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How to Become an FBI Agent: Education, Training, Application Guide

How to become an FBI agent like this officerFBI agents are responsible for the safety of America and her citizens. On a daily basis, they fight against life-threatening challenges like terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Using both computer and financial know-how to protect against cyber theft, fraud, and white-collar crimes, FBI agents combat criminals who steal through advanced techniques.

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Quick Facts About FBI Agent Careers

What Do FBI Agents Do?

FBI Special Agents work to keep our nation safe while specializing in one of many areas: cybercrime, terrorism, organized crime, murder investigations, and financial fraud, just to name a few. This challenging career requires the top skills, fitness, and standards of conduct.

How Do I Become an FBI Agent?

You first need to get at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and work for two years in your area of specialty. You will need to meet all the basic requirements for applicants, and once accepted, go through about 20 weeks of New Agent Training with the FBI at Quantico.

Basic FBI Agent Requirements

You must be a United States citizen, have lived in the US for the previous three years, and be between the ages of 23 and 37. You will be subjected to a thorough background check, a lie detector check, drug tests, and a rigorous physical fitness test. Only if you pass all the requirements for security clearance, aptitude, and physical soundness will you be accepted into the training program to become as FBI Special Agent.

FBI Education Requirements

Yes, you need a bachelor’s degree before considering working for the FBI, but what subject should you major in? The most popular fields are science, computer technology, law enforcement, and finance, but the FBI will accept many different possible undergraduate degree majors.

Do I Need to Know a Foreign Language?

No, you don’t absolutely have to know a foreign language, but it is one of the most desirable skills in the FBI. To increase your chances of being chosen, taking foreign languages is highly recommended.

What to Expect Working as an FBI Agent

FBI Special Agents have physically and mentally challenging careers where they may be posted to different domestic field offices or overseas locations. Travel is often required, and agents are expected to work a minimum of 50 hours per week, but are on call for the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other Careers with the FBI

Though being a special agent sounds like a very exciting career, the FBI has many important jobs in other career paths within the agency. Not only do laboratory scientists find work with the FBI, but communications and logistics are also careers to pursue in the Bureau. Computer majors may work on the operational side as agents, or they might maintain the Bureau’s important databases and networks. Legal experts, HR specialists and business administrators are likewise needed to oversee the various different activities of all the divisions of the organization.

What Do FBI Agents Do?

An FBI agent career carries a wide variety of responsibilities to meet all types of threats. Some specialize in tracking down cyber criminals, while others work to combat organized crime and terrorism. Some use advanced science degrees to solve murders, while another FBI agent will use a deep knowledge of accounting to locate fraud in the finance sector.

It is one of the most challenging law enforcement positions available, requiring a combination of physical fitness and mental acuity that challenges the most advanced police officers and military specialists. Many will attempt to become FBI agents, but few will actually have the opportunity to start New Agent Training. If you are interested in becoming an FBI agent, be warned: it will not be easy. But with the right training, the right mentality, and the right education, you just might have what it takes.

FBI agents who work in Operations and Intelligence can have many different paths to can follow, such as special agents, intelligence analysts, surveillance, forensic accountants, or language analysts. While being a gun-toting special agent may seem exciting, there are many important investigative positions who work behind the scenes to root our threats to our nation.

History of the FBI

The FBI was formed in 1908 and has been involved in famous cases involving Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, the KKK, and John Gotti. The history of the FBI is rich with success stories about protecting the country from a huge array of threats. It started as a team of special agents during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and has become one of the most important branches of the government. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigations, often called “the Bureau” originally investigated fraud, banking, and antitrust issues, it is now involved in combating terrorism, hate crimes, human trafficking, cyber crime, public corruption, human right violations and nearly every type of national threat imaginable.

How Do I Become an FBI Agent?

  1. Earn a degree in criminal justice, finance, science, computer technology, or foreign language;
  2. Get two years of experience in a job related to your major;
  3. Verify that you meet age (23-37) and citizenship (United States) requirements;
  4. Pass the physical fitness test, background checks, multiple drug and polygraph tests;
  5. Complete the rigorous New Agent Training.

Become an FBI agent with an online degreeBasic FBI Agent Requirements

Before you can even begin to think about becoming an FBI agent, you have to meet certain requirements. These requirements not only include your age and citizenship, they also cover you overall background.

