

  • Pass an approved Ability to Benefit exam administered via the DOE

  • Complete six credits or equivalent coursework that count toward a degree or certificate program

Federal aid is not the only available option, though – students without a diploma or GED may still be eligible for grants or scholarships through private organizations, foundations or an institution, and working professionals may be able to receive tuition reimbursement via their employer.

The Home School Legal Defense Association asserts that most homeschool programs, although unaccredited, are considered valid under state law and as such are able to issue the equivalent of high school diplomas. Traditionally these documents come from high school program administrators within public and private schools, but for a homeschooler the document typically comes from parents or guardians. The U.S. Department of Education, alongside public and private institutions, recognizes this document as on par with traditional diplomas.

Many colleges accept students who have completed a GED in lieu of a high school diploma. Schools with “open enrollment” require applicants have one or the other, while many adult education programs don’t list high school diplomas as an admission requirement. Schools with such policies look at prospective students’ life experiences to determine if they are prepared for the rigors of college.

College Options if You Don’t Have a High School Credential

People without a high school credential still have a path to college, with different states offering different avenues for students who are ready to return to school. Take a look at the options available when it comes to taking the next step into higher education.

Programs & Organizations for High School Dropouts

There’s no single reason why students struggle to finish high school – some face life events that prevent them from completing their studies, while others realize the conventional high school model of learning doesn’t work for them. No matter the reason, the programs and organizations highlighted below focus on reducing the number of dropouts, as well as helping those who have find ways to achieve their higher education goals.

Gateway to College

With a focus on serving 16- to 24-year-olds who haven’t excelled in a traditional high school environment, Gateway to College provides community-based initiatives to help dropouts gain high school diplomas or GEDs. Advocacy efforts aimed at improving policy and learning opportunities are also at the heart of this nonprofit’s mission.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth

NAEHCY works nationally to ensure that, regardless of their home life, all children have access to the services and resources they need to stay in school. The association also works to educate minors and homeless youth about their educational rights.

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network

Headquartered at Clemson University in South Carolina, NDPC was founded in 1986 to help educators, administrators, and others who work with students develop systems to lower dropout rates among high school students. Membership benefits include conferences, publications, certifications, and access to research findings.

Safe Place

This national nonprofit provides a range of services for runaway youth, including information on what to do if they’ve dropped out of high school but still have educational and career aspirations. Safe Place programs provide in-person support at different schools and community centers throughout the country.

Getting Your GED

The GED, or General Educational Development exam, is a standardized test used to measure a student’s mastery of high school academics and their potential to succeed in college-level courses. Not all students who take the GED aspire to go to college, but those who do plan to attend a college that requires the exam or equivalent need a passing score to be considered for admission.

The GED is divided into four sections, each of which is scored out of a possible 200 points. The lowest composite score considered a passing grade is 580, meaning students need to earn at least a 145 on each section to pass and receive their GED. (A higher score on one section cannot be applied to a lower score on another.) Scores are broken into four levels:

Levels Scoring Range Implications of Score
Below Passing 145 or less Examinee did not earn enough points to pass the GED
Passing/High School Equivalency 145-164 Examinee earned enough points to receive their GED and demonstrated high school level skills
GED College Ready 165-174 Examinee demonstrated their preparedness for college
GED College Ready + Credit 175-200 Examinee demonstrated above-average mastery of subjects and may be eligible to earn additional credits (similar to AP), depending on the college

Test takers who don’t receive a passing score on their first time still have a chance – the test can be retaken at a discounted rate. GED Testing Service waives its $20 testing fee for each subject, allowing students to retake the exam twice at a lower cost. If a student passed three subject tests and failed only one, they are only required to re-sit that subject rather than the entire exam. Subject tests can be retaken up to three times per year, giving students time to brush up on weak areas.

What’s On the GED?

The current version of the GED is divided into four sections:

  • Math, with emphasis on quantitative and algebraic problems

  • Science, with emphasis on the life sciences, physical science and earth/space science

  • Social Studies, with emphasis on U.S. history, economics, civics, government and geography

  • Reasoning Through Language Arts, with emphasis on reading comprehension, written communication and editing

Each section takes between 70 and 150 minutes, with the entire exam taking approximately seven hours. Test takers are welcome to complete the exam in one sitting, but are also able to visit the testing center multiple times to sit for individual sections.

