Here’s What You’ll Do in a Career in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
A criminal justice degree can lead to a variety of careers in law enforcement. Among them is a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). FBI agents are among the highest paid law enforcement professionals. At minimum, job applicants possess bachelor's degrees and two years of applicable work experience. Strong candidates hold master's degrees. This page provides information on the educational requirements and career options of an FBI agent.
What Are the Duties and Responsibilities
of an FBI Agent?
An FBI agent's typical workday is far from routine. Their duties vary, but often include crime scene investigation and collection of evidence, witness interviews, court testimony, data and evidence analyses, making arrests executing search warrants, and meeting with sources of information.
Agents' jobs typically involve long hours and travel. Many agents are fluent in one or more foreign languages. Supervisory special agents may apply advanced investigative, reasoning, and research skills to statistical probability of criminal behavior.
Once training is completed, agents are assigned to one of 56 field offices in the United States.
New agents undergo 21 weeks of rigorous training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The curriculum includes academic subjects, along with training in defensive tactics, firearms, and physical fitness. Once training is completed, agents are assigned to one of 56 field offices in the United States.
FBI Agent Education Requirements
To become an FBI agent, you must hold at least a bachelor's degree from a U.S.-accredited college or university. The agency prefers candidates who hold a master’s degree. Successful applicants hold a wide variety of educational backgrounds that foster critical thinking and logical analysis. These include computer science, law, physical sciences, and degrees in the criminal justice field.
For those pursuing a career as an FBI agent, a law enforcement degree is generally more beneficial than a broader criminal justice degree.
For those pursuing a career as an FBI agent, a law enforcement degree is generally more beneficial than a broader criminal justice degree. A law enforcement degree prepares students for work specifically as police officers, detectives, and investigators. Additionally, a law enforcement degree provides a solid background in the academics required at the FBI Academy. The degree develops numerous qualities valued by the agency, including critical thinking skills, initiative, and a strong work ethic.
A law enforcement degree curriculum covers many topics under the criminal justice umbrella, such as corrections, cyber crime, and criminal investigations. It also may include classes in English composition, constitutional and criminal law, policing in America, evidence and court procedure, and victimology. Most law enforcement degree programs teach due process and the application of law, along with practical aspects such as the chain of evidence, and proper use of force.
An associate degree in criminal justice is earned in two years, and many programs offer classes online. An associate degree can be a viable option for students exploring if criminal justice is their desired career path. Associate degree credits can be transferred to four-year colleges and universities if a student decides to pursue a bachelor's in criminal justice or law enforcement.
A sample curriculum of an associate degree program includes an introduction to criminal justice, judicial process, juvenile justice, and correctional systems. Programs typically also include a criminal justice capstone, in which students research and apply their skills to a specific issue. Visit criminaljustice.com for details.
Most public college associate degree programs cost between $10,000-$13,000 for resident tuition. Private institutions are more expensive, around $30,000.
A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice prepares students for jobs in law enforcement, public safety, and corrections. These programs typically require around 120 credits, and take approximately four years to complete. A bachelor's in law enforcement narrows the focus to the professional skills and specialized knowledge needed to work as an FBI agent or other enforcement officer. Course topics include an introduction to policing, issues in police administration, introduction to homeland security, criminalistics, and juvenile delinquency. Online education options are available, and tuition is often the in-state rate regardless of residency status.
Graduates with bachelor's degrees and two years of work experience are eligible to apply for entry-level special agent positions if they meet the requirements listed in the next section.
Other Requirements for FBI Agents
Prospective FBI agents are required to meet the following non-academic qualifications:
- U.S. citizen
- Ages 23-36 years old
- Pass the Physical Fitness Test that includes:
- Maximum number of sit-ups within one minute
- Timed 300-meter sprint
- Maximum number of pushups (untimed)
- Timed 1.5-mile run
- Two years* of full-time professional work experience defined as one more of the following:
- An occupation requiring a college degree and specialized training
- Managerial, supervisory, and leadership responsibilities
- Professional athletics
- Veterans' internships, volunteer work, or reserve/guard duty may count
- Full-time volunteer activity (e.g., Peace Corp) and paid graduate work or fellowships may count
- Valid driver's license and six months of driving experience
- Pass the background check for Top Secret Clearance, which includes:
- Personnel Security Interview
- Polygraph exam
- Drug test
- Medical exam
- Credit and arrest checks
- Interviews with associates
- Verification of references and educational achievements
- Basic Field Training Course at the FBI Academy
Qualities That Make a Great FBI Agent
FBI agents face dangerous and stressful situations, and the following personality traits and characteristics help ensure the success and safety of the agent:
- Effective communication
- Interpersonal ability
- Strong leadership
- Organization and planning skills
- Problem solving with good judgment
- Personal integrity
- Accountability and responsibility for actions and decisions
Salary Opportunities for FBI Agents
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