GED and High School Diploma

Most American prisoners are routed into GED programs, which are more focused on reading comprehension than actual high school courses.

How Prisoners Can Obtain their GED and High School Diploma

In the real world, outside of prison, that is, everyone is expected to graduate from high school. In fact, many are expected to graduate from college. That’s just the way it is. Most people outside of prison don’t even know what a GED is. But inside prisons, very few have a high-school diploma. Even fewer have ever taken a college class, much less earned a college degree.

Most (70%) American prisoners have not completed high school, which is the first step they must take if they wish to pursue higher education. Prisoners who have not earned a high-school diploma will find it hard to get by in the outside world. To remedy this, most prison systems provide a GED program to prepare the prisoner-student to pass the GED tests.

Inmates who don’t have their high school diploma are required to participate in GED courses in their prison’s Education Department. The GED is the official high school diploma equivalent, and prisoners who refuse to participate in their GED are actually subject to sanctions, including incident reports, if they refuse to go to class once enrolled.

Inmates also have the option of pursuing their actual high school diploma via mail correspondence, but they must use their own resources to do so.


The GED is considered the official alternative to a high-school diploma. This is unfortunate because, in truth, the courses leading to a GED do not teach nearly as much as you would learn by taking four years of classes to earn an actual high school diploma. In high school, students take biology, science, health, physical education, algebra, geometry, English, foreign languages, literature, history, social sciences, and much, much more. GED classes in prisons do not cover anything like this kind of material.

GED classes in prisons teach only one thing: how to pass the GED tests. It doesn’t take book reading or knowledge of subjects; it only requires basic reading comprehension. So although the GED is the official equivalent of a high-school diploma, a significant knowledge gap stands between a high-school graduate and the person who earns a GED. This is alarming because a high-school education is the building block for all advanced education. Even newspapers and instruction manuals are written for high-school graduates. A person with only a GED is at a severe knowledge disadvantage compared to everyone else in society, almost all of whom graduated from high school.

If you have not completed high school, you must, as a bare minimum, get a GED to pursue any further education. It would be wise to pursue a genuine high-school education. A correspondence high-school program could bring you up to the base level of general society and open a world of knowledge. It is a good career and personal enrichment move that will increase your aptitude, improve your quality of life, and provide a solid foundation for further education.

But, you might think, you don’t want to have to wait that long before taking college-level courses. I hear you! Remember, though: if you enroll in a college English course and haven’t read the literary classics or enroll in a math class without knowing algebra or geometry, you might not succeed. Do everything you can to prepare for the world outside of prison and for more advanced education. A high-school diploma is like a structural foundation. Without a solid foundation, nothing built upon it will last.

While the GED is the official high school diploma equivalency, it is not equal to high school diploma classes since it does not provide subject-specific knowledge. Instead, it teaches prisoners basic reading, reading comprehension, writing, and arithmetic skills.

After arriving at the prison, each inmate will be put on a waiting list to take their GED. Once their name comes up, they will be assessed to determine their academic abilities and placed in a class that matches their current level. These classes are available at all levels, such as pre-GED classes, English-as-a-Second Language GED classes, and many others for those with special learning needs.

After they progress enough in these classes, they are allowed to sit for the official GED examinations. If they pass, they are issued a GED certificate.

High School Diploma Correspondence

While having a GED does qualify prisoners for advanced education, it places the GED recipient at a significant disadvantage since it doesn’t fully cover the various subjects someone would learn in a regular high school.

It is highly recommended that, if possible, prisoners pursue an actual high school diploma through a correspondence program or take college preparatory courses to better prepare them for higher levels of education.

High school diploma correspondence programs allow prisoners to earn a real high school diploma by taking real high school classes through the mail. If a prisoner dropped out of school as a Junior or a Senior, it should only take a year or so to complete the coursework, and it will help prepare them for the rigors of college-level study.

Factors to Consider

Just as with colleges and academic courses, high-school accreditation is critical. If your high school program isn’t properly accredited, colleges won’t accept the diploma, and you might be denied admission. The GED, on the other hand, qualifies you to enroll in all college courses. Ironic, isn’t it?

The regional accreditation agencies that give authentic accreditation to colleges and universities are the same ones that accredit high schools and some vocational programs. At the high-school level, accreditation is important if you ever plan to switch schools. You will need to earn credits from a regionally accredited school to ensure that the credits will transfer. Colleges also look at the high-school accreditation agency to ensure the credits are legitimate. And for your own sake, the accreditation of a high school will ensure the school’s quality.

A word of caution: in searching for schools that offer legitimate correspondence high-school programs, I encountered a lot of false and misleading statements. Be vigilant to protect yourself against scams. The only thing that matters is that the school you select is regionally accredited.

Aside from accreditation, other factors to consider are similar to those you consider when choosing a college program. Be sure you can fulfill course requirements. If a particular course requires that you go to a public library or use a chemistry lab, you cannot. Don’t sign up for courses that have requirements you cannot fulfill. Pay attention to costs, time limits, courses offered, and — very importantly –whether or not the school offers a diploma. After all, your goal is to earn a high-school diploma.

There are three factors to consider when evaluating a correspondence high school diploma program:

  1. The program’s accreditation: All high school correspondence programs should be regionally accredited. The same regional accreditation bodies that accredit colleges and universities also accredit high school diploma programs; it’s just a different branch of the agency. This not only assures program quality but also ensures the degree will be accepted by colleges and universities if the student decides to continue at the college level after receiving their high school diploma.
  2. If the coursework can be completed from prison: All courses in the high school correspondence program must be able to be completed via the U.S. Mail. This includes course assignments, examinations proctored by the incarcerated student’s education department, and any hands-on assignments that have to either be waived or be able to be completed in the prison environment.
  3. If the program awards a high school diploma upon program completion: The program should award a high school diploma upon program completion. There are programs out there that are designed to allow regular high school students to accelerate their studies but don’t award a diploma because the diploma is then awarded by the student’s local school district. This will not work for incarcerated students. Incarcerated students should only enroll in correspondence high school programs that actually award a high school diploma upon program completion.

While there are several high school diploma completion programs to choose from in the correspondence study arena, we have put together what we feel to be the best programs available to prisoners. Note that if a student is visually disabled, they should contact the Hadley School for the Blind since they are the only high school diploma program that we know of that offers courses in Braille. Here is our list of recommended programs:

American School

    American School is regionally accredited. You can pursue either a general high-school diploma or a college preparatory high school diploma at very low tuition rates with a 10-day money-back guarantee and a number of payment plans ($59 to $99 down/$50 to $100 per month). Textbooks are included in the tuition. American School grants a full year’s credit if you’ve already earned a GED.

    Brigham Young University

      Brigham Young University is a fine, regionally accredited school at both the undergraduate and high-school levels. They offer three four-year high-school programs. The standard and advanced programs prepare high-school-age students for college or the job market, but they do not issue a diploma. The Adult Diploma Program for people 19 years of age or older who are United States citizens or permanent residents helps prepare for college or the job market. In addition to receiving an official transcript, students who complete the program receive a high-school diploma from the Provo (Utah) School District. Brigham Young offers dual credit [1] and advanced placement courses and awards five credits (roughly equivalent to a full year of studies) if the prisoner-student already possesses a GED.

      [1] Dual-credit courses are high-school courses that also award college credit. Frequently, schools that offer dual-credit courses are affiliated with colleges. As an example, the University of Indiana has both a high-school program and a college program. Some of their high-school courses fulfill both high-school credit obligations and general educational or elective credits for college.

      North Dakota Center for Distance Education

      Schools Offering High School Correspondence Programs for Prisoners