by Howard and Matthew Greene
James felt like he lost half his high school career. A good student in the ninth and tenth grades, he came down with a series of unexplained illnesses during the summer, and entered junior year unable to concentrate, frustrated by reading tasks, and kept out of school for numerous days due to trips to the doctor and feeling sick in the morning. Finally, he was diagnosed with Lyme's disease, a tick-borne illness that affects sleep, neurological functioning, and overall health. After a difficult series of treatments, James was cured, but not before he had lost most of his junior and senior years in high school. With too few credits to graduate, and a terrible grade point average, James eventually dropped out of school altogether and took a job. Not wanting to give up entirely on his education, he took a few classes at a local community college, and then decided to apply full-time to universities. He didn't want to go back to high school, but needed the equivalent of a high school diploma to be qualified to apply to four-year universities and colleges. A GED, completed over the summer at the local community college would help him move ahead.
Ellen had attended most of her high school years outside of the U.S., and moved to America before completing her diploma. She married, had two children, and then divorced. Entering her forties, with her children completing high school, she decided to fulfill her dream of becoming a licensed social worker. Through her community and volunteer work, she had a great deal of experience that would help her in this profession, yet she needed the academic credentials to qualify her for better jobs and the social work license. She had taken some part-time classes, but knew she needed a high school degree or its equivalent to apply full-time to colleges that offered a Bachelor of Arts degree with a specialization in Social Work (BSW). A GED helped her qualify for admission without forcing her back into high school, and her part-time classes provided her with advanced credits when she entered her four-year degree program.
Are you a student who didn't do well in high school? Did you drop out before completing your degree? Are you considering a return to formal education at the secondary or college level? A first step if you did not finish high school is to complete the requirements for the General Educational Development (GED) credential and take the test (www.gedtest.org). If you have already completed your GED, then consider the fact that almost every college and university in the country accepts the GED in place of a standard high school diploma. According to the American Council on Education (www.acenet.edu), some 860,000 people take the GED test annually, and one of seven high school diplomas awarded in the U.S. each year is based on passing the GED test. Some sixty percent of GED takers say they intend to pursue post-secondary education.
Certainly high school age students, or those in their late teens and early twenties may take the GED as an alternative to a high school diploma, and we have counseled students who have done so in order to qualify for college-level studies. Sometimes these students have needed a more flexible and independent environment, and more time, in which to complete high school requirements. In other cases, very high achieving students, students who have already done well in part-time college-level classes and high school Advanced Placement (AP) classes, have not been able to continue their studies at an independent or public school, and have needed to complete a high school credential prior to applying to a full-time college program. Most colleges require a high school diploma or GED, though exceptions can be made (see our article on homeschooling). While almost every school accepts the GED in place of a diploma, make sure that the colleges and universities you are considering do so. Also, you will likely have to complete additional requirements for entrance to a selective public or private four-year institution. You might need to take the SAT I, SAT II Subject Tests, or ACT, for example.
Most GED takers do fall into the adult-learner category. Some four million adults enter undergraduate programs annually. They are returning to school to start or complete a post-high school program for job or career purposes or to fulfill a lifelong goal. We find that people are amazed to learn that about forty percent of college students are adults (over twenty-five years of age). Today, the "traditional" college student, someone who entered college directly out of high school, who is under twenty-five, who remains dependent on his or her parents for financial support, and so forth, is in the minority. Opportunities abound for adult students interested in full- or part-time study, whether they have earned a traditional high school diploma or GED. Check out PBS Campus (www.pbs.org/campus), for example, for distance learning and continuing education options, and College is Possible (www.collegeispossible.org/adults/adults.htm) for additional guidance for adult learners. Increasingly, undergraduate education itself is becoming a precursor for graduate education, certificates, and other credentials. If you are considering undergraduate study-earning your Associate's (two-year) or Bachelor's (four-year) degree-and think you will likely want to proceed with a graduate degree, make sure the programs in which you are interested will qualify you in your intended field of study. The programs should have proper accreditation, a record of graduate school placement in accredited graduate programs, and enough courses and faculty in your areas of interest to help you reach your goals.
What is the GED?
The GED tests your knowledge in Language Arts/Writing (including an essay), Language Arts/Reading, Social Studies, Science, and Mathematics. The test is given in a series of blocks that will take over seven hours to complete.
Where can you take the GED?
You can complete the GED at over three thousand testing centers in the U.S., Canada, and overseas. Many of these are located at area community colleges and schools. You will need to check with your local testing coordinator, found through www.gedtest.org, for available test dates in your area.
How do you prepare for the GED?
You will need to make sure you are qualified in each of the areas outlined above before taking the exam. Fortunately, there are many good resources available to help you. In addition to the sites listed above, check out:
Peterson's GED test prep
Wiley/Cliffs "TestPrep GED
Kaplan's GED Prep
"What you need to know about" has a list of resources for the GED and adult/continuing education
© 2003 by Howard R. Greene and Matthew W. Greene. All rights reserved.
This article can be found online at http://www.pbs.org/tenstepstocollege/focus_main.html
Copies of the Greenes' Kit is available by visiting shop.pbs.com or by calling (800) 344-3337.