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A high school diploma is a diploma awarded for the completion of high school. In the United States and Canada, it is considered the minimum education required for government jobs and higher education, such as beginning university. An equivalent is the GED.
Every place has different requirements for obtaining a high school diploma or its equivalent. For example, some schools require that all students study a foreign language, and other places do not. The number of years that students are required to attend school before earning a high school diploma, the difficulty level of the classes, and the types of classes vary significantly from place to place.
Diplomas were originally made of sheepskin, as paper was not very durable and was difficult to create. The sheepskin was made paper thin and information was handwritten. Soon, parchment was used for the diploma.
Diplomas used to be quite large, but it has become common to print diplomas on standard letter or A4 size paper. Another difference is the method with which diplomas are handed out. Older diplomas were often rolled and tied with ribbon, but diplomas may also be presented in leather binders or framed with wood and glass. In some cases, blank papers are handed out in graduation ceremonies, and the official diploma is delivered at a later date.
Most countries around the world award high school diplomas on the basis of completing appropriate coursework and passing one or more standardized tests. Every country has different requirements for receiving a diploma, and in some cases, individual schools set their own requirements. Requirements also change over time. There is no single, universal set of requirements for receiving a high school diploma. Every time and place has different requirements.
A person who qualifies for a diploma, but has not yet received it, is called a graduand; after receiving it, the person is called a graduate.
Education systems based on the British model have independently marked national examinations for each subject instead of a High School Diploma — General Certificate of Secondary Education in England and Wales, School Leaving Certificates in Ireland, Higher Grade Examination in Scotland, and IGCSE/AICE internationally. Caribbean Examination Council Certificates are also given to students in the Caribbean after completion of a five years of secondary education, and are accepted regionally and internationally.
In the United States, most states require students to take and pass a standardized test before graduation. The curriculum and implementation has varied depending upon the state. Florida uses the English, Welsh and Northern Irish A-Level program (called Advanced International Certificate of Education) for advanced students while a number of schools in Virginia use the IGCSE. General education students who pass the twelfth grade in the US by completing enough classes, but do not meet all of the standard graduation requirements, will not receive a high school diploma, but will instead receive a certificate of attendance. Schools may offer the Cambridge International Examinations, the International Baccalaureate, and/or Advanced Placement program in addition to the high school diploma for advanced students. Schools may also offer dual-enrollment programs that enable students to earn university academic credit and a high school diploma simultaneously.
Australia has six state-based systems and two territory-based systems, which have different curricula, standards and pathways, but all of which (except for Queensland) produce a common Australian Tertiary Admission Rank which is recognised nationally. Several Australian private schools, and a number of public schools in the state of South Australia, offer the IB as an alternative.
The high school diploma is the symbol of having successfully completed the basic education required by law for youths. Because of this, the presentation of the high-school diploma has become an adulthood rite, that is steeped in ritual. The high-school diploma is given to students at a ceremony called high-school graduation. Students who have passed their courses will have their names called out, walk across a stage, and be handed their diplomas. Sometimes, students receive blank pieces of paper wrapped with a ribbon or empty leather binders during the graduation ceremony; when this occurs the actual diploma is received later.
Some categories of high school diploma programs include:
At most American schools, these are the same diplomas with different notations or endorsements. With the exception of those receiving a certificate of completion or a certificate of attendance, the recipients are all equally considered to be high school graduates with the same basic rights, such as the ability to attend any community college or university that chooses to accept them.
However, in other countries, this is not the case. In some countries, high schools have specialized in certain areas and issue diplomas relevant to their specialty, and a particular type of diploma is normally required for certain purposes, such as attending university. For example, in Germany, three types of diplomas are common:
Diplomas may also be available for students who complete special programs, which may be awarded instead of or in addition to the standard high school diploma of a region's schools; these include:
The names of diplomas vary by country and even from region to region within the same country.