Can you really go to college without a high school diploma?

Bill Janklow thought so and probably wins the prize for the most creative way to get into college without a diploma or GED (General Education Development) certificate. As a high school dropout, he offered a deal to a state university: let him enroll in one semester of college and, if he passed, he could continue; if he failed, the school could boot him out.

Not only did Janklow ace his first semester, he finished college, got a law degree, became a state’s attorney general, and served as a four-term governor of South Dakota.

Like Janklow, many people today find themselves in an unenviable position: they want to go to college to advance or switch their careers, but they didn’t graduate from high school. Although it’s not likely you’ll be able to fast-talk your way into a college the way Janklow did, if you’re one of the 31.4 million Americans who the U.S. Census Bureau, says did not finish high school and does not have a GED, there are still options available to you to advance your education.

Earn Your Associate or Bachelor’s Degree Online. You May Qualify For $5,920 in Grants!

Four options for the high school dropout to get an advanced degree.

We say, so what if you’re a high school dropout! If you want to go to college to get a post-secondary degree, you’re not stuck. Instead, you have four main options:

1. Enroll In A Community College

If you find yourself identifying with Larry Crowne—the character in the latest Tom Hanks movie who lost his job, his wife, his house, and his SUV, yet who starts his life over by enrolling in a community college—you’re in luck. Most community colleges are very friendly to adult student who didn’t finish high school, and many have programs specifically designed to help the high-school dropout—even if you dropped out decades ago.

In addition, most community colleges have “Ability to Benefit” programs where people without high school diplomas or GED’s are admitted regardless of age. Under this program, you contact the admissions office, take a few placement tests and, if you pass them and prove that you could benefit greatly from a college program, you are admitted to the school under the Ability to Benefit program. You may also qualify for financial aid and other assistance.

2. Get a GED

Passing this high-school equivalency test proves to colleges that your knowledge of basic subjects is on par with today’s young ‘uns who are donning their caps and gowns to grab their diplomas. The test is five parts and covers reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as social studies and science.

The best way to get your GED is to get your hands on some test study materials. You can either buy your own or join a study group. Study materials are available online, as well as at your state Department of Education and Centers for Workforce Education.

After you have studied the materials and feel confident that you know them, the next step is to take a practice test. Again, you can do this online, or visit a Workforce Center. A practice test is also included in your study materials.

Once you take a practice test and feel confident enough to take the real test, you can contact your state Department of Education or Center for Workforce Education to locate testing centers. A note of caution: You cannot take the GED test online. Any website claiming to offer a GED test (as opposed to a practice test) and a high-school diploma for a fee is a scam. Don’t fall for it.

If you pass the test, you will then have a powerful document for helping you get into a college or university.

3. Apply for Non-traditional Student Status

Like Frank Sinatra, you’ve always done things your way—and getting your college education is no different. As someone who hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom for several years and has a few gray hairs on the average enrollee, you may qualify for “non-traditional” student status. Some schools will recognize your life experience and maturity, and waive the diploma and GED requirements.

4. Double Dip and Multitask

You’ve done it on the job, and now you can multitask to take online college courses at the same time you’re working on your high school credits. Just ask the college you want to attend if they offer concurrent enrollment programs that let you attend two schools at once—a high school and the college. And there’s an added benefit: many high schools allow you to earn double high school credits for taking college courses.

Reinvention Is the New Young-at-heart

It takes just one small step for you to alter the course of your life. And just like Bill Janklow or Hank’s Larry Crowne character, you never know the wonders that lie just beyond that first step. If going back to school is your first step, then evaluate the options listed in this article, find one that works for you and that you can be passionate about, and get started!

To you we say, welcome to your second chance!

Earn Your Associate or Bachelor’s Degree Online. You May Qualify For $5,920 in Grants!

42 comments on “How To Go To College Without a High School Diploma

  • Ive been in trouble with the law ..5 years clean from drugs,lying on apps to get my STNA license didnt graduate,problems with math that’s all…I want to tell my story to help others..i want to work with deliquent children…i can change a life and i know it…help..i want to go to college..I’ll pass.

    • Hi Cheriese,
      I’m sorry for the delay in responding. I think having you work with delinquent children would be a wonderful thing. You can offer them many real-life stories from your own experience and may be able to help them turn their lives around. Let us know what we can do to help you.

