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Exhaustive Guide: Online High School Diploma for Adults

Online High School Diploma Grads Skip the CeremonyStudents drop out of high school for many different reasons. Some students have to leave high school to start work because of their families’ financial needs. Others have trouble attending a traditional school schedule due to health issues. Some students struggle academically and may not receive the support they need to succeed. Others simply don’t see the value of education at that point in their lives. A 2015 study from the National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2012, 2.6 million 16-24 year olds in the US had not earned a high school diploma or equivalency.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income of a high school dropout is $10,386 less than a high school graduate and $36,424 less than a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree. A 2017 report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics also reports high school dropouts as having the highest rate of unemployment at 7.7% compared to 5.3% for high school graduates and only 2.5% for college graduates. And if those numbers aren’t motivation enough to pursue an accredited high school diploma, studies also show that high school dropouts have a poverty rate of 30.8% and a 63 times higher incarceration rate!

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What is High School Equivalency or GED?

Now that you’ve decided to become a high school graduate, there are so many different programs and options that the information may be overwhelming. You may be asking yourself, should I get a GED? Is that different than a High School Equivalency? Is it the same as a diploma? What are these new tests—the HiSet and the TASC?

The process of earning a High School Equivalency has undergone some major changes in the past few years.  There is some confusion because of the way we use the term “GED”.  Most people think the GED is a credential, but it is actually the trademarked name of a series of tests used to earn a High School Equivalency credential. States grant these credentials based on passing scores on the GED tests. In 2013, 800,000 people took the GED and 560,000 of those individuals passed and earned a high school credential from their state. In 2014, a new version of the GED test was released with a higher level of difficulty to reflect the changes in education in the U.S. related to Common Core standards. In 2014 only 248,000 people took the GED test and only 86,000 received passing scores.

Until recently, the GED was the only testing option to earn a High School Equivalency. When the new version of the GED test was released in 2014, two other testing options became available. The HiSet and the TASC were both introduced as alternatives and 10 states dropped the GED test altogether. Find out which tests are offered in your state here.


GED vs. HiSet vs. TASC


  • 4 tests: reasoning through language arts, mathematical reasoning, science, and social studies
  • All testing on computer
  • Essay response in language arts and social studies, short answer in science
  • Must take at state-approved testing center
  • Some states offer 2 discounted or free retakes
  • Cost varies by state, average $120
  • Find a testing center



  • 5 tests: Language Arts (both reading and writing), mathematics, science and social studies
  • Includes essay in writing portion of Language Arts
  • Testing is available on paper and computer
  • Aligned to new common core standards with further adaptation planned
  • States decide testing locations
  • Includes 2 free retakes
  • Cost varies by state, average $95
  • Find a testing center



  • 5 tests: Language Arts (both reading and writing), mathematics, science, and social studies
  • Includes essay in writing portion of Language Arts
  • Testing is available on paper and computer
  • Will phase in Common Core over 3 years
  • State decides testing centers
  • Includes 2 free retakes
  • Cost varies widely by state, typically around $90 but as little as $0 and as high as $140
  • Find a testing center


While there are differences in the 3 tests, passing scores on any of these 3 tests result in a High School Equivalency (HSE) certificate that is issued by the state in which the test was taken.


What is the Difference Between HSE & Diploma?

A high school diploma is earned through an approved, accredited school district or private program that is based on completing a required number of credits in specific subjects. Earning a traditional high school diploma as an adult is academically the same as earning a diploma as a teenager in high school. Each diploma granting institution has its own requirements that a student must meet to obtain a diploma. The classroom setting is likely different as an adult, and may even be online, and the courses are commonly self-paced, but the content is the same.


What’s Better: Diploma or High School Equivalency?

