In today’s increasingly specialized and skills-driven job market, it’s entirely possible to start a high-quality career without a traditional 4-year college degree. However, it’s very difficult to do so without a high school diploma. Fortunately, if your secondary school career has been put on hold and you don’t have a traditional high school diploma, you can earn a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) or High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) instead. Getting one of these certificates allows you to:

  • Pursue a college education
  • Qualify for some entry-level jobs
  • Join a branch of the US military (the Marine Corps only accepts HSEDs)
  • Get trade career training through institutes, apprenticeships, community career centers, and more

Here are the options for getting your GED or HSED.

Understanding the GED vs. the HSED

First, it helps to know which diploma makes the most sense for you to pursue. Here’s what you need to know about each:


The GED is the equivalent of a high school diploma; the GED test assesses your knowledge of math, science, language arts, and social studies. Getting this diploma can be an ideal option for people who left high school early and have other commitments in their lives, such as raising a family or working. Although the rules can vary from state to state, in general, GED programs may require that you:

  • Are at least 16 years old
  • Do not have a high school diploma
  • Are not currently enrolled in high school
  • Pass the GED exam, either online or at a physical test location


The HSED is also the equivalent of a high school diploma, but it is preferred by some institutions and employers. It can therefore give you a stronger edge in college admissions, training programs, and the job market. That’s because the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) covers more material than the GED test, requiring you to demonstrate knowledge in more areas. HSED program rules can also vary by state, but may require that you:

  • Are at least 18 years old, or within 60 days of turning 18, and were on track to graduate from high school while you were enrolled
  • Alternatively, are at least 17 years old and have a letter of request for an HSED or are confined to a hospital or correctional facility; other situational criteria may apply
  • Pass the HiSET exam, either online or at a physical test location

Ways to Earn Your GED or HSED

There are a wide variety of ways to get help with training, test preparation, and test administration for your GED or HSED, both online and in person. You can get assistance from programs sponsored or facilitated by:

  • Employers
  • State and local governments (since requirements for both the GED and HSED vary by state)
  • Local or regional adult education organizations
  • Community colleges
  • Community-based organizations (CBOs)
  • Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) with missions related to education, social equity, or both

The Process for Earning a GED or HSED

Once you’ve chosen the program pathway that best fits your life situation, location, and personal preferences, you’ll need to take the following steps to complete your program:

  • Decide whether a GED or HSED is the best fit for you
  • Check your state eligibility requirements
  • Sign up for the diploma program type of your choice
  • Study for the exam on your own, or take prep courses
  • Take one or more practice tests
  • Schedule your exam (you may be able to get your exam fees covered by your state or a nonprofit organization)
  • Take and pass your exam
  • Receive your diploma or certificate

Get Your GED or HSED for FREE With JobTrain

You can get the training you need to earn your GED or HSED — and a variety of digital and technical skills as well. If you live near Silicon Valley in northern California, you can visit one of JobTrain’s four affiliated centers to get free GED training and free digital literacy skills classes to boost your qualifications and prepare for college or a high-quality job in a field that excites you.

JobTrain is an accredited educational and training institution that transforms lives and communities in Silicon Valley. We help the Valley’s most in need reclaim their lives from poverty and unemployment by preparing them for successful, sustainable careers in high-demand and emerging fields. Explore JobTrain’s supportive services and career training programs today!