Can you fail to graduate high school and not know? If so, how to fix it?
December 20, 2017 10:19 PM   Subscribe

My partner is trying to negotiate going back to school, and has just abruptly discovered that their high school transcript does not actually state a graduation date or diploma type. They do actually have a diploma issued from the high school, and they had attended a few semesters of college in Ontario after [they thought!] graduating high school. How do we fix this in case anyone demands to see proof of graduation somewhere down the line? Difficulty level: rural Canada, high school no longer exists.

It looks like what happened is that eleven years ago, someone at the high school administration didn't tick a box and fill out a field confirming that my partner completed their 40 hours of community service necessary to graduate. Or at least, the box was ticked and the field filled out for the OCAS version was passed to the colleges to which they were applying, but it was not registered to the Ministry of Education and so the official retained transcript that the high school can issue upon request to alumni didn't get marked as having graduated. (The transcript also contains another obvious error in which sophomore German class is marked down as occurring in second grade.)

This all happened in a small rural Ontario high school eleven years ago. The high school no longer exists; in order to get this high school transcript, we had to call the Ministry of Education and ask them to dig around in a box for us.

Thing is, like... they have the actual diploma issued by the high school. They have a letter sent by the local MPP congratulating them on a successful high school graduation (which, as an American: what the hell even, but that's a separate topic). They walked at graduation. All evidence points to this being some sort of horrible clerical error.

How do we fix this in case some bureaucrat down the line decides to throw a fit about it? Or in case the college does? They seem fairly easygoing and we're going in tomorrow with a copy of the transcript and the diploma etc to explain, but it would be good to have an idea of who to contact.

Bonus: the transcript from the few semesters of college is currently in limbo; I have successfully negotiated its theoretical release from an account for student fees that went into collections, but the actual release of the damn thing is progressing slower than molasses in January. So we really do need this whole "graduated from high school, I swear!" thing sorted out as soon as we can.

Uh. Ideas?
posted by sciatrix to Education (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry if I've missed it, but is your partner attempting to go back to school in the US?
posted by xyzzy at 10:48 PM on December 20, 2017

Has this actually been an issue or are you preempting it?
I would just hand over the transcript and the diploma with no further comment. Can't really argue with a diploma can you?
posted by snoogles at 11:30 PM on December 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Will they even care? Generally entry requirements for adults returning to school are more about what they did since leaving school. Besides, they got the diploma so they must've completed requirements. The rest is just bureaucratic SNAFU.
posted by kitten magic at 12:29 AM on December 21, 2017

Try contacting the school board the school was in, as they are the body responsible for the record keeping now. For most formal application processes transcripts have to come straight from them, sealed, anyway. At least in Canada.

However if this is an Ontario community college they will probably work with you pretty easily. Obviously your partner was admitted once already to one. If it’s an Ontario university it will depend on the admissions staff, but I think a copy of the diploma will be convincing.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:04 AM on December 21, 2017

For what it's worth, I've never had to submit proof of graduation. I didn't graduate, but I got a GED. I've never had to ask my school district for a copy of the GED, and I've attended two community colleges, one college, and one university. The only one who's bothered to look at my GED in the last 14 years is me.

Obviously, if a school is asking for a copy of the diploma, that's another story. And there is a diploma, so no problem there.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:51 AM on December 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

It sounds like the transcript lists all the completed coursework, and is only missing the tick for community service, is that right? Could you obtain a copy of the requirements for graduation from that year to cross-reference?
posted by aerobic at 3:55 AM on December 21, 2017

Ah, yes, partner is attempting to go back to school in the US. Texas, to be specific. Which makes it.... trickier.

My gut instinct is also that no one will care, but my partner is understandably more than slightly freaked out that losing the single piece of paper that the high school diploma represents will mean that they turn into a high school drop out. They're concerned that if they ever have someone request the transcript with proof of graduation, they'll face similar issues. I've had a house burn down before on me, so I very much see their point, and I'd like to resolve the issue for their peace of mind.

