Is Criminology a Requirement to Become a Police Officer?

If you’re interested in becoming a police officer, one of the first steps is to determine what educational requirements the departments will have. A very common question is whether or not a criminology degree is required to become a cop.

The short answer is no, but it can be helpful if you do are able to get one. Basically, most local police departments will require just a high school diploma or GED in order to be eligible for employment.

(This article focuses on the process in the United States. If you are aspiring to become a cop in another country, the process may vary.)

Instead of requiring that applicants have a particular bachelor’s degree, most departments add other requirements that better determine the suitability of applicants. These other requirements include completing a police training program after being accepted, and having a clean criminal record. (Any felony or misdemeanor involving domestic violence will usually disqualify you.) In addition, you will need to be a US citizen and have a valid driver’s license.

But that said, there are a variety of reasons why having some academic experience in criminology will be helpful. In departments where open positions attract a large number of applicants, having this educational experience is a great way to set yourself apart from the other candidates. In addition, having a degree will often allow you to start with a higher salary or possibly open yourself up for quicker promotions.

Also, some departments, especially at the State or Federal level, will have stricter educational requirements and a degree in criminology or a related field will in fact be required.

So what level of education is best, then, for securing a position as a cop? And what programs are the best?

It is important to do some research on the requirements of the police department you are applying for, but in general, criminal justice, criminology, law enforcement and policing, legal studies, or similar fields will be most appropriate. In general, a bachelor’s degree will naturally be a stronger asset than an associate’s degree, although the latter will certainly help you as well.

Some departments also may require a certain number of credit hours at the college level, but in any field at all. (This requirement is just to prove that applicants can complete college-level work.) In these cases, the particular program will not affect your employment, but taking classes in a criminal justice field can provide you with knowledge that will be helpful in your future career.

So in general, you can certainly become a police officer without getting a degree in criminology, but it can be helpful for a variety of reasons. It is important, however, to remember that there are other factors than education that will affect your chances of becoming a cop. You should be healthy, very physically fit, a good communicator, brave, and eager to learn.


  1. C W Harrison says:

    Criminology proper requires a reflexive consciousness. But being a police
    officer requires an empirical mind. To some extent being a criminologist
    requires you to be a rationalist; to be intellectual, critical, cynical towards the state. To be a police officer you must conform; be accepting, supportive of and inside the state. In England for example if a police officer or police pensioner is intellectually subversive he may be seen to have breached police regulations, subject to sanction, dismissal and or loss of pension.

    So, if you want to be a police officer even having a degree still requires you to have the same mindset as your police colleagues; to be the same kind of person with an academic face! On the other hand if you wish to train to be a criminologist proper, rather than an institutional gatherer of information supporting the satus quo you face insecurity (an
    intolerable situation for the aspiring police officer who typically wants to have it all ways!).
    I suggest that initially you read the considerable amount of critical research work on the police done by radical criminologists – who are not tied to the police. Try, for example, The meaning of Policed Professionalism – University of Sheffield by C W Harrison particularly the Chapter on Basic Training. But there are now many others, unlike when I did research in
    the police in the 1970s and 1980s.

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