You Never Graduated High School? By Michael Ormsby

"You mean you never finished high school?" To the high school dropout those words bring embarrassment, dead-end jobs, and minimum wage income. Americans without a high school degree fall into the lowest income bracket almost 50% less than a high school graduate. And there are 39 million Americans in the same boat.

Without a high school education, you have three choices. Or, actually, four choices. The first choice is to do nothing and remain at the lowest income level, where just buying food and putting clothes on your children's back is a struggle. A working parent may have two, three, or more jobs just to get by. Or, an adult can enroll in a legitimate online high school program and earn a high school diploma by taking the classes he or she missed in high school. Online high schools can be expensive, costing two to three thousand dollars for a one or two year program. If testing is done online, there are pitfalls. Some government agencies won't recognize any diploma based on online testing.

But there are worse pitfalls. The Internet provides another option: fake high school diplomas. Online "diploma mills" are advertised all over the Internet. Instead of taking classes, these companies give an unsupervised online test and "life experience credit." For a few hundred dollars, anyone can buy a "high school diploma," plus fake transcripts for a few extra dollars...or higher grades for a few more bucks. Many people think they're getting a real, legitimate diploma, not realizing that the "accreditation" of these websites is as false as the schools themselves. Even the best-intentioned person can face embarrassment and risk losing their job by presenting a fake diploma to an employer or college.

That's three choices, and they don't sound very encouraging. That's why the fourth choice is so important: the General Educational Development tests, or GED. The GED is the official high-school equivalency exam, a test sanctioned by the government to certify that you have the most important high school skills. To get a GED, you simply brush up on the high school skills that you might have missed or forgotten, and take the test at an official testing center.

The GED has a lot of advantages over other options. It can be fast and easy. The test is legitimate and inexpensive, and the test-taker receives a credential from their state government. By passing the GED, you show a high level of mastery in mathematics, science, social studies, reading, and writing. Perhaps even more important, you show that you have the perseverance and commitment to prepare for and complete a challenging eight-hour battery of exams. And, although the GED is challenging, it's also achievable. With focused study and personal dedication, the millions of Americans who missed out on high school can get a second chance. Many GED study programs are available to help.

Unfortunately, despite the benefits of the GED, adult learners are often taken advantage of because of their desire to pass "high school." Many if not most online "high schools" aren't real schools, and they don't offer real degrees. A customer may pay $200 to $1,000 to get a degree just by taking an online exam, but the degree turns out to be worthless. Informed employers and colleges will reject it.

In dollars and cents, a GED means earning up to $350,000 more over your lifetime--and possibly much more, if you go on to trade school, community college, or a university. In less tangible terms, earning a GED translates into greater respect and more possibilities.