Graduating from high school is an important milestone in life that opens doors to college, trade schools, military service, and the workplace. But if you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: In the United States, the document you receive when you graduate from high school is most commonly called a high school diploma.

Some students may also earn alternative certificates like the GED.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at what high school graduation credentials are called. You’ll learn the key differences between diplomas, certificates of completion, GEDs, and more.

We’ll also explore the various requirements needed to earn each document across different states and school districts.

Traditional High School Diplomas

Definition and Overview

A traditional high school diploma is the most common type of credential awarded to students upon completion of their high school education. It signifies that the student has successfully met the academic requirements set by their school and has fulfilled the necessary credits in various subjects.

The diploma serves as proof of completion of secondary education and is recognized by educational institutions, employers, and government agencies. It opens doors to higher education opportunities and serves as a foundation for future career paths.

Credit and Course Requirements

To earn a traditional high school diploma, students must fulfill specific credit and course requirements. These requirements typically include a certain number of credits in core subjects such as English, math, science, and social studies, as well as electives.

The exact credit and course requirements may vary from state to state or even between school districts. However, the goal is to ensure that students receive a well-rounded education and have a basic understanding of essential subjects.

Standard vs. Advanced Diplomas

In some cases, high schools offer different types of diplomas, such as standard and advanced diplomas. The standard diploma generally covers the minimum requirements for graduation, while the advanced diploma requires additional coursework or higher-level classes.

The advanced diploma is designed for students who want to challenge themselves academically and pursue more rigorous coursework. It may include advanced math and science courses, foreign language requirements, or additional honors classes.

International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Options

For students seeking an even more challenging academic experience, some high schools offer International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) programs. These programs provide opportunities to earn college credits while still in high school.

The International Baccalaureate program offers a comprehensive curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking, research skills, and a global perspective. Advanced Placement courses, on the other hand, allow students to take college-level classes and potentially earn college credit by passing the corresponding AP exams.

Both IB and AP programs offer students an opportunity to stand out in college applications and demonstrate their commitment to academic excellence.

For more information on high school diplomas and certificates, you can visit the U.S. Department of Education website.

Certificates of Completion and Attendance

When it comes to high school education, not all students receive a traditional high school diploma. In some cases, students may receive a certificate of completion or a certificate of attendance instead.

These certificates serve as recognition of a student’s completion of high school, although they may carry different implications and requirements compared to a diploma.

For Students with Disabilities

One situation where a certificate of completion may be granted is for students with disabilities who have completed the necessary coursework but may not have met all the graduation requirements. These students may have participated in an individualized education program (IEP) tailored to their specific needs.

The certificate of completion acknowledges their efforts and progress, providing them with a sense of accomplishment and validation.

It’s important to note that the certificate of completion does not undermine the achievements of these students. It simply recognizes that their educational journey may have been different due to their unique circumstances.

These students can still go on to pursue further education or enter the workforce.

Meeting Minimum Attendance Requirements

Certificates of attendance are typically awarded to students who have met the minimum attendance requirements but may not have fulfilled all the academic requirements for a diploma. This could be due to various reasons, such as failing to pass certain courses or not meeting the necessary credit requirements.

These certificates acknowledge a student’s regular attendance throughout their high school years, highlighting their commitment and dedication.

While certificates of attendance do not carry the same weight as a diploma, they still hold value. They demonstrate a student’s ability to consistently show up to school and participate in the learning environment, which can be an important trait in the eyes of potential employers or higher education institutions.

Differences Between Certificates and Diplomas

There are several key differences between certificates of completion or attendance and high school diplomas. A high school diploma is the standard credential awarded to students who have successfully completed all the necessary coursework and met the graduation requirements set by their state or school district.

Certificates of completion and attendance, on the other hand, acknowledge a student’s efforts and achievements but may not signify the same level of academic success. While diplomas are generally required for entry into college or university programs, certificates can still open doors to certain vocational training programs or entry-level job opportunities.

It’s important to research the specific requirements and implications of certificates and diplomas in your region, as they can vary. For more information, you can visit the official website of your state’s department of education or consult with your school’s guidance counselor.

GED and HiSET High School Equivalency Certificates

Testing Structure and Content

The GED (General Educational Development) and HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) certificates are alternative pathways for individuals who did not complete traditional high school education to earn a recognized credential.

Both tests assess knowledge and skills typically acquired in high school and measure an individual’s readiness for college and the workforce.

The GED consists of four subject tests: Reasoning Through Language Arts, Mathematical Reasoning, Science, and Social Studies. Each test is designed to evaluate critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

The HiSET, on the other hand, covers five subjects: Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. This test assesses a similar range of skills and knowledge as the GED.

Both tests are taken on a computer, but paper-based versions are also available in certain cases. They are administered at authorized testing centers and usually take several hours to complete.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to take the GED or HiSET tests, individuals must be at least 16 years old and not enrolled in high school. However, specific age and residency requirements may vary by state, so it’s important to check with the appropriate authorities in your area.

