According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 15 percent of adults do not have a high school diploma or its equivalency. High school dropouts face fewer job prospects and opportunities for income growth, but going back to high school and facing gym class and cliques is not the only option for obtaining that degree. Students can earn a certificate that verifies their knowledge through the General Educational Development test or a high school equivalency test. Some states offer both options, making it important to compare their merits and choose the test that best suits your ambitions.

GED Test

The General Education Development, or GED, test was developed in 1942 by the American Council on Education for U.S. soldiers who went to war before graduating high school. The test was designed as an alternative to returning to high school for soldiers leaving active duty after World War II by proving competency in five areas of general knowledge. The GED test is a series of tests in math, science, reading, writing and social studies. Students passing all five tests are eligible for a GED certificate from the Department of Public Instruction.

High School Equivalency

In some states, the GED test is also called a high school equivalency test. Other states offer alternative high school equivalency certifications. Some of these programs expand upon the GED test with additional assessments and requirements. In the State of Wisconsin, for example, a High School Equivalency degree requires assessments in civics, health, employability skills and career awareness in addition to the five general education tests. However, not all high school equivalency tests are as rigorous. For example, the California High School Proficiency Examination consists of only two parts, language arts and math.


While the GED test has been updated since its inception, some may feel it is not enough in a competitive workplace. The higher requirements of high school equivalency programs such as the one in Wisconsin may better prepare students for college or the workforce. While the GED tests are taken at testing sites throughout the United States and Canada, some high school equivalency tests can be taken online, making it more convenient and attainable for some students.


Both the GED and high school equivalency tests offer a way to prove competency equal to a high school graduate. The benefits of one over the other are dependent on the student’s goals and programs offered in the state of residence. Either option offers a promise of better employability or chances of getting into college. According to the U.S. Census bureau, a high school graduate has an average annual salary that is 50 percent higher than a worker who hasn’t finished high school. Salaries increase with education levels and higher degree attainment, which starts with a high school diploma, GED or equivalency certificate.