Graduating from high school is an exciting milestone in a student’s life. As you prepare to walk across that stage and accept your diploma, you may be wondering if that piece of paper is considered a degree.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: No, you do not get a degree in high school. High school students earn diplomas upon graduation, not college degrees.

In this article, we’ll explore in detail whether high school graduates earn degrees, the difference between a high school diploma and college degree, and the requirements for earning each. We’ll also look at alternative options like GEDs and high school equivalency diplomas and discuss whether credits from high school allow students to enter college with sophomore standing.

High School Students Earn Diplomas, Not Degrees

When it comes to completing high school, students are awarded diplomas rather than degrees. A diploma serves as a recognition of a student’s successful completion of the required coursework and graduation from high school.

It signifies a significant milestone in a student’s educational journey and opens doors to various opportunities.

Diplomas Awarded for Completing High School

High school diplomas are typically awarded to students who have successfully met the academic requirements set by their respective educational institutions. These requirements usually include completing a specific number of credits in various subjects such as English, mathematics, science, social studies, and electives.

In addition to academic requirements, students may also need to fulfill other criteria, such as community service hours or passing standardized tests, to receive their diplomas.

Receiving a high school diploma is a momentous occasion for students and their families. It represents the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Moreover, it serves as a stepping stone towards pursuing higher education or entering the workforce.

Degrees Are Credentials for Higher Education

While high school diplomas are essential for transitioning into adulthood and the next phase of education or career, degrees are typically associated with higher education institutions. A degree is a credential earned by students who have successfully completed a specific program of study at a college or university.

Unlike high school diplomas, which are generally earned by all students who meet the requirements, degrees require a more specialized and focused approach to learning. Students choose a specific field of study, such as business, engineering, or psychology, and complete a set of courses and requirements within that field.

The level of specialization and depth of knowledge acquired in a degree program is greater compared to high school coursework.

Obtaining a degree opens up a wide range of opportunities for individuals. It enhances their knowledge and skills in a particular field, making them more marketable and competitive in the job market. Additionally, degrees can lead to higher earning potential and greater career advancement opportunities.

It’s important to note that while high school diplomas are a prerequisite for many degree programs, they are not equivalent to a degree. High school diplomas serve as a foundation for further educational pursuits, while degrees represent a higher level of academic achievement and expertise.

Key Differences Between High School Diplomas and College Degrees

Obtaining a high school diploma and earning a college degree are both significant achievements in a person’s educational journey. While they may seem similar, there are key differences that set them apart.

Understanding these differences can help individuals make informed decisions about their educational path. Here are the main differences between high school diplomas and college degrees:

Length of Study

One of the primary differences between high school diplomas and college degrees is the length of study required to obtain them. In general, high school education typically spans four years, whereas college degrees can range from two to four years or more, depending on the program and level of degree pursued.

This extended duration allows college students to delve deeper into their chosen fields of study and acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.

Depth of Knowledge

High school education provides a broad foundation of knowledge across various subjects, aiming to provide students with a well-rounded education. College degrees, on the other hand, focus on a specific field or discipline, allowing students to develop a deeper understanding of their chosen area of study.

This specialization enables students to gain expertise in their field and prepares them for careers in specific industries.


While high school diplomas offer a general education, college degrees provide the opportunity for specialization. Students can choose from a wide range of majors and minors, allowing them to tailor their education to their interests and career goals.

This specialization helps individuals develop the necessary skills and knowledge needed to excel in their chosen profession.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning a college degree can significantly impact earning potential. On average, individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn about 80% more than those with just a high school diploma.

Furthermore, individuals with advanced degrees tend to earn even higher salaries. (source)

Requirements for a High School Diploma vs. College Degree

High School Diploma Requirements

Obtaining a high school diploma is a significant milestone in one’s educational journey. The requirements for earning a high school diploma vary slightly depending on the educational system, but generally, students are required to complete a certain number of credits in various subjects such as English, math, science, and social studies.

Additionally, most high schools require students to pass a series of standardized tests or assessments to demonstrate their proficiency in these subjects. These requirements ensure that students have a foundational knowledge in a wide range of subjects before moving on to higher education or the workforce.

College Degree Requirements

Unlike a high school diploma, earning a college degree involves a more specialized and in-depth study of a particular field or discipline. The requirements for a college degree vary depending on the type of degree and the institution offering it.

Generally, students are required to complete a certain number of credit hours, which may include a combination of general education courses and courses specific to their major. In addition to coursework, many college programs also require students to complete internships, research projects, or capstone courses to gain practical experience in their chosen field.

