Can You Go to College With a GED?

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Approximately 150,000 people earn their GED in the United States annually, according to the GED Testing Service, the sole provider of the official GED test. If you’re one of them, and you’ve been thinking about continuing your education, then you’ve probably wondered: Can you go to college with a GED?

The short answer is yes: most degree and certificate programs accept applicants who have their GED. However, besides having a GED, you’ll also need to meet the college and degree program’s other application requirements. For example, there may be requirements related to your grades, letters of recommendation, extracurricular accomplishments, and personal essays.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about applying to college with a GED, including frequently asked questions like:

  • What are GEDs, and are they equivalent to high school diplomas?
  • How are GED exams scored, and what minimum score is needed to get into college?
  • How can you get a copy of your GED transcript?
  • How does a GED score compare to a GPA?

We’ll cover all of these topics and more in this guide — and if you have additional questions, our friendly admissions officers are always available to chat.

What is a GED?

The acronym GED stands for General Educational Development. The GED is a series of four exams, ranging in duration from 70 to 150 minutes each, which test exam-takers on their knowledge of mathematics (including geometry and algebra), language arts, social studies, and science.

If you earn a passing score of 145 or higher — an important topic that this article will return to in more detail later — you’ll receive a physical certificate signifying that you successfully completed your GED. Passing the GED means that you have achieved a level of knowledge and education equivalent to that of a high school graduate. More critically, it also qualifies you to apply to most undergraduate programs.

You are generally eligible to take the GED if you meet your state’s minimum age requirements, which range from 16 to 18 years old. However, you may also need to be a resident of the state where you take your GED exam, and further, you may be prohibited from taking the exam if you are already a high school student or graduate.

Depending on your location, you can complete your GED exams online, providing a convenient alternative to in-person testing. According to the GED Testing Service, online testing is available in most U.S. states where GED testing is offered, except for New York.

It’s important to note that some states do not offer the GED at all. States without a GED exam include Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The GED exams are currently available in English, Spanish/Español, and French/Française. Additionally, modifications or accommodations can be provided for students with disabilities.

Is a GED the Same as a High School Diploma?

One frequently asked question is whether a GED is the same as a high school diploma. In short: no. A GED shows that you’ve successfully taken the exams discussed in the previous section, while a high school diploma indicates that you’ve successfully completed the educational requirements to graduate from high school.

Despite these technical differences, there are many functional similarities between GEDs and high school diplomas. They are generally perceived as equivalent and are frequently lumped into the same category by employers. For instance, perhaps you’ve noticed that it’s common for job postings to specify candidates who have “a high school diploma or the equivalent.” The “equivalent” in this case refers to a High School Equivalency (HSE) credential — which, for most people, is usually a GED.

Another type of HSE is called the High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, which is similar to the GED but features an additional testing category. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately 61,600 people took the HiSET in 2015 with a pass rate of 57.7%, compared to the 816,200 people who took the GED with a pass rate of 75.7%. There is also a third HSE option, the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC, with 49,600 takers and a 59.8% pass rate in 2015

Understanding Your GED Score

Your GED score will be a three-digit number ranging from 100 to 200. Passing GED scores are divided into three categories: Passing, College Ready, and College Ready+ (College Ready Plus). Here’s what you need to know about each score range, how they affect your eligibility for college admission, and how your score might even qualify you to earn college credits.

  • Passing Score — 145 is the minimum score needed to pass the GED. A score ranging from 145 to 164 is passing. If you earn a passing score, you’ll receive your GED and can start applying to colleges and jobs.
  • College Ready — A GED score of 165 to 174 is considered College Ready. If you earn a score in this range, the GED Testing Service explains, it means that “you have the skills needed to start college-level courses and may be exempt from placement tests or remedial (non-credit) courses in college.” This also saves you money and time on your degree since you can complete your program sooner.
  • College Ready+ — A score ranging from 175 to 200, which is the maximum score possible for a GED, places you into the College Ready+ category. Achieving a College Ready+ score means that “you have demonstrated skills that are being taught in college-level courses,” according to the GED Testing Service. If you earn a score of 175 or higher on your GED, you could be eligible to receive up to 10 college credits in the following maximum amounts:
    • Humanities — Up to 1 credit
    • Math — Up to 3 credits
    • Science — Up to 3 credits
    • Social Studies — Up to 3 credits

According to the GED Testing Service, most test-takers receive their scores within 24 hours of completing the exams, though in some cases, it may take up to 72 hours for a score to be available. You can view your score by logging into your account at the GED Testing Service — and if necessary, even challenge your score by contacting 1-877-EXAM-GED. However, as the GED Testing Service cautions, “The scoring system we use to score written responses is very accurate. Answers [that] have been scrutinized since 2014…[are] unlikely to change.”

