Yvette Player left high school when she was 17. The now-55-year-old mother has tried three times since then to earn her high school credential.

“Each time, I got sick or had to take care of someone that was sick. My last time, I got sick,” says Player, who is enrolled at the newly opened Goodwill Excel Center, a charter high school in the District of Columbia geared toward adults. “This time I’ve determined nothing is going to stop me – even though I’m in a lot of pain, but I’m here.”

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Adults who didn’t complete high school, like Player, may wonder who to turn to and how to earn a credential. The following steps may help.

Step 1: Contact an adult education provider. Most public schools or community colleges should be able to direct adults to the right person to talk to about their options, says Lennox McLendon, executive director of the National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium.

Adults can also search online for a provider using America’s Literacy Directory, says Mark Johnson, director of adult secondary education at the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Step 2: Decide what type of high school completion program to complete. Adults usually have at least two options to earn their high school credential, says McLendon.

Usually that’s either to attend an adult high school completion program or take a high school equivalency test, like the GED, he says, though there may be other options.

Students who only need to complete a couple of credits to earn their diploma may want to consider an adult high school completion program, in which students take the courses they need to graduate, like an English class, says McLendon. Adults who need many credits may want to take the GED or similar assessments since it won’t take students as long to finish, he says.

Either credential should allow adults to go to college or get a job, says McLendon.

 

However, Amina Brown, school director of the Goodwill Excel Center, says even though earning a GED is quite an accomplishment, employers and colleges look more favorably on a high school diploma and that the GED still carries a stigma for some.

Step 3: Make sure the program is legit. Adults searching online for high school diploma completion programs should be wary of organizations selling fake credentials, says Johnson, the Wisconsin official.

Adults concerned about the legitimacy of a program they found online should check with a state agency, such as the state board of education or department of education, to make sure the program is legit, says Troy Goracke, who oversees adult high school completion in Washington state.

 

Step 4: Consider the logistics. Every state offers a low-cost way to earn a high school credential, but the specific cost will vary, says McLendon. Sometimes programs for adults are free, like the one at the Goodwill Excel Center.

Adult high school completion programs are generally held on weekdays and weeknights, but not usually on the weekends, says McLendon.

Brown says the Goodwill Excel Center doesn’t encourage students to work full time, if at all, while studying – classes are only held during the daytime – because they don’t want students to be distracted by a job.

Adults should also obtain transcripts from any high schools they previously attended, so officials can determine how many credits students need to graduate, says Goracke, the Washington state official.

Step 5: Enroll in a program. It can take as little as a few weeks to a couple of years for adults to earn a high school credential, says McLendon.

Joel Sanders, 21, another Goodwill student, says adults shouldn’t expect a typical high school experience.

He says students need to be goal-oriented and willing to put in hard work. “This isn’t high school, but you still have to do the work to get the grade. No one is going to hand you the grade just because you showed up.”

While earning a high school credential is crucial, says Johnson, the Wisconsin official, most adults will need some education or training beyond high school to get the specific skills necessary to land many in-demand jobs, he says.

 

Sanders plans to go to college once he finishes high school.

“You are never too old. It’s never too late,” he says. “I always told myself that I was too old to be back in a high school setting and coming here I realized that was so far from the truth.”

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