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. An equivalent is the GED.
Education systems based on British models have independently marked national examinations for each subject instead of a High School Diploma — General Certificate of Secondary Education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Highers in Scotland, School Leaving Certificates in Ireland, Higher Grade Examination in School and IGCSE/AICE internationally. Caribbean Examination Council Certificates are also given to students in the Caribbean after completion of a 5 year secondary education, and are accepted regionally and internationally.
European schools use the Baccalaureate system. The International Baccalaureate (IB) is becoming increasingly popular in the USA and worldwide. Florida uses the British (with the exception of Scotland, which has a completely different independent and much older, universally free and compulsory, education system) 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 12th grade by obtaining enough credits or by completing all core courses but do not meet the standard graduation requirements will not receive a high school diploma, but will instead receive a certificate of attendance.
Diplomas were originally made of sheepskin, as paper was not very durable and was difficult to create.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. Diplomas of yesteryear often were rolled and tied with ribbon, but now most diplomas are presented in leather binders, with perhaps a rolled certificate for ceremonial purposes only.
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.
In most cases, high schools will offer more advanced diplomas for academically gifted students. For example, an honors diploma (usually the highest awarded) typically requires a minimum GPA as well as a certain number of Advanced Placement or other honors courses. Some high schools also offer lesser ranked diplomas, but are still more prestigious than the standard diploma; for example, some offer a "college prep" diploma with a program designed for those going to college (which typically has a two-credit foreign language requirement). Some states (such as Kentucky's Commonwealth Diploma) offer a very advanced diploma which requires a minimum number of AP courses and is typically a more prestigious honor than even an honors diploma. In some instances where a school also has a vocational education branch, the high school diploma and certificate of completion (Voc-Tech program) are presented together.