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High School Graduation Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) for high school graduation requirements.

This page contains most frequently asked questions. Please direct other questions to program contacts.

High School Graduation

  • What are the high school graduation course requirements in California?

    The state sets minimum requirements. Local school districts have the authority and responsibility for establishing any requirements for awarding a California high school diploma from their secondary schools. These must include the set of 13 minimum courses required under California Education Code. Most school districts in California require between 22 and 26 one-year courses (or the equivalent) for graduation.

  • Are students of a California approved charter school required to complete the 13 minimum courses mandated for graduation?

    High school students enrolled in a charter school must meet the same state minimum course requirements for graduation as students enrolled in traditional public high schools. A charter school governing body has the authority to require additional graduation requirements above the state minimum requirements (examples community service, portfolio requirements, additional courses, etc.), as outlined in the approved charter petition.

  • Are students of private high schools required to complete the 13 minimum courses for graduation?

    No. Private high schools have the authority to set their own graduation requirements. However, many private high schools do include at least the state minimum courses in order to ensure that students transitioning to or from public schools have less disruption in their progress toward graduation.

  • How many units are required to earn a California high school diploma?

    Local school districts establish the total number of units required to earn a California high school diploma. Most California public high schools require the equivalent of between 22 and 26 yearlong courses. Two semester courses equal one yearlong course. A yearlong course constitutes one Carnegie unit. Semester courses constitute one-half of a Carnegie unit. But most school districts award ten local units for each Carnegie unit and five local units for a semester course. These districts require between 220 and 260 local units for high school graduation. However, local school districts vary in how local credit units are awarded for one year of study. To determine how many credits entering students have earned toward local graduation requirements, multiply the local credit units awarded for one year of study times the number of qualifying yearlong courses they have completed.

  • What constitutes a year of study in terms of instructional minutes for a specific subject area?

    A year of study is two semesters of study in the same or related subject area. In general, the course is about 50 minutes per day, five days a week, for two semesters. However, local school districts determine the actual organization of instructional time depending on their master schedule. Variances apply depending on holidays, professional development days, and block scheduling.

  • We are relocating to a new school district in California and my child is in high school. Will my child be able to graduate at the same time as his current classmates?

    While California has a set of 13 minimum course requirements for high school graduation, each local school district in California may add its own requirements. Therefore, it is very important that students entering a new California school district contact the new high school as soon as possible to have their progress toward fulfilling the graduation requirements of the new district reviewed. The local school district officials can evaluate the transcripts and advise you on when your child can graduate. School contact information can be located through the CDE California School Directory.

  • Do I have to complete Algebra I to graduate?

    Yes, beginning in the 2003-04 school year, all students must successfully complete coursework that meets or exceeds the rigor of the content standards of Algebra I prior to receiving a diploma of graduation from a high school. For additional information, see the Algebra I Graduation Requirement Frequently Asked Questions.

  • Do students with disabilities have to complete Algebra I in order to earn a high school diploma?

    Yes, students with disabilities have to meet all state and local graduation requirements. Algebra I is a state graduation requirement. Your local school district may require additional math courses. Some students with disabilities, due to the specific nature of their disability, may request a waiver of the Algebra I graduation requirement if, after all support services have been provided, the student cannot pass the course. For additional information regarding the Algebra waiver process, please visit the Algebra I Graduation Requirement Frequently Asked Questions.

  • My child has completed all but a couple of courses required for high school graduation but the school counselor says he or she must enroll in five courses each semester. Is this true?

    This depends on the circumstances. California Education Code Section 46145 states: "Commencing with the first semester or quarter that begins after January 1, 1984, pupils in grade 12 shall be enrolled in at least five courses each semester or the equivalent number of courses per quarter." California Education Code provides exceptions: "However, this requirement shall not apply to pupils enrolled in regional occupational programs, regional occupational centers, courses at accredited postsecondary educational institutions, independent study, special education programs where the pupil's individualized education program establishes a different number of courses, continuation education classes, work experience education programs approved under the provisions of Article 7 (commencing with Section 51760) of Chapter 5 of Part 28, or any other course of study authorized by the governing board which is equivalent to the approved high school course of study." California Education Code External link opens in new window or tab. sections 46146-46147 provide additional exceptions to the five-course requirement.

  • I have completed all of the courses required for high school graduation but the school says I must complete a senior project in order to graduate. Is this a state requirement for graduation?

