How to Become a Police Officer:
The Definitive Guide

Have you ever felt afraid and then spotted a Police Officer and felt much safer?

Are you the type of person that enjoys helping people and keeping criminals off the streets?

Do you have an affinity for the latest crime documentaries and FBI television shows?

If this sounds like you, then you may be just the right person to be a Police Officer.


What is a Police Officer?

The duties of a Police Officer are important to society because Police Officers make people safer.

Some Police Officers patrol the streets for crime, such as speeding, drunk driving, or other traffic violations.

Other Police Officers arrest criminals and testify in court.

There may even be a little report filing and writing involved, but it’s all in a day’s work.

It doesn’t often take too long to become a Police Officer, so this job can be a good fit for almost anyone.


A Police Officer’s role is to uphold the law and make sure that other people who don’t get in trouble.

Some of the duties you can expect on a daily basis as a Police Officer can include:

  • Interviewing criminals
  • Writing crime reports
  • Respond to emergencies
  • Take statements
  • Testify in court
  • Control traffic
  • Patrol areas
  • Process arrests
  • Search suspects


The average salary for a Police Officer in the United States is around $56,000 a year.

The range typically falls between $52,000 for Police Officers just starting on the force, to $61,000 for more seasoned cops.

There are a few different reasons why the salaries can vary so much, some of which include certifications, education, or other specialties.

Another important factor in the determination of salary is the population of the city that the Police Officer works in.

Those that work in larger cities will typically make more than Police Officers that work in smaller towns.

Police Officers that have an Associates’ degree will likely make more money as well.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $70,750


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$82,060
New Hampshire$63,670
New Jersey$91,690
New Mexico$55,420
New York$80,590
North Carolina$51,860
North Dakota$64,470
Rhode Island$68,580
South Carolina$49,140
South Dakota$52,580
West Virginia$47,160
Puerto Rico$40,490

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $102,920.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $102,920
Washington - $92,390
New Jersey - $91,690
Alaska - $87,510
Illinois - $82,800
*Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Police Officer

Step 1Meet Minimum Requirements

There are a couple of requirements to keep in mind when deciding to become a Police Officer.

First, you must have a high school diploma or a GED, you must be eighteen years old or 21, depending on the department, and also have a valid drivers license.

It’s important to make sure that you get good grades in high school so that you can show a GPA of 2.0 or higher in order to be eligible to become a Police Officer.

Police officers will typically get background checks as well, so refrain from any criminal activity.

Step 2Earn an Associates Degree

The requirements for becoming a police officer can vary from state to state and even department to department.

Some employers require that Police Officers obtain an Associates’ degree in order to gain employment.

An Associates’ degree can take around two years to complete, and there are classes available online and on campus.

With an Associates in Criminal Justice, you can likely gain employment as:

  • Correctional Officer
  • Jail Officer

Others may even require a Bachelors’s degree in Criminal Justice or another similar field.

The courses for a Criminal Justice Bachelors degree may include:

  • Critical Thinking in Criminal Justice
  • Intro to Corrections
  • Intro to Police Theory and Practices
  • Criminal Justice
  • Juvenile Justice Systems

In order to know what’s the best route for you, check with your state or local police office to see what they require.

The possibilities for employment open up with a Bachelors degree, and it’s likely that you could get a job as a:

  • Probation Officer
  • Police Officer
  • Forensic Science Technician
  • Security Guard
  • State Trooper
  • Private Detective
  • Fish and Game Warden

Police Officers that would like to move up in the ranks may also get a Masters degree in Criminal Justice, however, this is completely optional.

Step 3Pass the Exam

After you graduate college, you can’t just walk right into a police office and demand a job.

No, you must take the exam in order to be admitted to the police academy.

Depending on the jurisdiction of your police station and the police academy that you attend, the exams can differ.

It is likely that the facility giving out the exam will pass out the Asset, Compass, or LEE exam.

Whichever test is given at the facility, the score must be over 75% or else no admittance will be granted.

If you do not pass the test, you are able to take it three more times in a year.

Step 4Graduate Police Academy

The exam gets you into the police academy, but now the training must take effect.

