Second Chances for High School Dropouts

7 Ways to Finish High School Education

University students in a lecture hall

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For anyone who has dropped out of high school, life isn't over. In fact, 75% of high school dropouts eventually finish their education, whether by earning a high school diploma or pursuing a GED. That said, finding the time and motivation to continue schooling isn't as easy as it sounds—real-life responsibilities, challenges, and restrictions can often get in the way.

To provide help for high school dropouts, we've created this list of possible ways to earn your diploma or GED.

What Is a GED?

Anyone 16 or older who hasn't earned a high school diploma may take the GED tests. In its entirety, the GED is made up of five subject area tests: Language Arts/Writing, Language Arts/Reading, Social Studies, Science, and Mathematics. In addition to English, these tests are available in Spanish, French, large print, audiocassette, and Braille.

Many government institutions and universities consider the GED just as they would a high school diploma in regards to admissions and qualifications, so if you want to eventually move on to higher education, a GED can help you get there.

How High School Dropouts Can Finish Their Education

No matter why you or your child dropped out of high school, there are a number of ways to continue—and complete—your education. Some are even tailored to address certain issues and provide extra support.

Community College

Most community colleges offer programs to help students complete their high school diplomas and/or earn a GED. Some of these classes are offered on community college campuses, while others are held at night on high school grounds. Call your local community college for details. Many community colleges now offer online programs as well.

Adult Education Programs

Most adult education programs offer courses to help students prepare for the GED. These are typically run by high school districts, community colleges, or a collaboration between the two, with funding provided by the state. Call your local adult education school for information.

Gateway to College

Founded in 2000 by Oregon's Portland Community College, this program bridges the gap for students ages 16–21 who have dropped out of high school but want to finish their coursework and go to college. Gateway's program, which combines high school and college coursework, is available on 27 community college campuses across 16 states. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is using it as a model for part of the foundation's Early College High School efforts. For details, visit the Gateway to College website.


This 20-year-old program is for high school dropouts ages 16–24 who come from low-income backgrounds. It combines community service, vocational training, and leadership skills with a GED program. Many of its students have been in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

In YouthBuild, students divide their days between high school and GED prep classes and projects building or renovating homes for low-income families. They also participate in a 30-hour per week program that offers job training, helping them to find work that will facilitate the start of their careers.

The program began in 1990 in New York City and has since grown to 273 YouthBuild programs in 45 states. It, too, is supported by the Gates Foundation. For more information, visit the YouthBuild site.

National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program

For 16- to 18-year-olds, the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program offers a chance to turn life around. The program is an outgrowth of the U.S. Congressional mandate made in 1993 to deal with the country's high school dropout crisis. There are 35 Youth ChalleNGe Academies around the U.S. Find one near you at their website.

Therapeutic Boarding Schools

At therapeutic boarding schools, troubled teens are helped to identify the underlying cause of their issues. Various approaches combine academics with psychotherapy so students can better understand and control their actions and behaviors. With insight and oversight from professionals, teens can learn to stop acting out and get back on a path to pursue their high school diplomas. While some therapeutic schools can be unaffordable for many, local school districts and some insurance plans can help offset the costs.

Online Programs

For high school dropouts who have restrictions on either time or location— say, a parent who works full time or an ill, homebound young adult—online GED programs are a great option. Most programs will allow students to access classwork, tests, and more on their own schedules, giving them the flexibility to meet their needs outside of the classroom. Online GED programs, for the most part, should not be confused with homeschooling—they are specifically designed for online learning.

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Burrell, Jackie. "Second Chances for High School Dropouts." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Burrell, Jackie. (2020, August 26). Second Chances for High School Dropouts. Retrieved from Burrell, Jackie. "Second Chances for High School Dropouts." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).