The culmination of a college degree is often a comprehensive examination or a thesis, which demonstrates the student’s mastery of the subject.

Associate’s vs. Bachelor’s Degree Requirements

When comparing the requirements for an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, there are some key differences to consider. An associate’s degree is typically a two-year program offered by community colleges or technical schools.

The requirements for an associate’s degree generally include completing a set number of credit hours, which may include general education courses and courses specific to the chosen field of study. On the other hand, a bachelor’s degree is a four-year program offered by colleges and universities.

The requirements for a bachelor’s degree are more extensive and rigorous, often requiring students to complete a greater number of credit hours, including general education courses, major-specific courses, and elective courses.

Additionally, bachelor’s degree programs often have higher-level requirements, such as a senior thesis or a comprehensive project.

Alternatives to Traditional High School Diplomas

While obtaining a high school diploma is the traditional route for many students, there are alternative paths available for those who may not have completed high school or are looking to pursue different options. Here are a few alternatives to consider:

GED or General Educational Development Diploma

The GED, or General Educational Development Diploma, is a widely recognized alternative to a traditional high school diploma. It provides individuals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in five core subject areas: reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies.

The GED test is designed to measure high school-level academic skills and knowledge, and upon successful completion, individuals receive a credential that is equivalent to a high school diploma.

Many community colleges, trade schools, and employers accept the GED as a valid educational credential. It can open doors to higher education and career opportunities for individuals who may not have completed high school.

The GED test is administered by each state, and individuals can find more information on their state’s GED testing program website.

High School Equivalency Certificate

Another alternative to a traditional high school diploma is a High School Equivalency Certificate. This certificate is awarded to individuals who pass an exam that assesses their knowledge and skills in subjects typically covered in high school.

Each state has its own high school equivalency exam, such as the HiSET or TASC, which are similar to the GED in terms of content and requirements.

Obtaining a High School Equivalency Certificate can provide individuals with similar opportunities as those with a high school diploma. It can be accepted by colleges, universities, and employers as proof of educational attainment.

Additionally, some states offer programs that provide preparation courses and resources to help individuals prepare for the high school equivalency exam.

It’s important to note that while these alternatives can provide individuals with opportunities, a high school diploma is still considered the standard credential for many educational and career pathways.

It’s recommended to research the specific requirements and acceptance of these alternatives in the desired field or institution before pursuing them.

Can High School Credits Allow You to Enter College as a Sophomore?

High school students who excel academically have various options that can potentially allow them to enter college as a sophomore. These options include taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, participating in dual enrollment programs, enrolling in International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, or passing CLEP exams.

Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

AP courses are rigorous courses offered in high schools that are equivalent to college-level courses. By successfully completing AP courses and scoring well on the corresponding exams, students can earn college credits.

These credits can then be applied towards their college degree, potentially allowing them to skip introductory-level courses and enter college as a sophomore.

Dual Enrollment Programs

Dual enrollment programs allow high school students to take college-level courses while still in high school. These courses are typically offered by local colleges or universities, and students earn both high school and college credits for their coursework.

By accumulating college credits through dual enrollment, students may be able to enter college as a sophomore and have a head start on their degree.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Courses

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is an internationally recognized curriculum that offers challenging courses to high school students. Similar to AP courses, IB courses can allow students to earn college credits by achieving high scores on the corresponding exams.

By earning these credits, students may be able to enter college as a sophomore and have a more advanced standing in their academic journey.

CLEP Exams

The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers exams that allow individuals to demonstrate their knowledge in specific subject areas. By passing these exams, students can earn college credits without taking the corresponding courses.

This can be especially beneficial for high school students who have already acquired knowledge in certain subjects through self-study or prior experience. Earning CLEP credits can potentially enable students to enter college as a sophomore.

It is important to note that each college or university has its own policies regarding the acceptance of high school credits. Students interested in utilizing their high school credits to enter college as a sophomore should research the specific requirements and guidelines of their chosen institution.

Additionally, speaking with a high school counselor or college admissions representative can provide valuable insight and guidance in navigating this process.


While high school students do not earn actual degrees, their diplomas still represent an important educational achievement. With strategic planning and hard work, high schoolers can also optimize their credits and testing to enter college with advanced standing.

The transition from high school to college marks an exciting new chapter with greater freedom and responsibility. With an understanding of the key differences between diplomas and degrees, high school graduates can feel confident taking their next steps toward higher education and lifelong success.

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