How Do I Earn a High School Diploma?

While graduating from a public or private high school is the most common option, there are other ways to earn a high school diploma. You can also pass the GED exam or complete a high school diploma equivalency program. Read on to learn more.

High School Diploma Requirements

The exact course requirements for completing high school differ between states, although you can expect to take several courses in core subjects, such as English, science and mathematics. For example, according to the California Department of Education, the minimum course requirements for the state of California include three years of English, two years of math, two years of science, three years of social studies, two years of physical education and one year of art, music or a foreign language (

The most common way to receive your high school diploma is to attend school through the 12th grade, but there are alternatives available to adults. There is the GED exam, which is accepted by most institutions that require a high school diploma, and some states also offer adult high school programs. In addition to these options, there is also the National External Diploma Program (NEDP), which awards diplomas based on life skills learned. These options are described in more detail in the following sections.

Important Facts About a High School Diploma

Program Length Normally 4 years; for equivalency programs it depends on number of credits you need to earn
Key Skills Participation in discussions, ask questions, computer literacy (typing, online research etc.)
Outcomes Eligible to apply to community and four-year colleges, university, or vocational/technical school
Possible Earnings Median salary $30,000 (2013)
Common Employment Industries Manufacturing, natural resources, mining

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Complete Public or Private Schooling

The most traditional way to earn your high school diploma is to attend a public or private high school. This option is generally only available to students under 18 years of age, although this varies from state to state. In addition to age requirements, there are a variety of other rules governing student behavior, dress and academic performance.

Take the GED

The GED examination is widely considered to be the equivalent of a high school diploma. This standardized exam tests you on the subject areas commonly studied in high school. To prepare for the exam, you can take GED test preparation courses, offered by public schools and community colleges, or purchase GED test preparation resources for self-study.

Some states require that you be at least 16 years old and that you are not currently enrolled in high school in order to take the GED. Depending on your age, you may also need a parent or guardian's permission to take the GED. These requirements vary greatly from state to state, so you should check with your local regulations before attempting to take the GED exams.

A new GED exam was released in January of 2014. The exam focuses on four content areas: reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies, and is available in both English and Spanish. It is a computer test, though not offered online, and paper versions are available if necessary.

Online, Correspondence and High School Equivalency Courses

Online high school diploma programs are available if you don't attend a public or private high school. Online high schools, community colleges and universities may offer high school diploma equivalency programs. Correspondence programs are also available, in which coursework and tests are sent and received through the mail.

Many public schools systems offer high-school-level completion courses for adults, generally available to those 18 years of age and older who want to complete high school. Adult high school programs may also be available at community colleges. Programs vary depending on the state, and sometimes even by school district. Some adult high school programs also allow students to enroll in college-level courses at the same time.

Earn a High School Diploma Through NEDP

Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems (CASAS) administers the NEDP, a program that allows you to receive a high school diploma based on your accumulated life experiences. The diploma is awarded to older adults who have developed skills at the high school level through their experiences in the community, home or work (

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