Honors diploma

The Honors Diploma: What Is It and Is It Necessary?

An honors diploma is earned by exceeding the standards required for graduation. Each state (if they offer one), develops their own requirements to earn an honors diploma.

In the State of Ohio, honors diplomas are offered with 6 different options:

  1. Academic
  2. International Baccalaureate
  3. Career Tech
  4. STEM
  5. Arts
  6. Social Science and Civic Engagement

The criteria recently changed, and some of these options are new.

What are the criteria?

If your student entered the ninth grade between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2017, they can choose to follow either the old requirements or the new ones. If your student entered ninth grade on or after July 1, 2017, they must meet the new criteria.

Let’s dig into the new criteria. On the chart, you’ll see a list of broad subject categories like math and English as well as GPA, ACT/SAT test scores, field experience, portfolio, and additional assessments. To earn the honors diploma in any category, a student needs to meet all but one of the criteria listed.

As an example, to earn the academic honors diploma, a student will need all but one of the following:

Math – 4 units including Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and one other higher-level course
Science – 4 units including 2 advanced science courses (advanced science aligns with the 11/12th grade standards or AP science or entry-level college course)
Social Studies – 4 units
World languages – 3 units of one language or 2 units of 2 different languages
Fine arts – 1 unit
GPA – 3.5 on a 4.0 scale
ACT – 27 or SAT 1280

Looking at this complete list, a student can meet 6 of the 7 to qualify for the academic honors diploma.

The other categories have opportunities for students to do portfolio projects or to participate in field experiences like internships or apprenticeships.

Is an honors diploma worth it?

Does an honors diploma improve your college application? The general answer is no. Remember, college applications will be submitted the fall of your senior year. Colleges see your grades at the end of your junior year. (Yes, they will see them again in your final transcript, but by then, they have already made their admissions decision.) You can include a mention on your application that you are an honor’s diploma candidate or on target to earn a specific diploma, but whether or not you receive an honors diploma will not really be a consideration to colleges.

We hate to see students suffer through, for example, a physics class of no interest to them because they feel like they need to get that honors diploma. Students need to be released from the burden of coursework they don’t enjoy or they won’t use.

School districts receive extra points on their state report card in the “Prepared for Success” component when students earn an honors diploma.

Honors diplomas can be a healthy goal and motivation for students when the task does not push the student too far. It depends on the student. As we always stress, the appropriate level of course rigor should match the ability or interest of the student—challenging without being overwhelming.


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