Career Guide: DEA Agent

A career in criminal justice branches in two distinct, yet related directions: law enforcement and legal services. Agents employed at the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are on the law enforcement side.

Agents employed at the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are on the law enforcement side.

DEA agents investigate and assist with prosecuting major drug trafficking and terrorist organizations and, in partnership with domestic and foreign officials, administer drug intelligence programs.

This page can help inform whether becoming a DEA agent is the right choice for you, with information about job duties, educational requirements, salary and benefits, resources, and steps on the path to this exciting and rewarding career.

What Does a DEA Agent Do?

DEA agents find and stop illicit drug traders. Their duties include arresting and searching suspects, seizing assets, and gathering and preparing evidence for trial.

DEA agents may be part of the Diversion Control Division, which focuses on illegal trafficking of pharmaceuticals, or the Aviation Division, which locates narcotics-related activities from the air. They may also work in the Community Outreach Section educating the public about drug abuse.

Agents report to work at one of the 222 domestic offices within 23 divisions across the United States. They may also work in foreign offices located in 69 countries.

Click on the link below for more details about DEA agent jobs.

DEA Agent Job Description

How to Become a DEA Agent

Steps For Becoming a DEA Agent

Step 1:

Locate a local recruitment office and visit the DEA website to learn more about the profession and see if it's a good fit for you.

Step 2:

Earn a bachelor's degree or higher in law enforcement or criminal justice.

Step 3:

Review the job qualifications -- which include being age 21-36, a U.S. citizen, in top physical condition, and willing to handle firearms -- and take the online Eligibility Quiz.

Step 4:

Apply for a position as a DEA Special Agent.

Step 5:

Register for Basic Agent Training at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Learn more about degree options for DEA agents and about the criminal justice system by reviewing the following web pages:

DEA Agent Salary and Job Growth

DEA agents are paid according to a set schedule, with pay increases pursuant to length of time employed. New agents typically make a base salary of $49,746. But, factors such as prior work experience, education level, and the location where the agent works may increase the starting salary.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual salary for federal government agents as $87,130, with a projected job growth of 5% for all criminal investigators.

Check the website link below for more information on salary and job growth.

DEA Agent Salary

Take the Next Steps

The links below offer detailed information about degree programs -- associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in criminal justice, along with bachelor's degrees in law enforcement -- and jobs available to graduates.

Criminal Justice Degree & Career Information

Visit this page for an overview of criminal justice and law enforcement degree programs listed by degree and by state and potential career paths.

Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

Click here for information about two-year degree programs, often used as a stepping stone to becoming a DEA agent or a launching point for other criminal justice careers.

Bachelor's in Criminal Justice

Check this page for everything related to four-year degrees that can lead to a variety of criminal justice careers in both law enforcement and legal services.

Bachelor's Degree in Law Enforcement

This page describes the four-year programs that deliver the knowledge and skills needed by law enforcement officers, including a list of schools and a sample curriculum.

Master's in Criminal Justice

Go to this page for details on earning a master's and the advantages of doing so, such as qualification for advanced positions in criminal justice and higher compensation.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Aspiring DEA agents can find additional information and support through professional organizations and other online resources, starting with the DEA's website, which explains the agency's various career opportunities and how to qualify and apply for them. Professional organizations provide useful information on current topics in law enforcement and related resources.

For example, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association is the legislative voice of the federal law enforcement community, providing representation on such issues as salaries and benefits. The Association of Federal Narcotics Agents is comprised of current and former DEA agents and provides support and assistance to its members.

  • Drug Enforcement Administration The DEA's website provides comprehensive information about becoming an agent, along with resources and services for DEA agents and other criminal justice and law enforcement professionals.
  • Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association FLEOA is the largest nonprofit and nonpartisan organization representing federal law enforcement professionals. Member benefits include legal representation and advice, insurance and educational discounts, and networking opportunities.
  • Association of Federal Narcotics Agents AFNA connects DEA colleagues with networking and educational opportunities, including an annual national conference and law enforcement trade show and member emails with relevant breaking news.