Requirements for High School Diploma in California

Learn what requirements the state of California has to receive a high school diploma. Find out about the course requirements, the specific classes that must be taken, recommended courses for college, and the special awards available.

What Courses Must Be Completed to Graduate from High School and Obtain a Diploma in California?

California has established that there are 13 yearlong courses which are required, at minimum, to graduate high school. Included among these courses are English, mathematics, social studies, science, arts or foreign language or career technical education (CTE), and physical education. Local school districts could require additional courses, and students will take a number of other courses during their time in high school. For students planning to attend state universities in California, exceeding these minimum graduation requirements will be essential to meeting admissions requirements. It is also possible to earn special awards, such as the Golden State Seal merit diploma and the California state seal of biliteracy.

California Graduation Minimum Requirements 13 full-year courses completed
English & Social Studies Requirements 3 years of English, 3 years of social studies
Math & Science Requirements 2 years of math, 2 years of science
Other Requirements 2 years of physical education, 1 year of a foreign language or arts or CTE
Awards Available Golden State Seal Merit Diploma, California State Seal of Biliteracy

What Are the English and Social Studies Courses Required to Graduate High School with a Diploma in California?

It is required of all students to complete 3 courses of English before they be allowed to graduate. The particular courses are not defined, and many local school districts will require a fourth year of English, to better align with college admission requirements. 3 years of social studies courses are also required, which must consist of 1 year of US history and geography; 1 year of world history, culture, and geography; as well as half a year of civics and government and half a year of economics.

What Are the Math and Science Courses Required to Graduate High School with a Diploma in California?

The state of California requires that students only complete 2 years of math courses, which must include algebra I or an equivalent. Many local districts require 3 years of math, to meet admissions requirements for universities, and 4 years are recommended. Students who complete algebra I while in middle school will still need to take 2 years of math in high school above that level. 2 years of science courses are required, at least 1 of which must be biology and the other a physical science, such as chemistry or physics. 3 years of science are recommended to meet college admission standards, and a third year may be required in some school districts.

What Other Courses Are Required to Graduate High School with a Diploma in California?

In addition to these core subjects, it is also required that students in California complete 2 years of physical education. Students will also need to complete 1 year of either visual or performing arts, a foreign language, or career technical education, at their own choice. Students planning to enroll in state universities are encouraged to take 2 or 3 years of the same foreign language, and at least 1 year of arts. While no electives are accounted for in the state's minimum requirements, most students will have 6-8 electives available to them under normal schedules. Local school districts may add further graduation requirements, such as a course on health education.

What Special Awards Can I Earn Alongside My High School Diploma in California?

The Golden State Seal Merit Diploma is a special award given to students who have demonstrated a mastery of content in six different subject areas, which consist of the four core subjects and two others of a student's choosing. Mastery can be shown by achieving a grade of B+ or greater in each course taken in grades 9-11. Students are nominated by their school districts. The other major award available is the California State Seal of Biliteracy, which is proof of a student's ability in both English and another language. Students can demonstrate their proficiency with four years of study in a foreign language and completion of an oral exam, or by taking proficiency tests in the language of choice.

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