Although laws vary by state, there are usually two ways someone can get credit for completing high school. One option is to receive a high school diploma. The other is to get a certificate.
Certificates can have different names depending on your state. Certificate of Completion and Certificate of Attendance are common ones. And some states offer more than one type of certificate.
It’s important to know that certificates and high school diplomas are very different from each other. Each can impact your child’s future in different ways. The table below compares them.
|High school diploma||High school certificate|
What it means
A student has met all the requirements for graduation.
A student has completed high school but didn’t meet all the requirements for graduation.
What are the graduation requirements
To earn a diploma, a student typically must pass grade-level English, math, social studies, science, and other classes. The number and type of class credits required vary by state.
Some states also require a student to pass a high school exit exam to get a diploma.
It depends on the state and school. Unlike a diploma, the requirements are often flexible and can be tied to a student’s IEP goals.
Curriculum modifications allowed
Maybe. By changing what students learn, modifications can hurt their ability to earn a high school diploma.
Accepted by the military
Accepted by colleges
Maybe. It depends on the college.
Eligible for federal student aid for college
Accepted by employers
Maybe. It depends on the employer and the job qualifications.
Similar high school credentials
Knowing the difference between a high school diploma and a high school certificate of completion is important to your child’s future. If your child has an IEP, think carefully before you agree to modifications. They may impact the ability to get a diploma.
See a chart that shows the difference between accommodations and modifications, and see common examples of each. Also, it may help to review your child’s IEP goals to keep on track for graduation. Read about IEP transition planning, too.
About the author
About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.
Lindsay Jones, JD is chief executive officer of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).