Statistics show that individuals typically have better post-school outcomes when they have earned a traditional high school diploma. Having a high school diploma offers graduates many benefits including greater marketability and higher earning potential.

Student who earn a traditional high school diploma typically are more marketable because they have earned all the necessary units and often have learned specific skills. Typically, the minimum requirement for entry-level or skill-based jobs in a high school diploma. Also, the high school diploma is usually a requirement for admissions into colleges and universities.

Benefits of a High School Diploma

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, students who earn a high school diploma will earn approximately $10,000 more each year versus someone who did not complete high school. Greater marketability plus high earning potential make a high school diploma a good investment for your future.

It is widely documented that workers without a high school diploma are the lowest earners within the economy. Workers without a high school diploma make roughly $25,000 less per year than workers with a high school diploma.

Additionally, the majority of unemployed workers are those without high school diplomas. While most students successfully complete high school, external factors may interfere with completion. In these, and other cases, online diplomas or pursuing other post-secondary school opportunities may be a more viable option.

Other Options

While getting a traditional high school diploma is optimal, there are other options for students. It’s never too late to go back and get your diploma. The high school equivalent, or GED is one option. Another thing to consider is trade or vocational schools, especially if there is something specific that you are skilled or interested in.

What’s a GED?

For a variety of reasons, some high school students are unable to earn a traditional high school diploma, so some opt for a GED, or General Education Development. While not completely equivalent, the GED and high school diploma both indicate that a student has successfully completed the requirements for high school. Some colleges will accept the GED for admissions.

There are several options to pursue the GED. You may attend face-to-face classes in a traditional setting or purse an online option. Studying online requires a lot of organization and a commitment to complete the work. Since the vast majority of colleges and universities require a high school diploma or GED for admissions, it’s a good idea to consider getting it if you don’t have it.

Going to College Without a High School Diploma

Typically, a high school diploma is a requirement for admissions into college. Most public colleges and universities do require either a high school diploma or GED for admissions. In some cases, community colleges or trade schools will admit students without a diploma or GED. However, there are options for attending college or pursuing on online degree certification without a high school diploma or GED.

Admission requirements will differ from school to school. It is important for you to find out exactly what is required for admission. In most cases, colleges and universities will require a diploma or GED; however, there are some options to consider. Consider doing your research to find if there are colleges that don't require a diploma for admissions.

Whether a student has dropped out of high school, or unforeseen circumstances got in the way, not having a high school diploma is not the end of the world. While it may take extra time, and you may have to do a bit of research, there are options for going to college or getting an online degree without a high school diploma.

College Admissions Without a High School Diploma

In some cases, a community college will admit students without a high school diploma or GED. Instead of the diploma, these schools will require that students are at least 18 years old and may have to take a placement test.

Additionally, community colleges may look at the credits that have been earned and take letters of recommendation from high school teachers. Potential students may have to also go through an interview process or write an essay. Lastly, some potential students may need to take a standardized test such as the ACT or SAT.

Non-Traditional Students

Students don’t always finish high school and earn a diploma for a variety of reasons. But not having a diploma does not mean that you cannot attend a traditional college or university. Consider attending as a non-traditional student. Often times colleges and universities will waive the traditional admissions requirements if a potential student can prove relevant life experiences or demonstrated maturity.

In some cases, registering as a non-traditional student will require a placement test. Additionally, if non-traditional students have not earned some basic high school credits, they may need to take remedial math and reading courses.

Getting an Online Degree Without a High School Diploma

Online or correspondence diploma programs are often legitimate providers; however as with any service that you pay for, it is important to know what to look for when selecting a school or program. The first thing to look for is accreditation by an online or distance learning accrediting body.

When considering online learning, one of the most important things to look for is accreditation by a U.S. Department of Education approved accrediting body. A reputable accrediting body, the one recognized by the U.S. Department of Education is AdvancED.

What many online degree programs offer is the option of concurrent enrollment. This means that you are earning both a high school diploma and credits for a college degree. Essentially, you can begin earning your college degree while you are completing the credits needed for high school.

If you want to complete your high school diploma online first, the following online schools are accredited by AdvancED: International Connections Academy, Whitmore School, University of Missouri High School and International Virtual Learning Academy.

