Learn about the basic requirements to become a police officer and opportunities to progress in this career.

Eligibility requirements

The path to become a police officer is fairly straightforward. However, it will take dedication, stamina, and time to enter this competitive field. The testing and training is designed to ensure that you’re prepared for the risk and responsibility that comes with this career.
If you are still in school, the first step is to complete your high school diploma or GED. Pursuing some college courses or completing a bachelor’s degree can also make you a more competitive applicant, as well as help with career advancement down the road, though it is not a requirement. Military training is also viewed as good preparation for this career.
Beyond education and training, police departments typically require applicants to be US citizens between the ages of 21 and 37. Prior to this age, some departments will hire cadets to do office work and take classes that will help them prepare for the police academy. Applicants also need to have a clean record. Some departments might overlook minor offenses, but felonies are a deal breaker. Keep in mind, police background checks are thorough. Don’t let mistakes as a teen or young adult come back to haunt you.
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you will next need to pass entrance exams and interviews to be considered for a spot in a police academy. In most departments, the exams will include a physical agility test and a written test that covers reasoning, mathematical, and verbal ability. If you do not pass on your first attempt, you can take the exams again. Check with your local department to see if recruitment officers are available to help you prepare for the exams and address your weak areas.

The police academy

After passing the exams and interviews, you are eligible to apply to a police academy. During your six months in the police academy you will be pushed both mentally and physically. Classes will cover topics such as search and seizure, the law, and ethics. You will be trained in proper use of a firearm and you will also undergo intense physical training. Throughout the months of training, you will also need to pass exams to show mastery of the subjects taught.
Making it through the police academy is a grueling process. Yet even after this rigorous training, you’ll find that being a police officer in the community is different than learning about emergency scenarios in a classroom. To help with the transition, you will spend about 8-12 weeks in field training where you will work with a senior officer to learn the ropes. Next, you will spend about a year on probation. During this time, superior officers will observe your work closely to ensure that you’re prepared for the job. After probation, you can build your experience to move up the ranks within the department.
This article was adapted from the following sources:
How to become a police officer or detective.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed April 7, 2017.
Law enforcement degrees and police careers: how to become a police detective.” Learnhowtobecome.org. Accessed April 7, 2017.
Police officer career timeline.” thebalance.com. Accessed April 7, 2017.