What is a Diploma?

The word diploma comes from the Greek word diploma, which means “folded paper.” The term usually refers to the certificate that students receive after completing their studies at a high school, college, trade or professional school, or similar institution. It’s a bit ironic that the term is still in use today, because diplomas are rarely folded and are usually handed or mailed to graduating students flat.

Not all countries use the term, and those that do use it in a more limited way than the US do. The term is commonly used in the United States to denote successful completion of a program of study and to refer to the document presented at or following a formal ceremony commemorating the achievement. In the United States, diplomas are awarded to high school students, trade school students, people who receive an Associated Arts or Associated Science Degree, and people who receive bachelor’s, master’s, and higher degrees. Canada, on the other hand, tends to use the term diploma to refer to students who have completed studies at colleges that specialize in the arts and technology. In the United Kingdom and Australia, a diploma may refer to the level of studies completed, whereas a testimonium is the document presented at a graduation ceremony.

Many people wonder if they should keep their diplomas as proof of graduation from a specific school or program. Because it’s relatively easy to forge this document, it’s usually better to keep a copy of your school’s certified transcripts. Holding on to diplomas is a good idea, and they are frequently decorative and suitable for framing. Many people, particularly those with advanced degrees, have a “vanity wall” in their office where they frame and display each diploma and board certification document to demonstrate competency to clients. High school diplomas are typically not displayed, but they are often attractive and represent a significant amount of academic work.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be presented with an actual diploma at your graduation ceremony, unless you’re graduating from a very small school. These are usually sent a few weeks after you finish a program of study. Trying to keep student names in order during large graduation ceremonies is usually too confusing. Students who do not meet all of the requirements for graduation may receive a certificate of completion, which is similar to a diploma; in other cases, certain programs only offer completion certificates and do not offer actual graduation or a degree.