Can I Get a Online Degree Without a High School Diploma?

Is it possible to get a degree without a high school diploma? The short answer is: In rare cases, yes. In fact, the U.S. Education Department found that about 2 percent of all college students entered a degree program in 2003-2004 without a high school diploma, and some of the most famous figures of all time skipped secondary school.

How did they do it?

Back in the day, intellects like Albert Einstein, Carl Sandburg and Abraham Lincoln earned a college degree without a high school diploma by taking action. Einstein and Sandburg studied on their own, passing the entrance exams to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Lombard College respectively. Lincoln, who had about one year of formal schooling, earned a law degree by studying borrowed books.

Today, some state community college systems accept students without a high school diploma or its equivalent. For example, in California, you could attend any one of the state’s 112 community colleges without walking down the aisle. In addition, some four-year liberal arts colleges could consider you a candidate if you have demonstrated academic excellence.

But, 2 percent is the exception to the rule. Most degree programs have strict entry requirements with a high school diploma or its equivalent expected.

7 Paths to a College Degree for High School Drop Outs

Going back to school doesn’t have to be out of your reach. One or more of these fast-track solutions could be your key to academic success.

  • Earn Your GED – The General Education Development (GED) diploma or certificate is widely accepted as the equivalent to a high school diploma. To earn your GED, you will need to pass five GED exams covering writing, reading, math, science and social studies. It’s smart to participate in a GED preparation course before taking the exams.
  • Adult Education Classes – Adult education classes may be the answer to your no-diploma dilemma. In the Sunshine State, seven of the 112 community colleges allow students to enroll in adult education courses and receive a high school diploma without taking the exit exam. In South Carolina, students can earn a high school diploma by enrolling in adult education classes, earning 24 units (many of which can be transferred from high school) and passing the South Carolina exit exam.
  • Simultaneous Diploma and Degree Studies – Some online colleges, which tend to be more flexible and willing to accommodate non-traditional students, allow for simultaneous college coursework while you finish your high school diploma or GED studies. Ask an enrollment advisor how this works.
  • National External Diploma Program / Skills Demonstration – An alternative to the GED, the National External Diploma Program is based on a set of life skills and knowledge that high school graduates are expected to possess. In addition, 65 competencies must be demonstrated covering topics such as media literacy, applied math/numeracy, cultural literacy, health literacy, community participation, consumer awareness and 21st century workplace.
  • The “Ability to Benefit” Test – If you are accepted into a college that does not require a high school diploma or its equivalent and need to apply for federal financial aid, you will need to pass this test. In New York, passing students who have completed 24 college credits are granted a high school equivalency diploma – plus, they’re already 24 credits closer to a college degree.
  • Job Corps – If you’re between the ages of 16 and 24 and meet certain income requirements, the federal Job Corps program is worth a look. This free program offers the opportunity to earn a high school diploma, GED or college credits while receiving housing, meals, basic health care, training, career preparation and twice-a-month living allowances. The Job Corps also assists job hunters and supports the transition into “real world” living for up to 21 months after graduation.
  • Life Credits / Non-Traditional Student Status – Many traditional and online colleges offer alternative admissions requirements for non-traditional students. For example, the high school diploma or academic testing requirements may be waived. In addition, some colleges grant credit for life experiences, prior training and prior coursework.

If you didn’t complete high school, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck behind the eight ball forever. With more options than ever to meet secondary school requirements and move on to college, you could be well on your way in a matter of months.

Online degree programs might be the most flexible way to go back to school while balancing the rest of life’s demands, making it possible for today’s student to study from home on a flexible schedule.

If you’re ready to start planning the path to success, click here to get matched with leading schools and online degree programs that best fit your interests.



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