Graduating from high school is an accomplishment no matter how you reached the goal line. A high school diploma or a certificate of completion both show that you have mastered the minimum education requirements to move on from primary education.

Either a diploma or a certificate is a reflection of your ambition, highlights your ability to achieve a goal and reveals your drive to complete your education requirements before entering the adult world. Although both a diploma and certificate show that you have completed the requirements to graduate from high school, there are some major differences.

Certificate of Completion Requirements

The requirements for a high school certificate can vary. Typically, they are more flexible than the requirements to earn a high school diploma. The student will need to show that he can master the basic education in math, English and other subjects based on his ability and other factors set by the school and/or state.

IEP or Special Education Diploma

An Individual Education Plan, or IEP, can be used to structure the requirements for the student to show that she has completed what it takes to become a high school graduate.

These are becoming more popular as students and faculty address ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. A student can show a great capacity to learn and grasp more than the basic material with a few adjustments made for test taking and assignment completion.

This type of diploma is considered a high school certificate for those who can’t get to graduation even with an IEP in place. If this type of certificate causes any complications for college or employment, take a portfolio of the student’s accomplishments and talk to the institution or company. This can help to overcome any obstacles that may be inadvertently put in place.

Certificate of Completion and College

Can you go to college with just a certificate of completion? Maybe. It often depends on the state, the institution and the reasons that the student earned a certificate over the more traditional high school diploma.

A certificate of completion is recognized by most community colleges and some four-year degree universities. Check with the admissions office before you apply. Even if the institution says it doesn’t accept a certificate as a completion of high school, the admissions office may waive that rule for exceptional students or if there are mitigating factors.

Employment Opportunities for a Certificate

Most employers at the entry level will not consider the certificate of completion to be less than the high school diploma. However, for more specialized areas of study or interest, such as engineering or pre-med, a high school diploma is preferred.

High School Diploma

The traditional high school diploma is accepted by colleges and employers, often without the request for a grade point average or attached honors. It shows that the student has met or exceeded all of the requirements to get to walk across the stage at the graduation ceremony. A student who completes the education requirements for a high school diploma early may also receive his scroll early and start applying to colleges.

A diploma is earned after the student has completed the state’s grade-level requirements for English, math, science, social studies, history and other classes. These requirements vary by state.

Some states may require a standardized high school exit exam in order for the student to graduate. If a student is in an honors program or has a significantly high grade point average, she may be able to waive the exit test.

High School Diploma vs. Certificate for the Military

The military can open many doors for students who are exiting high school. However, the branches of the armed forces require that those applying have earned a high school diploma. A high school certificate doesn’t get the student entry into the military.

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