The transcript does list all the completed coursework, and the only thing missing is the community service requirement.
posted by sciatrix at 6:14 AM on December 21, 2017

Unless they had a ton of AP credits or equivalent, I'd just skip it. Paper trail starts in college, not in high school. I've never been asked for any documentation even asking if I went to high school (sure, this might not be true if someone's going into government work or needs a thorough background check or something...), this includes like 4 schools I went to for college.

An easy workaround for this (at least in my jurisdiction, and several other folks in other areas who I've known have done the same thing) is just to take a term of community college courses. Or hell, even just like, a class or two. They'll let you just 'test in' to see what level of math and reading you get into, and then you magically become a transfer student. When you're a transfer student, they just ask for your past test scores and transcripts for college level courses. This might be a relatively unique phenomenon around here (PNW), but I know half a dozen people who are full blown high school dropouts with no diploma, no GED, no nothing, and now have their masters degrees, who have followed that same path.

If community college credits will transfer over to the degree your partner is searching for, this might be a less-fuss way to just get going on it all.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:42 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

The diploma is proof of graduation. I wouldn't give this another thought.
posted by Automocar at 6:54 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also wouldn't worry about it. There's an old quote from someone which goes like thus:

When you're in high school everyone wants to know where you're going to college. When you're in college, no one cares where you want to high school.

I'm not sure about Canada, but in the USA a high school diploma has been devalued so much that it really isn't worth much of anything. You've graduated HS, great so essentially you've got a pulse and are able to attend classes with at least semi-regularity. I highly doubt that any college would care that an older student possibly didn't graduate HS. If they've got decent enough SAT or ACT scores then they would be under consideration, especially if those scores are much more recent than anything that would have happened at HS. Especially as I doubt that there is a community service requirement in TX so the transcript that they would receive would show the coursework reuired to graduate, and they would just think that is what a Canadian HS transcript looks like. If they're really worried then just take the GED and be done with it.
posted by koolkat at 6:55 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

This actually happened to me. I failed a class my senior year, did a few weeks of summer school to make it up, got my diploma in July and thought nothing more of it. 12 years later, I apply to college and they ask for my HS transcripts - only to find that I wasn't marked down as having graduated.

I was told by the nice lady at the university admissions (Go Badgers!) that the diploma itself is proof of graduation - not the transcripts - and since I had that, I was good to go. I graduated 10 years ago today(!) with a degree in engineering.

Incidentally, when I enlisted in the Marines, they only cared about the diploma and had no interest in the transcripts.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:21 AM on December 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm also in the camp that it's not likely to be a big thing. I think you've got two issues that need to be distinguished: proof of graduation and the actual transcript.

Proof of graduation: I don't know if there's actual case law on it, but the actual paper diploma and the letter seem to constitute proof of graduation that should satisfy any reasonable party. If those don't do it for some reason, the educational authority that you're currently asking to dig through records does still exist, even if the high school doesn't. They could give you some kind of notarized statement, but in the end it would just be another piece of paper. An image of the diploma should be sufficient. Given the concerns, I'd take really clear digital pictures of those documents and store them somewhere like a safety deposit box if possible (at least until your partner graduates college, at which point you'll be amazed how irrelevant the high school career will ever be).

The actual transcript: Others have said as much, but in my anecdotal experience (starting college soon after high school, and my own son's entry in college), the transcript is important proof of specific achievements for a recent h.s. graduate, and it's used for initial advising and for scholarship offers. As a returning student, I agree with what's been said before: the university is much more likely to accept the proof given that your partner is a h.s. graduate, and from there assess what classes they should take based on more recent achievements. If they need 100 level math and science classes, there is going to be a strong tendency to require remedial level classes or new assessment tests regardless (I'm foggy on the current state of this, but I recall both for myself and my son who is a college freshman that there is a great concern about making sure a student who starts a calculus class, for example, has gotten through pre-cal in h.s.,)

Which unfortunately, means your "by the way" statement sounds like the thing that's likely to be your bigger roadblock - either clear up the matter with your partner's earlier college coursework or be prepared to start all over. Be prepared for the new college to require a lot of things to be taken over again in any case (even transferring from one US school to another, credits always seem to "not quite fit" from one to another)
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:23 AM on December 21, 2017

In the extremely unlikely event that anyone requests proof of high school graduation, the diploma is that proof. I mean, isn't that the point of them?

