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Understanding a High School Diploma vs a GED

What is a high school diploma?

A high school diploma is the traditional diploma received upon completing the requirements of a high school program. Though the specific requirements vary from state to state, generally an individual earns credits by taking classes in various subjects and attending school full-time for 4 years.

After class exams and regular attendance either in person or virtually, students earn their diploma.

What is a GED?

A General Education Development program, or GED, is an alternative to the traditional high school diploma.  Unlike a traditional diploma, you can earn your GED at any point in life, even if you left high school many years ago.

In order to be eligible to take the GED, an individual must be at least 18 in Michigan, not be presently enrolled in high school or have their high school diploma, and must take the exam in-person at a testing center (an online version of the exam has been piloted during the health crisis).


Understanding the Difference

While functionally equivalent to each other, a GED and a diploma differ in a few key ways, namely in their educational/testing requirements and in their overall experience.

Educational Requirements

One of the principle differences between a GED and a diploma is the educational requirements. High schools often have specific coursework requirements that students must meet in order to be eligible for graduation. While the specifics of these courses vary from school to school, in general students are expected to complete classes in subjects like language arts, history, math, and science. If a student’s schedule allows, they can enroll in elective courses that develop professional skills outside of the information covered in the more general education classes.


There are no specific courses required in order to complete a GED. However, there are test-prep classes that a student can enroll in prior to taking the actual exam. The exam itself covers information from the same four subjects that high school students are expected to learn, so preparing for these exams is an important step to take, especially for GED students who have been out of the classroom for some time.

Testing Requirements

While the GED requires less of a time investment to earn, GED exams can be challenging. High school students can utilize the teachers, tutors, and the other resources offered in a traditional high school setting to their advantage as they earn credits.

GED students are expected to test on essentially the same information as their high school counterparts, and must do so on their own. While practice tests are available as resources, there are generally fewer opportunities to make up low exam scores for individuals pursuing their GED. However, you can retake the GED up to three times a year.


The high school setting, whether in person or online, offers a variety of opportunities outside of academics, including experiencing social events, creating friendships, and testing out hobbies through clubs and organizations.

There isn’t much to the GED program outside of the exams, so an individual’s experiences in this program will be largely limited to solely the academic.  

With Link Learning, students get the best of both worlds. Link Learning’s flexibility in scheduling and attention to the personal needs of each student allows students to work at their own pace, making it harder to fall behind.


There will always be those who value perception over reality, unfortunately meaning that some employers or schools might look at a GED as lower to a diploma. With Link Learning, however, students earn a traditional high school diploma, allowing them to further their education and career without worry.

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