High School Graduation Requirements and Degree Pathways

Each state determines the number and distribution of credits required to complete a high school diploma. The bulk of these requirements are generally in English language arts and mathematics, though most states have adopted a wide range of other required coursework as a part of their high school graduation requirements, in subjects ranging from physical education to foreign languages.

Many states offer students multiple pathways to a diploma — different “tracks” for which course credit requirements are differentiated. These diploma pathways are often designed to tailor credit requirements to students’ college and career aspirations; for instance, course requirements for college-bound students might include more credits in mathematics and foreign languages, while students on a vocational diploma pathway may have fewer credits in core subjects and more credits in career education courses. Across the 50 states there are currently a total of 93 different high school diploma options.

Some states and districts are experimenting with “competency-based models,” which—though the model varies tremendously depending on the program—allow students to fulfill course requirements by demonstrating mastery of skills or content knowledge. In Ohio, for instance, high school students can fulfill subject-area credit requirements via alternative experiences like internships, independent studies, or educational travel. In Colorado, students can demonstrate proficiency and fulfill high school credit requirements through subject-specific assessments.