Keep the diploma somewhere safe, and scan/save it in the cloud to be extra safe in case of something like a house fire, but I really wouldn't worry about it.

And once your partner finishes college, the high school diploma will be even more useless and the college diploma will become the new document nobody ever asks for. I have 3 diplomas and have never shown any of them to a single soul, and don't ever expect to. Makes you wonder sometimes how many people just fake it...
posted by randomnity at 7:28 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Echoing that the prior admission to a college will help with this. Is your partner applying as a transfer student/returning student, rather than as a freshman, and providing a transcript from the Ontario school as well? If so, it's very possible the registrar's office won't even notice the missing dates on the transcript. (In my experience, US institutions of higher learning are... really not very good at deciphering documents from non-US schools. This sometimes causes Complications, but in this instance, it may actually work in your favour, as the person processing the application will likely focus on the coursework and then tick the 'Required High School Coursework: Yes' box, perhaps not even noticing the lack of date, or assuming maybe they don't do that in Mysterious, Faraway Canada.)

Since your partner may technically be an 'international' student for application purposes (though possibly not for visa purposes), I think you'll be fine if you submit a copy of the Actual Diploma (which has a date), a copy of that letter (also probably dated) and the transcript. There should be someone in the admissions office with the title of 'Admissions Counsellor' or similar; that's the person to talk to, and they will know, and can probably reassure you both. (They're usually very nice, in my experience, and will probably have seen weirder things before.)

Another point you may well have covered but which has caused issues for me and others in the past -- your partner may also need a copy of their immunisation record. (This has caused me minor flurries of panic on several previous occasions so I just thought I'd mention.)
posted by halation at 7:46 AM on December 21, 2017

In the 1990's when I was working at Apple I almost had to fire my best employee because of a similar issue.

Apple had started some internal HR process where they reviewed people's credentials, to make sure people hadn't lied on their resumes. My employee Art had listed a Bachelors degree from such and such college. When Apple checked with the college they said no degree had been issue.

I got word that Art would be terminated unless he could show that he wasn't lying on his resume. Now, you have to understand that Art was just a great, wonderful employee. Super smart, super productive, super good working with other people. It was just crazy making.

I talked with Art about it. It turned out that some professor of his had forgotten to turn in a piece of paperwork. Art hadn't walked with his graduating class, so he never realized he hadn't actually graduated. It took a couple of months to get it all resolved and get his degree issued. Luckily, HR had given him three months, so he made it under the deadline.

It may seem dumb, but if your partner can fix this, she should fix it. You never know when a bean counter at some company is going to have a check box that says "must have high school degree" and will refuse to hire your partner because her PhD isn't sufficient.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:28 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

For the people who say "it doesn't matter," I can. My dad (who has a freaking PhD) spent his senior year of high school in a country where diplomas/graduation aren't really a concept in the same way so he never properly "graduated" from high school. When he was 18, that was fine, because he was applying to US universities from that country and he had all the grades and AP scores to show he was still learning. Nevertheless, when he wanted to take a EMT class at a community college in his 40s, he couldn't produce a high school diploma or a GED and they almost didn't let him enroll because of it. Eventually, he was able to handle it by getting an exception and producing his other higher-ed degrees, but it was a cumbersome process. I guess what I'm saying is: this is a good idea to fix so that he has the paperwork, even if it takes more time and bureaucracy than seems reasonable.

Also, I was tasked with a similar fighting-academic-bureaucracy issue when I interned in an elected representative's office (in that case, they had evidence of individual grades but no organization apparently assembled a transcript ever). It took way too many hours (& way too much throwing the representative's name around) but we did manage to solve it in the end. If you end up at a dead end, local reps (local to the high school, I assume) may be able to help and act as an advocate for you within the bureaucracy.
posted by mosst at 9:25 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you end up at a dead end, local reps (local to the high school, I assume) may be able to help and act as an advocate for you within the bureaucracy.

