Top Police Academies
When it comes to learning what it takes to become a police officer, the top police academies in the U.S. are specialized schools that offer various courses to produce the most driven and dedicated officers in the criminal justice field. A good police academy will be tough. You may be pushed to your limits both physically and mentally; however, your training will prepare you for the high-stress and highly rewarding job.
How to Qualify for the Police Academy
Unlike many career paths, an undergrad or graduate degree is rarely required for police officers - though it is helpful to have a degree so you can rise through the ranks faster and have a greater likelihood of graduating from the police academy
The training you receive at a local, regional or state police academy is extensive and specialized. You should expect some physical requirements, such as endurance and strength building as well as weapons training. For this reason, you can often be accepted to a police academy with a high school diploma or GED, but some academies require applicants to have a few college credits, if not a complete degree.
Other admission requirements include:
- US citizenship
- Valid driver's license
- At least 18-21 years old, depending on the academy
- Passed entrance exam; depending on the academy and jurisdiction, you may take the Asset, Compass or Law Enforcement Examination
- Clean criminal record (although some departments may allow very minor offences, you cannot have a felony on your record)
Each day more and more police departments are seeking officers with a degree to take on higher management positions, especially those at the federal level such as the FBI or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although bachelor's degrees aren't always required, many police departments are looking for applicants with college degrees.
Top Law Enforcement Programs
Across the country, there are police science and law enforcement programs at the top colleges and universities. When choosing a school, it helps to consider your educational and career goals. You may want to take courses online, choose a school with top-ranked internships, or go to school in a state that has lots of job openings in your field.
The following five schools are top rated police academies in the nation ranked for educational quality by US News & World Report 2017:
1. John Jay College of Criminal Justice - Located in New York, New York, this college has offered programs in criminal justice since 1964. Police academy students at John Jay College earn a Bachelor of Science in Police Studies and take courses in criminal justice, police science, patrol function, and community policing while learning and understanding their role in police systems.
2. George Washington University - In Washington D.C., the nation's capital, you can prepare for a variety of leadership positions in law enforcement. From a police science associate degree to a bachelor's degree program, students study active law enforcement personnel for hands-on learning.
3. Mary's University of Minnesota - With three different locations across the state offering a police science undergraduate degree - the Twin Cities, the Apple Valley Center and the Rochester Center - you have the ability to pick a campus you enjoy. With your Bachelor of Science in Police Science, you can specialize in forensic investigations, management or security management. This university is also great for student who wish to return to complete their undergraduate degree, as it allows students with military or police training in the state to transfer credits from other schools toward their degree.
4. Florida State University - Tallahassee, Florida is the home to a faculty of both Pulitzer Prize and Guggenheim Fellowship winners. Here, you can earn a criminology or criminal justice bachelor's degree online or on-campus then continue your education to earn your online master's degree or a doctorate degree in criminology or criminal justice. If online classes interest you, this university offers a specialized studies program that's completely online.
5. American InterContinental University - A great online option for those who wish to earn their bachelor's degree in criminal justice while working in the field, this school's various online programs require a high school diploma or GED to get started. Students are required to take 27 credits of general education classes along with criminal justice courses.
What is Police Academy Training Like?
To create the best police officers, training programs push recruits both physically and mentally. The police officer role involves a lot of learning on the job, which is why your training program will probably involve a lot of yelling. Your instructors are serious and will bark commands at lightning speed. It can be easy to become confused and upset because you may not always have the right answer, but you must learn to think critically and act accordingly in each situation under pressure. This is to prepare you for job conditions in the real world.
Those with military experience will notice some similarities with the police academy, like aligning in formation. Sometimes you may be expected to fall into line with the person next to you (at an arm's length away) and come to the position of attention with your thumb along your pant seams, chin up, and eyes forward at 45 degrees. Don't move until you're told to do so and always use manners such as "yes, sir" and "no, sir." Police officers are expected to treat everyone they encounter with respect.
Physical requirements at the academy may be intense, which means you may want to get in shape beforehand. When someone makes a mistake, your instructors may make you do a number of push-ups or flutter kicks. This physical exercise instills mental and physical discipline, as you'll be taught to push through the pain and discomfort in order to achieve your goals and survive violent encounters once you're on the job.
In policing there is also a lot of paperwork, so you should expect to perform administrative tasks like filling out forms and reading carefully.
Law Enforcement Degrees
The possibility for higher pay and better advancement opportunities leads most students to earn their law enforcement degree and become a police officer. Police officers with a degree are automatically eligible for pay increases and education bonuses worth thousands of dollars each year. Officers are highly encouraged to pursue a higher education and join competitive fields to advance your career.
Aspiring police officers are urged to earn a criminal justice degree, which is even easier if you're in the police force. Your law enforcement degree options include:
- Law enforcement certificate programs - Certificate programs are designed for professionals already working in the field who want to get an entry-level position, such as security guard or law enforcement officer, without committing to a two or four-year school. These programs typically cover general security, crowd control tactics, and homeland security.
- Associate degree in law enforcement - You'll learn police management, firearms, juvenile delinquency and crisis control before completing your training at a police academy. However, you may still find a career as a corrections officer or security guard without entering a police training program.
- Bachelor's degree - A bachelor's degree is more in-depth than an associate degree and you may learn to use technology to work in more advanced law enforcement settings. These programs typically last four years, but you may be able to transfer credits or test out of some classes if you have an associate degree or have completed police training. Many police academies look for recruits with a bachelor's degree.
- Master's degree - A graduate degree in law enforcement can lead to federal jobs, like working for the FBI or DEA. Leadership positions in the field are available at federal, state and local levels, and degree programs differ drastically based on the extensive curriculum offered by each university.
Why Become a Police Officer?
Becoming a police offer is a meaningful and impactful way to give back to your community, to protect life and property, without heavily relying on a formal education.
Police officers are sworn to protect and serve the communities they live and work in, and as such, they patrol towns and cities to keep citizens safe even though their jobs involve risk and danger - all in the name of public service. The career of a police officer is more than just a job. It's a lifestyle. Learn more about what it's like to work as a police officer.
Officers work for something greater than themselves. They put themselves literally in the line of fire to save stranger's lives, try to help repeat offenders make better choices, and work to prevent bad things from happening in their communities. Officers save lives, help stranded elderly ladies on the road when their electric wheelchair's break down, and sometimes bring their work home by adopting a baby in need. If you want a rewarding career that will make you proud, look no further.
Some police officers may have earned a bad rep in recent years when it comes to police brutality against minorities, but law enforcement jobs are expected to continue to rise because the best police officers are problem solvers. There are good cops and bad cops, as with any profession. Read more about expected police officer career outlook.