Specific types of questions are used throughout each section of the exam. Examples include:

  • Drag and drop

  • Extended response

  • Fill in the blank

  • Hot spots (selecting an area)

  • Multiple choice

  • Short answer

How & Where to Take the Test

Here’s a look at the practical elements of sitting for the GED:

Individual states have varied requirements for earning a GED, and there isn’t one standard body that oversees the exam. Some states allow individuals to take the exam once they are 16 years old, while others may require test takers to be 18 before registering. Review the rules for your state and contact the administrator if you have questions.

Prospective test takers can visit GED.com to register for the exam. The cost for each section varies by state, but most charge $30 or less per subject. Individuals who live in Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York or West Virginia must travel to a neighboring state as the exam is not currently offered in any of these places. Test takers also need to decide if they want to take the exam in one sitting, or schedule multiple times to complete each of the four sections.

Accommodations such as separate testing rooms, extra time, or additional breaks can be requested if the test taker has a documented disability. Applying for accommodations can be done during the registration process or by making a request via the user’s profile.

Make sure to pack a bag that includes identification, an approved TI-30XS MultiView Scientific Calculator, registration confirmation and a light jacket in case the room is cold. Students are allowed to bring water, snacks and a cellphone, but all these items must be stored in a locker during the exam and accessed only during scheduled breaks.

Tips & Recommendations

Preparing for the GED can feel overwhelming, especially to those who haven’t been in a classroom for a while or don’t feel confident taking standardized tests. These fears can be alleviated with a solid study plan and an insider’s knowledge of what to expect come testing day.

GED Resources

GED Testing Service

Examinees can find information about the exam, how it is administered, and where to find the best study materials, directly from the company that oversees testing. The website also allows users to create an account to receive step-by-step guidance and strategies for getting the best score possible.

How Hard is the GED Test?

Students wondering about the type of math or science questions featured on the exam can find detailed information about this topic and more via Pass GED. This in-depth article explains how the material compares to high school subjects and offers insight on what constitutes a good score.

Need-to-Know Tips and Strategies for the GED Test

Peterson’s shares useful information about what to expect on the exam, how to best prepare for testing day, and what test scores actually mean when it comes to getting into college.

4Tests GED Practice Tests

All four sections of the GED are represented in the practice exams offered by 4Tests, although each is an abbreviated version of the actual GED. Students complete 40 math questions, 47 reasoning through language arts questions, 30 science questions, and 25 social studies questions.

GED Testing Service Practice Test

The official administrator of the GED offers both a free practice test and the GED Ready practice exam, which costs $24. The exams are one-quarter and one-half the length of the actual GED, respectively.

Test Guide Practice Exams

Examinees have lots of options when it comes to the practice tests offered by Test Guide. The website provides five to six free practice tests for the math, reading comprehension, and writing/language usage sections, as well as one exam for science and one exam for social studies.

Cracking the GED Test

The Princeton Review provides 700 drill questions, two full-length practice tests with answer explanations, and a bevy of tips and strategies to help test-takers crack the GED exam. Content throughout the study guide is aligned to GED Testing Service standards, ensuring all questions reflect those found on the test.

Kaplan’s GED Test Premier 2017

Kaplan’s comprehensive study guide includes more than 1,000 practice questions, 60 online videos, and two practice tests. Materials can be accessed through the book and via online and mobile portals.

Preparation for the GED Test

McGraw-Hill created this study guide to be a comprehensive resource that covers all four subject areas and gives helpful learning tips along the way. Priced at $11 for a paper copy or slightly less for the Kindle version, this study guide appeals to on-the-go students.

Free Classes

Goodwill Industries is just one example of non-profits providing free GED prep courses to students in need. Other local organizations that may offer similar services include vocational and/or trade schools, community centers, youth centers, and churches.

GED Exam Prep App

Pocket Prep offers a mobile and tablet application on both Google Play and iTunes. Features in the free version include limited access to practice questions and a comprehensive strategy guide, while the paid version offers nearly 1,000 practice questions, a customizable exam builder, and social media bonus questions.

Paid Tutoring

Organizations such as Care.com provide a searchable database where individuals seeking one-to-one tutoring can connect with a local educator. Users are able to search based on location, years of experience, subject area, and cost per hour.