Earning Your Pennsylvania High School Diploma!

For adult residents of Pennsylvania who do not hold a high school diploma, the Pennsylvania Department of Education offers the option of a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma. This diploma is issued upon completion of 30 college credits or at least one full year of study at an accredited postsecondary institution that accepts students based on their ability to benefit from going to college.

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How to Earn the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma

You may be surprised to learn that Pennsylvania residents who are 18 years of age or older have several options to earn a high school diploma. One path is to first earn college credits at participating postsecondary institutions. The GED test offers another route to this credential. Here are the steps required to earn a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma:

Step 1: Find a Participating Postsecondary Institution

To earn a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma, students can gain acceptance at an accredited postsecondary institution in the United States that offers admission to students based on their demonstrated ability to benefit from a college education. Typically, community colleges, for-profit schools and career colleges will admit students on this basis.

Step 2: Demonstrate Your Ability to Benefit from a College Education

To gain admission to a participating postsecondary institution, students seeking a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma are required to demonstrate the ability to benefit from a college education. Students must choose one of the following two options to demonstrate this ability:

Option A

Pass an Ability to Benefit (ATB) test. An ATB test is any one of several commonly administered standardized tests. As a condition of matriculation, the school will obtain, directly from the testing facility, a report verifying that the student took and passed a valid ATB test.

Option B

Successfully complete six college credit hours (or the coursework equivalent) in subjects related to a certificate or degree offered by the institution. When accepting credit hours or coursework in lieu of an ATB test, an institution must document a student's eligibility through official transcripts or other information received directly from the school where the coursework was completed.

It's important to note that students who are admitted without taking an ATB test are not eligible for federal financial aid.

Step 3: Complete the Required Coursework

After gaining admission and satisfactory completion of at least one year of college or 30 credits, students are then eligible to apply for the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma (www.education.state.pa.us).

Step 4: Apply for the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma

Application forms can be obtained from the student's postsecondary institution. On the application, students sign and certify that they have met the requirements for the secondary school diploma. Applicants then submit the completed and signed application form, along with proof of Pennsylvania residency, to the registrar's office of the college or university where they earned the qualifying academic credits. Proof of residency may include copies of any of the following documents: bank statements, a driver's license, bills, a voter registration card, W2's, or tax records.

At the student's request, the registrar's office will then send the application, proof of residency and an official transcript to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on the student's behalf for evaluation and processing.

Alternative to Steps 1-3

An alternative to Steps 1-3 exists for adults who take the 5-subject GED test and earn a passing score. To take the tests, a candidate must:

  • Be at least 18 years old and a resident of Pennsylvania, with proof of identity
  • Not have received a high school diploma or equivalency certificate
  • Not have graduated from high school
  • Not be enrolled in a public, licensed nonpublic, licensed private, or registered accredited secondary school

After a candidate earns a passing score on the GED test, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will issue a Commonwealth Secondary School diploma. (www.portal.state.pa.us)

There are no online GED tests that are recognized by the GED Testing Service of the American Council of Education (ACE) or by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Candidates must take the GED tests at one of Pennsylvania's 150+ GED testing centers, and must pass all five sections in order to earn a Commonwealth Secondary School diploma. You can find the testing center nearest you by using the ACE GED Test Center Locator (www2.acenet.edu).

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