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What Major Do You Need to Be a Criminologist for the Behavioral Analysis Unit?

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There’s much to admire about an agent working for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, from Hollywood’s perspective. Television creates plot lines that involve a generous mix of young and well-seasoned law enforcement professionals who use psychology, forensic prowess and plenty of physical action to stop criminals bent on bloody mayhem. In real life, becoming a member of this elite team requires a college degree, along with years of experience mixed with a healthy dose of patience. Choosing the best college major for a BAU job may mean obtaining the degree your local police force requires.

The Behavioral Analysis Unit

Falling under the umbrella of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the Behavioral Analysis Unit is separated into four segments. Each has a specific area of interest. The BAU-1 covers terrorism, arson and bombing. BAU-2 focuses on white collar crimes, cyber threats and public corruption. BAU-3 and BAU-4 specialize in violent crimes against children and adults, often analyzing atrocities committed by serial killers, child abductors or serial rapists in the course of an investigation. The emphasis of each unit is to determine criminal motivation and behavioral patterns in an effort to identify suspects.

College First

You must become an agent for the FBI before ascending to a position within the BAU. Individuals seeking employment with the FBI need a four-year degree, but the FBI has no specific recommendations or restrictions regarding which major you choose. The program recruits candidates with a variety of skills, including accounting, computer science and law or investigative skills. Mary Ellen O’Toole, a retired senior FBI profiler, recommends you choose a major you are interested in but suggests you take courses in psychology, sociology and philosophy if your goal is to become a profiler for the BAU. The only other stipulation the FBI makes is that your degree come from a college accredited by the United States Secretary of Education.

Signing On With the FBI

To become an agent, along with a four-year degree, you must be a U.S. Citizen, have a valid driver’s license, pass a detailed background investigation, be willing to relocate anywhere the FBI has jurisdiction, have at least three years of professional work experience and be at least 23 but not reach 37 years of age before obtaining agent status. Accepted candidates then complete a four-month stint in the FBI academy, which includes classroom time, rigorous physical fitness testing and firearms training. Successful graduates are then slotted into open positions according to their skill set, such as law enforcement or intelligence. Many agents begin their careers working for local law enforcement agencies or police departments before attempting to join the FBI.

Working Your Way Up

Once you’ve become an FBI agent, BAU-2 Director, Mark Hilt, notes it can take 7 to 10 years before you’ll even be considered as a BAU applicant, and the competition is stiff. The team Hilt supervises consists of only eight agents. If you make the cut, you’ll need another 16 weeks of classroom instruction, followed by a time of supervised mentoring in each unit, spread across two years, before you settle in as a true member of the BAU.


A medical writer since 1990 and successful home-based business owner for more than 14 years, Sandra King holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications. She uses her formal education, professional insight and extensive volunteer involvement to cover topics on health and fitness, pets, parenting for a lifetime, building healthy relationships, conquering business basics and developing career goals.

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