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Do You Need a College Degree to Become a Police Officer?

Police officers working for local, state and federal agencies protect lives and property. While you do not necessarily need a college degree to become a police officer, having one can open more doors for advancement and initial placement within a police department. Even without a college degree, applicants with college training or credit hours in police science may have the most opportunities.

Minimum Education Requirements

A high school diploma is the basic educational requirement for application as a uniformed police officer. Individual states have other specifications, such as a minimum age requirement and police officer training in an approved police academy. Some police departments do require a college degree or at least some college coursework. Being bilingual is considered an asset for police officer applicants, as are physical education classes and sports participation.

Additional Qualifications

Applicants must also meet state and local civil service regulations before becoming a police officer. Applicants must be United States citizens, and in many states must be 21 years old. Physical examinations for strength, vision, stamina, hearing and agility are rigorous; applicants must successfully pass the physical exams as well as written exams relating to laws and procedures. Other tests that help qualify potential police officer candidates include drug testing, lie detector tests and a personality test administered by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Police Officer Training

State and local police departments require specialized training in an on-site academy or in a regional or state policy academy before becoming a police officer. Training consists of constitutional law instruction, civil rights classes and instruction in state law and local ordinances. Police officer recruits also learn how to investigate accidents, how to use a firearm, how to patrol and how to control traffic. First aid, self-defense and emergency response training are also included as part of the 12-to-14-week training.

Officer Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many state and local police agencies pay all or part of the college tuition for existing police officers who wish to further their education in criminal justice-related fields. Officers can pursue a college degree in criminal justice, administration of justice, police science or public administration with financial backing from the state or locality where they are employed. Police officers who earn a degree can earn a higher salary than those who do not have a degree.


Katherine Kally is a freelance writer specializing in eco-friendly home-improvement projects, practical craft ideas and cost-effective decorating solutions. Kally's work has been featured on sites across the Web. She holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of South Carolina and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.