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Student Loans

Can You Get Student Loans Without a High School Diploma or GED?

Updated May 30, 2023   |   7-min read

Getting student loans when you haven’t earned a high school diploma or completed a GED can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. What you might have to do to qualify can depend on whether you’re applying for federal or private student loans. 

Federal loans generally require a diploma or GED to demonstrate college readiness. Private lenders may or may not need to see that you’ve completed high school to qualify. 

If you’re hoping to get student loans without a high school diploma, it’s important to know your options. 

In this guide:

Can you get federal student loans without a high school diploma or GED?

The Department of Education grants federal student loans to eligible borrowers. These can be an attractive option to pay for college due to their low, fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options. 

You’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal student loans. The Department of Education outlines basic eligibility requirements borrowers must meet. 

You must:

  • Have a demonstrated financial need (for need-based federal student aid)
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number (unless an exception applies)
  • Be enrolled or accepted into an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Be enrolled or plan to enroll at least half-time
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college
  • Not be in default on any federal student loans
  • Show that you’re qualified to obtain a college degree or career school education

That last requirement might complicate matters if you don’t have a high school diploma or GED. However, you have three options to demonstrate you’re qualified for federal student loan eligibility: 

  1. Provide proof of a high school diploma or state-recognized equivalent (meaning a GED).
  2. Complete a high school education in a state-approved home-school setting.
  3. Enroll in an eligible career pathway program and meet one of two ability-to-benefit alternatives.

Ability to benefit” means you can benefit from a college education even if you don’t have a high school diploma or GED. You might meet the ability-to-benefit standard if you enrolled in college before July 1, 2012, or are enrolled in an eligible career pathway program. 

Eligible career pathway programs allow students who don’t have a diploma to work toward a degree while also earning a GED. Examples of eligible career pathway program tracks can include:

  • Medical assisting
  • Veterinary assisting
  • Automotive technology
  • Welding technology

How to demonstrate ability to benefit

You can pass an approved ability-to-benefit test your college administers. 

You may also complete one of the following toward a degree or certificate:

  • Six credit hours
  • 225 clock hours
  • Equivalent coursework 

You won’t be eligible for federal financial aid while you’re working to demonstrate ability to benefit (e.g., earning the six credit hours). 

Not sure which to choose? The Department of Education encourages borrowers to contact their school’s financial aid office to discuss options if they can’t qualify for aid because they lack a diploma or GED. 

Can you get private student loans without a high school diploma or GED?

Individual lenders—rather than the federal government—offer private student loans. You can get private student loans from banks, credit unions, and other lending institutions. 

It’s up to lenders to decide their private student loan eligibility requirements

The criteria they may consider include:

  • Enrollment status (i.e., half-time, full-time, or part-time)
  • Which school you’re attending
  • Your choice of degree program
  • Credit scores and credit history
  • Income and debt
  • Career plans
  • Citizenship status

A high school diploma or GED may be on the list, depending on the lender. 

That’s an advantage if you can’t obtain federal student loans because you don’t meet the college readiness requirement. If you’re considering private student loans, it’s essential to shop around to compare loan terms, rates, fees, and eligibility requirements. 

Here’s how eligibility requirements compare at seven top private student loan lenders.

LenderDiploma or GED required?Other requirements
AscentNoAscent considers creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, GPA, cost of attendance, and other factors. 
DACA and international students may apply with an eligible cosigner. 
Citizens BankNoCitizens Bank lends to creditworthy students who are enrolled in an eligible school at least half-time, have reached the age of majority in their state, and have not defaulted on any student loans. 
International students can apply with a creditworthy cosigner. 
College AveNoStudents must be at least 16, be enrolled in an eligible school, have a Social Security number, and meet satisfactory academic progress requirements. 
International students may apply with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. 
DiscoverNoDiscover lends to creditworthy borrowers who are at least 16 years of age, enroll at least half-time in an eligible degree program, make satisfactory academic progress, and meet citizenship requirements. 
A credit check is also required. 
EarnestNo Earnest considers credit scores, credit history, debt-to-income ratios, savings, and banking history.
Students must also be enrolled at least half-time and pursuing a degree at an eligible institution. 
Sallie MaeNoSallie Mae grants loans based on creditworthiness, enrollment status, and citizenship. 
DACA and international students may also apply with a qualified cosigner. 
SoFiNoBorrowers must have reached the age of majority in their state, be enrolled in an eligible school at least half-time, and meet income and credit requirements.  

Keep in mind: With private lenders, your credit history tends to carry more weight than any other factor. You may need to apply for loans with a cosigner if you have a limited credit history. 

Getting student loans with a cosigner could help your chances of approval and result in lower interest rates. However, it’s important to remember that you and the cosigner are equally responsible for the debt in the lender’s eyes. Some private student loan lenders offer cosigner release, but not all. 

Next steps to get student loans if you don’t have a high school diploma or GED

If you don’t have a high school diploma or GED and think you’ll need student loans to pay for college, contact your school first to determine what options you might have. You may need to apply for college at a school that’s likely to accept you without a diploma or GED if you’re not enrolled anywhere.

The next step is evaluating which type of loans you want to apply for. Federal loans are an excellent place to start since they have low interest rates and include built-in protections you don’t get with private students. 

You could qualify for federal loans by:

  • Earning a diploma or GED
  • Obtaining a high school equivalency certification from your home school, if applicable
  • Exploring the ability-to-benefit path

A GED might be the easiest solution if you can invest the time and money. 

Cost of a GED

The cost of the test is often under $50 per subject, with four subjects total. Your cost depends on your state and whether you opt to take the test at a testing center in person or online from home. Some states, including Connecticut and New York, cover the cost of GED testing for students.

Some employers offer free GED preparation and testing through GEDWorks. You can create an account at to determine whether your employer participates. If you’re paying for test prep, a course might cost anywhere from $5 to $300, while study guides can run anywhere from $15 to $130. 

Pro tip: You’ll need to schedule your test date through a local GED test center. 

How long does it take to get a GED?

You can expect the test itself to take around seven to eight hours. 

How much study time you dedicate can depend on your schedule and how well you think you know the subject areas. It’s not uncommon for students to spend two to three months preparing.