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No High School Diploma? No Problem! How to Go to College Anyway.

Jul 23, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Most people believe you can’t get into college without a high school diploma. But according to 2003-2004 figures collected from a United States Education Department survey, approximately 2% of all college students enter degree programs without a high school diploma.  Here’s how they do it—and how you can, too.

Consider community college or online college

Community colleges and online schools are often more accustomed to accommodating nontraditional students—including those who left high school before earning a diploma and who have been out of school for some time. Many have programs designed to help students without diplomas transition to college, and a lot of community colleges have online degree programs as well as traditional classes.

Get a GED

If you don’t have a high school diploma, you can take the GED (General Education Diploma) test. A passing score is considered equivalent to a high school diploma at almost every university in the country, as well as job-readiness programs, vocational schools and two-year colleges.  The GED has five parts—reading, writing, history, science and math—and you’ll need to get a passing score in each section as well as achieving a passing overall grade to earn a GED. You can take classes to prepare for the test, but you don’t have to—you can also study and take the test on your own.

students at university


Apply for non-traditional student status

Many colleges, both online and traditional, offer special programs that help nontraditional students succeed. The services they provide vary from school to school, but some allow qualified students to bypass typically standard requirements like an SAT score or high school diploma if they can demonstrate they have extensive life experience that indicates they can handle the demands of college.

Take the test

Many colleges have placement tests that nontraditional students can take to qualify for enrollment. If you pass the test, the college could decide to admit you regardless of your high school diploma status. Talk to your school’s admissions counselor to determine whether taking a college placement test would qualify you for enrollment there.

Get your college degree and high school diploma at the same time

Some online colleges will allow you to take classes toward your degree while you attend high school in person and finish your diploma.

Get tested to qualify for Federal aid

Decades ago, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, for-profit colleges began accepting many underqualified students into degree programs they weren’t ready for. Many of these students had not earned a high school diploma.  A large percentage of these students qualified for Federal aid, but many dropped out of college and defaulted on their loans. This caused financial problems for the government.

To prevent this in the future, the government now requires students who haven’t earned a high school diploma to take the ATB (“Ability to Benefit”) test—a qualifying test to prove they’re prepared for the rigors of college degree programs before they’ll consider their applications for Federal financial aid. The test is worth taking—some types of Federal loans are subsidized, meaning you don’t accumulate interest while you’re in college. All Federal loans generally have lower interest rates than what you’ll find from private lenders, and most have fixed rates and more lenient payback policies.

Explain your situation

Colleges are often lenient with students who could not earn their high school diplomas due to specific difficult circumstances. If you’ve got a story to tell about why you couldn’t earn your diploma—and many students do, whether it revolves around a learning disability, a death in the family, a parent in jail, or other factors that disrupt students’ lives—the admissions offices at some schools will often consider your application anyway.

If you haven’t earned a high school diploma, it doesn’t mean you have no shot at getting into college. There are still ways you can bypass the high school requirement and get a start on a degree. Each college is different, so it’s important to talk to admissions counselors at the schools you’re considering to determine what programs the school has in place to help nontraditional students.  If you do, you’re more likely to go to college—even if you never graduated high school.



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