College Compass: The journey to the GED

College Compass is a bi-weekly blog that aims to help students navigate the highs and lows of college life.

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College Compass: The journey to the GED

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For some time, I was ashamed to say that I did not graduate high school. It took me a long time to admit to any of my fellow Pitt students that I had not taken a traditional course since completing my last sophomore year final in Algebra II more than three years prior. I completed two and a half-ish years before I eventually decided to abandon my miserable pursuit of a traditional high school diploma and get a general education diploma, or GED.

I started high school at The Ellis School, an all-girls school in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, in 2012. My first year was conventional. I attended a full day of classes before heading off to my pre-professional ballet program, which I attended in the hopes of becoming a professional ballet dancer. My second year, however, I received permission from the head of school to leave around 1 p.m. so that I could spend the rest of the afternoon and evening at my ballet classes. The summer before my third year of high school, I began looking into ways to spend even more time training. It was an agonizing decision for both me and my parents — my mom had moved to Pittsburgh with me so that I could attend Ellis, and my father had taken a third job to support us. Against all advice from my college counselor and school adviser, I left Ellis and enrolled in Indiana University High School online.

When I made this choice, I had planned to pursue dancing professionally, either by auditioning for ballet companies straight out of high school or attending a university to obtain a BA in dance performance. After a few months of cyber school, however, I realized that it was more difficult than anything I’d had to do at Ellis. I had also developed a chronic injury that left me continually busy with ballet classes, physical therapy and doctor’s appointments. It also left me completely despondent and utterly devastated. By winter break of what was supposed to be my junior year, I was a full semester behind in school, having been unable to complete a single one of my first semester courses. By early summer, I was a full year behind. It became a running joke — though not a funny one — that I wasn’t going to graduate high school.

The fall of 2015, I had barely made any progress. I couldn’t dance. I couldn’t audition for BA programs. I couldn’t apply to typical colleges and universities, as I had not completed even half of my junior year. Eventually, I was able to finish a few of my courses, though not all, and by spring, when I should have been graduating with the class of 2016, my parents and I began thinking of what was to come next.

The thought of continuing online high school was inconceivable, and it had become painfully clear that if things were not to change, I would never graduate. I considered returning to Ellis and joining the class below me. I considered switching to PA Cyber, another online school which I had heard was less rigorous. I considered doing, quite literally, nothing. Eventually, my parents and I decided to consult a private college counselor, Helane Linzer. She helped me weigh my two options — whether to complete my high school education or to try and earn a GED. We decided that I would begin preparing to take the GED along with the ACT and the SAT while we were in the process of investigating which colleges were willing to accept applicants with a GED.

The process of earning my GED was relatively simple, though I credit much of that ease to the quality of the high school education I had been fortunate enough to receive up until that point. I bought the prep books, I scheduled the tests and within a few months I had my GED.

Much like any other standardized test, there are four sections to the GED — mathematical reasoning, language arts reasoning, science and social studies. Each section can be taken individually or combined in any way that is convenient. Two of my subject tests I took at the University of Pittsburgh Testing Center, in G-33 Cathedral of Learning, where I received my final test score. It indicated that I had, finally, almost three years after leaving Ellis, earned a high school equivalency diploma. Sometime later, I received in the mail a physical copy of my “diploma,” which I immediately placed in that one drawer where things go to disappear — very unceremonious, I know.

Although I knew Pitt’s main campus rarely accepted first-year applicants with GEDs, it was the first and only school to which I applied. I wanted nothing more than to save money, commute to school from my home in Squirrel Hill and go to Pitt’s main campus. Looking back today, I realize how privileged I was and recognize that many with a GED are not as fortunate. I applied to the University of Pittsburgh Main with the help of my counselor. I completed the supplemental short-answer questions and submitted a personal statement explaining why I chose not to finish high school and why I got a GED. To my surprise, I was accepted and joined the class of 2021.

I know that without the help of my counselor, I would not be where I am today. If it weren’t for my parents’ support, both financially and emotionally, I would not be here at Pitt. I was, and am, incredibly privileged. So many people who earn a GED do so with incredible difficulty and determination. I was blessed with the funds to take the tests relatively easily, to purchase study guides and prep books and to schedule the tests in a testing center that was convenient for me. I had access to transportation, parents who were supportive and the funds to apply to a university of my choosing.

Still, as someone who has a GED rather than a traditional high school diploma, I strongly believe that there should be greater access to resources and preparation for the GED. It opened so many possibilities for me that I really believe I would not have if I were unable to earn a high school equivalency diploma. I know that if I had been required to complete all four years of traditional high school, I would not have been able to graduate, and therefore, would not have been able to attend Pitt, where I am majoring in nonfiction writing and French. As for my career aspirations — aside from that dead dancing dream — I still have absolutely no idea.

Let’s state the obvious — I did not graduate high school. Well, not in the traditional sense. However, I have come to realize it has given me an ability to accept — though it is certainly not always easy — when things do not go as planned. It has given me confidence in my ability to work hard when necessary and admit when I am unable to do something. And finally, three years later, I can say that I am incredibly proud to admit that, no, I did not graduate high school, and yes, I have a GED. And to anyone who worked to earn their high school equivalency diploma, I am proud of you too. We don’t need to be ashamed.

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