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High School Diplomas

Which Type is Right for You?

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Graduate receiving a diploma, close-up of hands
Chad Baker - Jason Reed - Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Diploma types vary from school to school, although in most states, decisions about diploma requirements are made by state education officials.

Students should speak with parents and counselors and think carefully before deciding which type of diploma is best for them. Ideally, students should decide on a curriculum before starting their freshman year, although it is sometimes possible to "switch."

In most cases, students are not “locked in” to a certain diploma track once they start on one. Students may start out on a track that becomes too demanding and switch to a new track at some point. But be warned! Switching tracks can be dangerous.

Students who switch tracks often run the risk of overlooking a class requirement until late in their curriculum. This can lead to (yikes) summer school or (worse) late graduation.

The type of diploma a student chooses will affect his or her future choices. For instance, students who choose to complete a vocational or technical prep diploma will be somewhat limited in their options after high school. In most cases, this type of degree prepares students for entering the workplace or enrolling in a technical college.

Many colleges require the completion of a college prep diploma as an admission requirement. If you have your heart set on a big university from your home state, be sure to check the minimum admission requirement and plan your diploma track accordingly.

More selective colleges like to see that students have completed a more rigorous curriculum than the one required in a general college prep diploma, and those colleges may require an honors diploma (or seal), an advanced college prep diploma, or an International Baccalaureate diploma.

Similar types of diplomas may have different names from state to state. For instance, some high schools offer a general diploma. Other school systems may call the same diploma type an academic diploma, a standard diploma, or a local diploma.

This type of diploma gives students greater flexibility in choosing courses, but it might limit the student’s choices for post-secondary options. Unless the student chooses courses very carefully, the general diploma probably won’t meet the minimum requirements of many selective colleges.

But there is an exception to every rule! Not all colleges use diplomas as a deciding factor when they consider students for acceptance. Many private colleges will accept general diplomas and even technical diplomas. Private colleges can set their own standards, since they do not have to follow state mandates.

Common Diploma Types

Technical/Vocational Students must complete a combination of academic courses and vocational or technical courses.
General Student must complete a certain number of credits and maintain a minimum GPA.
College Prep Students must complete a state-mandated curriculum and maintain a certain GPA.
Honors College Prep Students must complete a state-mandated curriculum that is complemented by additional rigorous coursework. Students must achieve a high academic level and maintain a certain GPA.
International Baccalaureate Students must complete a specific two-year international curriculum to meet standards set by The International Baccalaureate Organization. This challenging curriculum is normally completed in the final two years of high school by qualified students who have completed a highly academic pre-baccalaureate curriculum.
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