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There are plenty of good reasons to get your high school diploma if you didn’t graduate from high school. It can open doors to a new job or promotion, or help you get into college or the military. But not all diplomas are the same — and some are scams. Employers, colleges, or the military may reject a diploma from a scam program. That means you could lose the time you put into the program and your hard-earned money. Before you enroll in a high school diploma program, learn the signs of a diploma scam.

Earning a High School Equivalency Diploma

If you didn’t graduate from high school, there are other ways to get your diploma. One way is to earn what’s called a “high school equivalency” diploma or credential. Many people earn a high school equivalency diploma by taking a test. Which test you’ll take depends on where you live because each state has their own requirements, but passing any of the equivalency tests offered by your state will give you a diploma.

These tests give you some flexibility. You’re able to study on your own time and at your own pace. The tests are usually offered several times a year and can usually be scheduled online. Some states allow you to take the test itself online. Find out which tests your state accepts at, a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. These are the ONLY legitimate high school equivalency tests.

Earning a Diploma With Class Credit

Another way to get your diploma in some states is to take classes and earn credits. You’ll need to meet the same minimum credit requirements as a traditional high school student in your state — but you might be exempt from physical education (P.E.).

Legitimate classes that meet the requirements to earn a diploma might be offered by

  • community colleges
  • extension programs connected to a local college or university
  • adult education programs run by local high schools, school boards, nonprofits, state departments of education, or state workforce programs

Online programs can be convenient, but legitimate online classes usually require a substantial time commitment that involves plenty of reading, writing, or quizzes and tests. If you’re able to finish a class for credit in a day, it’s not the real thing. If you’re considering an online program, check with your state’s department of education to see if it’s accredited. Accreditation means that an established organization confirms that a school meets a certain level of quality. Any program run by your local school district or state doesn’t need accreditation, but other high school equivalency programs do.

When it comes to accreditation, don’t rely on a program’s claim, alone. Scammers make up accreditations, fake organizations, and websites to sell their programs, and many scammers might use the same phony accreditor, so seeing an accreditor listed on more than one site isn’t proof that the program is real. To check to see if an accreditation is real, contact your state’s department of education and ask them what they know about the program you’re looking at.

Earning a Degree With Work and Life Experience

A small number of states let you earn some credits toward a high school diploma from work experience. But no state lets you get a diploma with only work experience credits. Where work experience credits are accepted, you have to demonstrate your skills to an evaluator, or turn in a credential — like a professional license or vocational training certification.

If a program says you can earn your diploma with just “life experience,” it’s a scam.

Finding Help

To find out the high school diploma options and requirements for your state, contact:

Your local community college

The college should be able to tell you which high school equivalency tests are accepted in your state and how to register to take them. They might even offer classes to help you prepare for the test. Ask them what diplomas they accept to admit students. Find your community college at the American Association of Community Colleges website.

Your state’s department of education

The education department in your state should be able to tell you what tests are accepted there, whether an online program is approved, and how to find a legitimate program. Find your state’s department of education on the U.S. Department of Education website.

Signs of a High School Diploma Scam

Here are some ways to know you’ve come across a high school diploma scam:

Scammers say you can get the diploma from home, ASAP. No classes? No tests? Done in a day? That’s a scam. Legitimate programs require weeks or months of your time, so you’re able to take classes for credit. Real high school equivalency tests are offered at specific days and times, not on demand. And most people don’t pass without really studying.

Scammers say you have to pay for the diploma certificate itself. You generally need to pay for classes and tests — but not the diploma itself. If a program claims that the classes and tests are free but there’s a charge for the diploma, walk away.

Scammers say they’re with the federal government. The federal government doesn’t offer programs to award high school diplomas. Legitimate tests and programs are approved by your state.

Fake Diplomas Can Have Consequences

Getting a diploma from a scam program can have real consequences, including rejections by employers, colleges, or the military.

Your education is also a large financial investment. You want to be sure you’re getting value for your hard-earned money. So, before you start investing in your future, make sure you’re getting a high school diploma that’s legitimate.

Report Scams

Have you spotted a high school diploma scam? Report it to:

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