Virginia – High School to College & Careers


College and Career Readiness

The Virginia College and Career Readiness Initiative is designed to ensure that college and career-ready standards are taught in all Virginia high schools. In Virginia, to graduate with a Standard Diploma a student must earn at least 22 credits and earn at least six verified credits by passing end-of-course Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Beginning with students entering 9th grade in 2013-2014, a student must also earn a career and technical education credential and successfully complete one virtual course (credit or non-credit). To graduate with an Advanced Studies Diploma a student must earn between 24 and 26 credits and earn at least nine verified credits as well as one virtual course. Students substitute approved tests (e.g., AP, IB, ACT, SAT, Cambridge International, CLEP) for the end-of-course SOL tests to receive verified credit. Students who fail one or more of the SOL tests are required to receive remediation.

In September 2017, legislation will be enacted that directs the Virginia Board of Education to establish high school graduation requirements emphasizing flexibility and competency-based learning. The new requirements will apply to students entering high school as a freshman after July 1, 2018.

College and Career Planning

High School Graduation Requirements for Current Seniors

Course and Diploma Requirements

Students must earn at least 22 standard units to earn a Standard Diploma. To receive an Advanced Diploma, students must earn four additional standard units. All students must complete at least one virtual course, which may be non-credit-bearing as well as earn a career and technical education credential that has been approved by the Virginia Board of Education. Examples include, but are not limited to, the successful completion of an industry certification or the passing of a state licensure exam, national occupational competency assessment, or the Virginia Workplace Readiness Skills test. Students entering ninth-grade in the 2016-2017 school year and beyond must also complete a requirement to be trained in Emergency First Aid, CPR and Use of an AED.

Subject Standard Diploma Advanced Studies Diploma
Math Choose Two:
• Algebra I
• Geometry
• Algebra, Functions and Data Analysis
• Algebra II or similar rigorous course
• Computer Math (career concentration only)
Choose Three:
• Algebra I
• Geometry
• Algebra II
• Higher-level Course
Science Choose Two:
• Biology
• Chemistry
• Physics
• Earth Science
Choose Three:
• Biology
• Chemistry
• Physics
• Earth Science
Social Science • American History
• American Government
• World History and/or Geography
• American History
• American Government
• World History
• Geography
Computer Science May substitute computer science units for math, science, or career and technical education credits, pursuant to House Bill 2054 (2014). May substitute computer science units for math, science, or career and technical education credits, pursuant to House Bill 2054 (2014).

Applied Studies Diploma

The Applied Studies Diploma is available to students identified as having a disability who complete the requirements of their individualized education programs (IEPs) and meet certain requirements prescribed by the Board of Education pursuant to regulations, but do not meet the requirements for any named diploma.

Assessment Requirements

The Virginia State Board of Education requires districts to administer end-of-course exams through the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) assessment program. Students who pass corresponding SOL assessments receive “verified credit” for those courses. Virginia has developed a battery of 12 exams in 11 subject areas: Algebra I and II, biology, chemistry, earth science, English (reading and writing), geometry, World History I and II, world geography, and Virginia and U.S. History.

Students pursuing the Standard Diploma must earn at least six verified units of credit by passing corresponding SOL exams. Students pursuing the Advanced Diploma must earn at least nine verified units of credit by passing corresponding SOL exams. In addition to the verified credits for the four core subjects, students may also select an SOL assessment or alternate tests in computer science, career and technical education (CTE), or other areas approved by the state board of education. See table below:

Discipline Standard Diploma Required Credits Standard Diploma Verified Credits Advanced Diploma Required Credits Advanced Diploma Verified Credits Required
English 4 2 4 2
Mathematics 3 1 4 2
Laboratory Science 3 1 4 2
History and Social Sciences 3 1 4 2
Health and Physical Education 1   2  
Foreign Language, Fine Arts, or Career and Technical Education 1   3  
Economics and Personal Finance 1   1  
Electives 4   3  
Student Selected Test*   1   1
TOTAL 22 6 26 9

*NOTE: A student may utilize additional tests for earning verified credit in computer science, technology, career or technical education, economics or other areas as prescribed by the board in 8VAC20-131-110.

The state department of education, in consultation with higher education faculty, has developed English and Math Capstone Courses, which have completed required courses, earned at least two “verified” credits, but are not fully college ready. The Virginia General Assembly funds academies for students at risk of not meeting college and career readiness benchmarks through a program called Project Graduation.

The department of education produces school and district report cards, which include the (1) number and percentage of students participating in Advanced Placement and dual credit programs; (2) SOL test results; and, (3) the number of students who receive a career and technical education credential.

Accelerated Learning Options

Dual and Concurrent Enrollment

Virginia high school students have the opportunity to earn dual high school and postsecondary credit. Generally, these courses are offered through community colleges and taught on both community college and high school campuses. Some four-year institutions allow high school students to enroll in classes. Students must obtain approval from high school administrators and meet institutional admission and placement testing requirements.

