How To Become a Police Officer as a Criminal Justice Major

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If you’re the kind of person who wants to make a difference in your community, then becoming a criminal justice major may be right for you. Joining a law enforcement agency is a physically and mentally demanding process, yet very rewarding. Agencies need competent officers with a keen mind to ensure that citizens are safe, and laws are enforced.

The law enforcement hiring process may vary between police departments, cities, counties and states; however, there are universal steps in the process of becoming a police officer. The police academy selection process is competitive, and you will be evaluated through a scoring process to determine the best possible candidate(s) to join the police officer ranks.

Prerequisites to Join Police Officer Ranks

Although the hiring process can vary in different states, counties, cities, and police departments, there are many consistencies. To apply you should be at least 18 or 21 years old, depending on the department where you wish to work.1 At minimum a GED or high school diploma is required, though higher education can be quite beneficial. A bachelor’s degree in justice studies offers an advantage in the police academy selection process and sets you up for future promotions. By getting a Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies degree, you will have a better grasp on the justice system. This is helpful when working to enforce the laws both ethically and lawfully.

Some of the skills you can learn with a bachelor's in justice studies degree are:

  • Threat assessment and behavioral analysis
  • Criminal procedure and public policy
  • Professional responsibility in justice
  • The adjudication function
  • Criminal behavior and victimology

Typical Hiring Process for Law Enforcement Agencies

1. Application

When there is an opening in a law enforcement agency, the recruitment team is looking to hire the most qualified applicant(s). Read the job posting carefully, taking note of the minimum qualifications and restrictions. Complete the applications and gather all documents needed to complete the hiring process. Be honest and answer all questions completely.

You will need to include a cover letter and resume in your application packet. The cover letter shows employers your written communication skills and your accomplishments. Your resume shall list any experience you have in the field, including relevant coursework, jobs and volunteering. Highlight your skills in your resume that will make you a perfect fit. You will likely have to complete an authorization sheet verifying your personal records and character references. These forms are legal documents and will typically require a public notary.

2. Written Test

Candidates typically begin the hiring process by completing a written test which may also contain a multiple-choice question section. The exam generally measures reading comprehension, basic math skills, vocabulary, grammar and summarization abilities.

3. Oral Board

A multiple person recruitment team panel usually conducts an oral board interview. You will be asked a series of questions by the panel to measure your communication and cognitive skills. This interview further tests how well your personality will match with department goals and co-workers. Having good communication skills is important to law enforcement since you will be working with different departments and fellow officers.

4. Fitness Test

Agencies generally list their physical fitness tests online so candidates can prepare themselves well before the application process. This test is minimally pass or fail, making it an important part of the hiring process for all candidates. You want to make sure you’re in good shape to handle less than ideal situations. Keep in mind that achieving the highest scores are optimal for the candidate to be moved up higher in the ranking process.

5. Polygraph Test

Many agencies require applicants to take a polygraph test to see if anything in their past would disqualify them from service. Other requirements along with this process include drug testing and background checks. Therefore, it is important to keep your criminal record clean and avoid unlawful behavior.

6. Medical and Psychological Evaluation

Most agencies typically require full medical and psychological examinations to determine physical and mental well-being. This ensures each candidate will perform well under pressure and will not pose any danger to themselves or others.

7. Job Offers

Agencies offer their highest-performing candidates a contingent job offer along with an academy start date. Please keep in mind that this entire hiring process may take months to complete.

The Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies degree at Grand Canyon University prepares students to work in criminal and civil law, including law enforcement. Learn more about this and other programs offered by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences by visiting our website or clicking on the Request More Information button on this page.


1 Retrieved From: Become, How to Become a Police Officer | Degrees & Careers in Law Enforcement, in April 2022 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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