Do You Really Need a High School Diploma?

Graduating high school is the first step toward a successful career.
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Students slogging their way through high school can feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Particularly when they face financial or social pressures, dropping out can seem appealing, and the possibility of later getting a GED diploma might make dropping out seem like only a temporary setback. Leaving high school, however, can dramatically affect career prospects, and getting a GED doesn't necessarily compensate for the decision to drop out.

1 Financial Success

According to the California Dropout Research Project, students with poor financial resources are more likely to drop out than other students. A student might leave school hoping to get a full-time job or planning to supplement her parents' income. But leaving high school can have serious financial consequences over time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, high school dropouts have median weekly earnings of only $471, compared to median weekly earnings of $652 for high school graduates. Median incomes increase at every level of education.

2 Career Opportunities

High school dropouts are often stuck working in menial jobs. But a high school diploma tells employers that you can work hard and that you've mastered basic reading, math and social skills. The unemployment rate of high school dropouts is a staggering 12.4 percent, according to the BLS, while high school graduates have lower unemployment at 8.3 percent. Even high school dropouts who subsequently get a GED diploma don't fare as well as high school graduates. In an interview with National Public Radio, University of California, Santa Barbara education professor Russell Rumberger emphasizes that while a GED diploma is better than none at all, a GED diploma can't replace a high school diploma. He also indicated that GED test-takers may not fare as well as high school graduates in the job market because some employers see it as a short-cut.

3 Higher Education

High school graduation or a GED diploma are necessary prerequisites for going to college. College is increasingly becoming mandatory for jobs that pay well, and the Georgetown Public Policy Institute estimates that 60 percent of jobs will require a college degree by 2018. Students who drop out will have to take the GED test to go to college, but according to GED Testing Service, most, but not all, colleges will accept a GED diploma.

4 Soft Skills

High school teaches students more than just the basics of reading, math and science. Students also learn study skills, time management, communication and basic manners. These skills can serve students well in a variety of careers, and students who drop out may not master these skills. Even when a student takes the GED test, she may not have the chance to master the basics of classroom decorum, collaboration with other students and communication with a teacher, and this can make career success more challenging.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.