How to Get Your GED

By Lauren Patetta

Not everyone completes high school in the expected four-year time period. Various life circumstances may result in you leaving high school, whether it’s to work, provide for your family, care for a sick loved one, or take a leave of absence for your mental or physical health. 

Fortunately, there are alternative paths to completing your high school education and demonstrating that you are ready to pursue a college education or employment even without completing the traditional four years of high school. GED tests were created to give people who were unable to complete traditional high school a chance to demonstrate their knowledge of the core high school curriculum. If you’re considering taking the GED, here are some things to know before getting started.

What Is the GED?

The GED, which stands for General Educational Development Test, is one of many types of high school equivalency (HSE) tests in the U.S. People often refer to all of them as the GED, but your state’s test may have a specific name. They are all, however, a series of tests on the core high school education topics. When you pass an HSE, you will receive a high school diploma that shows you achieved a high school level of education, even if you didn’t graduate from high school itself. 

HSEs typically have  four subject tests: 

  • Mathematical reasoning
  • Reasoning through language arts
  • Science
  • Social studies

Each test takes one hour to complete, and can be taken on the same day or at separate times. Exams can be scheduled on the GED homepage, and they are administered either online or in person at a testing center, depending on your state’s rules. 

To take the GED, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old 
  • Have not completed a high school diploma 
  • Not currently be enrolled in high school 

Some HSE tests are free and others charge a small fee to schedule the exam.

Using Your GED

Colleges, universities, trade schools, and employers often require applicants to have a high school diploma. If you’re looking to apply to college or you want a higher-paying job but you were unable to graduate high school, you may want to consider taking the GED. It’s recognized by nearly all colleges, universities, and employers, but some more competitive programs may require a minimum score on the tests. 

If you’re thinking about using your GED to apply to higher education, you may also want to consider: 

  • Taking college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT, to highlight everything you’ve learned 
  • Volunteering, to add new and varied experiences to your resume 
  • Finding trusted adults who understand your situation to write a letter of recommendation  that gives insight into why you chose to take the GED 

Preparing for the GED

It does not require you to attend classes, but the GED is not an “easier” alternative to high school. It still requires you to take time for preparation and studying. Consider your schedule and other responsibilities before deciding on the right time to take the GED. 

Look for a free in-person HSE program. Local libraries often host free HSE classes.

You’ll want to start preparing well in advance to give yourself adequate study time. Finding the study method that works best for you may take some trial and error, but here are some options to consider:

  • Free, online practice tests and questions 
  • Prep workbooks 
  • Self-paced or live online classes through GED-prep services 
  • One-on-one tutoring 
  • Group studying with other test-takers 
  • Low-cost preparation programs, which can be found through local libraries and community centers

Obtaining a GED is a way to make more money, open more doors, and lead you to paths toward economic empowerment. For some, it is the first step in a process. For others, it is the final destination.

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