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How to Become a Police Officer: Steps to Take from High School

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As a high school student, you probably hear a great deal about the importance of getting into a good college. However, you likely spend significantly less time talking about your future goals from a career perspective. As a result, when you get to college, you might not know what major to pursue or even which courses of study to explore. This can lead to students taking a much longer path to get where they ultimately end up!


At CollegeVine, we’re passionate about helping high schoolers determine what careers will bring them happiness for the long haul. That’s why we started this career series, so you can learn more about potential professions that might suit you.


If you’re wondering how to become a police officer, we’ll go over the steps you should take, starting from high school.


What Does a Police Officer Do? How Much Do They Make?


Police officers perform a vital task in our society by protecting people from a wide range of threats and dangers. As a police officer, your duties may include responding to emergencies, arresting suspected lawbreakers, patrolling neighborhoods, and protecting the rules of the road. Moreover, some cops work on specific types of crimes, such as narcotics, SWAT, or even homicide.


Some police officers go on to become detectives, who are charged with solving crimes and preventing them from occurring. Typically, officers must serve for at least three years before they’re eligible to become a detective. A detective position usually comes with a pay raise; while the average salary for a police officer is $65,400 a year, detectives have a median income of $81,920.


How to Become a Police Officer


Think you may want to become a police officer? You can increase your chances of succeeding in this field by getting an early start. Keep reading to discover the steps required to earn your police officer badge:


High School


You will need a high school diploma or GED to become a police officer. However, that doesn’t mean you can afford to coast through school. If you know you want to be a cop, consider taking electives that will prepare you for a career in criminal justice. For example, you could study psychology, sociology, criminology, and law. 


Writing skills are also important, as officers spend a great deal of time composing reports. Additionally, aspiring cops should pursue fitness activities and strive to stay in shape so they can pass the physical components of the police academy entrance exam.  


Preparing for a career as a police officer isn’t just about what you do at school, however. Students should look into shadowing cops in their community to get a feel for what the job entails. Some police departments may also have junior officer or detective programs for students, or even internships. Along with providing you with useful information about the career, these opportunities can lead to valuable connections that may benefit you when it comes time to apply for jobs. 




It’s important to note that states have specific requirements for aspiring officers. While some invite students to apply to the police academy straight out of high school, others require prospective cops to have up to two years of college experience. If so, you can become a more competitive candidate for the academy by taking courses in criminal justice.


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Applying to and Attending the Police Academy


Once you’ve met the age and schooling requirements for your state, you will need to pass a background and drug test. Additionally, aspiring cops must take a written exam and pass a physical agility assessment. While the written part of the test assesses factors like reading comprehension and vocabulary, the physical test includes components such as running, doing push-ups, and performing sit-ups. The goal is to assess flexibility, endurance, and muscle strength, among other factors. Some states also require applicants to pass a psychological exam prior to being admitted to the program.


After you’re accepted to the police academy, you will undergo training in a variety of areas. Along with topics like firearm usage and self-defense, prospective officers learn about first aid, conflict management, and emergency driving techniques. 


While the average program takes around six months to complete, requirements vary by state, and some police training programs last longer or shorter. During this time, you can expect to spend around eight hours a day training to be a cop.


To graduate from the police academy, you will need to pass a series of tests. Again, requirements vary by state, but most academies require recruits to score 70% or better on their exams. Additionally, participants must demonstrate their physical proficiency. You may have to run an obstacle course, jump up and down, climb a fence, or squeeze a trigger repeatedly. Once you pass the tests, you can begin your on-the-job training.




As a new academy graduate, you will be under probation for a period of time ranging from a few months to a year, or more. The average officer spends six months on probation, during which they receive training from a senior officer. New police officers on probation should take special care, as any major mistakes may lead them to lose their job.


Once you make it through this test period, you can celebrate: you’re officially a cop. 


Today’s high schoolers have a lot on their plates, including coursework, extracurriculars, SAT prep, and after-school jobs. At CollegeVine, our goal is to ease the burden by making the college application process as seamless as possible. Sign up for a free account today and get access to a wide array of tools for managing deadlines, estimating your chances, improving your profile, and more. We look forward to helping you get into your dream school!

Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.