In Ontario these are the school board trustees. I would start with the board; they will either have an office for transcripts, or the school’s records will have gone to another school, in which case you would call the guidance department of that high school, as a start. Next step is the office of the superintendent and then after that the trustee.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:13 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also my children’d Ontario board is closed from tomorrow-January 8. I would wait until at least the 10th to let the start of the year pass before expecting a good response. I mention this because I know how hard anxiety spirals are.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:04 PM on December 21, 2017

They're concerned that if they ever have someone request the transcript with proof of graduation, they'll face similar issues.

I didn't see this earlier. I can only speak to my experience, but in every other situation, the diploma was proof enough.

In addition to the graduation issue on my transcripts, for 2 of the 3 years, I'm also listed as a female, and as having taken 3 classes I did not take, and so had 27 of 24 credits required to graduate. When I called to fix these deficiencies, the nice lady I spoke with told me that outside of a court order, they can not and will not change those records. I don't know how honest that is - I didn't care to try beyond those phone calls.

Anyway - as I say, nobody has ever cared about them beyond that one time I applied for college.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:13 PM on December 21, 2017

I once had to provide proof of high school graduation (even though I’d attended college) as part of a background check for a job; the diploma was sufficient.

However - I also had to request my high school transcripts - over twenty years after I graduated, and having attended two colleges since! - in order to take a class at a community college.

Which is to say - things can be weird, I’d suggest your partner get this straightened out just in case.
posted by okayokayigive at 4:40 PM on December 21, 2017

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in Canada/Texas relations but have background knowledge in this arena. I unfortunately have no effing idea how anyone would help you under these circumstances to get this fixed if the school literally doesn't exist any more, but I can give you examples as to what might happen.

Technically diplomas and/or transcripts legally count as proof of graduation. Diplomas are considered the "gold standard" when going international and are prioritized over transcripts usually. However, you never know who's going to require what in this world. I once talked to a girl whose new job was requiring that she come up with her high school diploma and the high school absolutely would not give her another one, so... yeah.

At my alma mater, high school transcripts are used for prerequisite issues. For example, you'd be required to submit the transcript if you signed up for Spanish 1 and the school required a check to see that you haven't already taken advanced Spanish in high school and are just taking Spanish 1 for an easy A. if you could not submit the transcript, you would only be allowed to take it pass/no pass. A few other prereqs can be satisfied such as showing that you took basic American history and basic English, but usually you can take a college class to get around not having it on the transcript. So as long as the school isn't requiring you to show a transcript no matter what and you can live without having proof of those classes, you could be fine just not showing it.

Mostly what occurs to me as a problem is if your school requires the transcript and someone notices that you aren't degree awarded on it, and even with the diploma in hand, I would imagine that someone is going to notice this and freak the heck out once the discrepancy is noticed, they'll wonder if you forged the diploma, etc. Whether or not someone walked in the ceremony is not proof of graduation (I know of many who do that and don't actually finish), so that argument won't really help. That letter might though.

I hope your college is lenient, under the circumstances.

My best guess as to who to contact if the school is now nonexistent would be the Ministry of Education/whoever took over administration of that school's records, but that might be a stumper for them under the circumstances.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:34 PM on December 21, 2017

FWIW my brother went to university after 10th grade and now has a PhD. Despite being a high school dropout he has done fine and nobody has ever asked for his hs diploma.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:49 AM on December 22, 2017

Contrary to other stories, for what it's worth as anecdata: one of my grandfathers had a long and distinguished career as a doctor. On retirement, he decided to study history at the U of T. He thought it was hilarious that, yes, they did want his (decades old, UK) high school transcript. So apparently it does happen.

I would contact the MPP for the area where he went to HS and explain the problem and ask for help through their office, if I'm understanding correctly? The people in their offices are usually pretty useful with sorting out gov't bureaucracy hassles. Usually!
posted by kmennie at 3:54 PM on December 22, 2017

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