How to Become an FBI Agent
A Look at the Qualifications and Requirements
The FBI is the federal government’s chief investigative unit and one of the world’s elite law enforcement agencies. Special agents with the FBI investigate federal crimes and also play a role in maintaining security within the United States.
Federal crimes are defined as actions that violate federal law, as opposed to crimes that are violations of state or local laws. Some examples of federal crimes include mail fraud, kidnapping, bank robberies, and more. Criminal activities that cross state lines often are under the jurisdiction of the FBI as well.
Candidates must have solid educational backgrounds and be able to pass extensive background checks and physical fitness tests to become a special agent with the FBI.
Special agents in the FBI are divided into five career paths:
- Intelligence: The FBI gathers information and data from all forms of criminal activity, from gang activity to drug trafficking to fraud, and everything in between. This information is sourced, categorized, and analyzed, helping the FBI to build a database that can be useful in future investigations.
- Counterintelligence: Agents involved in counterintelligence generally are investigating foreign operatives of other nations who might be gathering data on the U.S.
- Counterterrorism: The FBI investigates individuals and groups that may be involved with planning terrorist activities on U.S. soil. Suspected terrorists who are the targets of investigations may be foreign or domestic.
- Criminal: The investigation of major crimes is the largest and most significant function of the FBI. The scope of criminal activities investigated is broad.
- Cyber: The primary function of this division of the FBI is to protect sensitive government data from criminal threat, foreign or domestic. Agents in this area also conduct forensic investigations of computers and other related equipment that might serve as evidence for other crimes.
Education and Experience
Serving as an FBI Agent is a demanding job with strict entry requirements; FBI Agents must:
- possess a four-year degree from an accredited college or university
- have completed three years of professional work experience
- qualify under one of five special agent entry programs: accounting, computer science/information technology, language, law, or diversified. Exceptional academic credentials and foreign language abilities are helpful in gaining acceptance to the special agent entry programs.
Newly appointed special agents are assigned to one of the FBI's 56 field offices. Therefore, FBI agents must be available for assignment anywhere in the FBI’s jurisdiction. FBI Agents must:
- be a U.S. citizen (or a citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands)
- be 23 to 37 years old upon appointment
- possess a valid driver's license
After qualifying for one of the five entry programs, applicants are prioritized in the hiring process based upon certain critical skills for which the FBI is recruiting. These skills may include:
- information technology expertise
- engineering expertise
- foreign language proficiency
- intelligence experience
- law experience
- law enforcement/investigative experience
- military experience
- physical sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) expertise
- diversified experience
FBI Training Academy
All FBI Agent trainees begin their career at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, for approximately 21 weeks of intensive training. During their time at the FBI Academy, trainees live on-campus and participate in a broad range of training activities. Classroom hours are spent studying a wide variety of academic and investigative subjects. The FBI Academy curriculum also includes intensive training in
- physical fitness
- defensive tactics
- practical application exercises
- the use of firearms
The FBI performs extensive background checks on all prospective agents, and the process can take several months, according to a recorded interview with Supervisory Special Agent Mark Gant about hiring practices. The background check covers two areas:
- Suitability: This portion of the background check determines if candidates might not be a good fit for the FBI. This looks at elements of candidates' backgrounds, such as criminal behavior, substance abuse issues, financial status, past employment, and more.
- Security: This part of the check verifies candidates' dates and places of birth and gathers information about past employment and organizations they belong to or have belonged to. Associates and family members might be interviewed as part of this portion of the check.
As part of the background check, all candidates must submit to a polygraph test that asks questions about past drug use and any activities candidates may have engaged in on behalf of foreign governments.
The FBI fitness test consists of five different activities, and candidates receive of score ranging from -2 to 10 in each activity. To pass the test, candidates must score at least 1 point in each category and a cumulative total of 12 points. The parts of the test are as follows:
- Sit-ups: Candidates have one minute to do as many sit-ups as they can. Women need to do 35 to earn 1 point or 41 to earn 3 points. Doing 57 or more constitutes a perfect score of 10. For men, the corresponding standards are 38, 43, and 58.
- 300-meter sprint: To score a point, women must finish the run in 64.9 seconds or faster. A time of 59.9 seconds earns 3 points, and 49.9 seconds or faster earns a perfect score of 10. Men's corresponding times are 52.4, 49.4, and 40.9 seconds, respectively.
- Continuous push-ups: Unlike the sit-ups, this is not timed. However, candidates must maintain continuous motion. For women, the target totals to reach 1, 3, or 10 points, respectively, are 14, 22, and 45. For men, they are 30, 40, and 71.
- Timed 1.5-mile run: Women must complete the run in 13:59 (a 9:20 per mile pace) or faster to earn a point. A time of 12:59 (8:40 pace) earns 3 points, and a 10:34 (7:03 pace) is a perfect score of 10. For men, the corresponding times are 12:24 (8:16 pace), 11:34 (7:43 pace), and 8:59 (6:00 pace).
- Pull-ups: This test is taken only by candidates in the tactical recruiting program. Women receive 1 point for 1 pull-up, 3 points for 3, and 10 for 10 or more. Men's receive 1 point for 2, 3 for 6, and 10 for 20 or more.
For those who want to gauge how they are doing in their training, they can download an app that works on both Apple and Android devices.
FBI Agent Salary
FBI Special Agents enter as General Schedule (GS) 10 employees on the law enforcement government pay scale and can advance to the GS 13 grade level in nonsupervisory assignments. As of 2018, GS 10 begins at $48,297 annually, and GS 13 tops out at $98,317 annually. Agents also receive locality pay and availability pay—approximately a 25 percent increase in salary due to overtime requirements. With locality and availability pay adjustments, new FBI agents should expect to start out at a little more than $60,000 annually.
Supervisory, management, and executive positions are paid according to GS 14 and GS 15 levels, ranging from $89,370 to $136,659 annually.