As the United States Navy struggles to meet its recruiting quotas, the service announced last week that it would enlist those individuals who didn’t graduate from high school or even obtain a GED (General Educational Development) certificate. It marked the second time in the past year that the U.S. Navy has sought to meet its enlistment goals by adjusting barriers to entry.

Potential recruits will still need to score at least a 50 or higher (out of 99) on the Armed Forces Qualification Test that all prospects must take to join the Navy and see the world. Federal law allows the military to recruit such applicants, and the Navy last allowed those without a diploma to enlist in 2000, according to CNP officials.

No Standards Being Lowered for the Navy

The U.S. Navy is currently the only branch of the U.S. military that is actively recruiting those without a high school diploma or GED as it works to expand the number of eligible candidates to join the service amid an historically challenging recruiting environment. However, Navy officials have maintained that the policy change does not mean that the service is lowering its standards.

Prospective sailors must still qualify for specific ratings based on their Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, line scores. The service expects that it could provide a way for those previously “excluded” from serving having an opportunity to join up, and it could result in upwards of 2,000 extra recruits.

Navy officials told the Associated Press that of the more than 2,400 individuals who were turned away in 2023, as many 500 of them could score high enough on the ASVAB.

“This policy update benefits the Navy by expanding the potential applicant pool of highly qualified and motivated future Sailors who may have been impacted by COVID-19 trends of non-traditional schooling, early exit from high school to support their family, or a variety of other individual circumstances,” the U.S. Navy announced in a statement last week to the Navy Times.

“Sailors who enlist under this policy change can achieve personal and professional growth by earning their GED while gaining experience in cutting-edge technologies and learning professional skills that allow them to exceed their expectations while serving in the Navy,” the statement added.

Failure to Reach Its Recruiting Goals

The sea service had a 2023 enlistment goal of 37,700 but brought in just 31,834. For 2024, the U.S. Navy has also raised the bar to 40,600 – as it is set to reach a total strength of 337,800.

As reported in December, the U.S. military active duty strength was set to drop this year, as nearly all of the branches have failed to reach recruiting goals – especially among Generation Z. Total active-duty troop numbers fell to 1,284,500 from 1.39 million, and the issue is so great that officials within the Department of Defense (DoD) have suggested there should be a “national call to service.”

The U.S. Air Force has responded to its recruiting challenges with reward programs.

The services have also increasingly issued waivers for some cannabis use as a result of widespread popularity and decriminalization. More than 50% of new recruits hail from states where cannabis is now legal for medical or adult use. Likewise the branches of the military have been more open to those who have a bit of ink on their skins in the form of tattoos.

Navy Recruiting Efforts

This is just the latest change the Navy has made to its policies regarding recruitment. In late 2022, it adjusted the maximum enlistment age in from 39 to 41, just months after it had raised the maximum enlistment bonus to $50,000.

The Navy currently offers a $75,000 maximum enlistment bonus for those entering the nuclear field under a policy announced last June, while it further created The Future Sailor Preparatory Course, launched in April to help hundreds of prospective recruits meet its body-fat entry standards. The program also included an academic coursework pilot program and training that introduces potential recruits to Navy life.

In addition, the U.S. Navy remains the only service that will enlist those considered a “category four” recruit – meaning they scored a 30 or less on the qualification test. Such recruits could fill a number of job openings including cooks and boatswain mates, but will still need to meet those job standards.

In 2022, the U.S. Army had also briefly permitted those without a high school diploma or GED to enlist but suspended the program shortly after.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.