Diplomas vs. High School Graduation Certificates

Not all certificate recipients have graduated.
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While a diploma always means that you've graduated high school with the right credits to move on to college, graduation certificates can mean several different things. Whether or not you'll be able to attend college with a certificate depends upon the type of certificate you receive, so it's important to check the requirements for the certificate if you're thinking about switching from a diploma to a certificate.

1 High School Diploma

All students are eligible to receive a high school diploma, but because the criteria are the same regardless of the student's circumstances, not all students are able to complete such a diploma. Your local school board oversees graduation requirements and will determine the specific classes you have to take to graduate. You may also need a certain minimum GPA, and you might not be able to exceed a specific number of unexcused absences.

2 GED Certificate

A General Educational Development diploma is a replacement for a standard high school diploma. With a GED, you can co on to attend college or pursue a job that requires a diploma. You'll have to take a test covering social studies, science, math, reading and writing, and pass with a score higher than 2,250 before you can receive your certificate.

3 Special Needs Students

Although schools typically strive to give students with special needs a full high school education, some disabled students may not be able to complete standard high school requirements. These students may be offered a certificate of completion for the course work they have finished, and are often permitted to attend graduation and even receive graduation awards. However, this certificate will not make a special needs student eligible to attend college and is not equivalent to a high school diploma.

4 Award Certificates

Award certificates are frequently part of high school graduation ceremonies. They include a wide range of awards, such as those for perfect attendance, National Merit Scholars, scholarship recipients, volunteer work and a host of other achievements. At some schools, you don't have to graduate to get a certificate at graduation. For example, a special needs student who isn't getting a traditional diploma might still get an award for citizenship or attendance.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.