While there are no formal educational prerequisites for taking these tests, it is recommended that individuals have some level of preparation to increase their chances of success. Numerous resources, such as online study guides and practice tests, are available to help individuals prepare for the exams.

It’s worth noting that the GED and HiSET certificates are widely accepted as equivalent to a high school diploma by employers, colleges, and universities across the United States. They provide individuals with the opportunity to pursue higher education or secure better employment prospects.

Applying and Receiving your Certification

Applying for the GED or HiSET tests usually involves registering online through the respective testing program’s website. The registration process typically requires providing personal information, selecting the desired test subjects, and paying the necessary fees.

Once registered, individuals can schedule their test dates at authorized testing centers. After completing the tests, the results are typically available within a few weeks. If successful, individuals will receive their GED or HiSET certificate, which serves as official proof of high school equivalency.

It’s important to note that the GED and HiSET certificates do not expire once earned. Once obtained, individuals can use them for the rest of their lives to demonstrate their educational achievement.

For further information on the GED and HiSET tests, you can visit the official websites:

State-by-State Variations

Diploma Requirements in California

When it comes to high school diplomas, each state in the United States has its own set of requirements. In California, students must fulfill a specific set of criteria to obtain their high school diploma.

These requirements usually include completing a certain number of credits in various subjects, such as English, mathematics, science, and social studies. Additionally, students may be required to pass certain standardized tests or complete a senior project.

In California, the high school diploma is typically referred to as a “California High School Diploma.” This diploma signifies that the student has successfully met all the state’s graduation requirements and is ready to pursue higher education or enter the workforce.

Certificate Options in Texas

While high school diplomas are the most common form of recognition for completing high school, some states offer alternative options such as certificates. In Texas, students can earn a high school certificate instead of a traditional diploma.

This certificate is typically awarded to students who have completed the necessary coursework but may not have met all the requirements for a diploma.

It’s important to note that a high school certificate in Texas is not equivalent to a high school diploma. However, it still serves as a valuable recognition of a student’s hard work and dedication in completing their high school education.

New York Regents Diplomas

In New York, students have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma known as the New York Regents Diploma. This diploma is awarded to students who have successfully completed a specific set of requirements, including passing a series of standardized exams called the Regents Examinations.

The Regents Examinations cover various subjects, including English, mathematics, science, and social studies. These exams are designed to assess a student’s understanding and knowledge in these areas. By passing these exams, students demonstrate their readiness for college or other post-secondary pursuits.

It’s worth noting that the New York Regents Diploma offers different levels of distinction based on a student’s performance on the Regents Examinations. These levels include the Regents Diploma, Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, and Regents Diploma with Honors.

For more information on high school diploma requirements and certificate options in different states, you can visit the website.

Obtaining Transcripts and Diplomas

After completing high school, it is important to obtain official transcripts and diplomas as they serve as proof of your educational achievements and can be required for various purposes such as college applications, job applications, or immigration processes.

Here are some key steps to obtain your high school transcripts and diplomas:

Requesting Official Transcripts

One of the first steps in obtaining your high school transcripts is to contact your high school’s guidance office or registrar’s office. They will provide you with the necessary information and forms to request your official transcripts.

In some cases, there may be a small fee associated with obtaining transcripts. It is important to provide accurate information such as your full name, student ID number, and the year of your graduation to ensure a smooth process.

Pro Tip: Many high schools now offer online transcript request services, making the process quicker and more convenient. Check your high school’s website or contact the school directly to inquire about online transcript request options.

Replacing Lost or Damaged Diplomas

If you have lost or damaged your high school diploma, don’t panic! There are ways to obtain a replacement. Start by contacting your high school and explaining the situation. They will guide you through the process of obtaining a replacement diploma.

In some cases, there may be a fee involved, and you may need to provide identification and proof of your graduation.

Did You Know? Some high schools keep records of past graduates and can issue duplicate diplomas, while others may provide certified copies or replacement certificates.

Diploma Verification Services

In certain situations, you may need to verify the authenticity of a high school diploma. This can be required by employers, educational institutions, or government agencies. There are several diploma verification services available that can provide this verification.

These services typically require you to provide the necessary information about the high school and graduate, and they will conduct the verification process on your behalf.

Important Note: It is crucial to use reliable and reputable diploma verification services to ensure accurate and trustworthy results. Beware of fraudulent services that may provide false verifications.

Obtaining your high school transcripts and diplomas is an important step in your educational and professional journey. By following the proper procedures and utilizing the resources available, you can ensure that you have the necessary documentation to support your achievements.


Whether called a diploma, certificate, or other variation, your high school graduation credential represents years of hard work and achievement. As you venture out into the workforce or continue your studies, understanding the specifics about high school degrees and documentation will ensure you can accurately convey your educational background.

With this guide, you now have a detailed overview of the different types of high school graduation certificates awarded today. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to obtain, share, and explain your own high school credentials.

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