Each Thursday, I answer readers’ questions about their job search process. I love hearing from you, so please don’t be shy — send me your questions via email or leave a comment in the section below. Check out past Reader Mailbags, where we have covered everything from how to find a job at Disney World to how to ask for a raise.
I’m interested in a career in law enforcement. I’m 18 years old and have a clean record — never arrested for a felony and only two speeding tickets. Do I need to get a degree in Criminal Justice from a four-year college? Or can I just take a few classes at my local community college. My family can’t really afford to send me to college right now, so I’m a bit worried about that.
Vissily in New York
Thanks for your question, Vissily! The field of law enforcement is incredibly broad — from local patrol officers to special agents with the secret service and DEA agents.
In other words, the background, education and training that you need to land a job in law enforcement varies enormously, depending on the type of job you want!
Here are some things to keep in mind. At a minimum, you must have completed your high school education and pass all written and field examinations for the force.
Most local police departments will not require you to have a college degree — although an Associates or Bachelors degree certainly won’t hurt your chances, especially if you want to advance to detective. A great major for a would-be law enforcement officer is criminal justice, but sociology, law, computers and science are also great choices.
In addition to your academic preparation, becoming a police officer demands that you be in peak physical condition. Did you participate in organized sports in high school? Team athletics are a great way to get in shape for policing. So are long-distance running, weightlifting and swimming.
Whatever your academic (and sports) background, you must pass through the screening process to qualify for the police academy. For most local police departments, that process starts with the civil service exam. Simultaneously, your background will be thoroughly checked — so your lack of arrests is obviously a good thing, but you may want to slow down a bit behind the wheel as well.
In addition, you will need to pass a physical exam, which will test your endurance and strength, plus things like hearing and vision acuity. Not to mention there will be a drug screen. You will also undergo a number of interviews with the department.
The final step is the screening process is training with the police academy, which combines book learning with field competencies. Along the way, there will be examinations to weed out everyone but the most qualified cadets.
While the process is no doubt grueling, if this is your dream, then you should definitely go for it! Good luck to you!