State Highway Patrol Officer: Education Requirements & Career Info

Learn how to become a state highway patrol officer. Research the job duties and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in law enforcement.

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Do I Want to Be a State Highway Patrol Officer?

State highway patrol officers are sworn law enforcement officers whose primary responsibilities are to ensure the safety and security of people traveling on state highways and roads. They enforce traffic laws, write reports, make arrests, and assist motorists who've been involved in accidents. State highway patrol officers also come to the aid of other first responders.

Highway patrol officers, similar to police officers, usually work full-time, although hours scheduled may be highly irregular (such as three 12-hour shifts per week), and may include evenings, nights, and/or weekends. There is a higher risk of personal injury or death in this career as patrol officers may interact with criminals, hostile civilians, or other dangers circumstances. Officers must be comfortable with and carry firearms. There may be great personal satisfaction in serving the public's needs as a highway patrol officer and individuals employed by state governments generally enjoy competitive salaries, good benefits, and some job security.

Job Requirements

Individuals interested in this career need to complete a rigorous academy training program. To be admitted, some state agencies require applicants to possess at least an associate's degree in a field such as criminal justice, while others agencies require only a high school diploma. The table below describes some of the core requirements for becoming a state highway patrol officer.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Minimum high school diploma or GED; some agencies prefer or require an associate's degree*
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement*
Experience 1-2 years of work experience or military service is required by some states**
Key Skills Strong communication skills and the ability to solve problems quickly*, ability to multi-task*, physical stamina and strength**
Computer Skills Proficiency with crime mapping software, such as ESRI ArcView, and database query software, such as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System***
Technical Skills Familiarity with firearms, patrol cars and police radios***
Additional Requirements Must pass background checks and drug tests as well as physical and psychological exams; a valid driver's license is also required**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **State government websites, ***Occupational Information Network.

Step 1: Consider Earning an Associate's Degree

Before applying for state highway patrol officer positions, individuals might want to earn an associate's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement to improve their employment prospects. Some law enforcement agencies prefer officer candidates who've earned a college degree over those who've only completed high school. Other agencies even allow applicants use their postsecondary education to meet experience requirements. These associate's degree programs often cover topics in law enforcement, criminology and corrections in addition to requiring students to complete a general education curriculum.

Success Tip:

  • Take electives in physical education, information technology or a foreign language. Some law enforcement agencies look for candidates who've completed coursework in these areas. These topics of study can help aspiring state highway patrol officers learn a second language, hone their computer skills or improve their physical fitness.

Step 2: Apply for a State Highway Patrol Job

After submitting an initial application, prospective state highway patrol officers must typically pass a written civil service exam and a physical fitness test. Background investigations as well as vision and hearing tests are among other common requirements. Candidates could also be asked to undergo interviews, drug screens, polygraph tests and psychological evaluations before being admitted to an academy training program.

Step 3: Complete an Academy Training Program

Candidates selected for hire must complete an agency's training academy before they're sworn in as state highway patrol officers. This training could take around 5-7 months to complete and generally includes courses in state and local laws, police ethics and constitutional law. Candidates also undergo physical conditioning and receive intensive emergency medical response, firearms and self-defense training. They also study traffic control and defensive driving techniques.

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