How to Become a Police Officer

Some of the steps of how to become a police officer includes earning a high school diploma, passing the police academy, and meeting a number of minimum requirements. Typically, courses at the academy, or while pursuing a criminal justice degree, include crime scene investigation, forensics, criminal law, and ethics.

Did You Know?

Between 2011 and 2013 an average of 45,000 recruits entered basic law enforcement training programs each year.

How to Become a Police Officer

Every state, county, and local municipality has its own requirements for those looking to become a police officer. However, there are some steps consistent across the majority of police departments.

Steps to Becoming a Police Officer

The most common steps to becoming a police officer are:

  1. Obtain a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent
  2. Meet minimum requirements, such as being:
    1. A U.S. citizen
    2. At least 21 years old
    3. Able to meet physical and personal qualification standardsi
  3. Obtain a bachelor’s degree (optional)
  4. Pass the law enforcement entrance exam
  5. Graduate from the police academy

In addition, the hiring process can be lengthy. Typically, this includes a thorough background check, a criminal history, credit check, examining your previous employment, questions about past drug use, and any criminal behavior.

While learning how to become a police officer, remember that many police departments also perform a number of tests on candidates. These include:

  • Polygraph test
  • Physical exam
  • Medical exam

All of this is to make sure that you are healthy enough to perform the most common tasks of a police officer.

How Long Is the Police Academy?

The median duration of basic recruit training in 2013 was 21 weeks, with a range of anywhere from four to six months. This is based on findings from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

They analyzed information from the 664 state and local law enforcement academies throughout the U.S. Every state and jurisdiction has different requirements for the police academy.

Those 21 weeks did not include any field training component, which normally comes after completion of the academy. According to the BSJ, the median number of hours in the field training segment was 180 hours or roughly eight weeks. Combined, this can be the final step in how to become a police officer. 

How Do You Get Into the Police Academy?

Most commonly, you get into the police academy one of three ways:

  1. Go through the academy on your own and then apply to the agency or department of your choice.
  2. Get hired at an agency or department and have them sponsor you through the academy.
  3. Some jurisdictions may accept external or outside academy certificates and only require you to take an abbreviated version of the local academy.

Keep in mind that as with all other aspects of how to become a police officer the requirements for qualifying for and getting into a police academy varies depending on the state and jurisdiction.

How Hard Is the Police Academy?

Almost everyone who has gone through the police academy will tell you how hard it is. That’s because there are so many different elements to it.

For instance, some cadets perform better at the classroom training. Others are better at the physical training. And still there are so many other components, such as firearm training and qualification, first aid, defensive tactics, and driving.

The process of how to become a police officer is difficult because being a police officer is difficult itself. Therefore, the training is designed in the best way possible to get you acquainted with the challenges of the position.

Fun Fact

86% of the recruits who started a basic training program completed it successfully between the years 2011 to 2013.

12 Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Criminal justice degrees are one of the most common degrees that those wondering how to become a police officer pursue. Some students have found it one of the best degrees for the field because it covers many of the processes and topics relevant to law enforcement.

However, criminal justice is not the only degree you can pursue to become a police officer. In fact, some students decide it is not in their best interest because some of the topics you study while pursuing this degree are also covered in the police academy.i

In addition, while many federal and state police departments require that you have earned a bachelor’s degree, there are some smaller departments that only require a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent.

Below are some of the colleges and universities that offer an online criminal justice degree. Click on any of the links to contact the schools directly and get more information about their programs.

1. Colorado Technical University

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Colorado Technical University connects you to over 75,000 graduates, which is a powerful professional network. Plus, in 2017, the school was awarded a U.S. News and World Report badge for Best Online Bachelor’s Degree Program. That’s because the school offers real-world faculty and dedicated 24-7 support.

A Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Colorado Technical University examines the triad of courts, corrections, and law enforcement. In addition, courses analyze management techniques and forensic study usually unavailable at the undergraduate level.

2. Ashford University

Bachelor of Art in Social and Criminal Justice

Ashford University makes earning your college degree a real possibility. By providing a new way of learning through an innovative online experience, Ashford brings you:

  • Relevance
  • Technology
  • Prestige
  • Community
  • Tradition

The Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice explores the impact social issues can have on maintaining a just society and enhances your understanding of the criminal justice system. Some of the key topics include investigating the social and legal sides of criminal justice and the psychology of crime prevention. This may also include the steps of how to become a police officer.

3. American Intercontinental University

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – Forensic Science

American Intercontinental University, or AIU, is dedicated to providing the educational needs of students of all backgrounds. Their programs are designed to be both supportive and flexible in order to foster success.

