Requirements to Become a Police Officer

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a police officer. Get a quick view of the requirements and details about education, required examinations, training and job duties to find out if this is the career for you. View article »

View 10 Popular Schools »

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

94% college-bound high school students
…said it was important to communicate with colleges during the search process. (Source: Noel-Levitz 2012 trend study)

Select a school or program

View More Schools
Show Me Schools
  • 0:35 Basic Prerequisites
  • 1:10 Undergraduate Education
  • 1:39 Attend Police Academy
  • 2:36 Examination Requirements
  • 3:11 Find A Job

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Corrections Admin
  • Corrections, Probation, and Parole
  • Criminal Justice and Safety Studies
  • Criminal Science
  • Forensic Science
  • Juvenile Corrections
  • Law Enforcement Administration
  • Police Science and Law Enforcement
  • Securities Services Mgmt
  • Security and Theft Prevention Services

Essential Information

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; associate or bachelor's required for state and federal positions
Degree Field(s) Criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related discipline
Experience Completion of academy training
Key Skills Age 21 or older; U.S. citizen with clean record and valid driver's license; physically fit; calm under pressure and ability to make critical decisions; pass drug and lie detector test
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 4% increase
Median Annual Salary (2015) $58,320 (for police and sheriff's patrol officers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Police officers are responsible for enforcing laws and maintaining peace within communities. In addition to earning a high school diploma, police officers receive training at a police academy. Some police officers complete degree programs in law enforcement or criminal justice as well, which can be helpful for career advancement. Police recruits also have to go through a series of examinations that are determined by their academy, which may include physical fitness testing and psychiatric review.

Let's look at the steps it takes to become a police officer:

Step 1: Meet Basic Prerequisites

All police departments require their police officers to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. While some departments hire graduates right out of high school, most require potential officers to be at least 21 years old. Thus, students who are hired after high school must work and train until they are 21 in order to become an officer. Other basic prerequisites for police officers include being a U.S. citizen and having a valid driver's license and clean record.

Step 2: Complete Undergraduate Education

Step 2 involves completing an associate or bachelor's degree program in criminal justice, law enforcement or a related discipline. While a degree is not required by many departments, applicants may find formal education advantageous when vying for officer positions. State and federal agencies generally require their recruits to have a college education. Degree-holders also may advance their careers more rapidly than those without a relevant degree. Some departments will even provide tuition assistance to officers who seek degrees in pertinent fields.

Step 3: Attend Police Academy

Most police officers attend some form of police academy for training. Large police departments send recruits to their own police academies. Smaller precincts may send new hires to attend larger academies as well. Academy programs typically last 3-4 months and combine classroom and hands-on, physical training. Academies include common classroom instruction in:

  • Civil rights
  • State and local laws
  • Incident reporting
  • Crime investigation
  • Constitutional law
  • Criminal psych

Police academy training prepares prospective police officers for active duty. Therefore, recruits also gain supervised experience in facing real-life situations. A police academy teaches students common requirements such as:

  • Patrol, risk assessment and subject apprehension
  • Accident and emergency response
  • First-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Firearm use
  • Self-defense
  • Traffic command

Step 4: Pass Applicable Exams and Tests

In order to gain a position on the police force, candidates are required to pass various examinations to ensure competence. Candidates must pass written exams, which may be administered through a police academy. Most divisions also administer physical tests of strength, vision, hearing and agility. Some units conduct psychiatric or background interviews to assess a recruit's personal characteristics and overall suitability for a career in law enforcement. Most candidates will need to pass drug and lie detector tests as well.

Step 5: Find a Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that state and federal police and detective jobs should be quite competitive. However, once a police officer is hired, there is generally very little turnover. The BLS reported that police and detective jobs would grow 4% from 2014-2024, which was slower than average. Police and sheriff's patrol officers made a median salary of $58,320 in May 2015.

Next: View Schools

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?