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How To Conduct Background Checks For High School Diplomas

A young woman wearing a cap and gown is holding her high school diploma.

As the number of people with college degrees declines, employers are taking a second look at candidates who only have high school diplomas. How should you screen applicants with high school diplomas? What types of background checks should you conduct, what information do they provide, and what additional context should you gather to make an informed hiring decision?

Throughout the hiring and recruitment phases, employers encounter candidates who have a high school diplomas but no advanced degree. Here are a few reasons why that trend may be increasing:

1. College enrollment is down 5.9% compared to 2020. One of the most recent and significant reasons for decreasing enrollment is the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of lockdowns and high disease transmission rates, many incoming first-year students deferred their first year, or current students had their academic year completely upended, causing retention issues.

But there are also other factors at play in the declining college population. From 2011 to 2019—before the pandemic—enrollment in US colleges dropped 11%. Reasons include:

2. A large chunk of the US population doesn’t have more than a high school diploma. The latest numbers show 45.5% of those 18 and older have only a high school degree, while 17.2% have some college experience but no degree.

3. Many young people are shifting their mindset about whether a college degree is necessary. A 2019 poll found that nearly half of people aged 13-29 believe a high school diploma is enough to succeed in the workplace. Another poll from the same year discovered only 23% of people think a college degree is ‘absolutely essential.’

For any of these reasons, it may not be feasible (or realistic) for employers to rule out candidates who only hold a high school degree—especially as those numbers may increase over the next several years. So, how do you screen candidates with high school diplomas? What types of background checks should you conduct, and what information do they provide? 

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Conduct Your Typical Suite Of Screenings

Regardless of a candidate’s education history, employers should be consistent with your screening policy and always conduct your typical suite of screenings to gather more information, and make better-informed hiring decisions. Depending on the position and your company’s hiring policy, those background screenings may include:

  • Criminal background checks
  • Drug tests
  • Reference checks
  • Driving record (MVR) checks, and more

With these screenings, you can get more accurate and in-depth information about candidates beyond their resume and cover letter—all of which can help you hire the most qualified candidates and mitigate risks to your company.

Conduct An Education Background Check

In addition to the routine screenings you conduct, employers should also consider including an education background check—also called an education verification—which is typically performed by employment screening providers like GoodHire.

Why an Education Background Check?

There are several reasons why an education background check is necessary for any candidate’s educational history—not just those with high school diplomas.

First, many positions may require a degree or formal education for a professional license or certification, which may eliminate candidates who aren’t qualified. Employers also want to verify candidates’ educational history to ensure they’re not providing false or misleading credentials. Finally, it can help protect your company against liability claims.

Does An Education Background Check Show High School Diplomas?

Yes. And an education verification confirms:

  • The high school attended
  • Dates attended
  • Diploma earned

For those with an educational background that expands beyond high school, this type of screening also provides:

  • College or university attendance dates
  • Majors
  • Degrees or certificates earned

GPAs are not typically included in the results provided by employment screeners, but employers hiring for jobs where a GPA is required can request a transcript from the candidate.

How Far Back Does an Educational Background Check Go?

A candidate’s educational background can typically be verified no matter how long ago they earned their high school diploma, college degree, or certificate. Essentially, screeners can check candidates’ education backgrounds spanning their entire lifetime, which may include checking multiple schools. (Note that each education verification check verifies one institution or degree.)

Seek Out Additional Information & Context

With any candidate screening, it’s essential to seek additional information and context to help you make the most informed hiring decisions. For example, if a candidate has in-demand skills and an impressive work history that makes them a desirable candidate, employers may not want to rule them out based on a degree they may or may not have. Why? 

There may be specific reasons or circumstances that prevented the candidate from finishing a degree or obtaining a higher-level degree—reasons employers and hiring managers cannot understand from simply reviewing a resume or reading a cover letter. In some instances, a degree is required for certain positions, but that may not always be the case. 

Bottom line: In today’s ever-changing workforce (and challenging circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic), you may not want to use a candidate’s educational history as the sole deciding factor in determining whether they’re qualified and hireable.

Conduct Thorough & Accurate Background Checks Through GoodHire

No matter a candidate’s education, it’s crucial to seek the most accurate information about their background history. GoodHire not only provides timely and accurate results, but also helps you maintain compliance with applicable federal, state, and local hiring laws.

By partnering with a credible and compliant background check provider, you can ensure a streamlined hiring process and that you’re getting the information you need to make the best, most informed hiring decisions for your company.

It’s a good idea to verify your candidate’s educational claims. GoodHire offers Education Verification checks and hundreds of employment screening services.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

Ashley Blonquist is a former news journalist. She writes about GoodHire’s employment screening services and how employers use them to make informed hiring decisions.