Most employers and post-secondary institutions require a high school diploma or a General Educational Development, or GED, certificate. The nationally available GED exam tests applicants' knowledge of math, science, social studies, writing and reading. The test, developed by the American Council on Education after World War II, allows individuals who did not finish high school to gain an equivalent certification. However, in some cases, the equivalency of a high school diploma and a GED certificate is disputed.

Graduation Options

Most high school graduates complete their graduation requirements within four years in a regular high school program. For those who do not, many school districts offer options for working teens supporting their families, pregnant and parenting teens, those with academic challenges and at risk teens involved in gang or criminal activity. Alternative high school programs help these individuals achieve their high school diploma and often provide occupational training and counseling, academic and other support services. Some programs allow students to attend school at night so they can work during the day. Alternative programs for parenting teens may provide free day care and transportation for the children of teen parents to encourage school attendance.

Income

Students looking to increase their wages and chances for career success have better results if they hold a high school diploma. Employers do not always view a GED certificate as equivalent to a high school diploma, especially in professional positions, according to the CareerBuilder website. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that individuals with a GED certificate earn less than their colleagues who hold at least a high school diploma. This discrepancy can approach more equal levels if the GED certificate holder enrolls in and attends college, even if the individual doesn’t complete a degree or certificate program, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, GED certificate holders will still earn less than high school graduates.

Education

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 73 percent of 2009 high school graduates entered a college or university, but only 43 percent of GED certificate recipients for that year headed to a post-secondary institution. Fewer GED certificate holders earned a bachelor’s degree or beyond, compared to high school graduates. Most post-secondary institutions accept a GED certificate as equivalent to a high school diploma, but not all do. According to a study published by the Institute of Education Sciences, GED certificate recipients had lower grade point averages than most high school graduates and only marginally better than high school dropouts, which could account for the smaller percentage of GED certificate holders pursuing advanced education.

GED for College Success

Some high school students opt for a GED certificate to start college early, according to the CareerBuilder website. They seek to get a jump on peers in the job market by finishing school earlier. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, GED certificate holders earn less than their peers even after earning a bachelor’s degree.