High school diploma

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A high school diploma is a North American academic school leaving qualification awarded upon high school graduation. The high school diploma is typically studied for over the course of three to four years, from grade 9 to grade 12. The diploma is typically awarded by the school in accordance with the requirements of the local state or provincial government. Requirements for earning the diploma vary by jurisdiction, and there may be different requirements for different streams or levels of high school graduation. Typically they include a combination of selected coursework meeting specified criteria for a particular stream and acceptable passing grades earned on the state exit examination.

A school leaving qualification is an academic qualification awarded for the completion of high school. Depending on the country or region, it may alternatively be known as a high school diploma, school certificate, senior certificate, or certificate of education, amongst other names.

An exit examination is a test that students in the United States of America must pass to receive a diploma and graduate from school. Such examinations have also been used in a variety of countries; this article focuses on their use within the United States. These are usually criterion-referenced tests which were implemented as part of a comprehensive standards-based education reform program which sets into place new standards intended to increase the learning of all students.


Diplomas in specific jurisdictions


British Columbia

In British Columbia, the diploma is known as the British Columbia Certificate of Graduation. The province of BC has two distinct graduation programs: the BC Certificate of Graduation (Dogwood Diploma) and the BC Adult Graduation Diploma (Adult Dogwood). Students also have the opportunity to meet their educational goals (other than graduation) through the BC School Completion Certificate (Evergreen Certificate).

British Columbia Province of Canada

British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. With an estimated population of 5.016 million as of 2018, it is Canada's third-most populous province.

The current Dogwood requirements have been in place since July 1, 2004. [1] Under current regulations, students must earn a minimum of 80 credits to graduate, which must include 48 credits for required courses, a minimum of 28 elective credits, and 4 credits for "graduation transitions", a standards-based assessment evaluated by schools under BC Ministry of Education guidelines. [1] Required courses include, among other things, language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science courses in grades 10, 11, and 12. Part of the evaluation of students includes standardized provincial examinations in a number of the required courses in grades 10 and 12. As part of the 80 credits for the Dogwood, 16 credits must be at the Grade 12 level, and must include English 12 or Communications 12.


In Ontario, the high school diploma is known as the Ontario Secondary School Diploma. The diploma is awarded to all students who complete the Ontario educational curriculum. The requirements for the diploma include compulsory credits in English or French, Mathematics, Science, Canadian History, Canadian Geography, Arts, Health and Physical Education, and a second language; compulsory half credits in Career Studies and Civics; one credit each from three elective groups; 12 optional credits, 4 of which may be obtained through dual-credit classes; 40 hours of community service; and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test. Those who leave school after completing 14 credits but prior to obtaining the diploma can obtain the Ontario Secondary School Certificate.

Ontario Province of Canada

Ontario is one of the 13 provinces and territories of Canada and is located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province accounting for 38.3 percent of the country's population, and is the second-largest province in total area. Ontario is fourth-largest jurisdiction in total area when the territories of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are included. It is home to the nation's capital city, Ottawa, and the nation's most populous city, Toronto, which is also Ontario's provincial capital.

The Ontario Secondary School Diploma is a diploma granted to high school graduates in the Canadian province of Ontario. It is part of the publicly funded province-wide school system. It is awarded to all students who complete the Ontario education curriculum, including students in Special Education, the TOPS program, MaCS program, IB Program, and other focused secondary school programs.

The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) is a compulsory standardized test for secondary school students in Ontario who wish to obtain the Ontario Secondary School Diploma. For students who entered Grade 9 in 1999–2000, successful completion of the test was not a graduation requirement. However, for those students who took the field test of the OSSLT in 2000–2001, failed the test, and chose to retake the OSSLT in October 2001, successful completion of the provincial literacy graduation requirement became a diploma requirement. It is administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).


Quebec issued the D.E.S. (French: diplôme des études secondaires), formerly Quebec Certificate of Education (and sometimes were known Quebec HS Secondary Certificate and Québécois baccalaureat) before it changed into HS Diploma/Diplôme D.E.S. at the end of secondary V (grade 11), for graduation from secondary school (high school), a five-year school spanning secondary I (grade 7) to secondary V (grade 11).

