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How to Become an FBI Agent

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Tracking Criminals for Uncle Sam

If your impressions of FBI agents come from movies and television shows, you are not alone and not necessarily off-track, either. Drug trafficking, air piracy, kidnapping... all in a day's work for special agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If you are smart, emotionally stable and physically fit, you might enjoy this fast-paced career in law enforcement. To get hired for a special agent post, you need a college degree as well as relevant work experience. Working for the FBI is definitely not a nine-to-five job, but special agents still have quality time to spend with their families.

Job Description

FBI special agents work for the federal government law enforcement branch. They investigate a variety of criminal activities that affect national security. These can include organized crime activities, drug trafficking, terrorism, criminal activity in two or more states, foreign counterintelligence, extortion, white-collar crime and bribery. Special agents gather evidence of crimes, interview witnesses or suspects, execute court warrants and give testimony in federal court. The mundane part of the job involves filing forms, keeping records and preparing reports. The more dramatic aspects can include hostage rescue, arresting criminals and thwarting or combating terrorists. Some agents work in specialized areas like training, fingerprinting, lab services and public affairs.

Education Requirements

You need to finish your college degree to be considered for a job with the FBI as a special agent. All special agents need to earn a four-year college degree. Some of the degrees that work best for this job are business, computer technology, forensic accounting and criminal justice. Studying foreign languages is a good idea too, especially languages considered critical to the FBI. Although the FBI will take you with a master's or doctorate too, this is a government job, so your salary is dependent on pay grade, not qualifications.

In addition to schooling, you must have hands-on work experience. This can be employment in the civilian workforce or in another law enforcement agency like a police force. You'll need three years experience to get hired for an entry-level FBI special agent job.

After you finish school and put in three years of experience in a specific field, you can apply for the FBI if you meet other requirements. You must be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 23 and 37. You must have a valid driver’s license and agree to be stationed anywhere in the country. You need to pass physical fitness tests including sit-ups, push-ups and sprinting. You have to have good eye sight, no worse than 20/200 in both eyes and, with correction, 20/20 in one eye and 20/40 in the other. You also have to take hearing tests.

The median salary for an FBI special agent is $63,862. Special agent salaries range from $38,661 to $119,950, and are determined by grade on the law enforcement government pay scale.


The acronym FBI means Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is a part of the Department of Justice in the Executive Branch of the United States government. As an FBI agent, you would work for the government rather than in any other private industry or public agency.

Years of Experience

Special agents enter the FBI as GS-10 employees, with a potential salary range from $46,229 to $60,098, as of 2014. When they advance to the GS-13 grade level, the salary range is $72,391 to $94,108. Special agents who are promoted to grades GS-14 and GS-15 are those selected for supervisory, management and executive positions, with pay ranges of $85,544 to $111,203 and $100,624 to $130,813 respectively.

Job Growth Trend

Job growth for FBI special agents and intelligence analysts is expected to increase significantly in coming years as the population expands and the emphasis on national security continues to grow. On the other hand, competition for FBI jobs will remain strong. Candidates who have the best chances will speak several languages and have law enforcement or military experience.


Single mom, lawyer, writer and world traveler, Teo Spengler splits her time between San Francisco and France, where she raised her child. She has specialized in travel, legal and business writing for the past 15 years, including articles providing tips for mothers returning to the work world or making other big changes in their lives. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson,, and numerous attorney websites. She holds a JD from U.C. Berkeley, an MA in English and an MFA in fiction.

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