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The difference between a certificate & a diploma

Some say there are no differences between a certificate and a diploma, but some differences exist. The main difference between a certificate and diploma is that a certificate states that its recipient completed four years of high school. Conversely, a diploma states that the student successfully met all high school requirements.

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About Certificates

A certificate of completion does not indicate academic credentials, and there are no course or grade requirements required to earn one. Students receiving a certificate of completion are eligible to attend school-sponsored events such as graduation and senior class trips. Many schools offer certificates that look like diplomas, so the certificates are not easily distinguishable during graduation ceremonies. A certificate of completion allows students to return to high school until they turn 21.

About Diplomas

High school diplomas symbolise the completion of academic credits and course requirements. Students are granted their high school diplomas during a graduation ceremony. Students with high GPAs, or those who are part of gifted and talented programs, receive a special honours diploma. These diplomas allow students to obtain certain median level jobs, as well as further their education without the need to meet further requirements.

Misconceptions About Certificates

Even though a student has completed four years of high school, a certificate of completion is not enough to further his or her education for colleges or trade schools. Most colleges and trade schools require a high school diploma or the equivalent to enrol. Another misconception is that a certificate of completion does not prevent students from earning their high school diploma or GED at a later date. Many also believe possessing a certificate of completion prevents individuals from enlisting in the military, pursuing a college degree and seeking government assistance, but this is all untrue.

Benefits of Diplomas

A high school diploma is not just a piece of paper handed to students during a boring ritualistic ceremony. There are a variety of benefits to earning a high school diploma, including the fact that employers often view a high school diploma as a way of measuring an individual's abilities and organizational skills. A high school diploma also makes a difference in salary, as well as job stability, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Another point of interest is that students who have earned their high school diplomas have discovered that much of what was covered in their courses often applies to real-life situations.


Be aware that each state has its own mandates and laws regarding high school graduation and exit exam requirements. Many GED programs do not allow those with a certificate of completion to participate in their programs because the student might still be listed as enrolled in a high school program, depending on what state they live in. Students and parents must also be aware of the numerous hoaxes through e-mails, forums, Websites and other forms of media circulating the Internet regarding certificates of completion.

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About the Author

Jenn Greenleaf has been a writer for over a decade in print and on the Internet. Publications include "The Writer Magazine," "Spirit Magazine," "Do! Magazine" and "The Writer's Journal." She has written several books and is working on many more. Greenleaf is currently working toward her degree in legal studies through the University of Maryland University College's distance learning program.

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