- Median salary: About $55,270
Who hasn't wanted to slip on a badge, slide on a holster and bring the bad guys to justice? But to rid the streets of the danger that may be lurking behind every corner, you have to be clean yourself, says Col. Donald Bartlett, assistant chief deputy sheriff with the Cobb County Sheriff's Office in Georgia.
"The biggest problem we have with recruits we see these days is criminal history," he says. "Anybody that aspires to a career in law enforcement needs early on to think about that during those immature days when they're tempted to drink too much or shoplift or, particularly, use drugs."
Requirements to become a police officer are increasingly hard, says Bartlett. Hiring managers prefer a four-year degree, but it's possible to break in with a high school diploma or GED. The best job candidates also have taken a basic peace officer training course. Foreign language proficiency, computer programming and psychology course work are added bonuses.
Jobs are available through local, state and federal governments, reports the BLS , but they're also available through higher education institutions, secondary schools, hospitals and treatment centers. Compensation is just as varied. While the median pay is around $55,000 nationally, the mean wage can be as high as roughly $84,900 per year in states such as Alaska and California.