    The California Education Code currently does not require that students complete a senior project. However, in California, local school districts have the authority and responsibility for determining graduation requirements. Therefore, local school districts do have the authority to require students to complete a senior project in order to receive a high school diploma.

  • The high school counselor at my child's school has told my child that he or she does not have enough credits to graduate. What are my options for getting this situation resolved?

    All parents and guardians have the right to be fully informed about their children's academic progress toward graduation. As a parent or guardian, you should schedule a conference with the counselor. If the issue cannot be resolved to your satisfaction at this level, then make an appointment with the school administrator, usually the principal, in charge. If you still have concerns after this meeting, your next option is to contact the school district office and speak with the administrators, including the superintendent, in charge of the academic program. If the administrators indicate that it is local district policy that sets the requirements, then you may appeal to your local school board. At this point, you should request the Uniform Complaint Procedures (Updated 01-Feb-2008) and maintain written records of your efforts to resolve your issues. Local school boards are citizen boards that have primary authority to set the policies of the school district. If they indicate that the California Education Code specifies the requirements, ask for the specific code section to which they are referring. For more information on the Education Code, see California Law External link opens in new window or tab..

  • If a student with disabilities is unable to meet all state and local graduation requirements, can they be recognized for their efforts?

    The EC allows a district to award certificates or documents of achievement or completion to students with IEPs who are unable to meet all state and local graduation requirements.

  • I participate in a competitive sport that is not directly associated with my high school. Can I use my time practicing and participating in this sport to satisfy the physical education graduation requirement?

    The authority to determine course equivalencies resides with the local school districts. Because California public schools are seeking to align their physical education programs with the Physical Education Framework for California Public Schools, the use of outside-of-school sports as equivalent credit is discouraged.

  • How can I find out about graduation requirements in other states?

    The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) provides online information on state graduation requirements External link opens in new window or tab. as well as state policy information about assessments, special accommodations, alternate assessments, participation, reporting, and standards.

  • How can I find out what the California high school graduation requirements were in a specific year?

    Historical editions of the California Education Code contain prior years’ high school graduation requirements. Please request this information from your local library or contact the State Library at: 916-654-0261.

Early High School Completion

  • I would like to complete high school early. How can I do that?

    First of all, talk with your high school counselor about your interest in completing high school early. The local school district's graduation requirements must be completed if you are to receive a high school diploma. While most high schools are organized to accommodate a standard four-year schedule to graduation, some California public high schools offer options for accelerated learning plans. To be eligible to enroll directly at a University of California (UC) or a California State University (CSU) campus, the required high school courses for freshman admission are much more extensive and rigorous than the state's minimum graduation requirements. If you plan to attend a California community college and/or a four-year university as your first step after high school, several opportunities are available to you. High school juniors and seniors, with the permission of their parents and schools and subject to certain conditions, can enroll as special part-time students at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities (some at no cost) to begin their college education while still enrolled in high school and completing their high school diploma. For additional information about attending college, please see External link opens in new window or tab.. There are also other options for completing high school early:

    • California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE):  A person may take the CHSPE if he or she is at least 16 years old, or he or she has been enrolled in the tenth grade for one academic year or longer, or he or she will complete one academic year of enrollment in the tenth grade at the end of the semester during which the CHSPE regular administration (i.e. spring or fall) will be conducted. For more information about this test, see CHSPE (Updated 17-Jun-2011). While the UC and CSU recognize the CHSPE as the equivalent of a high school diploma, to be eligible for admission, applicants must also have successfully completed the full set of required high school course requirements and standardized admission tests. See External link opens in new window or tab. for complete admission requirements for California public colleges and universities.
    • General Education Development (GED) Test: In California, students who are 18 (and some 17-year olds that meet specific criteria) may take the GED test. The GED test covers reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. See the CDE GED website (Updated 03-Oct-2011) for more information about this test. 

  • If I pass the GED or CHSPE, can I use those results to satisfy minimum course requirements for graduation?

    The authority to determine course equivalencies resides with the local school districts. However, in the case of the GED, such use of the test results is prohibited.

  • How do I obtain a copy of my GED Test results?

    Results of GED exams can be obtained from the GED Testing Service External link opens in new window or tab. or call 1-877-392-6433.

  • How do I obtain a copy of my CHSPE results?

