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What Degree Do You Get When You Graduate High School?

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When it comes to college, you can choose to earn an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or a doctoral degree. All of these options beg the question: What degree do you get when you graduate high school?

In this article, we will answer this question and more by focusing on education in the United States. We’ll share information about a high school degree along with describing the differences between a high school diploma, a high school certificate, and a GED.

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What Degree Do You Get When You Graduate High School?

Upon graduating high school, you can expect to earn either a high school diploma or a high school certificate. While you may be tempted to call this a degree, the term “degree” is generally reserved for college-level achievements.

Now, let’s look at the difference between a high school diploma and a high school certificate.

High school diploma

A high school diploma is granted to a student who completes all the educational requirements deemed by the school, district, city, and state.

High school certificate

A certificate is reserved for students who have completed high school but did not pass all the requirements to graduate.

For some students, the option to attend or graduate from high school may not have been possible. Instead, they may have pursued a GED. A GED stands for the General Educational Development Test. A GED is granted to students who take this series of tests whether or not they graduated high school. If they pass the GED, then they get the credential of doing so, which can signal to employers and prospective academic institutions that the student has the level of knowledge equivalent to having graduated from high school.

What are General High School Graduation Requirements?

Educational requirements for high school vary by state, district, and city. Regardless of this fact, let’s review what typical high school graduation requirements involve:

  • 4 units of English
  • 4 units of math
  • 4 units of social studies
  • 4 units of science
  • 4 units of arts
  • 4 units of physical education (P.E.)/health
  • 1-3 units of foreign language studies (not all states require this)
  • 1-6 units of electives

Benefits of Finishing High School

There’s surely a lot of work and time that goes into earning your high school diploma (or high school certificate). Luckily, all that work is never for anything because there are so many benefits of graduating from high school.

Here’s a look at some notable advantages of having your high school diploma:

Attend College

It’s safe to say that most every institute of higher education beyond high school will require completion of high school to attend. Even the University of the People, which is purposely made to be accessible with its low barriers to entry, will ask for proof of high school completion (or a GED as an alternative). Finishing high school will lead you to be able to further your education, which can help you to achieve your career goals and life’s ambition.

Become educated and learn skills

High school teaches foundational skills when it comes to both subject matter and life. By attending high school, you become educated and can master transferable skills. Some skills that you’ll hone during high school include working in groups, working independently, study skills, time management skills, analytical skills, problem-solving, and more.

Higher pay

Did you know that the more education you obtain, the higher your potential income will be. There’s data that shows that you can expect to earn 40% more income by having your high school diploma as compared to someone who does not.


Just like you boost your income potential with a high school diploma, you also increase your chance of employability. In fact, when you finish high school, you have boosted your chance of getting a job by 33% over someone without a diploma.


Along with education, higher earning potential, and increased employability, you stand to gain pure satisfaction by completing the four years of high school. High school isn’t always an easy time for every student, but as they say, “smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors.” It’s in the moments of struggle that you grow the most. And, even if there isn’t a struggle during your high school career (which we hope is the case), you will still grow immensely in terms of your knowledge, social relationships, and skill set. That’s why when you earn that diploma, you’ll feel a sense of pride and satisfaction for all the hard work you put in to make it to the finish line.

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Go a Step Further

Once you earn your high school diploma, don’t stop there! Now, you’ve opened the door to continue your education and earn an undergraduate degree. After that, depending on your career prospects, you can go even further with a graduate degree. 

Unlike high school, you’ll have to pay your own way through college. Fortunately, there are many affordable options. You can obtain financial aid, apply for scholarships and grants, or choose an affordable institution like the University of the People, which is tuition-free. 

Once you finish high school, your opportunities are virtually endless as to what you can continue to accomplish.

The Bottom Line

Rather than asking, “what degree do you get when you graduate high school?” consider thinking about what you stand to gain from earning your high school diploma. The high school sets the foundation you need to continue along your professional and personal journey in life. At the same time, it’s a wonderful experience to make friends, expand your network, and learn more about yourself.