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Why Grades Really Do Matter to Recruiters

Why Grades Really Do Matter to Recruiters

Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith

My mom was a school teacher and both my parents were college-educated so I spent most of my childhood enduring frequent lectures about the importance of academics. Grades were not a problem for me until I entered middle school; then there were just too many other interesting things to do besides study and my grades slipped a bit. This did not go over well with my parents but by that time I had already decided I was going to be a cop, and like most 13 years olds, I certainly knew more than my parents did about such matters.

My plan was to attend a nearby state college known for its excellent law enforcement program (not to mention it’s less-than-stringent entrance criteria) and then hit the streets at age twenty one to become a full time crimefighter. Why would my grades matter? After all, isn’t it the degree itself that’s important? Why would anyone care whether you earned an “A” or a “D” in that English Literature class?

Your grades in both high school and college reveal not only your work in an individual class, but they also show your potential skill level, your aptitude for a particular topic, and most especially, your work ethic. And it’s not just your law enforcement classes that potential employers are going to be interested in, your overall high school and college transcripts are going to be of great interest to someone looking for a quality, hardworking recruit officer. Here are just a few of the high school and college level courses and topics that could make or break your career as a cop.

English / Communications / Creative Writing

When I was on my department’s recruitment team, we used to tell potential candidates that they would use their pen far more than they would use their firearm. Firearms skill is what we call a “low occurrence/high risk” activity; in other words, you probably won’t use that pistol every single day but when you do, you’d better be extremely skilled with it. Proficiency with your tactics will save your life, proficiency with writing and communication skills will likely save your career, so you better be good at all of it. As anyone in law enforcement will tell you, we must document everything we do. Our police reports will not only be scrutinized by our supervisors, but by the victim, the offender, and possibly a judge, a jury, various attorneys and even the press. There is nothing more embarrassing than sitting on the stand in court and having your lousy police report read aloud for everyone to hear. View the “Buck Savage in Court” training video and you’ll know what I mean. A low grade in that “Creative Writing” course could indicate to a potential employer that you don’t have the skills to author good police reports, and that may be enough for them to move on to the next candidate in this extremely commutative job market.

Mathematics / Technology

I was one of those kids who hated math and science, and I just didn’t see how either would apply to my law enforcement career. I was still in college when I became a cop, so I was fortunate to find out just how important these topics would be when it came to my success as a cop and I was able to raise my GPA significantly prior to graduation. Within a year of being hired I was working check fraud cases and dealing with bankers on a daily basis; I was thankful for that extra tutoring I had applied for in those Business Finance classes. When I became a narcotics cop, all of a sudden my work life revolved around the metric system (I had no idea how much a “kilo” of cocaine was when I was a brand new narc) and I needed to be able to negotiate drug deals quickly and without a calculator. When I became a field training officer, I discovered that properly scoring a recruit officer’s daily evaluations involved averages and other mathematical skills that I had not planned on ever using in my post-college life. As my career progressed, so did law enforcement’s use of technology. Even that “business typing” class I took (and earned an “A” in, thankfully) when I was in high school became essential to my success as a cop since keyboarding was essential to learning how to use those new PC’s we were all issued.

Social Studies / History / Sociology / Psychology

In the first hour of the “Street Survival” seminar we talk about the history of law enforcement careers and how we can and must learn from our past to make all our futures safer. A good cop doesn’t just respond to calls and write tickets, they track crime trends, are familiar with the history of the community they serve, and they try to understand why people do the things they do. All cops, regardless of department or assignment, are historians, psychologists, and sociologists; it’s just the nature of our job and frankly, it’s a large element of what makes law enforcement such an interesting career. Your coursework in that American History class may not seem relevant to solving a residential burglary, but being able to understand culture, connections, and even geography will make you a better, more logical and compassionate police officer.

Police agencies will also be interested in any courses you may have taken involving physical education, coaching, foreign languages, accounting, engineering, and biomedical studies just to name a few. Recruiters really do scrutinize those high school and college transcripts we ask you to provide with your application or other relevant paperwork, and good grades tend to be indicative of a quality candidate.

One last word about grades. When I was a field training sergeant I dealt with a recruit who seemed unable to author a proper police report. No matter how much remedial training we provided him, he could not seem to write a decipherable report, and yet he came to us with a Master’s degree in Police Administration from a university known for its volume of written work required to earn a graduate degree; and his transcripts indicated he had done well in the program.

During a particularly frustrating counseling session I finally asked him “How the heck did you earn a graduate degree when you can’t seem to write a simple report?” He was a handsome, personable young man, and it was then that he confessed to me that he had convinced a number of fellow female students to write his papers for him. In other words, he got good grades, but didn’t earn them; we released him from the program the following week.

Enjoy school, study hard, and remember your goal is a successful career in law enforcement; grades really do matter! As always, good luck!

Criminal Justice Career Paths

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    To some extent, grades also indicate work ethic. You don't have to be book-smart to get good grades (although it certainly helps), but generally the more work you put in (keyword "consistently"), the better grades you get.

  • L_c327e0ccf2ba4e81b61692927fef6598_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    thanks, i never though of it like that.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago

    I agree and disagree with this as I was in college 13 years ago and did not do that well but still got my Degree. I am not a great student or test taker but learn a alot from common sense and the street. I would hope that these things are not dwelled on b/c you could still be passing up a great officer in the end. I am very intelligent but that does not always show in a school grade. "test takers" is what I like to call those people, good test takers but cannot use it in real life when it matters.

  • Officer_down_max50_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Thanks for the artical - Now to pass chemistry...

  • B-25_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Excellent article! Thanks for putting emphasis on an area that is often times downplayed by law enforcement. Education is important in the classroom and in the community.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago

    Thank you for the info... Helps encourage me that my 4.0 in high school will help me in law enforcement. after all.

  • Img_6924_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    If this is truely something you are planning on doing for the rest of your life as a career I would strongly suggest taking challenging classes, a foreign language (at least 2 years) and do it all with a 4.0 GPA. That will get you into the top paying jobs and you will be on the top of the list. I am a veteran, I take the hardest classes my university has to offer, Im taking spanish all 4 years, and Im doing it all with a 4.0 GPA. When I go out and enter the job market I want to be able to pick and choose what I want. Im also thinking about the masters degree.

  • Badge-c3_max50


    almost 6 years ago


    Love the article....
    Thank you

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago


    Great information for us wannabes. Many thanks!

  • Mr_max50


    about 6 years ago


    Great article which I will be sharing with my 23 new Introduction to Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice students (11th & 12th graders) this fall. Thanks for posting this!

  • Race_max50


    about 6 years ago


    I really need to stop slaking in school now.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 6 years ago


    Very articulately written...

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 6 years ago

    wow.....I had a lot of trouble-and stil too- learning and in some instances, remembering information in high school and middle school. The school-HS- didn't even want to graduate me but thankfully I graduated after going to summer school. Tehy just didn't care tohelp me.
    But now with my 3rd semester of college coming up in the fall, I am finally entering the college level credited classes. For a while I had to take no credit low classes because of the trouble I had with learning.
    I admit in the beginning of college I sometimes didn't go to class-but the English teacher saw how good my writing was and let me pass on.
    This coming semester, I'll be sure to take it more seirously. And I do take it seriously, but ......not take so much advantage of college freedom.
    As always I learn something about myself through your essays. ;)

  • Police_052_max50


    about 6 years ago


    interesting, i'll keep this in mind for the future

  • Ede9_max50


    about 6 years ago



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