The United States Army accepts candidates with high school diplomas and GEDs, provided the candidate meets all other qualifications for enlistment. Most enlisted soldiers start their Army careers as a private with a pay grade of E-1. If you meet other criteria, you may begin at a higher pay grade. Whether you earned an equivalency diploma or graduated from a traditional high school typically does not affect your initial pay grade, and your performance after enlisting will be the basis for future promotions in grade.
Joining With a GED
The Army does require a little more from candidates with GEDs than it does from high school graduates. If you have a high school diploma, you do not need any college credits to be eligible to enlist. However, if you have a GED, you must also have at least 15 college credits from an accredited school, university or college.
Benefits of Additional College Credits
If you have at least 24 college credits from an accredited postsecondary institution, you may be eligible to enlist as a private with a pay grade of E-2. Having at least 48 college credits can qualify you to enlist as a private first class with a pay grade of E-3. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for officers, but candidates who do not meet the other criteria for officers or who prefer to serve as enlisted soldiers are eligible to enlist with a pay grade of E-4, which equates to a corporal or specialist.
Other Factors Affecting Initial Rank
In addition to college credits, there are other options for those seeking to start at a higher pay grade. If you join the delayed entry program, you can start basic training as an E-2 or E-3, based on the number and quality of other enlistees you refer. Junior ROTC training, completion of the Air Force Civil Air Patrol Phase II program or completion of a program with the National Defense Cadet Corps can qualify enlistment at a higher pay grade. If you earned the Boy Scouts of America rank of Eagle Scout or earned the Girl Scouts of America Gold Award, you can qualify to join as an E-2.
Earning Promotions After Enlistment
Regardless of initial pay grade, if you keep your military record clean, you can receive automatic promotions through the lower pay grades in a relatively short time. You do not need to have a minimum time in service or time in grade to receive a promotion from pay grade E-1 to pay grade E-2. An E-2 receives an automatic promotion to E-3 after six months as an E-2; if the commanding officer chooses to request a waiver, the time can be as little as four months. An E-3 can earn an automatic promotion to E-4 after one year in the service and four months as an E-3, or in half that time with a waiver.
Basic Pay by Pay Grade
Each year, the Department of Defense publishes a pay table that defines basic pay for soldiers, based on rank and time in service. As of 2013, an E-1 with less than five months of service received $1,402.20 per month in basic pay, with an increase to $1,516.20 effective with month five. An E-2 earned $1,699.80 per month. An E-3 with less than two years time in service earned $1,787.40 monthly, increasing to $1,899.90 for the second year and then to $2,014.80 thereafter. An E-4 earned a minimum of $1,979.70 and a maximum of $2,403.30 per month. Other payments were possible, such as allowances for food, uniforms and off-base housing.