First and foremost, you must be a U.S. citizen to apply for a position. If you’re not a citizen, you won’t even be considered. You need to have lived in the United States for the last three to five years. You have to be within the age range of 23 to 37 years old to earn a position as an FBI agent. While certain waivers are available, only people who meet this age category will be considered for the position. This is to ensure not only mental maturity and experience (hence the 23 year old minimum), but also physical strength and endurance (hence the 37 year old maximum).

The application process will also include a meticulous background check and security clearance. This is more than the standard records inquiry that you might have with other positions, as the FBI will also look into employment, medical history, military records, law enforcement, credit, and more. You’ll also have to go through written tests, a detailed criminal background check, numerous drug tests, and even a polygraph test, also called a lie detector test.

If that wasn’t enough, FBI agent qualifications include a rigorous physical fitness test. Prior to approval, you’ll have to pass the FBI’s Personal Fitness Test. As the FBI’s official website puts it “you must already be in excellent physical condition prior to applying.”

The FBI Physical Fitness Test app allows you to test yourself to see if you have the required level of fitness to make it in the FBI. The test will require sit-ups, push-ups, a 300-meter sprint, and a 1.5 mile run. If you want to qualify for the Hostage Rescue Team, you will need to do pull-ups as well. If you are not quite meeting the requirements, you can take the time to get into a workout routine to bolster your fitness scores.

Medical testing is also required for aspiring agents, assuring that the applicant does not have any underlying physical condition that could cause trouble later in their career. Applicants should also have had their driver’s license for at least six months before applying.

Visit the FBI’s website for more information on application requirements.

FBI Education Requirements

Common Degrees & FBI Majors

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is an elite organization that needs a fast array of skills and abilities. It not only needs people that can break down doors, make arrests, and perform with precision in dangerous situations, it also needs experts in computer technology, finances, and foreign languages.

The minimum FBI education requirements is a bachelor’s degree, although many have master’s degrees or higher, especially those working in leadership and technical positions. While some employers may skim over your GPA, the FBI requires a 3.0 or better.

So what are the best majors for an aspiring FBI agent? You may be surprised to learn just how many degrees will qualify you to work for the FBI.

Science

While many FBI agents have degrees in numerous fields, the Bureau is usually looking for people with a background in hard sciences. This education gives people the ability to analyze information and investigate complex situations. Science majors accepted by the FBI include biology, chemistry, and physics.

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Computer Technology

Because of cyber security concerns, the FBI also needs people with computer and information technology. These individuals are needed to deal with threats from both outside the U.S. and internally. Computer-related expertise is already a major part of the FBI, and will likely be the largest area of growth over the coming years. Popular computer-related FBI majors include information technology, computer engineering, and cyber security. Since FBI jobs are very competitive, consider programs that hold both regional and programmatic accreditation like the ABET-accredited Information Assurance.

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Law Enforcement

Of course, the FBI is a law enforcement agency, so they need a pool of skilled individuals who understand the law, dealing with criminals, making arrests, and the appropriate use of deadly force. These individuals often have backgrounds in local law enforcement and military service. Top law enforcement-related FBI majors include criminology, forensics, and criminal justice.

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Finance

It might surprise some people to learn that the FBI also needs people with a deep understanding of finances. Fraud and financial theft is one of the top issues the the FBI deals with, and they need people who can read financial documents and uncover any unethical behavior. Common money-related FBI majors include accounting, finance, and business, in general.

 

Other Useful Degrees

There are many other degrees that are attractive to the FBI. These cover everything from the way a person thinks to the relationship between nations. With the right application, almost any serious degree can be useful to an FBI agent. Psychology, sociology, foreign language, or law majors are all useful to the FBI. You could be useful to the FBI with a degree in human resources, marketing, film, English, journalism or visual arts. The FBI looks for a diverse set of skills and abilities, and they will consider hiring people with many different types of degrees as long as the applicant can meet all the other requirements for the job.

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Minors for Prospective FBI Agents

All of the majors listed above would make an excellent minor of study for anyone interested in becoming an FBI agent. For example, majoring in criminal justice with a minor in finance would be an excellent combination, and would likely set you up for a career working in the FBI’s white-collar crime division. A major in computer science with a minor in international studies would help the FBI investigate cyber security threats from outside individuals.

Internships with the FBI

While you are studying to get your bachelor’s or graduate degree, you can apply for a 10-week paid Honors Internship with the FBI. This is a great way to explore the career possibilities of working for the FBI. The application process for this program is quite rigorous, just as applying for any job with the Bureau can be.

