Each police academy has differing requirements for new recruits, but there are a few commonalities between state recruiting prerequisites.
All police officers must be U.S. citizens. They are also required to hold a driver’s license. In most cases, new cadets must be at least 18-21 years old. Some law enforcement recruiting agencies have programs for younger applicants. These programs allow under-aged recruits to do administrative tasks and other non-threatening police work. It is a grooming program, and these cadets are shaped to be better officers through clerical work and gain indirect experience with the processes of a police department.
For the most part, the only educational requirement for most police academies is a high school diploma. There are some more selective academies that require a college degree, and many applicants choose to complete a college degree before applying. This makes a highly-competitive admissions pool, and it may be more efficient to complete your college education prior to your application. Military experience is also a desirable qualification, and many members of the military go on to hold law enforcement positions.
Applicants are subjected to several different types of tests. The most preliminary of these are physical tests on health and fitness. These tests are designed to remove cadets that have health complications that will compromise their performance in training or on duty. Cadets are screened based on vision tests, hearing tests, and fitness evaluations for strength and endurance. Other types of tests are related to determining the personal background of each applicant. Criminal backgrounds are thoroughly scoured, and any applicant with a history of violence or drug abuse will have more difficulty gaining admission to basic training. Convicted felons are instantly disqualified from police work.
Once accepted, cadets are subjected to written tests to evaluate their critical thinking capabilities and background knowledge in law enforcement. These tests are standardized and pit each cadet against the other, with relative scores. It is not just about passing the test; it is also about outperforming other cadets. These tests are important for determining your position on promotion lists and will be a strong indicator of your ability to advance in the force. A college education is extremely beneficial for this aspect of the screening process, though it is possible to do well on the written test without a college degree in law enforcement.