The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – Forensic Science degree from AIU is updated to keep pace with the ever-changing theories and practices in the law enforcement field.

This is a degree completion program, which assumes that all of your associate-level requirements have been met through an associate degree or an equivalent.

4. Colorado State University

Bachelor of Science – Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration

Colorado State University’s number one priority is every student’s success. In order to achieve that goal, CSU offers students accelerated eight-week terms and new class start dates every month.

The Bachelor of Science – Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration degree teaches an advanced knowledge of trends in criminal justice. Many courses in this program analyze the leadership, critical thinking, and effective decision-making skills that are required in law enforcement.

5. Colorado Christian University

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Founded in 1914, Colorado Christian University is a private, interdenominational Christian school. The university is focused on fostering a Christ-centered community of learners. By combining a spiritual foundation with excellent academics and a commitment to critical thinking, CCU strives to be a well-rounded institution.

The Criminal Justice BS offers a solid foundation of theoretical knowledge and practical application in the field in order to prepare students for some of the challenges they may face in a career in law enforcement.

6. Ohio Christian University

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice

Ohio Christian University was founded in 1948 and ever since has been preparing students for rewarding academic, professional, and spiritual paths. OCU is home to an expansive curriculum and a diverse student body, with more than 4,000 students in 2015.

In order to help students who are wondering how to become a police officer, or enter into law enforcement, the Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice prepares students to serve society. The degree is designed to equip students with a foundational understanding of human behavior within the criminal justice system.

7. Columbia College

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration

Columbia College has helped students advance their lives through higher education for more than 150 years. As a private, non-profit institution, Columbia College prides itself on small class sizes and quality educational programs.

Following those goals, the school’s Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration integrates the general study of criminal justice and law with other relevant disciplines. These include morality, cultural diversity, and criminology.

8. Keiser University

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice

The curriculum at Keiser University is designed to keep pace with technology and workforce trends. With a “one-class-at-a-time” approach, Keiser allows busy students to focus on their education while balancing the demands of work and family.

In order to teach these elements to students, the Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree examines topics such as:

  • Deviant behavior
  • Forensics
  • Law enforcement and investigation
  • Victimology
  • Private security

Plus, the program analyzes the American criminal justice system with an emphasis on research, analysis, and the future of the system.

9. Saint Leo University

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice – Criminalistics Specialization

Established in 1889 and located in the rolling hills of central Florida, Saint Leo University attracts students from across the country and around the world. The school is designed to provide a practical, effective model for life and leadership in a challenging world.

The Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree from Saint Leo University is designed to enhance the effectiveness of working criminal justice professionals, provide a foundation for their advancement, and prepare them for graduate study.

Core curriculum includes:

  • Substantive criminal law
  • Criminal justice ethics
  • Criminology
  • Crime scene investigation

10. Regent University

Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies – Criminal Justice

Regent University is a Christian University with the vision to “be the most influential Christian, transformational university in the world.” Regent has a faculty devoted to a purpose-driven and Christ-centered life. In addition, much of the curriculum is designed to empower students academically, professionally, and spiritually.

The Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies – Criminal Justice degree from Regent University teaches the nuances of leadership in the field of criminal justice. This is usually through courses focused on strong organization with an emphasis on leadership.

11. Grantham University

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice

Grantham University promises to do everything possible to make you excited about your online learning experience. To that end, they offer comprehensive support, simplified enrollment, affordable tuition rates, and targeted programs.

One of those degrees is the Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. This program analyzes the theories in criminal justice, the concepts of crime, and how to use analytical skills to solve problems. The criminal justice degree has concentrations available in Homeland Security and Computer Science.

12. Argosy University

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

With a wide variety of degree options, Argosy University emphasizes interpersonal skills and academic learning with a curriculum designed to fit into your busy schedule.

The Criminal Justice Bachelor of Science is designed to instill the knowledge, skills, and ethical values that many law enforcement officials rely on everyday. In addition, through various courses, the degree teaches critical thinking, communication, research, and professional skills used in the field.

Becoming a Police Officer

Becoming a police officer doesn’t require that you earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. However, some have found it to be in their best interest when learning how to become a police officer. That’s because these programs analyze the key topics and courses related to the field.

If you’re looking to earn your criminal justice degree, click on any of the sponsored listings on this page, including those mentioned in the list above. You’ll learn more about each school and can even contact your favorites directly for more information, such as when the next starting date is and how to apply.


[i] bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-4

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