How Do I Start a Career as a Police Officer?

Becoming a police officer takes effort and preparation. Candidates must meet minimum requirements to apply for training and also pass rigorous physical and mental exams. Although the exact process for becoming a police officer vary by state, the overview is generally the same:

1. Research your state and local police departments for minimum requirements and apply as an entry-level police officer

  • Minimum age of usually 21
  • Possess the minimum level of formal education, such as a high school diploma or associate’s degree
  • Pass a criminal and traffic record check

2.  Pass a physical test 

  • Demonstrate your physical aptitude for the job through agility, strength and endurance tests like sit-ups and push-ups

3. Pass a civil service exam

  • Departments use written and video tests to grade an applicant’s knowledge and mental ability 

4. Pass an oral board interview

  • Explain why you are a viable, trustworthy candidate for a job protecting the public

5. Be accepted into police academy

  • Study subjects like policing tactics, crime scene processing, police ethics, and firearm training.

6. Graduate from police academy and be recruited into a department

To learn how you can prepare for all these qualifications and state specific-standards, read our advice on successfully completing police training.

Although it is not always necessary to earn a college degree in order to become a police officer, it is highly recommended that you do so. Educational requirements for police officers are not consistent across the U.S., but some states require cops to hold at least an associate’s degree. Should you choose to become an FBI agent, a bachelor’s degree is required.

Why Should I Become a Cop?

People are motivated to become police officers for many reasons, including an inclination to help others, a desire to have an exciting career, or simply to have a respected job with good benefits like a decent salary and secure retirement plan. But being a cop is not always as exciting as it seems on television. While you can expect to put yourself in dangerous situations for the sake of others, sometimes you should also be prepared to work long hours that may interfere with your personal life. You will have to deal with everyday violations of the law by doling out tickets, investigating noise complaints, and writing incident reports.

No matter what position you hold as an officer, you must be a person of good moral character so that you do not abuse the power that you are given. Take the time to examine your reasons for wanting to become a police officer before you take the steps to apply to become a cop.

Before applying to a police force, see if your skills and personality are typical of people who become cops. According to O*NET successful police officers and detectives are skilled in active listening, critical thinking, and assessment. These skills are all valuable on the job since police must use all their senses in combination with perception in order to monitor tense situations and quickly decide how to respond. Police should also be good at problem solving and negotiation because they must be able to persuade people to stay calm and make the right choices.

To learn more about whether this career fits your personality, read our complete overview of the career.