    • Hi, I’m a delinquent juvenile on probation. I’m eighteen now, and I was detained for two months and was placed in an adult rehab but I left it two days ago. I was hoping that maybe if I get to an outpatient and start college I may not be re arrested. Any take?

      • Hi Dilcia, I’m unsure about how your local authorities will handle your case, however getting yourself involved in college courses and keeping yourself busy that way, may be a good way to keep yourself out of trouble… especially if you are doing that while also attending an outpatient treatment program. I hope you can get the help you need. If you are interested in attending a community college nearby, you can find a full list of community colleges at one of our partner websites, and contact them to see what their admission requirements are. I wish you the best of luck. If you need any additional information or help with regards to your education, feel free to email me at [email protected].

    • Hi Cheriese I read your post about being your background…..Mine is so very similar… Especially the being incarcerated and math…I’m 54 I do not have a deploma nor GED…I have gained a physical disability but want get a higher education…It has been difficult for me to find an online Junior college do you have any suggestions, that can assist me in an opportunity to enhance my life in college. Im also interested in under preveledge children in crisis. I would love to have the opportunity to work with children in the absence of HEALTHY living and situation. I need a higher education first. Thank you

  • I want to go to college and at the same time take my classes to get my g.e.d.. I will need a grant to help me get started. Can anyone help me with this or point me in the right direction?

  • I just found out I’m pregnant and I do not have a high school diploma or a GED yet but I’m wanting to work on my bed and take some college classes at the same time, is there anything I can do to help me do that??

  • The last grade I completed was middle of 11 because of the alternative school was shutdown and I couldn’t go back to normal school I got my g.e.d online turn out it wasn’t real and the g.e.d school here wasn’t very nice . so I gave up now IV been stuck working dead end jobs never going anywhere in life with no family . I work very hard and I’d love to work for anyone who would give me a chance at a career

    • Chy, I’m so sorry to hear about your bad experience with the GED program you did. There are definitely some shady schools out there. If you are interested in getting your GED through an accredited and legitimate school, just email me at [email protected] and I can send you some information on a few of them. I’d love to help if we can.

  • I was wondering if I could get into collage at the age of 17 and without a high school degree. I’m pretty bad in math and I always fail it and I have problems in other classes due to my dyslexia it also doesn’t help that I’m living in Germany and don’t know the language so I have no clue what we are learning and now I’m behind at least 3 Years. I’m honestly lost on what to do. I always wanted to be an architect but I know that’s not an option for me anymore since I’ll be dropping out with bad grades but I also don’t want to do something I’m not happy with. is there any possible options for me? I doubt I would pass many of the tests to enter a collage

    • Hi Hannah, you have a very unique situation. I believe you’ll have to talk directly with a community college about whether or not they’ll accept your HS credits and what that would mean going forward for earning either an online associate degree ( or an online trade license or certificate ( I definitely think being an architect is still an option for you once you can transfer into a 4-year degree program from an associates program. It just may take a bit of time for you to get there and a unique path, but that is not a bad thing and would definitely be worth it if that’s your dream. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions – [email protected].

  • Hi my name is Sarah and I want to be a drug counselor and an animal control officer . I can really Relate to the people I would be helping because I’ve been there . I also love saving animals and getting them adopted out .

  • My name is Harry Charles and I want to become a Massage Therapist but I am a high school dropout and do not have a GED. I work 2 jobs and don’t make much money. I live I Mission Valley, CA would love to go to Massage school. Help pleas

    • Mary, as the article says, there may be a way for you to do that. The best routes from what I know are attending a community college that doesn’t require a HS diploma or GED or (knowing that they may require you to take some remedial courses before transferring to a 4-year program). If you have additional questions, please email me at [email protected]. I’d love to help if we can.

  • Im 39 dropped out in the 11th grade started working. Im a father of 2 daughters and stuck in a dead end job. Would like to futher my education..can i be funded to go back to school full time?

    • Mike, I know that financial aid does not have limits based on age so you may qualify, depending on your need and goals. If you want, you can visit our page on federal financial aid for more information and for how to apply for aid ( There are also some online GED programs if for some reason you can’t find a school that will allow you to enroll without that. If you have questions, feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’d love to help if we can.

