Police officers don’t necessarily need a college education, but having one can often be a real asset. If you hope to work in a federal law enforcement agency or rise through the ranks to become a captain, not having a bachelor’s degree could stand in the way of achieving your dream. Your options for earning a bachelor’s degree to become a police officer include criminal justice, social sciences, foreign language, computer science and business.
The Benefits of a Bachelor’s Degree for Police Officers
For many police departments, having a high school diploma is enough education to be accepted to a training academy, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Yet just because you can get an entry-level job in this field without a degree doesn’t mean having a college education isn’t worthwhile. In fact, the BLS also notes that police departments may pay officers more for having a college degree. Your education may also help you get promoted to leadership roles or to specialized units of law enforcement work. If you want to put your skills to work at a federal law enforcement agency, you will likely need a bachelor’s degree.
Although pay rates vary from one police department to another, officers with a bachelor’s degree commonly earn a couple thousand dollars – or more – per year than their peers with no college education, according to PoliceOne.
Majoring in Criminal Justice
For aspiring police officers who choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree, criminal justice often seems like the most obvious program of study. After all, your daily job duties include identifying and apprehending the perpetrators of crimes. It is important that you understand the infrastructure of the criminal justice system in its entirety. That system includes the operations of law enforcement departments like the one you intend on working for, the court systems that convict and sentence the accused and the correctional facilities where sentences are served. The core coursework of a criminal justice program often includes studies in criminal and constitutional law, criminal investigation and evidence procedures, corrections and rehabilitation in prisons and community settings and ethics and multicultural issues in criminal justice.
Just because criminal justice seems like a natural fit for a police officer doesn’t mean it’s the best college major. In fact, since you will go through academy training anyway, there’s an argument that a degree that equips you with a special skill set may be a better option.
Police Officers and Social Science Degrees
Whether you’re trying to figure out the motive for a crime or interrogating a suspect, as a police officer, you will likely spend much of your time asking why people think and behave in certain ways. That question is exactly what the social sciences of psychology and sociology are about: understanding the science behind individuals’ and groups’ thought patterns and behaviors.
One possible social science major of particular interest to aspiring police officers is criminology, the study of the causes and effects of crime. Developing a solid understanding of why people commit crimes, the circumstances that contribute to increased crime and the effects high crime rates have on a community can help police officers better address crimes and develop initiatives to help prevent future crimes.
Students of criminology take classes in the sociological patterns and statistics of crime, the sociology of family violence and the relationship between police and society as well as more traditional coursework in criminal justice and corrections.
Benefitting From a Foreign Language Major
Knowing more than one language is a major asset for police officers. In fact, police departments often reward bilingual officers with more money, the BLS reported – with these bonuses adding up to $100 or more per month in many departments.
Although being fluent in multiple languages is a good thing in and of itself, for police officers, the biggest benefit is being able to better communicate with the people they serve. The best language to choose, then, is one that is spoken widely in the jurisdiction in which you intend to work.
When majoring in a foreign language, you will take numerous courses at increasingly advanced levels of study to develop both fluency in the language itself and familiarity with the culture. You can also take coursework in a language without majoring in it.
Technology and Finance Degree Options for Police Officers
Depending on your area of interest, you may benefit from choosing a major such as computer science or business. Having a background in computer science, information technology or a similar subject may help prepare you for work investigating cybercrime, or crimes committed digitally, via a computer. If you’re more interested in insider trading, embezzlement and white-collar crimes, a major in accounting or finance may be exactly the background you need to focus your career on this type of crime.
A background in accounting or finance may also help you investigate crimes like money laundering – which often occur in relation to serious crimes like terrorism and drug or weapons trafficking.