The FBI actively recruits top students in numerous fields, so if you are interested in a career with the FBI, you may want to be in touch with them (or they might contact you) during your college study. Though it takes time to become an FBI Special Agent, it is never too early to consider the requirements as you gather the educational qualifications for the job.

Do I Need to Know a Foreign Language?

One of the most desirable skills for an FBI agent is a proficiency with a foreign language. As you might guess, there are specific languages that the FBI is looking for, so while your degree in German is great, the FBI wants people with a strong understanding of Arabic (including all dialects), Chinese, Russian, Korean, Swahili, Albanian, Indonesian, Punjabi, Pashto, and Vietnamese. They also have put a special emphasis on Spanish. In order to qualify, you must show an advanced proficiency in the language. As the world becomes more global, the FBI is especially interested in candidates with some foreign language proficiency, even if they will be serving in a position other than as a language specialist. If you are bilingual, that can give your application a boost.

The Final Requirement: Two Years of Experience

Even after all the previous requirements; the age restrictions, the fitness mandates, and the educational demands, you will still need at least two years of relatable experience. (If you have a graduate degree, the requirement is dropped to one years.)

This experience will have to apply to your desired area. If you want to work in cyber security, you will need three years of experience managing information technologies or building computer databases. Many FBI agents will have well over three years of law enforcement experience, especially in the area of investigations. For anyone working in the financial area, experience could include working in a public accounting firm or managing the finances of a large company.

FBI Employment Disqualifiers

Like all employers, the FBI understands that people make mistakes, especially when young. However, due to the highly-secure and nationally-important nature of the position, FBI agents will be held to a much higher standards when it comes to criminal history. While small offenses (traffic tickets, for example) will not eliminate you from contention, a misdemeanor will lower your chances, especially if it occurred when you were an adult. A felony will essentially eliminate you from the position. Even seemingly minor and non-criminal issues, like defaulting on your student loans, can result in elimination from the job.

Other disqualifying issues include conviction for domestic violence, failing to pay child support, failing to file tax returns, or not meeting the FBI drug use guidelines. Not only does the Bureau have strict guidelines that agents must not use drugs, but they will disqualify you if you lie about past drug use on your application. Candidates must not have used marijuana, even with a medical prescription, in the three years prior to applying.

What to Expect Working as an FBI Agent

FBI Agent Training at Quantico

If you pass the rigorous requirements to become an FBI agent and get hired to work for the Bureau, your education and training is just getting started. Before you begin field work, you have to pass through New Agent Training at the FBI Academy. This 20-week course is one of the most difficult training programs law enforcement officials will ever go through, and it will test both your physical and mental limits.

Over 800 hours of training, you’ll be subject to four major concentrations: academics, case exercises, firearms training, and operational skills. Hogan’s Alley, the famous mock town built by Hollywood set designers and populated by actors, is a location for some of the realistic case studies for recruits during basic training. Finally, you’ll have to pass through arduous physical fitness tests that include sit-ups, sprints, push-ups, and 1.5-mile runs.

Continuing Education & Training

Assuming you pass the arduous New Agent Training program, you’ll now be ready to contribute to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, but your education and development is far from over. Even the most experienced FBI agents will go through training programs that keep them at the forefront of law enforcement techniques. The FBI’s training programs include tactical training, leadership development, driving skills, and basic field training courses.

FBI Special Agents are expected to adhere to the highest standards of integrity and conduct, and will be required to maintain their physical fitness throughout their careers at the Bureau. Maintaining a Top Secret SCI clearance is a mandatory part of the job, so after you pass the rigorous requirements to get your job, you will have to keep your personal and professional standards of conduct high. Throughout your career, you will be monitored to make sure you are fit, mentally, physically, and morally, to serve in the job.

The Job Environment for an FBI Agent

What does the world look like after you become an FBI agent? On a daily basis, where do you work, who do you interact with, and what tools do you need to do your job? It turns out, the work environment for FBI agents is just as diverse as their educational backgrounds.

FBI special agents are placed in cities all over the country and overseas, so travel is often a mandatory part of the job. Depending on the specific position, an FBI agent may spend an entire day in an office, sorting through documents or working on a computer, or on location at a crime scene, logging evidence and building an investigation. They may also spend a day or more in a courtroom, providing expert witness information during criminal cases. Of course, an FBI’s work can be dangerous, as they are often responsible for catching violent criminals and making arrests.