The answer to this question depends largely on your own personal, academic, and career goals. An HSE is accepted at over 97% of colleges and employers. While the credential may be accepted, it may not be competitive at 4 year colleges or with some employers. An HSE is adequate for entry into a 2 year community college. Successful completion of an associate’s degree will typically enable students to transfer to a 4 year college. Obtaining an HSE, therefore, does not prevent a student from continuing with higher education. Statistically, however, students with an HSE attend college at lower rates and also have lower completion rates. The assumption is that working to obtain a traditional, credit based diploma requires a longer commitment and a higher level of dedication. This work ethic then translates into higher success in college. It is for this same reason that employers often prefer an applicant with a traditional high school diploma. It demonstrates perseverance and a strong work ethic.

On the other hand, If you already have a job that is now requiring a high school credential, taking one of the High School Equivalency tests may be the right choice for you. If you have established yourself in a career but want to earn the credential for your own personal satisfaction, the HSE option may also be more practical for you.

If you are interested in enlisting in the military, a traditional high school diploma is your best option. Each branch does allow a certain number of individuals to enlist each year with an HSE, but the numbers are low. The Army and Navy both allow up to 10% of new recruits to have an equivalency credential while the Marines only allow 5% and the Air Force less than 1%! If your goal is entry into a 4 year college to pursue a professional career, a credit based, traditional high school diploma will be the most beneficial.

To complicate things even further there is a third option. Some states offer an Adult Diploma that is competency based rather than credit based. This means students demonstrate the skills they have learned through life and work experiences by completing a variety of real world tasks. Programs may include credit for job training and technical skills and working with a mentor to build a portfolio to present to future employers. The programs have different names in different states. The only program that is not specifically implemented in one state is the National External Diploma Program (NEDP). It is currently available in 8 states: California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Learn more about the NEDP. Check with your local board of education to determine if any competency based programs are available in your area.

An additional program worth mentioning is Job Corps. Job Corps is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. The program is for low-income youths between the ages of 16 and 24. There are 125 campus locations nationwide offering high school diploma completion in addition to career training. Most campuses are residential and offer students free meals, furnished rooms, basical medical care and recreational activities. Penn Foster has partnered with many campuses to offer online high school degree completion for their participants. Some campuses partner with local school districts as well. In addition to high school completion, students choose from over 75 career fields for job training. All equipment and uniforms for career training are provided as well. Job Corps continues to support students for 12 months after graduation by offering counseling to assist graduates in reaching their career goals. You can search for Job Corps programs in your area by zip code, state, and your career field of interest.


Online High School Diploma Options

Maybe you’re thinking, I don’t have time to take classes in person. I have work and family responsibilities! Fortunately, there are a number of online options available throughout the U.S. to accommodate busy adults with limited time for school. We continually caution students to thoroughly research programs before paying any fees. There are numerous, and always changing, online scams offering fake diplomas (we have a whole article about it!). You should be leary if:

  • The program claims no classes or test are required
  • Classes and tests are free but you have to pay for the diploma (It’s typical to have to pay for classes, but you should not have to pay for the diploma itself)
  • The program claims to be affiliated with the federal government (Programs are approved by states, not the federal government)
  • The program claims the degree can be completed in days, weeks or a few short months
  • No teacher interaction is required


You must also verify the school’s accreditation to ensure that it is a legitimate accrediting agency. Check with us or the Better Business Bureau to verify the school’s reputation. A school may be accredited by an actual agency, but the agency may have a poor academic reputation or be completely fake meaning colleges will not accept the high school diploma. Or, simply see the lists below for properly accredited high school diploma programs!


Accredited Online High School Diploma Programs

The following accredited schools offer 100% online, credit based paths to a high school diploma and accept credit transfers from other institutions.



  • Private school based in Pennsylvania open to both high school aged students and adults
  • Nationally accredited by AdvancED, regionally accredited by Commission on Secondary Schools of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Work at your own pace
  • Offers a high school diploma program or career pathway training in combination with a high school diploma—Automotive, Carpentry, Child Care, Culinary Arts, Electrical, Healthcare, Information Technology, Pharmacy Technician, Plumbing, and Early College
  • Career planning services
  • 21.5 credits for $1315 (available in monthly installments as low as $49)
  • Offers discounts ($96 discount for autopay; $366 discount for full payment upon enrollment)
  • Accepts up to 16 transfer credits. Tuition is reduced by $45 for each accepted transfer credit.