The police academy is where you will learn everything that you need to know, hands-on, about being a Police Officer.

Going to the police academy often means that you will be paid while attending.

Some programs even apply tuition reimbursement for college.

The coursework you can expect in police academy include:

  • Criminal law
  • Defensive tactics
  • Community policing
  • Investigative procedures
  • Emergency driving techniques
  • Firearms
  • First aid

You’ll also be required to pass a physical exam.

The length of the training program can vary depending on the jurisdiction but expect to take around 12 weeks to 12 months to finish the police academy.


There are several different paths to take on the journey to becoming a Police Officer.

Some people choose to get an Associates’ degree in Criminal Justice or a similar field.

Others go for the gold and earn a Bachelors’s degree in Criminal Justice or another field like it, before applying to the police academy.

Depending on how high you want to climb in the Police Officer career, the education you receive is up to you.

An Associates’ degree can be earned in around two years.

Some of the classes that you can expect to take for an Associates degree in Criminal Justice can include:

  • Fundamentals of Policing
  • Foundations of Psychology
  • Court Systems and Practices
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Criminal Justice Externship

It’s possible to earn an Associates’ degree in Criminal Justice online or on campus.

For those that want a little more education, earning a Bachelors’s degree in Criminal Justice can take around four years.

Although most police academies only require an Associates’ degree, some Police Officers like to earn a Bachelor’s when they want to get promoted.

It’s also possible to earn a Bachelors’s degree online, which could be helpful for working adults.

A Bachelors degree can help prepare you for a job as a Police Officer with courses like:

  • Research Methods in Criminal Justice
  • Principles and Investigation
  • Critical Issues in Criminal Justice
  • Constitutional Law
  • Crime in America
  • Drugs and Society

With a Bachelors’s degree, many more opportunities may open up in your career field.

Some of the jobs that can be done with a Bachelors degree include:

  • Paralegal
  • Parole Officer
  • Cybercrime Specialist
  • Private Investigator
  • Drug Enforcement Officer
  • Border Patrol

It’s possible to earn a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice as well.

Those who choose to pursue a Master’s usually have some experience as a Police Officer and expect to have a long career in the field.

With a Masters degree, a Police Officer can aspire to become:

  • Criminal Investigator
  • Sheriff
  • Victim’s Advocate
  • Youth Correctional Counselor

Video About The Career


Even though the police academy isn’t necessarily a license or certification becoming a Police Officer, it is a mandatory prerequisite to entering the police force.

Before you can enter the police academy, you must take an exam.

Depending on where you plan to work, the exam can either be the Asset, Compass, or LEE exam.

The Asset exam is based on two parts, basic skills, and advanced mathematics.

There are three sections, reading, writing, and numerical reasoning.

Each section is broken into 25 minutes so that the exam takes around 75 minutes to complete.

The Compass test has three sections as well, reading, writing, and numerical reasoning again.

One of the great things about this exam is that there is no time limit.

For the first section, reading, you will need a score of 70 to pass.

The second section, writing, requires a score of 32 to pass.

The last section, numerical reasoning, requires a score of 26 to pass.

Some states require that aspiring Police Officers take the LEE test. This is the Law Enforcement Exam and is three sections as well.

First, the student is tested on their abilities, then they take a workstyle questionnaire and finally a life experience survey.

The exam lasts for three hours.

In order to find the right test, you will need to contact the department that you will be working for to see which one they accept.

Although there is no licensing or certification to become a Police Officer, there are some extra certifications to obtain in this career:

  • Computer Analyst
  • K-9 Unit
  • First Aid and CPR
  • Foreign Language

Even though these certifications are not necessary, they can help when seeking employment or promotion.

Depending on the field you want to go into, ask your supervisor or co-workers which certifications they’d recommend.

Certification Example:

police officer certification

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

The average training program duration for a Police Officer in the academy can vary from state to state and even city to city

Some police academy programs can take as little as twelve weeks to graduate from.

Others can take up to a year, it all depends on what is required of your jurisdiction.

The important thing to remember is that experience is key in this field of work.

