Pay schedules for federal jobs are determined primarily by education and experience. Experience must be verified, and each job has a set of proficiency requirements that applicants are required to confirm they possess during the application process.

Here’s how more education means more federal pay.

Education is cut and dry: you either have it or you don’t. Government pay scales indicate how far you can progress based on your current educational credentials, as well as what is required for the next pay grade. There are many pay scales throughout the federal government used to set pay. The three most common are:

  • Federal Wage System (FWS), which is used for the trades – either skilled or unskilled labor positions, or blue-collar jobs.
  • General Schedule (GS) is used for positions classified as clerical, the administrative and technical categories, or white-collar jobs.
  • Senior Executive Service (SES), which covers managerial, supervisor and policy-makers that do not require U.S. Senate confirmation.

The most familiar of these three scales is the GS, or general schedule, which we will examine here. The GS scale comprises 15 grade levels, each with progressively higher educational and experience requirements.  The table below illustrates just how each grade level follows this progression

Grade Level General Experience Specialized Experience Education
GS-1 None None None
GS-2 3 Months None High School Graduation or equivalent
GS-3 6 Months None High School Graduation or equivalent
GS-4 1 Year 6 Months 1 Year above High School
GS-5 2 Years 1 Year equivalent to at a GS-4 2 Years above High School
GS-6 None 1 Year equivalent to at a GS-5 1 full year of Graduate Education

Requirements for GS-7 and above are as follows:

GS-7 1 Year equivalent to at a GS-5 1 year of graduate-level education or superior academic achievement
GS-9 1 year equivalent to at least GS-7 2 years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to a master’s degree or master’s or equivalent graduate degree
GS-11 1 year equivalent to at least GS-9 3 years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to a Ph.D. degree or Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree
GS-12 1 year equivalent to at least GS-11 3 years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to a Ph.D. degree or Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree

 

Every federal job has specific educational and experience requirements depending on the type of position and the nature of the job.  Other pay schedules follow this same pattern, but as you can see, higher education leads to higher earning potential with each higher grade level. Promotions from one grade to another are strictly at the discretion of each federal agency, but the educational requirements for each grade level still apply.

Check out how to write a resume for a federal job.