    • Felisha,
      I don’t blame you for wanting to better your future! In some fields, getting your degree can be the quickest way to do that. Your best bet may be a nearby community college, then transitioning into a 4-year program (you may have to take some remedial courses before you can transfer). If for some reason you cannot find a community college nearby or even online that will allow you to start college courses without a GED, there are some online GED programs I can send you links to. If you have questions, feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’d love to help if we can.

  • I have a Strafford high school diploma, I was turn down,to go to unisity of phoniex,.I like that school. I found out. They wouldn’t accept my diploma, I’m pissed,off.which community college will accept my diploma, can u help me??

    • Hi Kev,
      I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience with the GED program you did through Stafford. If you are interested in getting your GED through an accredited and legitimate school, just email me at [email protected] and I can send you some information on a few of them. If you’d rather not go that route, there are most likely some community colleges that would allow you to enroll without a GED. If you want to search community colleges in your area and contact them to see what their admission requirements are, you can visit our partner website’s page here: Best of luck!

  • I’m stuck im 25 and I attend 12 years of high school but when I ask vocational rehab to train me they say they can’t train because I don’t have general education diploma. I can’t go to college. I tried going to see if I could get ged but they want let me. Anybody have advice for me. I’m desperate to improve my life.

  • Hey i want to go college.. but i dont have highschool diploma..the problem is math… can anybody help me out?? Nd M really confident that M gone get pass in all samesters..i just want one chance please..can someone help me in this..

  • Hello I would love chance in going for intupring for the hearing impaired but I didn’t finish high shool. Could you help me out? Thank you much.

  • Hello,
    I’m 51 years old,
    I’m thinking about taking the LPN program but I don’t have a High school diploma or the GED ,
    My weakness is mathematic, I’m good at other subjects but except math, it’s been a long time since I left school, how can you help?

  • I really want to take a bible college course but I don’t have a GED or high school diploma. Is it possible to do this?

  • what colleges accept no high diploma.Very intereastd in going to collage .I am 57 .Still wantinglearn .Please help.

  • Can you please help me with some on line college classes? I have no diploma nor GED.please email me with any help you could be to me.thank you so very much.would like to get started asap….

  • I know this is a year later, but I too did not graduate high school, I wish to go to a State College, being Arizona State University. At the same time i do not have a GED but if is there a direction/path i can go without either, id like to know, and i wish to go this year first or second semester.

  • Hi I’m a highschool dropout.
    Is there any school in the USA that accept international high school dropout ????? Or any schools help you with G.E.D ??

  • it’s been 8 years since I dropped out of my senior year I passed my high school exit exam, I wanna get my GED and enroll in my community college what do I need to Get started.

  • I never had the chance to further my education, being in my own since the age of 13 my main goal was surviving. I made it to 10th grade. Unfortunately, I had some run ins with the law and now have a criminal record. At the age of 31 I cannot seem to find employment anywhere due to my record. But I have such a strong passion to want to work with at Risk youth , because I once was that teenager that was troublesome. Or in a Recovery based program. Supringly my main goal is in Law. But I don’t know if enrolling in school would be a waste of time, I’m nervous that I’ll dedicate my everything to it and when it comes time to seek employment that my background history will still be held against me. Does this happen in every field? I can’t keep just letting time pass. I want to be someone I’m proud of.

  • Hi I’m 21 I dropped out of school in the 8th grade I don’t have my GED I have 2 wonderful children I want to further my education for my kids and self I want to go to college to become a CNA but don’t know what college accepts people with out GED or high school diploma if anyone can help would be great

  • Hello there I was wondering if I can get pointed in the direction I need to go I have 7 kids and I’ve dropped out of school and wasted majority of my time doing drugs my first born is now 16 and he’s doing the same and I have experienced alot in my life I would like to take substance abuse counsler and take a GED classes at the same time I am a God’s miracle so many times I should of died God didn’t take me I believe strongly he has a purpose for me and that is to help the addict recover and keep me sober I’m a recovery addict and that’s what I need in my life i want to be an example for my kids look forward in hearing back thank you and God bless each an everyone one of you all p.s my heart goes out to Cherie foster I have experience with some law issues it’s no joke keep up the good work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *