What Is a High School Degree Called?
After four years of high school, students look forward to graduation and moving to the next phase of their lives. Typically, during the graduation ceremony, they collect a piece of paper that confirms they’ve completed the graduation requirements set by their school. Though it may be referred to as a degree to some, in most of the United States this piece of paper is called a diploma.
What might lead some to call this a degree and others a diploma? Well, to answer that question we need to look back in history. In the 13th century the concept of the degree was formalized in the context of higher education. At that time, a degree was only for those who had completed the work to become a master or a doctor. All of the benchmarks of early childhood education and even the completion of a bachelor’s program were steps on the path towards receiving a degree, but the completion of those steps did not come with a degree of their own.
Over the years, the concept has expanded, and is used today to refer to the credentials attached to all sorts of educational programs. An associate’s degree, for example, is awarded after two years of a focused college program. Though the term degree is used in a much wider way now as compared to the 13th century, it’s still commonplace to apply this term only to college programs, using the word “diploma” instead to talk about what you earn when you graduate high school.
Even if you don’t graduate from high school with a degree, there’s no doubt that it takes a great deal of hard work to earn a high school diploma. In this article we’ll dig into high school diplomas, how you can earn one, and what other credentials you can potentially earn in place of it.
How You Can Earn a High School Diploma
In high school, students need to finish specific classes that their school, district, city, and state require. That means taking a certain number of units in core subjects like English, math, history, and science. Schools typically also allow students to take a certain number of electives as well, which can include band, choir, and yearbook, among other courses.
Depending on the state, students may be required to pass a high school exit exam to earn their diplomas. As a part of their school’s curriculum, high school seniors (and even juniors) may have to complete some type of special capstone project before crossing the stage.
Here Are The Differences Between a Diploma and a Degree
Some people may use the terms “diploma” and “degree” interchangeably. However, there are clear differences between a diploma and a degree. Most importantly, a diploma refers to a piece of paper– the certificate that one is awarded at or after graduation from an educational institution. You earn a diploma when you graduate from high school. You also earn a diploma when you graduate from an associate, bachelor, masters, or doctorate program. The diploma is the thing you put in a frame on the wall.
A degree however refers to the credentials you’ve earned upon completion of these programs. It signifies your level of education and qualifications in a certain field. You do not get a degree for graduating high school, though you can note that you graduated from high school on your resume, and refer to yourself as a high school graduate. Though colloquially “degree” and “diploma” may be used somewhat interchangeably, this simple distinction can be helpful to remember when you’re trying to use language precisely and accurately.
You can only work towards a degree after you’ve received a high school diploma or certificate (we’ll discuss alternatives in a moment). Typically, college curriculums are more rigorous in their expectations of students relative to high school in terms of lectures, exams, and papers required. Many high school graduates opt out of earning college degrees to earn other certifications, like certification in a trade program, or directly enter the workforce for income.
Getting Your GED is an Alternative to a High School Diploma
After completing a high school program, you may receive two different types of diplomas: a high school diploma and/or a high school certificate in a specific program like nursing or cosmetology. For those who need or would like to bypass high school, there are other options to qualify you as having completed high school. This is helpful in attaining work or attending an institution of higher education later. One option is getting a GED (General Education Development) diploma to demonstrate your high school knowledge.
Most colleges across the country do accept the GED in place of a high school diploma. However, you have to prepare for and take a comprehensive four-part test first. The four main subjects on the GED test are math, science, social studies, and language arts, all of which are covered in a regular high school classroom. Those getting the GED will take this test, which consists of multiple-choice, short-answer, and fill-in-the-blank questions, at a specific center in their state. Luckily, there are websites to help people prepare for the test through preparation courses and practice tests.
The HiSET is Also The Equivalent of a High School Diploma
Another alternative to getting your high school diploma is taking the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test). Like the GED, the HiSET offers a high school equivalency credential. It was created by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the Iowa Testing Programs as a more affordable and accessible option to achieving this equivalency.
The HiSET exam consists of five parts to test your knowledge: language arts (reading), language arts (writing), math, science, and social studies. Each subtest contains 50-60 multiple-choice questions, along with an essay question for the writing section. Again, like the GED, there are different testing centers for the HiSET across the country. Those who take it can get free practice exams as well as two retests within a year’s time if they do not pass on the first round.
A Vocational Degree Will Also Prepare You to Enter the Workforce
If you do not plan on attending college and want to head straight into the workforce, earning a vocational degree is also an option. For this certification, students will complete requirements at a trade school or another academic institution that focuses on a specific field or trade. Getting your vocational credentials can usually take between three months and two years, depending on the field, course list, and practice required. However, that is less than a standard bachelor’s degree, and you can begin work right after you finish. Trade schools may be able to assist with lining up a job for you after the completion of your program.
Vocational programs are usually held at non-traditional post-secondary institutions (trade schools, technical schools, and community colleges). However, some traditional colleges do offer classes for vocational programs. Examples of fields that offer vocational degrees include nursing, electrician services, cosmetology, paralegal services, and audio engineering.
So what is the answer to “what is a high school degree called?” Well, the answer is that a high school degree doesn’t really exist. But a high school diploma does, as well as a variety of equivalent certificates. Whatever you decide to pursue for education in the future, there are options to achieve high school equivalency. Whether or not you finish high school the traditional way, you can still continue your education and find a great career that you love!