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County Sheriffs: Education Requirements & Occupational Outlook

Sheriffs are law enforcement officials who enforce laws on the county level and oversee deputy sheriffs who help to patrol and monitor prisoners. They typically need to complete a training program and may need at least some college education. In many cases, a sheriff is an elected official, but this can vary by county.

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Educational Requirements

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that sheriffs typically need at least a high school education (www.bls.gov). High school students can prepare for a sheriff's career by taking beneficial elective courses such as criminal justice, criminology, sociology, psychology, legal studies and physical education.

Additionally, aspiring sheriffs may need to complete either a specific number of college credit hours or earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline. Coursework or degree programs in law enforcement or criminal justice teach valuable information regarding criminal procedures, the legal system, criminology, sociology, corrections systems and constitutional law.

Training Program

While those interested in becoming a deputy sheriff can find many training programs around the country, sheriffs have limited training options. The National Sheriffs' Institute gives new sheriffs training opportunities to give them a better understanding of their role as a leader in their community. They can learn about communicating with the media, manage staff and recognize their leadership abilities.

Those who wish to become deputy sheriffs can go to training academies to gain the skills they need to start their law enforcement career. Many county sheriff's departments and national sheriff's organizations offer training programs for individuals interested in becoming a deputy sheriff. Applicants often need to meet certain qualifications before gaining acceptance into the sheriff's training program. Some of these requirements may include:

  • Age requirement
  • No felony convictions
  • No firearm restrictions
  • Possess a valid driver's license
  • Pass a background investigation
  • Pass a medical examination
  • Pass a physical fitness test

Each sheriff's training program varies in duration. During training, recruits participate in physical training and field instruction in defense skills, defensive driving techniques, mock scenarios and firearms training. Classroom instruction includes classes in first aid, the justice system, ethics, state and local laws, civil and criminal procedures, computer skills and patrol procedures.

Employment Outlook

According to the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA), there were 3,083 sheriffs in the U.S. as of September 2010 (www.sheriffs.org). Many of these sheriffs are elected to their positions, and 4-year terms are common, but these may vary by county or state. Three states do not employ sheriffs, the NSA reported. The BLS reported that job growth from 2010-2020 should be slower than average at eight percent for police and sheriff's patrol officers.

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