Getting Financial Aid Without a High School Diploma

In order to pursue post-secondary school education options, many students require financial aid. However, without a high school diploma or GED, access to aid will be different than traditional degree-seeking students. In order to qualify for federal student aid, the basic requirement is a high school diploma or GED.

The U.S. Department of Education has made changes to allow for students without a diploma to be eligible for aid. In 2015, the Ability to Benefit Provision was amended allowing students without a high school diploma or GED to be eligible for federal aid if they meet the following criteria:

  • The student is enrolled in a career pathways program that receives Title IV funding
  • The student takes and passes an approved Ability to Benefit exam that is administered by the Department of Education
  • The student must complete six credit hours (or equivalent) that count toward a degree or certification program

While federal financial aid is one option, there are often other ways to secure aid to attend school. Consider small scholarships or grants from private companies. Also, if you are a working student, it’s worth it to look into possible employer reimbursement for tuition and fees. Often, employers will offer incentives or even pay for tuition for current employees.

Trade Schools

Having a high school diploma does provide many benefits for students, but there are career options for those without one. Trade schools are a great option for those seeking a skill-based career. In fact, the Center for Education and the Workforce projects that by 2020 nearly one-third of the jobs in the United States will required some type of vocational or skill training.

There are numerous trade jobs that people can pursue that don’t require a college or high school degree. These are certifications that require face-to-face or online study and hands-on practice. Trade skill jobs include electrician, plumber, welder and HVAC repair. These may be trade schools that don't require a high school diploma or GED.

Again, before jumping into an online trade school, be sure to verify the credentials of the school. Look for accreditation from the U.S. Department of Education. It doesn’t hurt to look at current and previous student reviews of the program. Be sure to verify the rate of job placement from the school.

According to the Community for Accredited Online Schools, the top five online vocational or trade schools are: Pamlico Community College, Utica College, Liberty University, University of Florida and Temple University.

Become a Medical Assistant

For students interested in the medical field, but not necessarily ready for nursing or medical school, there is an option to become a medical assistant. This is a fast-growing career field and job availability will only increase. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be approximately 160,000 new jobs for medical assistants through the year 2022. But there are no online medical assistant programs without a high school diploma options.

The minimum requirement to start this type of program is a high school diploma or GED. If you do not have this requirement, you may consider going back for the GED or look into a concurrent program option.

There are many options to earn your medical assistant certification. This certification can be earned through a traditional route on a college or community college campus. There are also some specialty education centers that specialize in medical training. This would be considered a face-to-face traditional setting.

Additionally, some certification programs offer online classes and training for students. Others, offer on-the-job training with coursework for study. Lastly, some programs offer a hybrid which may include some online study, some face-to-face study and hands-on experiential training.

Become a Dental Assistant

Similar to the medical assistant training, some may want to work in the dental field but not necessarily become a dentist. Training to become a dental assistant can be as quick as nine months or as long as two years. The time depends on what you are pursuing.

There are options for this type of licensure. Those seeking a career as a dental assistant may pursue a certificate, a diploma or an associate degree. The certificate would take the shortest amount of time and the degree would take the longest. However, it may be worth staying in school longer as the salaries increase with the levels of education.

Again, dental assistant certification programs may be offered in a traditional format with face-to-face classrooms or online. There will be some hands-on experience as well.

Whatever career path you choose, it is important to know the requirements before diving in. While having a high school diploma is optimal, it’s not always the only way to pursue a career after high school. Finding out the specifics for admissions or acceptance is always key.

Do your research on any online programs you may be interested in as they are not all the same. Look for accreditation and student feedback. Lastly, if you know what field you want to work in, talk to people who are currently in the field to find out what path they took to get there.

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About the Author

Melanie Forstall has a doctorate in education and has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She has been a teacher, grant writer, program director, and higher education instructor. She is a freelance writer specializing in education, and education related content. She writes for We Are Teachers, School Leaders Now, Classroom, Pocket Sense, local parenting magazines, and other professional academic outlets. Additionally, she has co-authored book chapters specializing in providing services for students with disabilities.