Educational Requirements for Employment

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Many occupations require a certain level of education in order for someone to be eligible to work in that profession. Employers usually include the educational requirements for a job in their descriptive write-up, whether the posting is on an off-site job board or the company's website. 

The following is a list of the classifications based on the level of education typically needed to work in an occupation.

In some cases, when applying for jobs, work experience (equivalent experience) may be applied to augment some educational requirements.

Less than high school: the completion of any level of primary or secondary education that did not result in the awarding of a high school diploma or an equivalency diploma.

High school diploma or equivalent: the completion of high school, or the equivalent, resulting in the awarding of a high school diploma or the equivalent, such as the General Education Development (commonly referred as a GED) award.

Some college, no degree: the awarding of a high school diploma, or the equivalent, in addition to the completion of one or more postsecondary courses that did not result in any college degree or award.

Associate’s degree: a degree usually awarded for the completion of at least two years of full-time academic study beyond high school, typically at the community college level.

Bachelor’s degree: a degree usually awarded for at least four years of full-time academic study beyond high school.

Postsecondary non-degree award: a certificate, or another award, that usually is not a degree. Certifications issued by professional (i.e., industry) organizations, or certifying organizations, are commonly not included in this category.

These certification programs may last for only a few weeks, or for as long as two years. Examples include certificates for health aides, paramedics, EMTs, and hairstylists.

Master’s degree: a degree usually awarded for one or two years of full-time academic study beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Doctoral or professional degree: a degree usually awarded for at least three years of full-time academic work beyond a bachelor’s degree. Examples include degrees for lawyers (JD), physicians (MD) and surgeons, scientists (Ph.D.), and dentists.

Examples of a required education level listed in job postings:

  • Must have a GED or high school diploma.
  • Must have a high school diploma or equivalency.
  • A bachelor's degree is required.
  • An associate's degree, or equivalent, is required. This usually boils down to a minimum of 34 credit hours plus one additional year of relevant full-time experience.
  • A master's degree and three years of experience or Ph.D. degree with no prior experience are acceptable.

Education Levels and Job Applications

One factor to keep in mind when applying for a job is that when employers list educational hiring criteria, the chances of getting an interview are slim if you don't have the requirements, or come close to having the requirements.

In some cases, if your resume and the skills and background required for the position are fairly well aligned, you may have a chance at getting an interview. For example, if you have robust work experience that correlates well with the position and you're only one or two credits shy of the required bachelor's degree, you should submit your resume. However, in general, it is better to focus on applying for jobs where you do have the appropriate educational and experiential qualifications.