Educational Requirements – Do I Need a College Degree To Become a Police Officer

College Degree – Do You Need It To Become a Cop

By Captain R.J. Orso (retired)

Let’s assume for the sake of making my life easier, that you’re a young man or woman ages somewhere between 18 – 26.  It doesn’t really matter because this article is applicable even if you are an old fart like me.  You’re fairly sure that you want to become a cop.  By cop, I mean anyone who carries a badge, a gun, and has powers of arrest, anything from a Deputy, to a Fed, a C.O. To a County Mounty, Trooper, Park Ranger, or Local Yokel.  A Cop.

 Do you go to college to get the job, or don’t you go to college, do you want to go?  Do you have to go???  I hope to answer these questions for you in this article.

 Easiest answer is that it depends.  (Easy for me, not for you.)  If you want a Federal job such as FBI, DEA, CIA and the rest of the alphabet soup, the answer is simple, YES you need at least a 4 year college degree, and NOT in Criminal Justice or Police Science. The why is for another article.

If you want to go that route, it’s follow the money, and a dual major in accounting or finance along with a language major is your best shot in the door.  The languages currently needed are Farsi, Urdo or Punjabi (spoken in Pakistan),  Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and the all time favorite fallback, Spanish.

 The 2nd easiest question, is are you a vet with a G.I. Bill unused?   Brain dead answer – they give you $51K to spend on college, which is more than enough to get you a 4 year degree in most states without having to pick up loans that will kill you.

Also, anyone who intends to go to college and is working another job (or 2 as was my case, which is why it took me 16 years to get my undergraduate), is a Mo-Ron if you don’t do it online.

Most colleges offer online courses which are the same or cheaper than the traditional “brick and mortar” campuses.  Just make sure they are accredited, Regionally, NOT National accreditation (which is next to useless.)

With today’s smart phones you can log into your class at 0-Dark–thirty in the morning and answer questions while you’re working a midnight, swing, or day job and you’re on break.  One final remark re: Fed jobs, the only way to apply to ANY Federal job, from secret service to a school teacher and your nearest army post is to create a profile and apply via the website

Assume you’re not a vet, you have no college, and you don’t want to become a Fed.   What’s your 1st step?  Break out a computer – or go to the nearest library and use theirs – and start doing research.

Get/make a list of every law agency in your state (and neighboring states if you’re ambitious), and make a list of every law agency website.  Then research each site for job application information.  They don’t list any??  Then email or snail mail the agency and ASK!  If you do it online it’s free.  If you have one or more agencies that you’d really like to join and you need the information, go in person.

 If you go in person, dress well, – professionally.  Get rid of any earrings,  no long hair (if you’re male), and make a professional appearance.  If possible email or call ahead of time and find out whom you should speak to about the qualifications, then ask if it’s possible to meet with them on a certain date / time for 10 minutes.  You’re thinking, all that just for information???   Yes.  You’re selling yourself.  How many other potential applicants do you think are going to go through the trouble?

Back to colleges.  Determine which agencies require a 4 year (or 2 years) degree.  Make a list.  I won’t pretend that I can give you specific information in your area, because in my neck of the woods alone, (The Republic of NJ), there are 570 different agencies, 202 are Civil Service, and their hiring is basically the same, but the other 360+ are all “special,”  i.e.  unique to themselves, and that’s the way it tends to be in the rest of the country.

 Once you have a list of agencies that your meet the educational  level,  find out all that you can about them.  Even if you meet the minimum educational standards for a number of agencies, remember; as you progress up the career ladder you’re going to normally be expected to advance your training and education.

As far back as 1968, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement suggested that every cop in the US should have a 4 year degree, and that was nearly 2 generations ago.

 I have 2 last peaces of advice, for what it’s worth.  First, if you have a G.E.D. Or high school diploma, check out the website  CLEPS (College Level Examination Programs) have been around for 50 years, and are accepted by virtually every college in the country, from Po-Dunk Community to Princeton & Harvard.

Most colleges will give you between 20-30 credits if you take these tests. Some will give more, Thomas Edison State of NJ will give up to 90 credits for CLEPS AND life experience toward a 4 year degree, and they’re completely accredited and online, but pricey  The tests cost about $77 each and are 100 multiple choice questions in 42 different subjects.  Each test is normally worth 3 college credits.

 The 2nd is if you’re interested, join PACE (Police Association for College Education). A non-profit started by Dr. Lou Mayo, whose objective is to get every cop in the US a 4 years degree.  The URL is

 Be safe, & May God Bless you & yours.

Ron Orso is a retired Police Captain from the Borough of Fort Lee, NJ Police.  He holds a B.A. In History, and a Masters in Public Administration.  He was a police officer for 25 years, is married with 2 sons, and has 22 years experience in Emergency Management.  He’s also a Disabled Veteran.