This article doesn’t reference a particular degree, as the list is extensive. In addition to the obvious degrees in criminal justice and criminology, other examples are psychology, accounting, data analysis, cybersecurity, IT, public administration, and many more. Using a degree to enter this profession can be a prolonged process. We will also look at some of the similarities and differences in applying to local, state, federal, and government departments and agencies.


Do you have what it takes? Your ability to display good judgment, demonstrate courage, be assertive, possess integrity, and communicate effectively may influence your success in police work. At the local level, work experiences in your community will help you better understand the dynamics of the community. This will help you serve and improve your empathy and respect for other members of your area.


Few lines of work have basic requirements as strictly adhered to as in law enforcement. Some of these are:

  • Citizenship: Agencies require applicants to be U.S. citizens, or in some cases, permanent resident aliens who have applied for citizenship.
  • Education: Most agencies expect officers to have a high school diploma or GED at a minimum. Some agencies require a bachelor’s degree or a minimum number of college credit hours. Most federal agencies (FBI, DEA, and ATF) require at least a four-year degree.
  • Fitness: The type and rigor of these requirements vary by agency. FBI candidates are scored on maximum pushups, 300-meter sprint, and 1.5-mile run.
  • Age: City police department may mandate that you are 21 by academy graduation date, some take cadets as young as 18. The FBI has a minimum age of 23 for applicants and a maximum of 37 at the time of appointment. The DEA has a minimum age of 21 to apply.

Background Checks

Unless a business requires some sort of security clearance, a background check is not the norm. However, it is mandatory for any type of law enforcement work. Police forces will likely obtain your transcripts from high school and college. They may interview former teachers and professors to find out about your demeanor in class and study habits. Depending on the state or local jurisdiction, investigators sometimes travel to the candidate’s hometown to interview family members and friends to ensure the person is not trying to hide anything. Online social networks become the scrutiny of the respective agency.

The FBI Background Check includes a credit check; arrest check; polygraph examination; and interviews with past employers, neighbors, and personal and business references. The DEA and ATF conduct equally intensive background investigations due to the necessity for top secret security clearance.


All law enforcement jobs will entail a medical examination. The ATF states that candidates must take and pass a medical examination by an authorized Government physician. One of their medical requirements is that your weight must be in proportion to your height. The FBI Medical Examination includes a vision and hearing test.

The medical may also include drug testing. The Chicago Police Department, for example, asks about your drug use. Current drug use is grounds for disqualification; prior use is evaluated on a variety of factors, according to their website. The DEA furnishes a Drug Questionnaire. Applicants found, through investigation or admission, to have experimented with or used drugs, in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, will not be considered for employment with the DEA.

The FBI states that candidates cannot have used marijuana within the three (3) years preceding the date of their application for employment, regardless of the location of use (even if marijuana usage is legal in the candidate’s home state). They do provide a loophole.  A candidate’s use of marijuana in its various forms for medical reasons, regardless of whether or not it was prescribed by a licensed practicing physician, cannot be used as a mitigating factor.                                               


This could be the most intimidating aspect of a job search. All jobs require an interview, either in person or via video. Law enforcement positions will conduct a personal interview with a few as one interviewer or a panel of several people. Some of the questions are typical of any job interview. For example, someone asks you to tell him or her about yourself. This introductory statement serves as a smooth transition into more focused inquiries and provides the candidate with an opportunity to provide the interview board with information that will set them apart.

Some people shine during interviews, whereas others may wilt. Due to the emphasis placed on the interview, you want to demonstrate composure, appropriate humor, and build on your strengths. To assist interviewees, there are courses offered, for a price, that provide professional coaching. One example is Carole Martin, The Interview Coach, who has coached clients from all professions. Her expertise has helped thousands of prospective FBI agents prepare for their Phase II and III interviews.


As illustrated, there are several qualifiers and disqualifiers to work in law enforcement. More importantly, the journey begins long before your college degree or job application. Unlike most professions, what you have done in the past can directly affect what you can do in your future crime-fighting career.