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Will a GED Affect College Acceptance?

Are you concerned that having a GED instead of a high school diploma will impact your odds of acceptance into a degree program? Then there’s good news: nearly all U.S. colleges and universities — about 98% of them, according to the GED Testing Service — accept applicants with GEDs, assuming they also meet other admission requirements.

You can improve your odds of applying successfully by following the tips in the next section, such as obtaining letters of recommendation from previous employers, coaches, military officers, and teachers.

5 Tips for Applying to Colleges and Universities

Whether you have a high school diploma, your GED, or another type of HSE credential, there are specific steps you can (and should) take when applying to college. These steps will help you prepare the most substantial application possible, increasing your odds of acceptance and making the application process feel more manageable and less intimidating. Here are five strategies to follow when applying to degree or certificate programs with your GED.

1. Do Your Research

Most, but not all, universities are open to applicants who have a GED or other HSE. It’s a good idea to check the application requirements for the university or college you wish to apply to, along with the specific degree program in which you intend to enroll. For example, a graphic design applicant might be subject to a review of their creative portfolio.

2. Talk to Admissions

The admissions office is a fantastic resource for accurate, up-to-date information about a college’s admission policies and standards relating to GEDs and all other aspects of your application. For example, the admissions office can help answer any questions about college credit, such as getting credit for a GED score of 175 or higher (College Ready+).

3. Get Letters of Recommendation

Some colleges and universities require applicants to submit one to three letters of recommendation. Even if a letter of recommendation is optional instead of required, including one can help bolster your application and is strongly encouraged. Examples of good sources for a letter of recommendation include former coaches, educators, mentors, church leaders, military officers, or the leaders of any clubs or groups you currently or previously participated in.

4. Compare Tuition and Application Costs

Tuition and application costs can vary widely across universities or individual programs within the same university. When creating your college budget, be sure to compare factors like yearly in-state vs. out-of-state tuition; cost per credit and the number of credits needed to graduate; whether you’re already eligible for credits; any costs related to food, commuting, or textbooks; and, where applicable, the cost of student housing.

5. Explore Scholarships and Financial Aid

Scholarships and other financial aid packages can reduce the increasing costs of a college education. For example, National University offers scholarships and grants like The NU Key Grant, and the Opportunity Scholarship, which is need-based and can combine with additional scholarships. Talk to our admissions office to learn more about eligibility or explore external resources such as the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) or college loan servicers.

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Earn Your Associate or Bachelor’s Degree Online at National University

If you have your GED or high school diploma and want to take the next step, consider earning your degree or certificate at National University. Having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree boosts your earning potential, makes you eligible for a broader range of jobs, and opens doors to exciting career development opportunities. And with the option to earn your degree online, plus scholarships and financial aid packages, pursuing higher education has never been more flexible or convenient.

Learn more about our admission requirements, or explore our accredited academic programs. From business, engineering, and computer science to nursing, education, and digital media design, we offer more than 75 degree, certificate, and credential programs online, on-campus, and in hybrid formats. Talk to an admissions counselor about enrollment, or start your application to NU today.

FAQs About GEDs and College

The minimum passing GED score is 145. This threshold was lowered from the previous passing score of 150 in 2016. A College Ready score (165 to 174) is generally not necessary for enrollment acceptance. Regardless of whether you pass or fail, you can retake the test and improve your score. However, you may be subject to waiting periods and state-specific requirements.

Colleges and universities routinely request GPA information from applicants, so where does that leave students with a GED? Fortunately, numerous online calculators can help you convert your GED score into a GPA. However, since each college has its own method of weighing and calculating GPAs, you should speak with the admissions office at the school you intend to apply to about how your GED score will be evaluated.

It’s easy to request your GED transcript online. You can also order a GED transcript on another person’s behalf, such as requesting your child’s transcript. You should receive the requested transcripts within two weeks. When completing college applications, be sure not to confuse your transcript, which is a detailed record of your examination subjects and scores, with your diploma, which is the certificate showing that you earned your GED.

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