How To Become A Police Officer

Join The Force

Table of Contents

3 Reasons to Become a cop

Pursuing a Law Enforcement Career

Purpose & Fulfillment

As a police officer you will be in direct contact with the public. You'll get many opportunities to Make a positive and meaningful impact in someone's life


A police officer Career alone won't make you rich but the compensation and benefits are good enough to live a comfortable lifestyle

inspiring the next generation

As a police officer you can sometimes be the link that changes the trajectory of someone's life especially kids who are heading down the wrong path

WATCH How to Become a Police Officer

Requirements To become a cop

Minimum Requirements &

The Application Process

Before considering a job in police work, you must go through a very lengthy selection process. Here are some of the steps that you are almost certain to encounter en route to becoming a police officer.

Degree of Difficult During the
police Officer selection process

Written Test
Polygraph Test
Oral Board Interview
Psych Test
Fitness Test
7.2/10 72%

Step By Step

Guide For Prospective Candidates

Many people are interested in becoming police officers. Many of the questions involve the hiring process. 

Each department has their own regulations regarding the process, but there are plenty of similarities for getting hired as an officer. 

Understanding the process is your first step towards getting hired. If you know what to expect, then you will not become impatient during the process. 

Being prepared for each step is extremely important and can be the difference between being hired or not. 

There are eight steps in the police officer hiring process that are common with almost all departments. These steps include:

  • Application
  • Written Exam
  • Physical Fitness Test
  • Drug Screening
  • Oral Review Board and Interview
  • Background Investigation
  • Medical Exam
  • Psych Evaluation

The Application


Many departments have applications that can be filled out online. However, if you need to physically go into the department to pick up an application, which is your first chance to make a good impression. 

It is important to make sure you look professional and conduct yourself accordingly. You never know who might be there when you are picking up the application. 

A good rule of thumb is to conduct yourself in a manner befitting the job you are trying to get. If you want to be a police officer, then you need to conduct yourself accordingly in all your present and future interactions. 

Police officers are constantly in the public eye and it is safe to assume that there is always someone watching. Be professional, courteous, and treat all people in a respectful manner. 

If the application needs to be filled out by hand, make sure to fill it out as neatly as possible. 

The last thing you want is to have an application that is difficult to read, or that is not filled out completely. 

If you do need to hand write an application, make a couple copies that you can use for a rough draft before transferring the information to a pristine final copy. Applications that are illegible can delay the whole process. 

Make sure you follow the instructions exactly as directed. Double check all information and proofread each section before moving on to the next part of the application. 

Being thorough is a quality that all police officers need, so the application is essentially your first test. 

Use blue or black ink when filling out your application. The good news here is that most applications these days are done electronically. 

The only drawback to this is that it can be easy to overlook sections or leave important information out. 

A helpful tool for electronic applications is to type your information out in a word processing program that will find errors in spelling and grammar. Remember, your goal is to be thorough, so take your time. 

Stay away from slang words and always answer questions honestly. You need to ensure that the details you are putting into the application are factual and complete. This is especially important when listing your work history. 

Be exact with the dates. If you aren’t sure, call former employers to get those specific dates. They will check your employment history and a miscommunication of information can quickly turn problematic. 

It might appear that you are trying to falsify information or hide something from the investigators. 

They won’t care if it was an honest mistake, it will count against you in the long run. This is especially true for your references. Any inconsistencies can quickly delay or put an end to your application process. 

Make sure to submit all applications on time and completely filled out. Make sure to make copies of your application and all information that you submit in the process. 

You might be asked to produce that information again at a later date, so copies of everything are a must have. 

It is not uncommon to have applications shredded right in front of candidates who do not have all the required information. 

If your application needs to be hand delivered, make sure to dress professionally, even if you’re only going in for a minute or two. 

Part of the application process is filing out the information for your background investigation. Just like with the application, make sure you are thorough with addresses and phone numbers. 

Make copies of this information as well. There will be questions about former employment and character references, as well as your personal history. 

This can be a time consuming part of the application process, since it might take you a while to get all the required information. 

Police departments get plenty of applications, since there are many people looking to join the profession. 

