While a high school diploma or GED is required for those wishing to enter this field, the level of college education can vary from state-to-state. Regardless, career advisers and respected resources throughout the United States suggest aspiring correctional officers obtain an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice. The higher your degree, the more competitive you'll be in this field. Due to the high number of applicants for a corrections officer position, the more competitive you are, the greater the likelihood of landing a desirable job.
While a major in criminal justice is preferred, enhance your employment opportunities by holding a concentration in law enforcement or police studies. Course topics within this educational pathway typically consist of peacekeeping strategies, constitutional law, criminal investigation and criminology. If the institution you attend offers a corrections emphasis, then you should apply for this concentration.
In some cases, those who have military or previous law enforcement experience may be hired as a corrections officer without an advanced-level degree. Moreover, if you wish to enter the workforce in a position to gain advancement into management level positions, continue your education to gain a master's degree in criminal justice.
Along with completing a college education, aspiring correctional officers are required to successfully complete written and physical examinations. Written exams determine your overall understanding of the various theories involved in this career field while the physical examinations ensure you're physically fit enough to handle the various demands this job requires. Each of these exams is overseen by your State Department of Law Enforcement.
If you're interested in working within a federal prison system, you'll be required to meet specific educational and physical guidelines, which as of 2014 include:
- Bachelor's degree in criminal justice
- Be no older than 36 years of age unless they've worked in a federal law enforcement position in the past
- Have zero felony convictions on their record
- Hold current status as a U.S. citizen