The state encourages districts and community colleges to provide access to dual credit options at no cost by funding the student’s attendance both at the high school and at the postsecondary institution.

All dual enrollment courses may be counted toward the 15 college credits required for a student to become an Early College Scholar. Certain dual enrollment courses may also qualify as part of the Commonwealth College Course Collaborative. This collaborative, involving all Virginia two- and four-year colleges and universities except for the Virginia Military Institute, provides a set of academic courses that fully transfer as core requirements and degree credits.

Advanced Placement

The Virginia State Board of Education requires districts to provide at least three AP courses to high school students. Virginia participates in the federal Title I, Part G grant that reduces testing costs for low-income students taking AP exams.

Early College Admission

The Early College Scholars program encourages 11th- and 12th-graders to earn at least 15 transferrable college credits. To qualify for the program, students must be Advanced Studies diploma candidates, have at least a B average, and have the approval of their parents/guardians, high school principals and counselors.

Dual Admissions

Virginia Senate Bill 449 (2014) requires the governing board of each four-year college and university to develop dual admissions and guaranteed admissions agreements with two-year institutions within the Virginia Community College System.

Career and Technical Education

Virginia has adopted the National Career Clusters Model. The state provides Career Technology Education (CTE) courses in 16 career clusters.

Postsecondary Admissions

Four-Year Institutions

Institutional governing boards set admissions requirements and minimum qualifying scores on college entrance exams. Colleges and universities consider high school curriculum, GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and class rank when making admissions decisions.

Through system-wide agreements, students who graduate from a transfer-oriented degree program at a Virginia Community College System institution with an associate’s degree are eligible for guaranteed admission to more than 30 public and private four-year institutions, provided they meet minimum GPA requirements.

Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

Applicants are eligible for admission if they possess a high school diploma or an equivalency credential, or if they are 18 years of age or older and demonstrate an ability to benefit from postsecondary instruction, as measured by the Virginia Placement Test (VPT). Students who do not achieve the scoring benchmarks will only be permitted to enroll in non-credit classes.

Readiness Assessment Benchmarks

Writing ENF 1 32 35
Reading ENF 1 62 35
Math MTE 1 25 33

Postsecondary Placement

Four-Year Institutions

Institutional governing boards also set assessment and placement policies. Most institutions set placement scoring thresholds through these policies.

Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

The Virginia Placement Test for Math (VPT‐Math), identifies the specific skills modules a student needs to complete to be eligible for a specific college‐level math course. The Virginia Placement Test for English (VPT‐English) includes an essay component designed to assess incoming students’ English preparedness and place them into the appropriate English course. Students who are considered nearly college ready may enroll directly into College Composition I (ENG 111) while co‐enrolling in a two‐credit‐hour developmental English course.

Postsecondary to High School Feedback Reports

The Virginia Department of Education publishes annual postsecondary enrollment reports by school and district.  The data tables break down enrollment by institutional sector and demographic subgroup.

House Bill 886 (2014) requires the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to share remedial enrollment, credit accumulation, and degree and certificate completion, and graduates’ employment rates with districts. The bill requires districts to share these data with students and families on an annual basis. School divisions can do so by linking to the SCHEV Research website. The law further requires that all public and private institutions receiving any general fund support (including the Tuition Assistance Grant) provide the same information to students and prospective students.

 All required institutions link to the SCHEV Research website, usually to their specific institutional profile. The HB886 Compliance Report demonstrates institutional compliance.

State Financial Aid

The majority of the state’s financial aid is provided through non-grant based aid such as loans, work-study and tuition waivers.

The Virginia General Assembly awards financial aid funds in two ways: through the postsecondary institution and to the student.

The Virginia Commonwealth Award is a need-based, institutional grant funded with state dollars. Colleges and universities choose how to award aid. The law, however, requires that institutions award aid in such a way that the students with the greatest need receive the largest awards.

The Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program is a mixed aid (merit and need) program that provides state grants to eligible, full-time students enrolled in a Virginia public two- or four-year colleges or universities who have demonstrated financial need and who graduate from high school with GPAs of at least 2.5. In order to renew aid, students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and demonstrate continued financial need.

The Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program provides financial aid for students attending in-state, nonpublic institutions. The maximum 2014-2015 award is $3,100.

The Two-Year College Transfer Grant provides $1,000 per year to students who have earned associate degrees at a Virginia two-year college with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, enroll full time at an in-state, four-year institution, and have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of $12,000 or less. Students who enter baccalaureate programs in science, teaching, engineering, math, or nursing fields are eligible to reach an additional $1,000 per year.

Smaller merit scholarship and loan programs provide aid to aspiring teachers, nurses, shipyard workers, and aerospace and civil engineers.

Special Thanks

We would like to thank the staff at the following agencies for their assistance in carefully reviewing and confirming the accuracy of the policies and programs described in this document:

State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

Virginia Department of Education


State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
SREB Fact Book on Higher Education, 2011
Virginia Department of Education
Virginia Education Wizard
Virginia General Assembly—Legislative Information System