Popular Programs

Job Outlook

It seems that the employment growth for a Police Officer will grow around 5 percent within the next ten years.

There will always be a necessity for Police Officers, however, the growth of the police force can depend on the area.

Some cities require many more employees than in other towns.

Due to the small amount of growth, it is possible that you could face some competition when seeking employment as a Police Officer.

Applicants with Associates or Bachelors’s degrees often get hired over those with no formal education.

Employment Growth Projection: 7%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 48,600 jobs.

Police Officer: Interest Over Time

Should You Become a Police Officer?

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Overall Satisfaction

Many Police Officers are satisfied with their jobs.

Police Officers that work in municipality offices typically enjoy their jobs more than other officers, such as prison guards.

Police Managers tend to be more satisfied than Police Officers that are still patrolling the streets.

The job has its downfalls, but it seems that there are some very good benefits too.

The hours of working can be stressful, and the danger of the job can be hard as well.

However, Police Officers enjoy helping people and vow to protect civilians.

Average Salary: Medium

Average Salary

The average salary for a Police Officer is around $56,000 a year in the United States.

It is possible that a veteran Police Officer can make up to $61,000.

When just starting out on the force, Police Officers should expect to make around $52,000 a year.

Depending on the population of the city that the Police Officer works in, and the years of education or degrees they have, the salary can vary.

Having certifications and other specialties may allow for salary increases as well.

Job Growth Outlook: High

Job Growth Outlook

The job of a Police Officer can be hard, but someone has to do it.

However, the job growth will be slow within the next decade, at only around 5 percent.

There will always be a need for law enforcement, but sometimes the city can’t afford to hire new Police Officers.

Employment can be competitive with this career, however, there will always be a need for Police Officers.

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

Education Duration

The duration of your education when pursuing a career as a Police Officer can vary.

Some people earn an Associates’s degree, which can take around two years to complete.

Other people like to earn a Bachelors’s degree, which can take around four years.

Police academy can also take anywhere from 12 weeks to a year.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

It takes a responsible person to be a Police Officer.

Some of the traits that you’ll need for this profession include:

  • Being openminded
  • Assertiveness
  • Teamworking skills
  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Mature and able to remain calm
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Negotiation skills

A Police Officer must be able to respond to serious, and sometimes dangerous, situations without missing a beat.

Police Officers are brave, sometimes the first people on the scene, and should have a good physical build and ability to run, lift, and be quick both mentally and physically.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How much does a Police Officer make?

The average Police Officer in the United States makes around $56,000 a year.

When just starting out on the force, you can expect to make around $52,000 a year.

After promotions, experience, and specializations, you can expect to make around $61,000 annually as a Police Officer.

The salary can vary depending on the location of your precinct and your position on the force.

Q. What does a Police Officer do?

Police Officers do many things while they are on the job.

Sometimes, they are patrolling the streets to make sure that no crime is happening.

Other times, they are investigating murders, robberies, or other crimes.

You can typically find Police Officers where there are large groups of people, like fairs, concerts, or festivals.

They are there to keep civilians safe.

Q. How long does it take to become a Police Officer?

This really depends on how much education you want to receive.

Some Police Officers earn their Associates degree, which can take around two years.

Others decide that they’d like to earn a Bachelors’s degree, and that takes around four years.

Some even want to earn a Masters, which is yet another two years.

Depending on you, it can take from 2 to 6 years to become a Police Officer.

Q. Is there a demand for Police Officers?

Now, more so than ever.

It seems that, although crime is down in the United States, it is still important that Police Officers are around to protect people.

There will likely always be a need for Police Officers, so getting into the police academy is a great idea.

With the increase in technology, there are more jobs opening for Police Officers working in the cybercrime unit.

Many officers are retiring as well, which means more jobs are opening up.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Police Officer?

Again, this depends on how much education you want to receive.

An Associates’ degree can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $18,000.

A Bachelors’s degree can cost from $18,000 to $35,000.

The exam to enter police academy costs around $50, so, all in all, it can cost around $50,000 to become a Police Officer.

Similar Careers

Leave a Comment