Do I Need a Criminal Justice Degree to Be a Police Officer?

If you’re justice oriented and hoping to go into a career as a police officer, you may be wondering if you need a Criminal Justice degree to land your dream job. Difference police offices will have varied hiring requirements, so it can be confusing to know what you will need to get a job as a police officer. Here are the basic requirements you’ll need if you want to begin your career as a police officer.

What a Degree Means for Your Application

Unlike many job fields in the United States, there is no national educational standard to which potential police officers must match up. A Criminal Justice Degree is not required by the majority of police departments, but having a four year degree will make you stand out in a crowd. Many police departments do require some completed coursework in the criminal justice field. Additionally, departments will often have their own police academy training that you must pass. Individual academies do exist on their own outside of police departments, and graduating from one of these academies will also look good on your application.

Aside from educational requirements, there are strenuous legal and physical requirements to become a police officer. You will have to pass a background check. A Criminal Justice degree will help, but if you are out of shape or if you have certain crimes on your record, you still cannot be hired to be a police officer.

How Will a Degree Affect Your Mobility?

If you become a police officer, having a Criminal Justice degree can greatly increase your job mobility. Officers with degrees are much more likely to be able to land administrative positions and are the first officers considered for promotion. However, don’t get cocky if you have a criminal justice degree. Officer performance is also highly important to an officer’s career mobility, so even if you have a good resume you may not be able to move up in the ranks if your fieldwork does not impress your superiors.

Some career paths that usually require a college degree include working as a detective, state trooper, chief, sergeant, or working in the crime lab. Some departments will even help you pay for your secondary education!

The Pros and Cons of a Criminal Justice Degree


  • Four year degrees mean your application will stand out
  • You have the potential to make a higher salary
  • You have the potential to get promoted more quickly
  • Positions are available for you that are not available to non-graduates, including state trooper, detective, sergeant, and chief
  • You may be considered for a higher starting position than other applicants


  • Four years is a long time, and if the department you’re applying to doesn’t require a degree, this time may be wasted
  • College can be very expensive even with the aid of scholarships and grants
  • You may be required to go through police training anyway, which would make your classes redundant

Whether you decide to pursue a degree in Criminal Justice or not, it’s important to stay informed about the consequences of your actions. You may be able to get a job as a police officer without a degree fairly easily, but your career mobility will be severely limited. Best of luck to you, whatever path you choose.