man in headphones using laptop.

While a high school diploma can be essential to taking the next steps in your career or for preparing for college, as an adult, it can also feel like it’s too late to earn one. But it’s never too late to finish your diploma and reach your goals!

Here’s everything you need to know about going back to high school as an adult:


Is going back to school worth it?


Earning a high school diploma can be a big milestone, but not everyone has the chance to finish high school on a traditional timeline. After a certain age, it can then feel as if it’s impossible to turn back time and get your diploma. But with online education opportunities, it’s never too late to finish what you started. And, going back to school at any age is worth it!

While there can be some challenges that come with going back to school, the end result can make a big difference in your life and career.


Benefits of a high school diploma


With more than 65% of jobs requiring at least a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify for employment, having a diploma on your resume can be essential to getting a foot in the door and starting a rewarding career.

Quote: I was working dead-end jobs because I didn't have a high school diploma... I wasn't getting anywhere. I decided not having a high school diploma really set you back.

Besides being something that can be vital to helping you find jobs you enjoy, having a high school diploma can also impact how much money you can earn. In fact, those who do have their diploma can earn as much as 26% per year more than someone who hasn’t completed high school.

There are many benefits to having your high school diploma, from gaining a sense of personal achievement to a positive impact on your confidence and career opportunities.

1. Personal achievement

Not everyone can graduate on the traditional timeline. Whether you had to leave school to help your family, or an illness kept you from finishing your classes, there’s always a chance to go back and finish what you started!

Earning your diploma will not only let you finish something you started - you’ll build confidence through completing your classes, learning new skills, and from knowing that you absolutely can reach your goals!

2. Career advancement

With so many jobs requiring applicants to have their high school diploma or GED, having yours can not only qualify you for the job, it can help you prepare to eventually move up and advance your career.

While there are definitely jobs out there that don’t require you to have your diploma, most companies still will want supervisors and those in higher positions to have one. If you start a job in foodservice, for example, and you have the skills and experience to be a leader but not your high school diploma, you may see coworkers who are less experienced but do have their diploma earning those higher positions – and higher salaries – much faster than you.

By getting your high school diploma, you may find that you have more opportunities to get a promotion or get your foot in the door for higher paying jobs.

3. Additional education

A high school diploma can be an essential part of taking your education to the next level! Not only can a high school diploma be a prerequisite for college and career diplomas, it can potentially help you be more successful in more advanced classes.

Your high school classes can also help you narrow down your interests and figure out what kind of jobs you like. Some high schools may even have career-focused classes that can give you a sense of the knowledge and work needed for a specific job!


Can you get a high school diploma after 21?


Yes, you absolutely can get a high school diploma after you’re 21 years old. However, the path to earning that diploma will be a little different! Generally, most public and private schools will allow students to come back to finish their high school courses before they’re 21 but once they hit that age, they need to find other options to get their diploma.

For some, that means pursuing a high school equivalency credential. For others, that may look like taking adult high school classes at a local school.

But even these options may not offer the flexibility many adults need – after all, you have a job, a family, daily responsibilities. Carving out time to attend night classes may not be possible. You may also worry that you’re “too old” to go back to school. That’s where online high school can help.

Accredited, online high school programs can benefit students of any age, from 14 to 100! Because online schools don’t have in-person classes, it doesn’t matter if you’re not within the traditional high school age. In fact, the average age of Penn Foster High School students is 30 years old! *

graph: average age of Penn Foster High School students.

GED vs high school diploma


As an adult considering going back to school, you may be looking at both the GED and high school diploma options, but which is the best fit for you?

An equivalency exam, which is something that measures your knowledge to determine whether or not you have high school level skills, can often be a great solution for many adults. However, a GED or any other equivalency test isn’t something you can just take whenever you’re ready; you’ll need to prepare for it just like you would any other big exam. That can involve months of studying and preparation on your own or through night classes.

A high school program will also require you to take classes, submit assignments, and study independently. While there are some similarities between getting a diploma and getting a GED, there are some big differences that can help you figure out which route is the right one for you.

High School Diploma High School Equivalency Exam (GED)
Accepted for college enrollment Yes Yes
Accepted for employment and management tracks Yes Yes
Teaches full high school curriculum Yes No
Single, timed test to determine everything No Yes
Develops a learner's problem solving, time management, and other life skills Yes No


FAQs about going back to school as an adult


Going back to school as an adult, especially to finish your high school diploma, can seem daunting. It doesn’t have to, though! If you’ve got questions about how online school works, starting a program, or how to manage your time, we’ve got the answers you need.

Learn more about how to go back to school online in our Facebook Live video!