Other Careers With the FBI

There are numerous different job tracks at the FBI. On the Operation & Intelligence side, there are Special Agents, Intelligence Analysts, Surveillance, Forensic Accountants and Language Analysts. Other career paths include, Information Technology (IT), STEM, Arts & Communications, Business Analysts & Administration, Facilities & Logistics, Legal, Medical and Counseling, and Police & Security. Depending on your job type, you may work in any of the field offices around the United States or overseas, or be stationed at the FBI Laboratory or National Headquarters.

So, if you have your sights set on working for the FBI, but being in operations is not your thing, you can find a different career path within the FBI to capitalize on your skill set. The employment standards will still be very high, but you may not need to pack a firearm to help protect our nation.

Becoming an FBI Agent: Pros & Cons

Like all jobs, becoming an FBI agent has its advantages and disadvantages. There are highly-rewarding aspect of the career, as well as reasons why many people don’t make it as an agent.

When you work as an FBI agent, you have the pride that comes with serving your country for the greater good. You’re taking dangerous criminals off the streets and helping to preserve the rights of citizens. Depending on your area of work, you may protect the country from terrorism, cyber hackers, organized crime, and domestic threats. You’ll also have the satisfaction of working for a highly-elite organization that only takes the best candidates in the nation.

However, there are certainly drawbacks to a career as an FBI agent. The job is highly stressful, and you’ll likely be subject to dangerous situations where your life and the life of others are at risk. You may have to work long, seemingly endless hours (a minimum of 50 hours per week is required), and be ready for duty at a moment’s notice. Although you may not be working all the time, FBI agents are on duty 24 hours a day. Not only that, you’ll have to deal with traumatic situations and violent, often ghastly crime scenes; scenes that can rattle even the steadiest of people.

Guide to FBI Agent Jobs

FBI Agent Salary

There is a wide variety of differing pay levels for law enforcement officials, but most will earn a very good salary. Considering that the FBI is one of the nation’s most elite and important law enforcement organizations, agents and leaders of the Bureau can expect to earn some of the best salaries in law enforcement.

Government jobs are paid on a scale, and trainees for the FBI start at a GS-10 level, where pay starts at $50,246 per year. As you progress, even staying at the GS-10 scale, there are different levels that can bring pay all the way up to $65,321 per year. In addition, the base pay has a cost of living addition that is at a default of 15.95% for all areas of the country, so even at the lowest pay grade, you make almost 16% more than base salary. The cost of living bump can vary between about 16% to all the way up to 41% of base pay, meaning that agents who work out of a field office in a high cost area will get a larger increase in their pay. While New York and San Francisco offer the highest cost of living increases, agents in Kansas City, Detroit, and many smaller offices still receive a hefty increase.

As agents in the field move up in the ranks, they can move up to GS-11 through GS-13 pay grades, which currently top out (for base pay only) at $102, 288 a year. For those who move into managerial and supervisory roles at the FBI, they can reach GS-15, which has a top salary of $142,180 per year. In general, FBI agents are some of the most highly skilled and compensated people working in law enforcement. Remembering that that cost of living bonus is added on top of all of these base salaries, the compensation for FBI agents is quite high.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the best organizations for salary information, does not compile data on “FBI agents” specifically, they do have a list of information on “Police and Detectives,” a category that would apply to most FBI agents. According to the BLS, these people make an average of $63,380 a year. Detectives and criminal investigators made an average of $85,020 a year. While these are averages for many in law enforcement, FBI agents, in general, are on the higher side of this scale.

Even newly-minted FBI agents make a very comfortable salary, earning around $60,000 when you take into account pay for the 20-week training course, the beginning salary, and cost of living differential.

Closely Related Careers

There are hundreds of different career options that are closely related to working as an FBI agent. These include different law enforcement organizations, both at a local and national level, and security and investigation jobs. Jobs closely linked to FBI agents include police officers, sheriffs, private investigators, game wardens, cybersecurity experts, and correctional officers. If you have been preparing for a career as a special agent, you may find yourself more attracted to a related career, perhaps working for a large corporation or nonprofit organization, protecting the financial, legal, or human rights of Americans. And of course, there is also the option of moving up into the FBI after working in one of these jobs, into positions that include intelligence analysts and leadership roles.

FBI Agent: A Rewarding Career if You Earn the Honor

If you have what it takes, the career of an FBI agent is waiting for you. Just to be considered for the job, you have to meet some of the most stringent requirements in the country. If you make it through the rigorous process, you’ll have a career that allows you to serve your country and your fellow citizens every single day. From the office to the field, the life an FBI agent is exciting, challenging, and rewarding.

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