For many students, obtaining a high school diploma is a rite of passage and is something they know they will accomplish. But for others, a diploma might be out of reach for various reasons. There are many reasons why some students may choose to obtain their GED instead of a traditional diploma, and this choice has many long-term effects.

Dropouts and the GED

There are many reasons students to drop out of high school. According to, these may include disinterest in school, poor attendance, work responsibilities and family obligations, such as becoming a teen parent. The GED Testing Service reports that, since 1942, over 18 million people have taken and passed the GED test to open up more educational and career opportunities for themselves. A GED credential can give high school dropouts a second chance to get into college or get a better job.

Faster Route to Some Jobs

One effect of obtaining a GED is a shorter route to certain careers. The Army and most trade and vocational schools accept the GED in lieu of a high school diploma. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistic's Occupational Outlook Handbook, some skilled trade professionals, such as plumbers, electricians or construction workers only need a high school diploma or the equivalent, such as a GED, and relevant on-the-job training.

Employment and Earnings

Obtaining a GED usually increases earning power and employment opportunities compared to those who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012, workers with less than a high school diploma had an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, compared to 8.3 percent for those with a diploma. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, those with a GED do not report the same earnings as those with a diploma, earning, on average, about $1,600 less a month than high school graduates.

Educational Effects

While a GED can open up more educational opportunities, statistically speaking, those with a GED are less likely to attend college at all, much less graduate. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that less than half of GED certificate recipients eventually go on to college, compared to 73 percent of high school graduates. In addition, only 5 percent of those with a GED earned at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33 percent of those with a diploma.