It is not uncommon for paperwork to get misplaced or lost, which is why it is so important to keep your own copies stored in a secure location. 

Many departments require a resume to be submitted along with your application. Even if you don’t have a lot of previous work experience, it is important to create a professional looking resume. 

There are plenty of templates available to help give your resume the polished look you need. 

Even if your entire application is submitted online, it is a good idea to not only save electronic copies, but to also print everything out and keep hard copies of all documents. 

It is easy for computers to crash or to forget passwords, and paper copies of everything can be easily converted to PDF files that can be submitted online. 

Police Officer Written Test

Most police departments require applicants to take a written test. This can be in the form of a civil service exam or a department specific test. 

Some tests require you to pay a fee to take the test. There are plenty of police officer test study guides that can be purchased online or in bookstores to help you prepare for the exam. 

Most of the guides are not expensive and can be very beneficial to a potential police officer candidate. 

The information and sample questions can help you to prepare for the actual exam. You definitely don’t want to walk into the test unprepared and put yourself in a situation where you get a bad score on the test or need to retake the exam. 

If you are looking to get into an agency specific position, like the U.S. Border Patrol, there are specific study materials that you will need for their test. It is a good idea to gather as many materials as possible. 

Many law enforcement recruiters and human resources departments have information that can help you pass the exam. 

Make sure to reacquaint yourself with some basic writing and grammar skills. All police officers need to be able to communicate effectively. 

Report writing is a big part of the job of a police officer, so those written communication skills are extremely important. 

You should also work on reading comprehension to help you with the questions asked on the exam. Some questions are designed to be a little tricky and require critical reading and thinking skills to answer those questions correctly. 

The last thing you want is to fail the test because you were unable to figure out exactly what the question is asking. 

Work with a partner who can quiz you on important information from the reading. If you do not have a partner, there are tools online where you can create your own study guides and quiz yourself. 

Regardless of how you decide to study, you need to practice your observation, recall, and critical thinking skills. You will be tested in these areas. 

Some departments have videos that you need to watch as part of the exam. There will be questions regarding the situations contained within these videos.

 If you have never had to do this before, it is a skill that takes a bit of practice. These questions are designed to gauge your observation, recall, and decision making skills. They also work to assess your common sense. 

This is where a good study guide can really help to prepare you for the exam. It’s not enough to get the right answers, you need to have an understanding of why those were the right answers. Some of these questions might resurface during the oral interview

As with any exam, make sure you get plenty of rest the night before the exam and eat a healthy meal in the morning. Stay away from fast food, instead eat a breakfast high in protein and healthy fats. 

These will help give you energy and jumpstart your brain. As with the other parts of the process, you need to dress and act professionally. This will eventually be part of your job as a police officer, so the more quickly you can adjust to this, the better off you will be. 

When you take the exam, make sure to read all the directions and questions thoroughly. Take your time, but be aware of any time constraints on the exam so you don’t run out of time. If you are struggling with an individual question, skip that question and then come back to it later. Make sure you answer every question, don’t leave any blank answers. If you are not sure about a question, try to narrow down right answers and/or eliminate wrong answers to allow you to make the best answer choice possible. If you finish the exam early, go back and check all your answers. Use almost the whole time allotted and make sure to be as thorough as possible. This should go without saying, but any cheating or disruptions will cause you to be removed from the testing and have your exam invalidated. 

The Physical Fitness Test

The job of a police officer is very physically demanding. Part of the application and testing process is a physical fitness and agility test. This test is used to determine your fitness for the rigorous training in the academy and the physical nature of the job.

The tests vary for each department and agency, but there are a few commonalities. Most physical fitness tests include running, push-ups, sit-ups, and an obstacle course. 

Here’s an example of a physical fitness test below:

  • 440 Yard Run (Time)
  • Sit-ups (1 minute)
  • Push-ups (1 minute)
  • Obstacle Course (Time)
  • Sit & Reach (” Past Toes)
  • 300 Meter Run (Time)
  • Bench Press (% Body Wgt.)
  • Sit-ups (1 minute)
  • 1.5-Mile Run (Time)

The physical fitness test is usually a pass/fail type of test. These are designed to determine which candidates have the minimum fitness levels required to undergo the academy training. All tests will look at your strength, endurance, flexibility, and agility. You must prepare for the physical fitness test.