Penn Foster is unique because it partners with Career Schools, Colleges and Job Corps programs around the country.  If eligible and accepted by one of these partner schools, tuition for the high school diploma program may be covered.

Find Out More



  • Part of Smart Horizons Career Online Education, the nation’s first private, accredited online school district
  • Accredited by AdvancED/SACS/NCA/NWAC
  • Students earn a career certificate in addition to the high school diploma. Available career paths include General Career Preparation, Office Management, Childcare and Education, Certified Protection Officer, and Homeland Security
  • Additional career preparation through webinars and creation of a Career Portfolio
  • Each student assigned an Academic Coach
  • Partners with corporations such as McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and Goodwill to offer employees scholarships
  • 18 credits for $1,295; payments plans of $77/mo
  • Accepts transfer credits up to 14 courses

Smart Horizons has amazing community involvement and a dedication to promoting education for all. COHS also partners with libraries around the country to offer free high school programs to adults.

Find Out More



  • Based in Jackson, MS
  • Accredited by AdvancED, Mississippi Department of Education and Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • Year round, open enrollment
  • $200/course; Total cost for college prep $4,915; Total cost for career path $4,315
Find Out More



  • Based in Norcross, GA
  • Accredited by AdvancED, DEAC, and Council for Higher Accreditation (CHEA)
  • Year round, open enrollment
  • Tuition:
    • If no high school credits completed $1,799
    • Completed 9th Grade $1,439
    • Completed 10th Grade $1,079
    • Completed 11th Grade  $779
  • Offers 0% interest monthly payment plans as low as $49/month
Find Out More



  • Based in Bloomsburg, PA
  • Offers Standard Pathway (course by course) or Accelerated Pathway (for students with 12+ transfer credits)
  • 8 week minimum/12 week maximum to complete each course
  • Students typically earn 5-6 credits per year
  • Accredited by AdvancED, State Board of Private Licensed Schools, Commonwealth of PA
  • $399/course for Standard Pathway; $1,485 total for Accelerated Pathway
  • Offers payment plans over 4, 7, 9 or 12 months
Find Out More



  • Based in Plymouth, MN
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • Standard diploma track is 21.5 credits
  • Full time is 4-6 courses/semester
  • Many courses completed within 12 weeks
  • Flat $99/month tuition fee for unlimited courses
Find Out More



  • Based in Bloomington, IN
  • Offers College Prep and Standard Diploma Pathways
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • At least 10 credits must be earned through IUHS
  • $252/course
Find Out More



  • Based in Scottsdale, AZ
  • 24 credit program
  • 6 credits must be completed at Park City Independent
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • Call 888-866-4989 for tuition rates
Find Out More



  • Based in University, MS
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • Must complete at least 6.25 credits at UMHS
  • $375 per 1 unit course; $250 per ½ unit course
Find Out More



  • Based in Columbia, MO
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • $500/course
  • Missouri residents and U.S. residents who have been admitted into the Diploma Program may qualify for 50% tuition reduction
Find Out More



  • Based in Arlington, TX
  • Accredited by AdvancED and Texas Education Agency
  • Receive all classes at once and work at your own pace
  • Students with 0 credits – 11.5 credits pay $1,005 or $105/month for 8 months
  • Students with more than 11.5 credits pay $905 or $105/month for 9 months
Find Out More



  • Based in Midland, TX
  • Must complete at least 25% of credits at Orion
  • Accredited by AdvancED and Texas Private School Accreditation Commission
  • Full-time student annual cost is $1750 or $225/month
  • May offer discounted tuition based on need
Find Out More



