Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

So You Want to Be an FBI Agent?

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and specialized work experience are two important keys that can unlock a fascinating career as a special agent with one of the federal government’s most exciting agencies—the Federal Bureau of Investigations, or the FBI.

The mission of the FBI is "to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners." While television and movies usually depict secret agents performing complex espionage assignments, it turns out there are many ways for special agents to accomplish such a lofty mission. While covert operations have their place, the FBI also needs special agents with accounting and finance skills, computer scientists to work in cyber crimes, language specialists to interpret terrorist threats from foreign countries, and forensic scientists to examine criminal evidence.

To become a special agent with the FBI, you must be a U.S. citizen (or a citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands), you must be between the ages of 23 and 37, you must hold a four-year degree from an accredited college or university, and have at least three years of professional work experience, according to the FBI website. You must also have a valid driver’s license and be available to relocate for assignment anywhere in the FBI’s jurisdiction, the site maintains.

But that’s not all. Special agent applicants must take a series of written tests and even additional testing in your indicated foreign language, if you claim to be proficient in a language. So if you plan on becoming an FBI agent, you’d better hone your writing skills while you’re in college. Phase II of your testing involves an in-person interview, so it also pays to learn as much as you can during your interpersonal communication classes in college. Once you make the cut, you also must be able to pass a physical fitness test, a medical examination, and submit to an FBI background check.

If you make it through the highly selective hiring process, you move on to an intense 21-week-long FBI Academy in which special agent trainees participate in physical fitness, defensive tactics, and firearms training. You are assigned to an FBI division, some of which include counterintelligence, counterterrorism, the criminal investigative division (CID) and the cyber division. After Academy, an agent is assigned to one of the FBI’s 56 field offices.

Becoming an FBI agent is a difficult journey, but with the right skills and education, it is certainly within your grasp.

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