How to Become a Police Officer

Being a police officer is not like any other job. To join the police force you will have to meet requirements that go above and beyond education. If you are thinking about becoming a police officer, you should be aware that it demands responsibility. This is why its requirements are so hard. The life of a police officer is not easy and you need to be ready to respond to situations around the clock.


Physical: All prospective cops need to pass the physical agility test. They have to be physically fit, and should not have any medical conditions, which could interfere with their duties as police officers. Meeting hearing and vision standards are also requirements to become a police officer. Age is another factor. In some states, candidates need to be at least 19 years old before they can apply to become a cop. Check with your local police department to find out the minimum age in your area.

Psychological: Being a cop can be stressful because you will have to respond to life threatening situations. This is why all individuals who want to become police officers need to undergo rigorous psychological tests. These may include written and/or oral tests. Since police officers are responsible for upholding the law, applicants are screened for their ethical behavior, and how they respond to situations, which may make them angry or fearful. They are also required to show that they can stay calm and focused during stressful situations.

Citizenship and Residency: Most states require their police officers to be US citizens or legal residents.

Educational Requirements: The minimum educational qualification required for becoming a cop is a high school diploma. Equivalent qualifications like GED may also suffice. Each police department has different requirements, which is why it is always a good idea to get in touch with the department you are interested in working for. Individuals interested in becoming police officers are however encouraged to pursue some postsecondary level education to improve their career prospects.

Courses in criminal justice, sociology, and psychology could be particularly useful. These courses can also be taken online, which allows students to keep their full-time jobs and study at the same time. Online classes can be scheduled to suit a student’s busy schedule. Students may log in to study at a time or place that is convenient for them.

Some departments, such as the New York Police Department (NYPD), require the applicants to have completed at least sixty college credit hours, or two years of full-time military service, or be a graduate of a police training academy. A minimum GPA of 2.0 is normally acceptable. These requirements, however, may vary from department to department.

The applicant may be asked to take a civil service examination, also called the Police Officer Examination. Once the exam is successfully cleared, applicants are required to undergo:

  • Physical agility test.
  • Medical test.
  • Drug/alcohol screening.
  • Written, psychological and oral exam.
  • Character and background examination.

Applicants may further need to hold a valid driver’s license. After clearing all the tests, prospective cops have to undergo police training at a police academy. This training is about teaching police procedures and policies, self-defense, use of firearms, and first aid.


The training period may last for six months to a year. Along with physical exercises, trainees will also be introduced to civil rights, local ordinances, constitutional law, state laws, and police ethics.

Upon completion, graduates may be put on probation for a year and then officially sworn in as police officers.


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for Police and Detectives was $65,170 in 2019.

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