You should be doing a combination of running and strength workouts to ensure that you go into the academy as physically fit as possible. You do not want to get through the written test only to fall short in the fitness test. Being physically fit is a huge part of the job as a police officer and candidates who are unable to demonstrate fitness are typically not allowed to enter the academy. 

Drug Screening

Police officers need to live a clean and healthy lifestyle. This includes not taking any illicit or even legal substances that might impair your judgement while on the job.

All applicants are required to take a urine test under observation. The drug screening looks for all sorts of drugs to include: methamphetamine, marijuana, opiates, cocaine, and other substances. There are instances where a false positive has occurred, and it is possible to be able to retake the drug screening. 

Oral Review Board and Interview

The oral review is the opportunity for the hiring agency to see and interact with you in person. They will be looking for your appearance, composure, ability to think critically, and performance under pressure. For many agencies, the oral interview can make or break a potential candidate. It is important to practice this interview with friends or family members. 

As with the other parts of the process, arrive prepared, looking professional, and eat a healthy meal prior to the interview. Make sure you arrive early. When you first meet the members of the interview board, make eye contact and give them a firm handshake. Your evaluation begins long before they ever ask you any questions, so make sure you’re are professional and composed from the moment you enter the facility. 

Try to relax. Don’t fidget or do anything that would come across as nervous energy. Remember, your evaluators are fellow officers who have been trained to look for the subtle nuances of body language. Sit up straight, stay relaxed, don’t cross your arms, and answer all questions with confidence. Often the answers are not as important as the way you answer them. Be respectful, and practice common courtesies like addressing people as Sir or Ma’am. 

Background Investigation

You are applying to become an officer of the law, so it is expected that they will conduct a thorough investigation into your background. You will be assigned and investigator who will interview friends, family, neighbors, work colleagues, bosses, and check for any infractions in your past. 

The investigator will interview you as well to get a feel for the type of person you are and address any inconsistencies they found in your written application. The investigator will verify all relevant information and explain the process to you. Some departments only go back 5 to 7 years, while others have their investigators go back as far as possible. This is why it is important to be thorough and honest on your application. A couple missteps when you were younger will not automatically disqualify you from becoming a police officer

Medical Examination

You will be given a complete physical before being allowed to attend the police academy. The doctors are looking for anything that might prevent you from performing your duties to the best of your abilities. They are also looking for candidates who will be able to perform the required duties for many years to come. 

They will look into your medical history, family medical history, and conduct a battery of tests from bloodwork to lung function. All they are looking for is to ensure that you are physically fit enough to enter the academy and handle the physical requirements of the job. 

Psychological Evaluation

The last step of the process is the psychological evaluation. This is intended to determine if you are mentally suitable to handle the rigors of the job. Police officers are frequently put in traumatic situations and it can be difficult to deal with the mental stress of the job.

You will meet with a psychologist or counselor who will interview you and give you different tests. They will also give you tests that deal with intelligence, personality, aptitude, and achievement. Once they determine mental fitness, many candidates are greenlighted to move on to train at the academy. 

frequently asked questions

All You Need To Know

If you are sponsoring yourself to the police academy, the cost varies by state, however expect to spend in the neighborhood of 4k-6k.

Expect the selection process to take up to 4-6 months at the low end to as much as two years for bigger agencies. The length varies by department.

There are usually two ways to join the police academy. You can sponsor yourself to the academy, which can be quite costly, or you can have a local agency sponsor you.

Police officers do a variety of  things during their shift, and some of which are report writing, responding to calls, patrolling high crime areas, securing crime scenes, doing follow-ups and more.

In many states and cities the answer is no. However there are some agencies that require at least a 2 year degree.

Police officers need to possess a high school diploma, and/or a GED to become a police officer 

Expect your training to last around 16-22 weeks

  • you must be a U.S. Citizen
  • you must be at least 21
  • you must have a high school diploma
  • you must have a valid driver’s license
  • you must have good moral character
  • you must not have any felony convictions

Find Police Jobs