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Should you let your poorly-performing teen drop out of high school and get a GED?

Your teenager is doing poorly – both academically and behaviorally – in high school. And he has just announced that he wants to drop out and get his GED. Given his turbulent history, you are starting to wonder if it might be the better route to go. Sound familiar?

Before discussing the specifics of a GED, you need to determine if your teen will be eligible to take the exam. The GED has certain eligibility prerequisites. The student:
  • must meet certain state requirements (varies state to state)
  • must not be currently enrolled in - or have graduated from - high school
  • needs to be age 16 or older

If your teen passes the above requirement, the next few paragraphs talk about specifics of the GED. The teen is awarded a GED after she passes every one of the five sections of the GED with a 60 % or higher score than the sample set of graduating high school seniors. The sections are: Language Arts/Reading, Language Arts/Writing, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies.

Depending on your teen’s aptitude and how prepared he is, he may be able to pass the GED with relatively little studying. The total amount of time for all of the GED tests is seven hours and five minutes. Clearly, study time for the average student will require more than seven hours. It's likely that your teen will need to take some kind of preparation course (e.g., online or in-class instruction) before taking the GED. Thus, total time will be well over seven hours.

If your teenager is considering dropping out of high school and taking her GED, it is important to thoroughly think about the pros and cons of doing so before making such a serious decision.

The Pros of getting a GED: 
  1. Life circumstances often force teens to leave school early. With the GED, teens can continue their education without the restrictions and extraneous classes that often accompany attending a traditional high school.
  2. Many GED holders continue to community college before earning a four-year degree. Once these young people have proven themselves by taking college courses, admission to four-year universities becomes easier.
  3. Teens who are bored in high school can use the GED to test out of classes and use the extra time to develop a work history.
  4. Teens with a GED who are able to hold down jobs often gain a sense of responsibility and freedom that traditional students do not have.
  5. Whether your teen drops out because he didn’t like school or he left for another reason, getting a GED can be a second opportunity to taking a step in furthering his education.

The Cons of getting a GED: 
  1. Depending on the individual college, a GED holder may be required to take additional tests, such as the SAT or ACT, to determine the GED holder's specific knowledge.
  2. Even though some colleges, especially junior and community colleges, accept the GED, statistically speaking, those with a GED are less likely to attend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 73% of high school graduates went on to complete at least some post-secondary education, but only 43% of those who had a GED did the same. Graduates are also much more likely to finish college compared to those who have their GED. Only 5% of GED-holders went on to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33% of high school graduates.
  3. It is not possible to take a GED online. You can study and prepare for the GED online, but the actual test must be proctored at a place approved by your state. However, you can get your high school diploma online.
  4. Most entry-level jobs accept either a high school diploma or GED; however, many employers may question why an individual chose to get a GED over a high school diploma. Each employer will respond differently to a candidate with a GED instead of a high school diploma, and some employers may have a preference for one or the other. 
  5. Once you leave high school, you may not be able to go back. You may miss the school functions and the schedule, along with the experiences that you can’t get back once they pass.
  6. Some universities and colleges won’t accept the GED. More often than not, you will be able to get into a community college, but depending on the other institutions you are applying to, it may be a bit more difficult to get accepted. 
  7. The decision to get a GED, rather than graduate from high school, affects earning potential. In 2009, those with GEDs had lower earnings than students with a high school diploma. High school graduates averaged about $4,700 a month, whereas GED recipients earned about $3,100. Interestingly enough, even when GED holders do go on to college and earn a bachelor's degree, they still earn about $1,400 less a month than those who received a high school diploma.
  8. The GED is not simple, and neither is the process of getting to the point where you are ready to take it. The GED takes more than seven hours and is comprised of five tests. Unfortunately, even though some dropouts claim they will take the GED, they end up not taking the test at all.
  9. The military often prefers applicants with high school diplomas. The Air Force requires a minimum qualifying score of 65 on the ASVAB for GED holders. GED holders must wait for openings to become available in the Air Force, as less than 1% of enlisted individuals are GED holders during any one-year period. 
  10. Trade and labor job-seekers are often not negatively impacted by a GED, but those seeking professional positions may have more trouble finding jobs. In 2011, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts was about 4 percentage points higher than for graduates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Pursuing a GED is a personal choice. It’s a good choice for some, and a poor choice for others, depending on individual circumstances. In any event, high school is a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, and dropping out leads to missed opportunities. High school graduation is the culmination of a long educational journey, and receiving a diploma is a huge accomplishment that takes years to achieve. Teens should seriously consider whether dropping out to get a GED is worth missing out on this sense of pride and accomplishment. Obtaining a diploma versus a GED shows colleges and employers that the young person possess the drive and determination that is needed in a competitive job market.

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