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How Much Do Police Officers Make With a College Degree?

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Remember that first scene in "The Silence of the Lambs" when Jodi Foster is running through her intense FBI training course at Quantico? Tough as that looks, it's only a small taste of what's required to become an FBI agent. For one, you'll need a four-year college degree. If you don't want to go to college, consider becoming a police officer instead.

How to Become a Police Officer

While many police departments only ask that you graduate from high school or obtain a GED, some require a college degree or coursework. Many colleges offer degrees in law enforcement and criminal justice. Having a degree can help you beat out the competition and may also earn you an increase in pay.

Both state and federal agencies have intensive training programs. To become a police officer you must attend the police academy and pass a written and physical exam. In the academy, you'll get instruction about state and local laws, constitutional law, civil rights and police ethics. Field training will include patrol work with supervision, traffic control, firearm training, first aid, first response and first-aid.

In order to apply for a higher position within the force, such as detective, experience as a police officer is typically required. FBI candidates should have three years of professional work experience before applying to become federal agents.

Pay for Police Officers and Federal Agents

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for police officers in 2020 was $67,690. This varied depending on the field.

  • Detectives and criminal investigators = $86,940
  • Transit and railroad police = $77,580
  • Police and sheriff's patrol officers = $65,540
  • Fish and game wardens = $58,040

The highest paid positions are a detective and criminal investigators which require a bachelor's degree and work experience as a police officer.

Salaries by Industry

Median salaries were also affected by industry, with federal government positions, such as FBI agents, paying the most.

  • Federal government = $92,080
  • State government = $70,280
  • Local government = $65,850

Salary Bumps from Education

Earning a higher degree or getting an advanced certification such as POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) is often rewarded by a bump in pay. In Burbank, Calif., for example, earning a master's degree is rewarded by an extra $150 per month or $1,800 annually. Earning an advanced POST certificate bumps your monthly pay much more, by $565, or $6,780 annually.

In El Paso, Texas, pay increases $175 monthly with a master's degree and $105 monthly for an advanced POST certificate. Any additional education, work experience or certification typically results in a pay increase in most departments.

How Many Police Officers Have College Degrees?

William Terrill, a Michigan State University professor of criminology, conducted a survey of 2,109 police officers across the U.S. Despite the fact that none of the departments surveyed required a degree, 45 percent of officers had a college degree. Half had majored in criminal justice and the remainder of the officers had degrees in a range of disciplines, from psychology to business.

More telling, Terrill's research revealed that officers with college degrees are less likely to use unnecessary force. So while a degree isn't required, it appears there is a benefit to hiring officers with advanced education.

Job Outlook

Jobs for detectives and police officers are expected to grow 7 percent between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor. This is the average rate of growth for most occupations. Having an advanced degree, extra training and experience is the best way to ensure a position on your local force as competition increases in a job with low turnover.


Heather Skyler is a journalist and novelist who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek, The New York Times and SKY magazine.

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