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How to Become an FBI Agent with Your Criminal Justice Degree

Updated on December 30, 2013
Your criminal justice degree can lead you to a career with the FBI
Your criminal justice degree can lead you to a career with the FBI

Special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are a staple of countless television shows and movies. From Herbert Hoover's "G-Men" of the 1930s to today's cybercrime fighters, few occupations have caught the public imagination like FBI special agent.

For those who want to join the ranks of the FBI as a special agent, however, the job requirements are quite stringent. The reality is that FBI special agents belong to an elite organization that has strict job requirements. What does it take to become an FBI special agent? This article will discuss the entry requirements and career path for this occupation.

Getting Hired by the FBI

The basic qualifications for the FBI special agent program are straightforward and similar to those of any law enforcement organization. You must:

  • Be a United States citizen or a resident of the Northern Mariana Islands;
  • Be between 23 and 37 years of age (veterans older than 37 may be eligible for age waivers)
  • Have a four-year degree from an accredited university. A degree in criminal justice is a good fit since candidates with law enforcement experience may be prioritized during the hiring process
  • Have three years of professional work experience
  • Have a valid drivers' license
  • Be available for assignment to any FBI office

If you meet these basic requirements, you must then qualify for one of the five Special Agent Entry Programs:

  • Accounting: Requires that you are a Certified Public Accountant or have three years of professional accounting experience
  • Computer Science/Information Technology: Requires that you have a computer/information technology related degree or a professional certification
  • Language: Requires proficiency in a language needed by the FBI (e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Russian, etc.)
  • Law: Requires a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school
  • Diversified: Requires a combination of seven years' education and work experience

The FBI does not hire for all entry programs, but only those designated as Critical Skills. At the current time Accounting, Computer Science/Information Technology and Languages are the specialties being hired by the FBI.

Once a candidate has met the basic requirements and has a critical skill being recruited by the FBI, he or she must pass the physical and background check requirements. The physical fitness test consists of four events:

  • Sit-ups
  • Pushups
  • 300 meter sprint and
  • 1.5 mile run

The passing score for each event differs based upon the candidate's sex and age. Each candidate is given three opportunities to pass the test. In addition to the fitness test, each candidate must meet strict hearing and vision requirements and a comprehensive review of their medical records.

The background check conducted on FBI special agent candidates is also extremely rigorous, equivalent to the TOP SECRET security check done on military personnel. The FBI background investigator will check your credit and legal records as well as interviewing your family, friends and neighbors. You will have to take a polygraph (lie detector) and drug tests.

Special Agent Training

Once applicants receive an appointment as a student agent and are assigned to a class at the FBI Academy, they are classified into one of the five Special Agent Career Paths:

  • Intelligence
  • Counterintelligence
  • Counterterrorism
  • Criminal Investigation
  • Cyber

Students then must complete the 21-week Special Agent Training Program at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The curriculum includes a wide variety of subjects including law, defensive tactics and the use of firearms. While at the Academy, students are paid at the annual rate of $51,043. Upon completion of the course students are sworn in as FBI agents.

First Assignment and Career

New agents are assigned to one of the FBI's 56 field offices across the country based on the needs of the agency. While agents can state their preferences, there is no guarantee that their first assignment will be in a desired location. New agents typically earn between $60,000 and $70,000 per year, depending upon where they are assigned. In some high-cost urban areas (such as New York, Washington and San Francisco) new agents may receive additional pay as well as a generous relocation allowance. While employed by the FBI, agents are eligible for a wide range of training opportunities that can serve as gates to promotion to management and supervisory positions. In addition, agents can apply for management jobs after working for three years.

Occupational Outlook

While the Department of Labor does not specifically provide an occupational outlook for FBI agents, the outlook for law enforcement agents overall is positive with a 7% expected increase in job between 2010 and 2020. If you can meet the qualifications to be a “G-Man” (or woman) your future is bright.

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