This resource provides an overview of state high school graduation requirements. Nearly all states require students to complete a certain number of units per course to earn a standard diploma in the state; but courses, units and assessments outside of exit exams and diploma options vary. Education Commission of the States researched a range of policies — including state statute, state regulations, department guidelines, state standards and state board rules — to create this 50-State Comparison.
Click on the questions below for 50-State Comparisons showing how all states approach specific policies. Or choose to view a specific state’s approach by going to the individual state profiles page.
- What are the state’s course requirements for high school graduation?
- What are the state’s non-course requirements for high school graduation?
- How many total course units does the state require for high school graduation?
- What are the other diploma types offered by the state?
Key terms used in this resource:
Standard diploma type. A standard diploma type refers to the minimum requirements necessary to earn a diploma in a state. States may offer additional diploma types or endorsements.
Multiple options. Some states require a certain number of units among a group of course options. For example, a state may require two units from a list that includes foreign language, fine arts, performing arts, and career and technical education.
Endorsement. An endorsement is a credential added to a standard diploma that indicates additional requirements were met. Some examples of endorsements states use are for STEM or career and technical education.
Carnegie unit. A basic credit-hour measurement.
This 50-State Comparison does not include:
Exit exam requirements. Some states require students to achieve a minimum score on subject area assessment(s), in addition to completing course requirements.
Naturalization exam requirements. An increasing number of states require all students to correctly answer a certain number of questions from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Test as a condition of high school graduation.
Competency-based alternatives to Carnegie units. These policies vary significantly, with those at one end limiting students to demonstrating competency in a foreign language to those at the other end completely eliminating references to Carnegie unit in statute or regulation.
- Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have minimum statewide high school graduation requirements. Colorado, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania leave high school graduation requirements up to local districts; but all three have statewide assessment or recommended graduation requirements.
- Sixteen states offer diploma options other than the standard diploma type, and six states offer multiple standard diploma options.
- Of the states that specify it, the total units required varies from 13 to 24.
- Seventeen states specify non-course requirements as a condition of graduation in state policy.
View state legislation from our State Education Policy Tracking resource (select High School issue and Graduation Requirements sub-issue).
PUBLISHED: February 14, 2019
RESOURCE TYPE: 50-State Comparison
EDUCATION LEVEL: High School