Becoming a Police Officer: Minimum Eligibility Requirements (page 2)

Updated on Dec 2, 2010

Just the Facts

As a student, you can join the American Criminal Justice Association, as well as some other professional organizations. The ACJA offers scholarships and other awards and holds an annual student essay competition. They also hold job fairs at their national conferences. Reach them at Look for other organizations online using the keywords "law enforcement organization."

United States Citizenship

One nearly universal requirement is U.S. citizenship. A few urban departments and some smaller agencies in the southwestern states have considered changing this but since being sworn in as a police officer requires taking a constitutional oath, it can be anticipated that departments seeking to eliminate the citizenship requirement will face legal challenges from applicants who are citizens but are not selected.

If you are a non-citizen military veteran, you will probably be allowed to take the test based on the expectation that your citizenship application can be expedited if you are accepted for employment. You may also be permitted to take the test if you have already applied for citizenship and have completed some of the initial processing.

If you do not fall into either of these categories and you are not a citizen, you should inquire whether you will be permitted to take the entry test and to participate in any pre-employment activities.


Age is another area where departments interpret the minimum eligibility standards differently. Some will permit you to take the test as young as age with the understanding that if you pass the exam, your application will not be processed any further until you meet the minimum age requirements to become a police officer, which is as young as 18 in some states and generally 21 in most others. Federal agencies differ on this policy, so be sure to check the agency you are applying to carefully before proceeding with your application.

The decision to permit applicants to take the test years before they are eligible for appointment is in part a reaction to the shortage of police applicants. As with the decision to permit early testing to encourage a healthy and lawful lifestyle, departments believe that permitting applicants to test early would interest people in police careers before they had been lured to other professions. This is a particular concern of departments that require two or four years of college since potential applicants will generally be older and will have been exposed during their education to careers they might not have originally considered.

Many departments began cadet programs in the 1970s, often to attract minority youths to policing. These programs, too, were based on the theory that positive interactions with police officers, as well as taking the entry exam early, would increase the numbers of successful minority applicants. Most of the programs were discontinued before their successes could be measured, but they did result in changing many age eligibility requirements for taking the police test. Many of these cadet programs have been modified to attract college students with a combination of work-study or paid work until they are eligible for employment.

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