Can I go back to school if I have kids? (Balancing parenting and childcare)

A huge benefit of online high school is that you can study, work on your classes, and submit assignments and exams on the schedule that works best for your life. With Penn Foster’s self-paced high school classes, you can login and study around taking care of your kids. Whether that means being able to study one hour every day or a few minutes every week, you can take the time you need to make school work for you.

quote: I would study during nap times and then I would go full-on to do my coursework at night when (my  kids) were asleep and anytime that they had a nap or they were doing some quiet activities, I would find some time to hop on and get some studying and work done.

And, as a parent balancing school, work, and kids, you’re not alone! At least 61% of Penn Foster students have one or more children at home* and are still able to work toward their goal of graduation!

graph: percentage of Penn Foster students who have at least one child.

Can I go back to school if I have a full-time job?

Yes, you can go back to school if you have a full-time job! With online school, you can fit your studies around your work schedule. As a Penn Foster High School student, you’ll have 24/7 access to your Student Portal so you can fit study time in during breaks, at lunch, during your commute to work, or whenever you have free time.

Can I go back to school if I have a disability?

Living with a disability shouldn’t hold you back from achieving your goals, including finishing high school. At Penn Foster, we’re dedicated to making education accessible for anyone and everyone. That means that our website, study guides, and more are designed with accessibility in mind. As an online high school student, you’re also able to take advantage of the flexibility of self-paced, independent classes so you can take the time you need to finish your coursework.

We work with our students regularly to ensure that their needs are met throughout their courses, so if you feel like you need support, help accessing your materials, or more time to finish your diploma, we can help!


I want to go back to school; where do I start?


If you’re ready to go back to school, but aren’t sure where to start, follow this helpful checklist! To get ready to go back to school you should

  • Find the right school for you. Make sure to check accreditation, find out more about school expectations, and how online classes work before enrolling.
  • Do research. Is the school legitimate? What does it cost and how does graduating work? If you can’t find the answers you need on the school’s website, contact the admissions department to learn more.
  • Enroll. Once you’re confident in your decision, it’s time to get started! You can enroll in online classes with Penn Foster as soon as you’re ready, no waiting for semester start dates.
  • Transfer credits. If you’ve already completed some high school, you may be able to pick up with Penn Foster where you left off with your old school. Just have your school send an official copy of your transcripts to us and our evaluators will determine what classes will transfer in. You’ll even save money on tuition with every credit transferred!
  • Start studying! To have a successful start to your high school program, you want to make sure you have what you need to complete your courses. Our online classes can be taken on desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and even smartphones! All you need is an internet connection and you’re good to go.

Learn more about enrolling in Penn Foster in an interview with one of our amazing students, Hannah.


How can I get ready to study again?


Whether it’s been a few months or a few decades since you’ve studied, you can get back into the swing of things! When you’re preparing to go back to school as an adult, you’ll want to make sure you have

  • A working internet connection. Since all of your classes are online, make sure you have access to a strong internet connection so you don’t run into delays that hold you up from completing your diploma.
  • A computer, laptop, or mobile device. Our online classes can be completed on almost any device that can connect to the internet! Most courses can even be done on a smartphone, though there may be some writing assignments you’ll need a laptop or desktop to complete.
  • A study space. Having a dedicated, quiet study space can help you focus on what you’re learning. To create a great study space, make sure you have a private corner somewhere, the materials you need to study set up, and whatever else to be comfortable.
  • Study goals. Setting clear goals can help you stick to a schedule and stay on track. While Penn Foster is self-paced and you don’t have to meet deadlines, it’s good to have an idea of how much you should be studying. You’ll want to fit in more study time if you want to graduate in six months versus taking the full three years you have available.
  • Study materials. Everything you need to complete your courses is online in your student portal but some beneficial extras that can help you succeed include notebooks or notetaking apps, a planner, and pens and highlighters.

quote: I advise each student to be fair to yourself before jumping to conclusions. Give yourself a full opportunity to work through your studies. Find a quiet corner to complete your studies, learn how to take effective notes, reach out to your teachers if you feel stuck, and take exams only when ready. Be stubborn and persistent to get to your goal.

Finish high school your way with Penn Foster

Going back to high school as an adult is possible! With Penn Foster High School, you can study when and where you want, working toward finishing your classes and earning a diploma your way. Our online high school classes are flexible, affordable, and accredited, so you can take the next steps toward reaching your goals, whether that means getting a new job, going to college, or earning a promotion. To find out more about how Penn Foster High School works, or how to get started, reach out to our expert Admissions Team today at 1-888-427-6500!


Source:
*[Unpublished raw data on Penn Foster High School student demographics]. Penn Foster (2021).