How to Become a Sheriff in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a sheriff. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Sheriff?

A sheriff is an elected or appointed law enforcement officer who works for a county. They perform many of the same duties as police officers in terms of responding to emergency calls and keeping the peace, and they may work in conjuncture with the local police department. A sheriff may also be responsible for running the local jail and working within the local courts system. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Education Required High school diploma at minimum; associate or bachelor's degree recommended
Education Field of Study Criminal justice, law enforcement
Training Required Police academy
Key Responsibilities Enforce county laws; arrest suspects; testify in court; supervise deputy officers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5%* (police and sheriff's patrol officers)
Median Salary (2015) $58,320* (police and sheriff's patrol officers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Sheriff Do?

As a sheriff, you'll protect a given county by enforcing laws, apprehending suspects, issuing citations, executing warrants, patrolling specific areas and testifying in court. You may also be expected to confiscate properties, manage emergency scenes, question witnesses and supervise jail operations. You may also supervise a group of sworn officers as they complete similar tasks.

Step 1: Graduate from High School

As an aspiring sheriff, you'll need to meet the minimum education requirement of having a high school diploma. While in high school, focus on improving your level of physical fitness, communication skills and problem-solving skills. You can also contact nearby sheriff's departments to request information and advice.

Step 2: Graduate from a Police or Sheriff Academy

To become a sheriff, you must first become a sworn police officer by gaining admission to and graduating from a police academy. These training programs typically take 3-6 months to complete and combine classroom instruction with hands-on exercises. As a trainee, you'll receive instruction in topics like physical training, crime scene management, crowd control, firearms training, vehicle operation and criminal law. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2014, beginning law enforcement personnel had to pass physical, psychological, background and written tests and be at least 21 years of age (

Step 3: Gain Law Enforcement Experience

While sheriff job positions in some counties are sometimes open, you'll usually need to work your way up the law enforcement ladder. Many sheriffs start off as sworn officers and advance to deputy sheriff positions before being elected or appointed to their current positions. If you build an impressive service record, then you may help your chances of advancing to or being elected sheriff.

Step 4: Consider Higher Education

You may want to consider pursuing a criminal justice degree program if you're interested in becoming a sheriff. These programs can range from the associate's to master's degree levels, and the BLS reported that most entry-level officers had some type of college experience in 2014 ( As an elected official, you'll often be the highest-ranking law enforcement employee in the county, so you may be expected to have more advanced credentials than uniformed police officers or deputies.

Step 5: Apply to a Sheriff's Office

Research local sheriffs' offices to see if they're hiring and then submit an application. Sheriffs are either elected or appointed to their positions, depending on the state, but deputy sheriff or other sworn officer positions might be available. According to the National Sheriff's Association, most states elected sheriffs for 4-year terms in 2010. New sheriffs can enroll in a one-week program known as the National Sheriff's Institute, which includes training in personnel management, media communication and leadership styles (

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many other careers in law enforcement that you may want to consider. You could become a police officer and perform many of the same duties as a sheriff or highway patrol officer, who works at the state level. As a police officer, you may work in a particular field or unit, such as narcotics or horseback, respectively. There are also job opportunities as private investigators and detectives. If you're interested in working within the prison and court systems, you could pursue a job as a correctional officer or a bailiff.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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