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Do you need to go to college to become a police officer?

I don't feel as though you don't need college to become a police officer

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ian’s Answer

The answer to whether you need college to become a police officer depends on the state where you want to work1. Some states do not require any college education, while others may require a certain number of college credits or an associate’s degree12. You should check the specific requirements for the state and the department you are interested in before applying. In addition to education, you may also need to pass physical, medical, and psychological tests, as well as a background check, to become a police officer.
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Walter’s Answer

The simple truth is, it varies. Some departments might need a college degree, but most don't. After 30 fulfilling years of service, I retired with the rank of Major, overseeing a Patrol District or a Specialized Division. Our department, with a strong force of about 2200 sworn officers, was quite large. Over the years, I've noticed that while a degree isn't mandatory, it certainly brings some perks when joining a department.

In many departments, including mine, having a degree can fast-track your promotion or give you extra points that boost your rank when seeking advancement. Does it make a significant difference at the start of your career? Perhaps not, but in the competitive world of promotions, every small edge counts. The higher you climb, the fiercer the competition, as the number of available positions dwindles. Consider this: out of 2200 officers, only one becomes the Chief. In my case, we had about 20+ Majors, less than one percent of the entire force. You get the idea.

Thinking about promotions? You can certainly achieve them without a degree. And if you decide to pursue your degree after becoming an officer, you're in good company. Many departments encourage their officers to further their education while serving, often providing educational funding. Some even offer financial incentives, like pay raises, for degree-holding officers.

Ultimately, it's a personal or financial decision. Success can be achieved with or without a degree. Some of the best officers I've worked with never earned a degree, yet they've had incredibly successful careers.

In my personal view, the real advantage of a degree isn't about climbing the ranks. From my experience, prospective officers with degrees often find it easier to navigate the academy, where a lot of academic work is involved. Many tasks an officer must complete involve reading and understanding information, writing (especially reports), and critical thinking. These are skills honed in college, making the transition a bit smoother.

Regardless of your educational background, law enforcement is a noble and rewarding career. The key to your success lies in your work ethic and dedication.
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Danny’s Answer

Maj. Ozeki’s answer is excellent, and all of his points are worthy of serious consideration.

I started working in law enforcement without a college degree. Beginning work as a police officer without a college degree was more common then, almost 19 years ago, but is still common today in many areas.

Law enforcement should be representative of the communities they serve, and many members of our communities serve in many important roles that didn’t require college degrees. You’ll find a wide variety of backgrounds in any large police agency, sometimes with officers who never attended college working side-by-side with officers who have advanced college degrees. Often, they work the same assignments for the same wages, but are able to serve their communities in unique ways due to their backgrounds. Like Maj. Ozeki said, beyond entry-level work as a patrol officer, some promotions or special assignments may require (or benefit from) the experience and knowledge gained from earning degrees.

When I began my career, I told myself, “I can always take part-time or online courses later to finish my degree.” If I could do it over again, I would complete a bachelor’s degree before beginning work as a full-time law enforcement officer.

Law enforcement is a challenging career; the demands it places on you physically and mentally can make it very difficult to study part-time while working full-time. Especially today, with staffing shortages universally present in law enforcement around the world, officers are working more and more hours, leaving less time off for attending to personal, family, or educational pursuits. The unique nature of what law enforcement officers see and do while working can also make it difficult to spend your time off engaged in the “work” of study, rather than spending your precious time off attending to mental and physical wellbeing.

If you’re interested in a career in law enforcement and considering whether or not to attend college first, you may be considering the expense of a college degree. In the United States, many college students take advantage of government-subsidized student loans to fund their education. If you utilize student loans before graduating, and then begin work in law enforcement, you would be eligible to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which could provide for the forgiveness of some of your student loan debt after a certain period of work in law enforcement or other public service careers.

While I’d love to go back in time and finish a degree, I wouldn’t change my career. Serving my community is an honor, and the opportunities to contribute are endless.
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