More Education Equals More Federal Pay

two federal employees

Many pay systems are used to set pay throughout the federal government. Each is applied to a specific type of employee. The three most commonly used pay systems are the following:

  • Federal Wage System (FWS). This applies to employees who work in trades, crafts, and skilled and unskilled laborer positions.
  • General Schedule (GS). This pay system is used to set pay for employees who work in positions classified in administrative, clerical, professional, and technical occupational categories.
  • Senior Executive Service (SES). This system covers most managerial, supervisory, and policy positions that do not require U.S. Senate confirmation. These are often appointed by the Executive Branch.

For the sake of this discussion, we will focus on how a college degree affects the more familiar GS pay system.

The GS system comprises 15 grade levels: GS-1 through GS-15. Each of these pay grades has education and experience requirements. For example, an employee with a high school diploma and limited experience can expect to start out at GS-2, and, even with more experience, employees can generally go no higher than GS-5 without a degree.

Professional and administrative entry-level positions generally start at GS-5 and require a college degree. To qualify for jobs at GS-7 and higher, your background must have included experience closely related to the work to be performed in the job for which you are applying and more education. You can qualify for GS-9 positions on the basis of a master's degree, and for GS-11 if you hold a doctorate.

Note: These requirements may vary depending on the position and the level of responsibility. They may also be adjusted by geographic location. Additionally certain hard-to-fill jobs, usually in the scientific, technical, and medical fields, may have higher starting salaries. Each federal job vacancy posting will specify the particular requirements.

Additionally, each grade level has a salary range of 10 steps. Federal employees can advance to each higher step within the grade when they meet the specific time and performance requirements. GS pay may also be determined by location. This is known as a "locality payment." Depending on the geographic location, the employee's pay may be increased by as much as 26%.

The following charts are an example of the 2023 GS annual scale for the pay grades previously mentioned:


Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5































As you can see by the charts above there is roughly a $7,000 to $10,000 yearly difference for each level of education for Step 1 employees. Remember these numbers don't reflect the locality payment.

Some examples of salaries with the locality payment for a GS-7 Step 1 are: 

  • Atlanta metro area: $49,309
  • Denver metro area: $51,726
  • Washington DC metro area: $53,105

The key here is to take advantage of your education benefits to get your degree, so you can open doors to more pay and more opportunities.

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Visit's Veteran Career Center to explore your job opportunities in the Federal Government or the Education Center to learn how to take advantage of your education benefits.

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