  • Based in Morgantown, WV
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • Can earn 6 credits/year
  • $1499 for 12 months; payment plans available
Find Out More



  • Based in Woodbridge, VA
  • Accredited by AdvancED and DEAC
  • $325/credit
Find Out More



  • Based in Tallahassee, FL and Scottsdale, AZ
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • $330/month
Find Out More



  • Based in Clinton Township, MI
  • For students ages 22 and over
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • $200-$250/course
Find Out More



  • Based in Provo, UT
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • Free tutoring via phone
  • Issued diploma from Provo, UT public school district
  • $148-$170/course
Find Out More



  • Based in Brattleboro, VT
  • Choose between print based by mail or online
  • Approved by the Vermont State Board of Education and Better Business Bureau
  • Requires $300 down payment. Contact school for more information.
Find Out More



  • Based in Exeter, NH
  • Approved by New Hampshire State Board of Education as a public charter school
  • Tuition depends on how long you need to complete each course—4 week plan is $110; 15 week plan is $350
Find Out More



  • Based in Lincoln, NE
  • Accredited by AdvancED and Nebraska Department of Education
  • Non-residents  pay $200/course; residents pay $150/course
Find Out More



  • Based in Fargo, ND
  • Accredited by AdvancED
  • Residents pay $169/course, non-residents pay $250/course
Find Out More


In-Person High School Diploma for Adults

Group of students pursuing a high school diploma for adults If online schools are not an affordable option for you, or if you prefer a face to face setting with instructors and other students, many states offer both private and public options for adult learners to complete a high school diploma. The availability, cost, and curriculum structure vary greatly from state to state and even program to program. Below is a list of organizations, by state, that offer credit based high school diploma for adults (completion options). Because state funding changes annually, it is best to check with your State Department of Education to verify if any programs have been discontinued or added.
Many states are required to provide free education up to the age of 21. If you are a young adult between the ages of 16-21 who has not completed and is not enrolled in high school, you may be able to re-enroll. Check the free education requirements by age for each state as you begin researching.


The state of Alabama does not offer any credit based options for an adult learner to earn a high school diploma. Alabama offers both a high school equivalency credential and a Non-Traditional High School Diploma Option.


Anchorage, Alaska
$100/high school credit
Private, non-profit
Available throughout Alaska
Free, public school
Currently serves only up to age 20, but working towards serving older students so keep checking!
Anchorage, AK
Offers Career Online High School
High school diploma with one of 8 career certifications
Tuition $1445, allowed 18 months to complete program


Partnership with public libraries in Phoenix and Pima County, AZ
High school diploma with one of 8 career certifications
Free, paid by private and corporate scholarships
Phoenix, ages 21 and over; Pima County ages 22 and over


Little Rock, AR
Ages 19 and over
Free tuition, free childcare
8 week sessions


California has an extensive program that functions as part of the K-12 public school system and offers credit based high school diplomas.
Over 340 Adult Schools throughout the state
Most classes cost $10-$25
12 Community Colleges in California also offer free adult high school.
36 libraries in California also offer programs where you can earn a high school diploma with one of 8 career certifications free via scholarships.


Lakewood, CO
Age 21 and over $150/semester
Ages 18-20 $75/semester
In person, public program
Littleton, CO
Partnership with Career Online High School
Tuition $1,295 with 18 months to complete program
Participating libraries offer scholarships to Career Online High School
Individual programs have slight variations in age requirements


The above directory is divided by town. A number “5” in the “Program” column indicates that facility provides an Adult High School Diploma program.
Allows some programs to be completed online.
Hartford, CT
Offers 25 scholarships to Career Online High School
Must be at least 25 years old


7 locations throughout Delaware
Free, public program funded by Delaware Department of Education


Many school districts offer adult high school through public school system. Select your county to find contact information in your area.
Several community colleges also offer adult high school
Most programs cost $30/semester
Over 20 library systems in the state of Florida have partnered with Career Online High School to offer scholarships to adults


No public Department of Education programs exist in Georgia for credit based high school diploma.
Partnered with Career Online High School to offer scholarships


Hawaii does not offer a credit based high school diploma, but they offer an alternative, competency based diploma.


