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High School Diplomas: Summary of Required Diploma Coursework

While there is no single national standard of courses required for adults seeking to earn a high school diploma or equivalent, there are various programs available. Along with General Educational Development (GED) tests, adult learners may pursue adult education programs, national external diploma programs or online high schools.

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Overview of High School Diploma Options for Adults

Adult learners have a several options to earn their high school diploma or equivalent. They may take the General Educational Development (GED) exam, participate in an adult education program, complete a national external diploma program or enroll in an online high school. To discover which options are available in your state and what their requirements are, visit your local school district website or contact your state department of education. The U.S. Department of Education's website offers contact information for each state education department (www2.ed.gov).

Earn a GED credential

The GED examination was created by the American Council on Education (ACE) and is administered by each state. There are five subject areas tested, with passing scores determined at the state level. You can find testing center locations, score requirements and other information at the ACE website (www2.acenet.edu). Passage of the GED earns you a high school equivalency credential or a diploma, depending on the state.

Adult Education Programs

Adult Education programs often work with community colleges, local school districts, state and local government agencies, nonprofit agencies and community organizations to help individuals obtain the skills and knowledge required to earn a high school diploma. Coursework requirements for these programs vary by state.

In California, for example, adult learners must take basic reading, writing, math and English language competency courses to help them master subsequent high school courses. This is done to equip adult learners with the skills to pass the California High School Exit Examination. In North Carolina, adult students must take a set of basic reading, math, writing and communications courses through their local public school system. They receive a high school diploma after completing the required coursework.

National External Diploma Programs

Many U.S. schools offer National External Diploma Programs (NEDP) to adults who want to earn a high school diploma outside of a traditional high school or adult education setting. Adult students must demonstrate their ability by taking a series of performance assessment tests at home or in private office locations. These programs are self-paced and may take from four months to a year to complete.

Program guidelines vary by school or community. In Vernon, CT, for example, candidates must be at least 21 years of age and have an occupational skill that can be assessed by a past or present employer, or other assessor. They must take an appraisal test, a diagnostic test, pass a skills demonstration and satisfy assessment requirements to earn their diploma.

Online High Schools Diploma Programs

Some community colleges offer online programs that allow adults to meet their state's high school diploma requirements. Credits already earned in high school may be applied. The number of credits required to graduate vary by state. While instruction is provided online, final exams may be conduct on-site. Contact your local community college for program availability.

There are also tuition-based diploma programs offered by accredited online high schools. Coursework, including electives, can be tailored to meet your state's standards and graduation requirements. However, it is important to note that the diploma earned will be issued by the school and not by your state's department of education. That means it may not be recognized by employers or post-secondary institutions.

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