Joining a law enforcement agency such as the police department is one of the best ways to serve society.
If this is the path you wish to take, what degree do you need to be a cop?
The answer is simple—a police officer doesn’t need formal college schooling or fancy degrees beyond a high school diploma.
However, a few higher-up positions need more than that.
Let’s explore what it means to be a police officer, the responsibilities of a police officer upon joining the law enforcement field, and how you can prepare to be one.
- What Does It Mean To Be a Cop?
- What Are the Responsibilities of a Cop?
- What Degree Do You Need To Be a Cop?
- Should a Police Office Get a College Degree?
- What Degrees Can You Pursue To Become a Police Officer?
- Best College Degrees to Become a Cop
- Becoming a Cop
What Does It Mean To Be a Cop?
The basic duties of being a cop are to uphold the law, investigate crimes, respond to emergencies, and maintain public safety by upholding civil rights.
Law enforcement officials assign ranks to police officers depending on the following factors:
- Their career in police work
- Demonstration of critical skills in emergency response
- Cumulative experience in the police operations
- Specialized training
- Formal education level
- Potential career opportunities
There are several things that disqualifies you to become a police officer.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Cop?
A police officer’s duties include responding to emergencies, enforcing traffic regulations, and investigating reports of criminal behavior.
In their minds, the community’s well-being takes precedence over anything else.
The following are some of the numerous responsibilities of a police officer:
- Formalizing and submitting incident reports, such as traffic violations, domestic violence, and arrests
- Working as a crime investigator to keep the neighborhood safe
- Building a friendship with the public and learning about their lives
- Catching fugitives
- Providing evidence in a court of law
- Crime scene investigations
- Taking security precautions to prevent criminal activities and lower the crime rate
Law enforcement officials also aid other law enforcement leaders to ensure peace in the community.
What Degree Do You Need To Be a Cop?
Having a college degree or a four-year degree isn’t required by police departments to recruit police officers.
However, different federal agencies and other law enforcement departments can have different standards.
A police officer need several skills and qualities. A college degree may or may not be necessary, depending on which department you wish to join.
The most competitive occupations within the law enforcement departments often need a college degree.
Entry-level positions in law enforcement agencies in rural areas do not require a college degree.
Often, the hiring processes are less tightly regulated in those districts.
However, all law enforcement officers in high-profile precincts must have at least a bachelor’s degree.
A law enforcement degree, such as a criminal justice degree, may also be required to apply for the position of police captain or police chief.
A bachelor’s degree is almost always required for federal policy positions, regardless of which department you wish to join.
As mentioned earlier, it is not mandatory to have a college degree.
However, if your goal is to progress in your career as a police officer, then having an early start by getting a relevant degree is the best choice.
That said, even if you are not a college graduate joining the police agency, you can enroll in any police academy training program.
Numerous police training centers offer subsidies and scholarships to police officers who wish to pursue higher education.
If you meet the eligibility criteria set by the department, you can utilize these educational benefits to pursue your bachelor’s or even master’s degree.
Should a Police Office Get a College Degree?
More and more police officers today are aiming to get a college degree or higher education compared to past times.
As policing has become more complex, it is only reasonable for officers to have a more comprehensive understanding of the law.
An officer’s intimate understanding of the legal and investigative procedures, as well as the sociological, psychological, and cultural factors involved, can positively influence his work.
It also helps police officers to be more active and vigilant in performing their duties.
Besides, according to studies, the odds of an officer using excessive force or being the subject of a misconduct complaint are lower for those with at least two years of college education.
What Degrees Can You Pursue To Become a Police Officer?
It is true that a college degree isn’t required for the vast majority of police officer positions, but having a formal degree increases your career prospects.
According to a National Police Foundation survey issued in 2017, about 51 percent of cops in the US hold an associate degree or above.
Now you may ask, to become a police officer, how much education is necessary?
Some prominent degrees that make for a competent cop include:
- Associate Degree: An associate degree is equivalent to 60 college credits. You can get an associate degree by enrolling yourself in a community college.
- Bachelor’s degrees: Most four-year schools and universities offer bachelor’s degrees that are more comprehensive than those offered at two-year colleges.
- A master’s degree: Graduate-level coursework is more in-depth than undergraduate programs, allowing a more detailed understanding of the target topics.
When applying for jobs in law enforcement agencies, lacking a bachelor’s degree can put you in a tight spot, especially in the face of applicants with higher levels of education.
Best College Degrees to Become a Cop
Now that you know why it is important for a cop to have a college degree, even when it is not compulsory, the next question is:
What degree do you need to be a cop and fulfill your law enforcement career ambitions?
The following are some of the college majors that can prepare you to become a competent police officer:
You can become a criminal investigator in the police department if you pursue criminal justice as your major in college.
You can pursue this major as an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree.
In this major, you will study how law enforcement agencies, the public administration sector, and psychology interact.
General education classes on law, criminology, evidence and investigation tactics, incarceration, and rehabilitation are all part of the curriculum for criminal justice majors.
Getting a paralegal studies degree can help you develop a better understanding of law enforcement agencies as well as the rule of law.
Criminal and civil lawyers alike depend on paralegals for their work. The majority of paralegals have an associate degree.
In a two-year paralegal studies degree program, you will learn about legal research and writing, legal technology, electronic discovery, and paralegal studies and practice essentials.
Political science as a college major is also a great choice for those interested in working in law enforcement.
Studying government and politics can help you understand law enforcement more comprehensively.
By choosing political science as your major, you can pursue numerous career options, such as becoming a legislative assistant, police officer, or policy analyst.
This major is also an excellent diversification option for people who aren’t sure whether they want to be police officers or not.
Among the topics studied in this discipline are national and international relations and global political systems and institutions.
An undergraduate degree in public administration can be useful for those who want to work in the civil services.
By choosing public administration degree, you will get to study courses such as municipal government policies, state laws, and constitutional structures.
It also includes courses like state budgeting, managing state performance, and organizing state structures.
As you can imagine, these can benefit individuals aiming to join the public administration sector.
Students interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement and emergency management will gain a lot by opting for homeland security as their college major.
Courses included in homeland security are emergency management, security management at the domestic and state level, terrorism, and crisis and catastrophe management.
By choosing homeland security as your college major, you not only train to become a law enforcement officer but can also join the Secret Service, NSA, and many more.
Police Training Apart from Formal Education
Having a formal college education is not mandatory to become a cop.
However, you need to join and pass several police training programs such as the physical abilities test (PAT) to become a qualified police officer.
All new officers, regardless of their academic major or how much education they have, need to attend the police academy upon their initial selection.
More importantly, they also need to pass neurological and physical training.
It can take months for the new recruits to become qualified police officers since police training may last anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks.
Keep in mind that police officer training is designed to be rigorous and elaborate to prepare competent police officers.
In fact, a police academy’s curriculum will include local rules, civic studies, and state laws to prepare their officer to serve their local communities.
To guarantee that the police officers in training are fully trained to take on their duties, the training curriculum includes all aspects of police duties.
This covers everything from teaching officers self-defense to responding to emergencies.
Becoming a Cop
A formal bachelor’s degree from a university is not a requirement to become a cop.
However, having an educational edge over fellow new police officers is beneficial when joining police forces.
A formal degree is also beneficial when applying for higher ranks or increasing promotion prospects within law enforcement.