Education Levels and Requirements for Employment

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When you're applying for a job, it's important to understand the educational requirements needed for success in the role. Many occupations require a certain level of education in order to be eligible to work in that profession. Employers usually include the educational requirements for a job in their descriptive write-up or position advertisement.

In some cases, employers may accept experience in place of some or all of the educational requirements for a job. This is known as equivalent experience or experience in lieu of education.

Levels of Education

Here's a list of the education levels that employers look for in the candidates they hire.

Less Than High School

This is 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

This is 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 to as a GED) award. Other high school equivalency diplomas include the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC).

Some College, No Degree

This is 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

An associate's degree is 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 bachelor's degree is typically awarded for at least four years of full-time academic study beyond high school.

Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is a formal training program that combines a full-time job with training.

Certification

A certification is a credential that recognizes specific skills or knowledge. Certification is usually tied to an occupation, technology, or industry.

License

Some occupations require a license to work in the field. Licenses are typically regulated by the state, and each state's requirements may differ.

Postsecondary Non-Degree Award

This is a certificate or other award that typically 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 master's degree is usually awarded for one or two years of full-time academic study beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Doctoral or Professional Degree

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

Examples of Education Requirements in Job Postings

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.
  • High school diploma or GED, bachelors, or associates degree preferred.
  • Completed certified apprenticeship program preferred.
  • Serve-safe certified, or a food safety certification preferred.
  • Possession of a valid registration as a Licensed Practical Nurse.
  • 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.

Experience in Lieu of Education

In some cases, when applying for jobs, the employer may list work experience or equivalent experience that may be substituted for education. The organization may allow you to augment some educational requirements of a position with experience.

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 lower 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.