Often places, especially colleges/universities, ask to see high school diplomas prior to enrollment. Employers or certifiers may ask to see one too, regardless of the type of job. My question is, is a highschool diploma a real, legally recognized achievement or barring of status in education, or is it an honorary, social barring? I wonder because it would seem some institutions, places of work, and education facilities far and wide ask to see this as if it were a legally recognized precedent to an initiative, like a job or enrollment or certification of some kind, that they must adhere to by law.

Is a highschool diploma in the U.S. or Canada an actual legal barring to higher education or employment, or is it more of a socially recognized, honorary standing/preliminary?

I ask because it would seem this diploma holds legal doctrines around it when an institution or person demands one as a requirement. Is this a law or is it a choice?

Even a theater job I booked (as an actor) asked to see my highschool diploma when it would seem irrelevant, which is why I ponder if this is a legal initiative or more of a social rule.

  • 2
    What do you mean by "legal document"? Any document is potentially usable for some legal purpose? Or are you asking if an employer has the legal right to require you to have a diploma, driver's license, union card or whatever they deem necessary?
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 19:47
  • 1
    Diplomas are generally a class of deeds that confer rights
    – user662852
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 23:41

1 Answer 1


What is a legal document?

I don’t know what people mean when they say ‘a legal document’ – usually when I’m being contrary I say something like ‘you mean that, at law, it is a document’.

To be honest, I'm as confused as Mr. Eburn about what you mean by "legal document" but I think you are using the term to mean a document that must be produced as a prerequisite to being offered a job or a position in higher education. I'm going to go with that.

What is a high school diploma?

While details vary, a diploma is simply a record that a person satisfactorily completed high school and may record the grades that were achieved.

Why do people want to see it?

Because it proves you completed high school.

This may be a prerequisite for some jobs. This prerequisite may be mandated by law (e.g. the military) or it may simply be a prerequisite that the employer chooses to apply. Further, if an employer is considering a number of candidates for the position, the grades achieved may be one factor in their choice.

Similarly, it may be a prerequisite for enrollment in higher education and minimum grades may also be required, partly to ensure the candidate can cope with the work and partly as a way of allocating limited places among too many applicants. Quite often higher education institutions have multiple paths to entry including "life experience" and candidates only need to satisfy one avenue's prerequisites - if so a high school diploma won't be needed.

Of course, high school diplomas really only exist in North America (US & Canada) although most countries have an equivalent qualification awarded at the end of secondary schooling. Appropriately translated and certified these may be acceptable in North America.

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