Quebec Province of Canada

Quebec is one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada. It is bordered to the west by the province of Ontario and the bodies of water James Bay and Hudson Bay; to the north by Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay; to the east by the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; and to the south by the province of New Brunswick and the U.S. states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. It also shares maritime borders with Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. Quebec is Canada's largest province by area and its second-largest administrative division; only the territory of Nunavut is larger. It is historically and politically considered to be part of Central Canada.


To earn a high school diploma, Saskatchewan students are required to earn a total of 24 credits from grades 10 to 12. For a regular English program diploma, they must earn 5 credits in English Language Arts, 3 credits in Social Studies, 2 credits in mathematics, 2 credits in science, 1 credit in Physical Education/Health Education, 2 credits in Arts Education/Practical and Applied Arts, and 9 elective credits.

United States

Education in the United States
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A United States high school diploma usually refers to the satisfactory completion of grade schooling including kindergarten through the 12th grade and is then issued by the school district and the high school after a student's graduation.


In Alabama, all students are required to earn 24 credits. The required credits are: English (4 credits), Math (4 credits), Science (4 credits), History (4 credits), PE/JROTC (1 credit), Health (0.5 credits), Career Prep (1 credit), CTE/arts education/Foreign language (3 credits), and Electives (2.5 credits).

Alabama State of the United States of America

Alabama is a state in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama is the 30th largest by area and the 24th-most populous of the U.S. states. With a total of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of inland waterways, Alabama has among the most of any state.

County schools offer Honors, and AP classes.


In California, students are required to take, and successfully complete the following minimum requirements to earn a high school diploma: 3 years of English, 2 years of Math including Algebra I, 3 years of History/Social Studies including one year of U.S. history and geography; one year of world history, culture, and geography; one semester of American government and civics, and one semester of economics, 2 years of science including biological and physical sciences, 1 year of either visual and performing arts, foreign language, or career technical education, 2 years of Physical Education, and Beginning in 2005–06, all students must pass the California High School Exit Examination prior to graduation, which is normally first administered in the 10th grade. Most schools' individual graduation requirements far outweigh the state's minimum standards. The California exit exam was suspended until 2018.

This information is taken from the California Department of Education. [2]


In Illinois, students are required to take English, mathematics, science, social science, world language, fine arts, physical education, and elective classes meeting selected criteria as part of the program of study for the High School Diploma. Electives may include advanced courses, career and technical education (CTE), Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC), dual-enrollment, or additional classes in the required subjects that meet school board requirements. Driver's Education is required for all students. [3] [4] An additional requirement is a passing grade on the Prairie State Achievement Examination which is typically taken in Grade 11. [5]

Accommodations are made for select students with unique needs. English Language Learner (ELL) students may substitute English as a Second Language for English to meet the graduation requirements. Students receiving special education services may complete modified requirements according to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

North Carolina

In North Carolina high school students are required to obtain 24 credits. 4 English credits (English 1, English 2, English 3, and English 4), 4 Math credits (Math 1, Math 2, Math 3, and an elective math course), 3 Science credits (Earth & Environmental Science, Biology, and Chemistry), 4 Social Studies credits (World History, Civics & Economics, American History I, and American History II), and 1 Health or Physical education credit.

Foreign language course credits are not generally required for graduation but 2 credits are required for admission to a UNC system university.

The state offers foundations, for academically lacking students, standard classes, honors and seminar classes, for academically advanced students, and AP classes which allow academically gifted and motivated students to obtain college credit while in high school.

The state has 9 Early College high school’s which allows students to graduate high school with an associate’s degree in a career of their choosing offered by the college which is offering said college courses, or to transfer as juniors to a NC university or possibly earn transferable credit to an out of state or private university.

New York

In New York State, the high school diploma awarded is known as the Regents Diploma, which is earned upon successful completion of the Regents Exams in the required subjects. [6] Two levels are offered: the standard Regents Diploma and the Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation. [6] Both diplomas require 44 credits, including 8 credits in English, 8 credits in Social Studies, 6 credits in Math, 6 credits in Science, 1 credit in Health, 2 credits in Art or Music, and 4 credits in Physical Education; the Regents Diploma requires 2 credits of Secondary Language and 6 credits in Sequence Courses or Electives, while the Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation requires 6 credits of Secondary Language and 3 credits in Sequence Courses or Electives. [6]

The subjects for which passing grades on the Regents Exams are required for the Regents Diploma include Comprehensive English, any one Mathematics, Global History, US History, any one Science, and Language Other Than English (LOTE). [6] The subjects for which passing grades on the Regents Exams are required for the Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation are Comprehensive English, all three Mathematics, Global History, US History, one physical Science, one life Science, and Language Other Than English (LOTE). [6] A passing score is 65 in each subject; the "With Honors" designation is added if the average score in all required exams is 90 or greater. [6] A "Technical Endorsement" is given to students enrolled in a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program who additionally complete an approved technical assessment, a work-based learning experience, and a work-skills employability profile. Students are also able to receive a Mastery in Mathematics and Mastery in Science designation on their diploma alongside others.

