Can You Go to College With No High School Diploma or GED?

by Benna Crawford

Although the cost of a college education is rising, and a job is no longer guaranteed upon graduation, a degree has a tangible value that makes it worth pursuing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2014 median income for college graduates was $49,900. Those without a high school diploma averaged $25,000. More optimistic news is that, even with no high school diploma or GED, admission to college is still an option.

The End Run

Getting into college without first graduating from high school or obtaining a GED (General Education Development) certificate is a challenge, but it can be done. High school students may be able to double-enroll in college classes, accrue credits and transition to college without a high school diploma. Every state has different requirements; some programs apply to city or state colleges and some to two-year community colleges only. Extension courses can be an unconventional way into college. Harvard Extension School offers hundreds of in-person and online courses that high school and home-schooled students can take for credit. Many courses are designed to fulfill requirements for an associate degree, and the credit may be used to apply to a traditional four-year college or to earn a Bachelor of Liberal Arts undergraduate degree.

Nontraditional Students

Enroll as nontraditional student and get credit for your life. Nontraditional students resume their education after several years in the workforce, tours in the armed services, interruptions for life crises or any number of reasons to delay admission to college. Colleges that accept nontraditional students look past the high school graduation/GED requirement to judge applicants on their achievements, challenges met and future plans. In some cases, college credit may be awarded for job or life experiences such as running a small business or working in the performing arts. Nontraditional students typically take placement exams to determine where they fit into the curriculum, and evening and weekend courses may be offered to accommodate a work schedule or family responsibilities.

Skip School, Score College

Home-schooled students are subject to the laws of their states, and some states have no reporting or testing requirements. States that do regulate provide a certification of completion if all guidelines are followed for high school education. A home-schooled student, with or without state certification, may submit a portfolio of high school work completed and scores from college entrance tests such as the SAT or ACT to an admissions office. Colleges look for outstanding accomplishments, evidence of maturity as an independent learner and strong standardized scores, but they do accept home-schooled students who do not have a high school diploma or a GED.

Funding Fail

Paying for college can be a bigger challenge than earning the degree, and applicants without a high school diploma or GED face some major funding hurdles. Federal financial aid is no longer available without one of those credentials. Federal fiscal budget cuts that took effect on July 1, 2012, excluded, for the first time, high school dropouts, non-GED holders and those who pass an "ability to benefit" college skills test or complete six credit hours of college classes successfully (who aren't enrolled in an eligible career pathway program). Prior to the cuts, those students qualified for the same government assistance as high school graduates. The cutback affects Pell grants and federally subsidized loans, leaving private loans as the only financing option for college students without a GED or high school diploma.

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