Part of Boise Public School District


Partnership with Career Online High School to offer scholarships for residents to earn a high school diploma
11 participating library districts
Must be at least 21 years old and resident of library district
Open to residents of Evanston, Maine, Northfield or Niles Township
Evening High School


Open to residents of Indiana
Free online public school in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township
12 locations in Indiana
Free tuition, free drop in child care, transportation assistance
Portage, IN
Open to all Northwest Indiana Residents who completed 8th grade
Indianapolis, IN
Part of K-12 public charter schools
Indianapolis, IN
Part of Warren Township School District
Kokomo, IN
Free to all ages
Muncie, IN
Part of Muncie Public Schools


Offered at 7 locations
For Eastern Iowa Residents
Only fee is $60 refundable book deposit


Over 80 locations throughout the state with adult degree completion programs
Programs are free or very low cost
Upon completion, receive degree from local school district
Some programs are face to face, some online
Olathe, KS
Online, free public school for Kansas residents
Accredited by AdvancED


Covington, KY
Operated by Covington Independent Public schools


Pineville, LA
Christian Based
The school is approved by the Louisiana Board of Secondary and Elementary, but is not accredited
Tuition is determined by number of credits student needs—max $690
Program includes free tutoring


Various locations—course list indicates which facility offers the course
Partnered with Maine Department of Education
Over 80 Adult Education Programs
Free tuition—many of the courses list prices, but the academic courses are free to students in the diploma program


Maryland does not offer any credit based, state funded adult high school diploma programs. Maryland participates in the competency based National External Diploma Program.
Offers scholarships with Career Online High School
Free to county residents age 19 and over
Offers scholarships with Career Online High School
Free to county residents age 21 and over


Must be a resident of Boston over age 16
Evening program
$5 Registration Fee plus cost of books
Part of Stoughton Public Schools
$195/course held on Tuesday and Thursday Evenings
Must be age 22 and over
Brockton residents pay $165/course, Non-residents pay $195/course


Michigan has many high school completion programs through the Michigan Workforce Development Agency. Under the heading “Class Types,” high school completion programs will be indicated with “HSC”.
Lansing, MI
Partnership with Career Online High School
Tuition $1295 but may be free for some students
Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
Classes in person or online
Free Tuition


Some school districts offer a credit based adult diploma, but it is only recommended for students who need 1-3 credits. Minnesota has moved to a competency based adult high school diploma issued by the state instead of individual school districts. Programs are available in various locations. To find a program, select adult diploma and enter your zip code to find locations near you.


The state of Mississippi only offers high school equivalency programs.


Missouri’s Department of Education does not currently offer adult high school completion programs. A new state law was signed on July 5, 2017 to create 4 adult high schools in the counties of St. Louis, Butler, Greene and Boone for individuals age 21 and over. So keep checking for updates if you live in these counties!
Serve 36 locations
Partnered with Career Online High School for diploma and career certificate
Offers scholarships for residents the library serves


Access to Success Program in cooperation with Helen School District
Ages 16 and up
Free classes, $30 application fee


Nebraska only offers high school equivalency programs.


Various school districts offer adult high school


23 locations offering Adult High School
Average $125/course


11 Locations throughout Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Morris and Passaic counties
Part of New Jersey Public School System
Most programs have no fee for classes
Sewell, NJ
For residents of Southern New Jersey 16 and older
Courses completed online
County residents pay $200 per course, out-of-county residents pay $225 per course
Partnered with Career Online High School to earn high school diploma and career certificate
Camden County Library System–must be at least 19 years old
Elizabeth Public Library–must be at least 22 years old
Long Branch Free Public Library-must be at least 19 years old
Scotch Plains Public Library–must be at least 22 years old
Somerset County Library System–must be at least 19 years old
Trenton Free Public Library–must be at least 19 years old
Free via scholarships


Locations in Albuquerque and Las Cruces
Designed for immigrants and their families and children
Able to learn English while earning a high school diploma
Must be at least 14 years old
Free, public charter high school


New York only offers high school equivalency programs and the competency based National External Diploma Program (NEDP).