The New York State Regents Diploma, with or without advanced designation, honors, or mastery, is the most heavily weighed and usually most influential high school diploma offered in the country.[ citation needed ] A Regents diploma is often referred to as the most difficult and challenging diploma to obtain.[ citation needed ] The highest level of a New York State Regents diploma is with Honors, Advanced Designation, Mastery of Science, Mastery of Mathematics, with a Technical Endorsement. [6] [ citation needed ]


In Texas, there are three programs offered for graduation: the Minimum High School Program (MHSP), the Recommended High School Program (RHSP), and the Advanced (Distinguished) High School Program (AHSP/DHSP). [7] The Recommended and Distinguished programs are the streams typically chosen by most students, and are expected of students who are college-bound. Also required for graduation is successful completion with passing grades on the Exit Level examination of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), which is typically taken in Grade 11. Multiple re-sits for the exam are available, in case of failure on a previous attempt.

Students in the Recommended and Distinguished programs must take four years of English, mathematics, science, and social studies classes as part of their program of study. [8] Students in the Distinguished program must also take a minimum amount of advanced-level coursework, which could include Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes or university classes taken as dual-enrollment. Students in the Minimum program have less stringent requirements to complete their diploma than students in the other diploma programs.

By Texas state law, completion of the Recommended or Distinguished programs or a program with an equivalent curriculum and level of rigor, along with suitable scores on the SAT or the ACT, is required for a student to be eligible to be considered for admission to a four-year public institution of higher education in Texas. [9]


General Education Development (GED)

The General Education Development (GED) credential is offered as an alternative qualification for those who did not successfully earn a high school diploma. Examination involves taking and passing tests in five subjects: Reading, Writing, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. A Certificate of High School Equivalency is generally offered to those who successfully complete the GED. While the GED itself may not necessarily enable the same higher education and employment opportunities as the high school diploma, the GED can enhance employability prospects for former high school dropouts, and progression is available to tertiary study at select higher education institutions.

IB Diploma Programme

IB World Schools may offer the IB Diploma [10] in lieu of or alongside a traditional high school diploma. The IB Diploma is an academically rigorous program of study. The program of study for the IB Diploma includes subjects chosen from six subject groups: Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts. [10] [11] Three subjects are taken at Higher Level, and three are taken at Standard Level. [10] [11] Also included is the Diploma Programme Core, which is composed of Extended Essay; Theory of Knowledge; and Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) components. [10] [11] The IB Diploma is an internationally recognized academic school-leaving qualification that provides entry to, and in some cases, advanced standing in, university. International Baccalaureate (IB) exams are typically considered equivalent to Advanced Placement (AP) exams and are at an academic level above the high school diploma, and thus university credit may be awarded for successful completion of IB subjects by American and Canadian universities as well as Universities around the World.

British qualifications

International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE)

International schools following the British Curriculum of education may offer the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) qualification, which is considered to be at the same level, in lieu of or alongside a traditional high school diploma. The IGCSE is the international counterpart to the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) qualification, taken by secondary school students at Key Stage 4 in the United Kingdom. Edexcel and Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) are examination boards which offer the IGCSE qualification worldwide.

Students generally take five to ten subjects, according to their desired program of study and the offerings available at their school; an IGCSE with eight subjects at grades A*-C is considered equivalent to the full high school diploma. Unlike the high school diploma, which is typically studied for in years 9-12 and awarded in year 12, the IGCSE is typically awarded at year 11, after which the A Levels are studied for and awarded.

Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma

Following successful completion of the GCSE or IGCSE, international schools following the British Curriculum may offer the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma, developed by the Cambridge International Examinations board. [12] As part of the Cambridge AICE Diploma program, students take a combination of Cambridge International AS Level and A Level subjects, administered by Cambridge International Examinations with at least one subject taken in each of three subject areas: Mathematics and Science, Languages, and Arts and Humanities; subjects from a fourth subject group, Global Perspecties, may also be chosen. [12] Six credits must be earned to achieve the Diploma; an AS Level counts as a full (single) credit, and an A Level counts as a double credit. [12] The Cambridge AICE Diploma would typically be completed by the final year of high school. AS and A Levels are at a higher academic level than the high school diploma, and thus university credit may be awarded for A Levels completed as part of the Cambridge AICE Diploma by American and Canadian Universities.

Edexcel International Diploma (ID)

As an alternative to the Cambridge AICE Diploma, international schools following the British Curriculum may offer the Edexcel International Diploma (ID), in lieu of or alongside the traditional high school diploma, following successful completion of the GCSE or IGCSE. [13] The International Diploma requires successful completion of three Edexcel A Levels or three BTEC Level 3 Extended Diplomas, along with a Level 3 Extended Project (EPQ), a BTEC Level 3 WorkSkills Plus Certificate, and an Edexcel AS Level in General Studies. [13] This qualification thus allows for a blended mix of academic studies and vocational training, to prepare students for higher education as well as the workplace. [13] The Edexcel International Diploma would typically be completed by the final year of high school. AS and A Levels are at a higher academic level than the high school diploma, and thus university credit may be awarded for A Levels completed as part of the International Diploma by American and Canadian universities .

French qualifications

Baccalauréat (Bac)

International schools following the French Curriculum of education may offer the Baccalauréat (Le Bac) in lieu of or alongside a traditional high school diploma. The Baccalauréat is the traditional school-leaving qualification of French schools. The Baccalauréat is offered in several streams; subjects chosen for the Baccalauréat depend on the stream chosen by the student.

Baccalauréat Franco Américain (BFA)

Accredited French international schools in the United States may also offer the Baccalauréat Franco Américain (French American Baccalauréat), as an alternative to the traditional Baccalauréat, in lieu of or alongside a traditional high school diploma. [14] [15] The French American Baccalauréat is offered as a joint initiative of the College Board and the French Ministry of Education. [14] [15] The curriculum includes Advanced Placement (AP) subjects and French classes; in lieu of three French classes, students take three corresponding AP classes in the première (year 11) and terminale (year 12) years of high school. [14] [15] AP exams are taken in May of year 11 or year 12, and French Baccalauréat exams are taken according to the normal academic calendar. [14] [15] Students may elect to take the Baccalauréat Franco Américain in the Literature (L), Economics (ES), and Science (S) courses of study. [14] [15]


United Kingdom

In England and Wales, the high school diploma is considered to be at the level of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), which is awarded at Year 11. [16] [17] For college and university admissions, the high school diploma may be accepted in lieu of the GCSE if an average grade of C is obtained in subjects with a GCSE counterpart. [16]

As the more academically rigorous A Levels awarded at Year 13 are expected for university admission, the high school diploma alone is generally not considered to meet university requirements. Students who wish to study in the United Kingdom may additionally participate in the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, which are considered to be at the level of the A Level qualifications and earn points on the UCAS Tariff, [16] [18] or may opt to take A Level examinations in British international schools or as private candidates. College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) tests, such as the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, or the ACT, may also be considered.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) recommends that in addition to a high school diploma, grades of 3 or above in at least two, or ideally three, Advanced Placement exams may be considered as meeting general entry requirements for admission. [16] The IB Diploma may also be accepted. For the College Entrance Examination Board tests, a minimum score of 600 or higher in all sections of the SAT or a minimum score of 26 or higher in all sections of the ACT along with a minimum score of 600 in relevant SAT Subject Tests may be considered as meeting general entry requirements for admission. [16]

United States and Canada

Within the United States and Canada, there is universal recognition of all officially awarded high school diplomas earned in any jurisdiction. Employers, colleges, and universities generally do not distinguish between high school diplomas based on the jurisdiction of awarding, and consider all high school diplomas of the same level to be equivalent. However, where differences in curriculum requirements or levels of academic rigor are made between diplomas issued in a particular jurisdiction, distinctions may be made. Specific requirements for the curriculum content and the level of academic rigor needed for acceptance may be made by those who request a high school diploma.

See also

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