We know: All About Alternative Ways to Earn a High School Diploma

What are the alternative options for earning a high school diploma?

Most adults who did not finish high school use one of these routes to earn a high school diploma:

  1. taking correspondence courses
  2. taking the GED (General Educational Development) tests
  3. receiving credit by demonstrating their skills in the National External Diploma Program
  4. taking adult classes offered by city school districts at night



There are about a dozen accredited courses of study for earning a high school diploma by correspondence, or distance study. The programs are either privately run, affiliated with a university, or administered by a State education department.

Distance study diploma programs have no residency requirements, allowing students to continue their studies from almost any location.

Success depends on each student's motivation. Students usually do reading assignments on their own. Written exercises, which they complete and send to an instructor for grading, supplement their reading material.

A list of some accredited high schools that offer diplomas by distance study is available free from the Distance Education and Training Council.


The GED testing program consists of examinations in five subject areas: writing, science, mathematics, social studies, and literature and the arts. Most of the questions are multiple choice; the writing test includes an essay section on a topic of general interest.

Eligibility rules for taking the exams vary, but some States require that you must be at least 18. Tests are given in English, Spanish, and French and Braille. For more information, read the GED article on our web site.


Adults who have acquired high school level skills through experience might be eligible for the National External Diploma Program. Adults must demonstrate mastery of communication; computation; occupational preparedness; and self, social, consumer, scientific, and technological awareness.

Mastery is shown through completion of tasks. For example, a participant could illustrate competency in computation by measuring a room for carpeting, figuring out the amount of carpet needed, and computing the cost.

Before being accepted for the program, adults undergo an evaluation. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia now offer the External Diploma Program.


Check with your local school district or adult education program to see if they offer a high school diploma class series.

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