    For more information on how to obtain copies of CHSPE, see the CHSPE Results and Transcripts External link opens in new window or tab.. If you have questions about the CHSPE or your results, you can e-mail  or call 1-866-342-4773.

  • What if I am missing a few units or did not complete all of my units when I was in high school?

    Contact your local adult school. Adult education is a public education program for all adults. Adult schools offer free to low-cost classes for adults 18 and older. Students can get a high school diploma, general education diploma (GED), learn about jobs, learn to speak English, and learn how to become a U.S. citizen. Adult schools are located in many cities and towns. Visit the CDE Adult Education for more information.

Career Technical Education Option

  • What does the Career Technical Education (CTE) Option mean for high school students and schools? When does it begin and end?

    California Education Code Section 51225.3 authorizes local educational agencies to accept a Career Technical Education course as an optional high school graduation requirement, beginning with the 2012-13 school year (class of 2013). On July 1, 2027, and, as of January 1, 2028, this requirement is repealed.

    Pursuant to EC Section 51225.3(a)(E), a local governing board may elect to adopt an optional requirement that graduating high school students must have completed one course in visual or performing arts, foreign language, or CTE. Existing state law otherwise requires that all graduating high school students must have completed one course in visual or performing arts or foreign language.
  •  What is the definition of a CTE course?

    EC Section 51225.3(a)(E)(ii) defines a CTE course as “a course in a district-operated CTE program that is aligned to the CTE Model Curriculum Standards and framework adopted by the state board, including courses through a regional occupational center or program operated by a county superintendent of schools or pursuant to a joint powers agreement.”
  •  If my school district decides to implement EC Section 51225.3(a)(E)(ii), what does the school district have to do? Do school district governing boards have to provide notice to the public that they are electing to implement EC Section 51225.3(a)(E)(ii)?

    If a local governing board elects to adopt an optional CTE graduation requirement, EC Section 51225.3(a)(E)(ii) requires all of the following: Prior to offering the optional CTE graduation requirement to students, the local governing board shall notify parents, teachers, pupils, and the public at a regularly scheduled meeting of the governing board. The notification shall include the intent to offer CTE courses to fulfill the graduation requirement, and specify the impact that offering CTE courses will have on the availability of courses that meet the eligibility requirements for admission to the CSU and the UC, and whether these CTE courses would satisfy those eligibility requirements. The notification shall also include the distinction between the high school graduation requirements of the school district or county office of education and the eligibility requirements for CSU and UC admission.
  • If the school district does not currently operate a CTE program, is the school district required to begin a new one?

    EC Section 51225.3(a)(E)(ii) provides that a district or a school that currently does not offer CTE courses is not required to start new CTE programs for purposes related to the optional CTE graduation requirement.
  • What if I am at a school that accepts CTE courses as a high school graduation requirement and transfer to a school that does not accept a CTE course as a requirement? Can that CTE course still be used to meet high school graduation requirements?

    We recommend that you contact your school counselor to attain assistance with transferring to a different high school. High school graduation requirements are set by each school district. The local high school graduation requirements may go beyond the state's minimum high school graduation requirements. It is up to each school district to determine what courses will or will not be accepted.


  • How do I obtain a copy of my high school transcript?

    In order to obtain a copy of your high school transcript, you should contact the high school from which you graduated or its school district office. School districts are required by law to maintain copies of your high school academic record (transcript). School contact information can be located through the CDE School Directory.

  • How can I get information about college opportunities and requirements in California?

    For more information about postsecondary education opportunities and requirements in California, see External link opens in new window or tab..

  • I need an Apostille from a California state official to study or work abroad. Can the CDE help me with this?

    An Apostille is an authentication of a notarized copy of a school record issued by the California Secretary of State. It verifies that a California Notary Public's signature is valid. When an American is seeking an educational opportunity or work abroad, the receiving school, college, or employer may request a verification of the student's educational record. This involves the American acquiring a notarized copy of his or her high school transcripts from the educational institution issuing the transcript. This notarized record then goes to the California Secretary of State, who issues an Apostille verifying that the signature of the California Notary Public is valid. The CDE is not involved in the Apostille process. For more information about the Apostille process, see Notary Public Authentication Information Apostille or Certification External link opens in new window or tab..
Questions:   High School Innovations and Initiatives Office | 916-319-0893
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, December 7, 2022