Programs available at 47 community colleges throughout the state
Combines classroom, learning lab, and online


The state of North Dakota only offers high school equivalency programs.


18 locations throughout Ohio
Must be at least 22 years old
Free to Ohio residents


The state of Oklahoma only offers high school equivalency programs.


Gresham, OR
In person and online
Residents of Oregon and SW Washington over 16 years old are eligible
$50 per half credit
Albany, OR
Residents pay $116.33/credit, out-of-state cost is $254.60/credit
CA, ID, WA and NV residents are eligible for resident tuition rates
Salem, OR
Ages 21 and over
Residents pay $99/credit, out-of-state students pay $261/credit
Oregon City, OR
Must be at least 16
Residents pay $93/credit, out-of-state students pay $266/credit


Education Options Program
Must be at a Philadelphia resident, 17 and older, who has earned at least 8 high school credits
Can earn up to 6 credits each academic year
Must be a resident of the city of Erie
For individuals needing 4 credits are less
Students take online classes while taking tech classes in Auto Mechanics, Construction Trades, Culinary, Machine Technologies, Patient Care Assistant or Welding Technologies
Most costs are covered under a grant


The state of Rhode Island only offers high school equivalency and the National External Diploma program.


South Carolina has over 50 adult education programs throughout the state! Each program’s requirements and fees vary slightly. All contact information, including a website, is listed for each county in South Carolina.


The state of South Dakota only offers high school equivalency programs.


Memphis, TN
For Shelby County residents 18 and over
Free drop in childcare, free city bus passes
Each student assigned a life coach
Free tuition
Murfreesboro, TN
Must be at least 18
Must need 5.5 credits or less to graduate
Nashville, TN
Computer based, in person
Free program for Davidson County residents 18 and over
Partnership with Career Online High School
Scholarships available to residents 19 and over


Austin, TX
Students from the following counties may apply:  Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Burnet, Blanco, Fayette, Gonzales, Mason, Llano, Gillespie, Lee, Caldwell, Dewit, and Lavaca
For ages 17-50
Free public charter school
Houston, TX
$75/course, textbooks included
For students over the age of 26
Must have previously attended a Houston Independent School District high school
Must not need more than 4 semester courses to graduate
Corpus Christi, TX
Partnership with Career Online High School
Serves 12 locations
Partnership with Career Online High School
For ages 19 and over


West Jackson, UT
For Utah residents 18 and over
In person and online
Accredited through AdvancED
Kaysville, UT
Davis Public School District
$100 yearly registration fee
St. George, UT
For residents of Utah, Nevada or Arizona age 16 and over
Washington County School District
Accredited by AdvancED
$40 registration fee
Salt Lake City, UT
In partnership with Salt Lake City School District
Available to all Utah residents
Accredited by AdvancED
Day classes cost $35/class, night classes cost $20/class
Murray, UT
In partnership with Murray City School District
Utah residents 16 years and older
Salt Lake City, UT
In partnership with Granite School District
$5 registration
Provo, UT
In partnership with Provo City School District
$25 for the first term, $10 each term after
Cedar City, UT
In partnership with Iron County School District
Utah residents age 16 and over
$50 enrollment fee
Spanish Fork, UT
In partnership with Nebo School District
$50 fee first semester; $35 fee second semester
Vernal, UT
In partnership with Uintah School District
For UT residents needing 5 credits or less

Start Your Online High School Diploma Program Today!

It’s never too late to earn your high school diploma. Online learning now allows adults to complete this milestone in their lives and earn an online high school diploma quickly and conveniently.


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