Do I Need a College Degree to Become a Police Officer?

Written by Mark Barnard

I am often asked this and similar questions, and having been part of many hiring processes for my agency and others-I offer the following insight. Prospective applicants ask “what are the benefits of getting a degree, and will it really help me”? The short answer is yes. The job market has become increasingly competitive. Employers, including police agencies, are more selective now than ever before. Consideration will be given to what makes you stand out; what gives you the competitive edge over other applicants.

If you are competing in a hiring process against candidates that have some job experience, why are you asking the employer to take a chance on you? Because you earned a degree, and that achievement demonstrates you possess personal discipline, dedication and a willingness to learn. Your degree reflects that you have developed problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and an understanding of how perceptions influence behavior. Policing is dynamic and constantly changing, and a degree provides the solid foundation on which to build a meaningful career.

Police agencies strive to project a professional image by hiring highly-educated and well-trained officers. However, in an article published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, policing is described as lagging behind other ‘helping professions’ (including nursing, health, teaching, social work and psychology) in achieving this goal. These careers tend to have entry-level requirements that include college degrees, and are generally recognized as ‘professions.’ More and more police agencies are following this lead and many expect today’s applicants to earn a degree.

We know that the discussion about the importance of education in law enforcement will continue for years to come. We also know that your degree will provide you with greater opportunities in both hiring and advancement (promotions or specialized assignments) in an agency. Most agencies offer pay differential or other programs that encourage officers to continue their educations, because they recognize and value its overall importance.

There is sound reasoning behind economic incentives and hiring standards being associated with the educational levels attained by officers. Community members desire officers who are understanding, willing to listen to citizen concerns and willing to help solve their problems. Police agencies are looking for officers that are adaptable to challenges and have problem solving and critical thinking capabilities. Obtaining your degree will not only benefit you; it will help prepare you to contribute effectively to your agency and to the community you serve.


Mark Barnard
Adjunct Professor

Published on April 30, 2013