Easy Way Out?
Find out what it really takes to get your GED

Many dropouts think that getting a GED is easier than returning to high school to get a diploma. But how easy is it? I wanted to get a clearer picture of what it takes to get a GED, so I talked to April Mojica, 34, who took seven years to get hers.

NYC: Why did you choose to get your GED?
April Mojica: I’ve always wanted an education, but my mother is from a rural part of Florida. She didn’t really understand the value of education because it’s basically migrant farm work there.

So when I was coming up in New York City, I didn’t attend school much. When I did, I found I didn’t have any of the skills. I never got the foundation that I needed, like my times tables and grammar. I didn’t know how to tell time until I was 19. I never finished one year of school before I went to college.

NYC: Did you attend high school?
Mojica: Briefly. By age 14, I was on my own, but when I was 15 my father took me in for a short time, and I went to 9th grade at Columbus HS in the Bronx for maybe a month.

But I didn’t have the skills to keep up. I was so frustrated and embarrassed. I started getting distracted and cutting, and within a month I stopped going. I went back on my own and was homeless for a number of years, working little jobs in the film industry.

NYC: How did you prepare for the GED exams?
Mojica: I went to the Young Adult Learning Academy (YALA) when I was 18. I was staying with some people and they connected me to the program.

On my way to take the GED test the first time, I actually went to a clinic first and took a pregnancy test. The pregnancy test was positive. Then I went and took GED test, and I didn’t learn until many months later, till I was almost about to give birth, that I’d failed by five points in math. That was my first attempt, in 1990. I didn’t succeed in getting my GED until 1997.

After I had my baby, I went to other programs, but things would happen—the baby would get sick and I would use up the number of absences I could have and be expelled from the programs.

NYC: How many different programs did you try?
Mojica: YALA was my first, then a program at Columbia University, and finally I went to another program on the Upper East Side, in El Barrio. That’s when I determined that I was going to get this thing done.

But I had a really short time to do it. It was a seven-week program, but I went in when they only had three weeks left and they discouraged me from joining the program because if I failed I wouldn’t be able to come back for another year. But I chose to take on the challenge and fortunately, I succeeded that time. That was in 1997, when I was 26.

NYC: How did the GED programs help you?
Mojica: When I first went in, I had a bunch of phobias in terms of math and my own aptitude. However, going into a program like YALA with the structure that it had, in addition to electives like creative writing, encouraged me. I found strength that I didn’t know I had. It wasn’t that I was unable to learn. I just needed the opportunity and a safe space to root myself and grow.

NYC: What did you do after getting your GED?
Mojica: I went to a college prep class for three months and a remedial program for the summer, and then I started my official semester at CUNY in the fall of 2000. I got my bachelor’s degree in world literature and professional writing at Medgar Evers College and the CUNY BA program. I graduated in the summer of 2005.

NYC: What are you doing now?
Mojica: Nowadays I feel pretty dynamic and fabulous and like there’s nothing that I can’t do. I relocated to Fairfax County, Virginia two months ago because Brooklyn wasn’t a good environment for my daughter in her teenage years.

I started working for a company two weeks ago as an events planner. I’m hoping to go to school next semester at George Mason University to get a master’s degree in English with a concentration in teaching literature for community college. I plan on going for my Ph.D.

Hopefully within a little over a year, I’ll be teaching at a community college. I think that’s a great place to catch people at—a little unsure of themselves and in need of support and motivation. I think I could bring my own experience to this educational game.

NYC: How are you doing things differently with your daughter?
Mojica: I’ve put an emphasis on her education from pre-school all the way to here. Now she’s 15 and in 9th grade. I found that she had problems in Brooklyn in terms of the distractions, the intensity of the city and the violence of Bed-Stuy.

I chose to bring her to Fairfax County where my sister lives, a rich county with great schools. I’m taking her education seriously—seriously enough to uproot my entire life and take it to a strange place with a great public school system.

NYC: What was it like raising a daughter on your own and trying to prepare for the GED at the same time?
Mojica: It was hard because you can’t give anything 100%. There were occasions when my schooling suffered. And then there were other times when I fell behind in terms of understanding where my daughter was struggling in school. It’s a difficult balance. But without my GED, without my degree, life would be pretty bleak.

NYC: Do you have any advice for someone who’s considering getting their GED?
Mojica: Do it now. When I was going to take my GED the last time, they were about to change the test to make it more challenging. Plus, there are a lot fewer GED programs in New York City now than there were at that time. Many GED programs were cut in 2004.

It’s really important that students today realize that these opportunities they have now, they may not have tomorrow. They’re running over falling bridges, and they’d better hasten their step.

NYC: What would you say to teens who think getting a GED is easier than finishing high school?
Mojica: You can’t just walk in and take the GED test. If you don’t have necessary skills, you’re wasting your time. You’re still going to have to sit in the classroom and study. I advise everyone to focus because there’s no easy way out of this. They’re not giving these things away.

"April Mojica is currently pursuing a master's degree in English Literature at George Mason University."