Out of all law enforcement agencies, the FBI has long captured the imagination of the American public. From Clarice Starling to Spencer Reid, fictionalized FBI agents have captivated viewers and inspired curiosity about this federal agency. However, outside of the world of fiction, the FBI serves a critical function in the protection of American citizens and the capturing of criminals, both domestic and foreign. From the agency’s origins as the National Bureau of Criminal Identification in 1896, to its existence as the FBI today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has always been a bastion of excellence in investigation and law enforcement. If a career in federal law enforcement interests you, the first step is to learn what an FBI agent does and how to become an FBI agent.
What Does an FBI Agent Do?
The FBI consists of 35,000 special agents and staff who work in the United States and abroad to protect American citizens from terrorism, espionage, cyber-attacks, and other criminal threats. An FBI agent gathers intelligence and enforces the laws of the United States. There is no such thing as a “typical” day for an FBI agent, making it difficult to describe their daily tasks. Agents working in a field office, for example, may appear in court one day and spend time at a crime scene the next. Some agents specialize in specific areas of the FBI, such as white-collar crime or public affairs. Others may work as trainers at the FBI’s training academy at Quantico. All agents, however, are required to work a minimum of 50 hours per week and be on call 24/7, including holidays and weekends.
Compensation for FBI special agencies can depend on a number of factors. For example, their level of experience, location of their field office, and whether or not they have an area of expertise can all impact an agent’s pay. Typically, the starting salary of an FBI agent ranges from $50,000 to $65,000 per year. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), federal government agents and investigators can expect an average salary of almost $112,000 annually.
Steps to Become an FBI Agent
The FBI is an elite organization of investigators. As such, the agency has fairly stringent requirements for its candidates. In other words, if you’ve ever wondered how to become an FBI agent, you’ll need to fulfill these requirements first.
In order to become an FBI special agent, you have to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. While the FBI does not specify the kind of bachelor’s degree their candidates should earn, a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice would best prepare students to pursue a career as an FBI agent. A degree in Criminal Justice provides students with an understanding of criminology, law enforcement, and criminal investigations — all applicable to a career with the FBI. Additionally, this degree path prepares students for a career in federal law enforcement by requiring them to gain language competency in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, French, or Spanish — all languages useful for prospective federal agents.
Aspiring FBI agents must receive medical clearance from the chief medical officer of the FBI, who assesses candidates’ health and stamina. Special agent applicants must pass a vision and hearing test, as well. Additionally, prospective FBI agents must meet the FBI’s standards for physical fitness. The FBI’s Physical Fitness Test, or PFT, consists of four main events. Each of these events must be completed with no more than five minutes of rest taken between events. These events include:
- Situps: The candidate must complete their maximum number of continuous situps in one minute
- Sprint: The candidate must complete a timed, 300-meter sprint.
- Push-ups: The candidate must complete their own maximum number of continuous push ups.
- Run: The candidate must complete a timed, 1.5-mile run.
Work ExperienceAdditional FBI Agent Requirements
The FBI requires that applicants also meet the following criteria:
- Possess a driver’s license
- Be available to report to one of the FBI’s 56 field offices
- Be between 23 and 36 years old
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be in compliance with the FBI Drug Policy
- Be able to obtain a Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information Clearance
- Pass tests in logic, reasoning, and judgment
- Pass a written research report and panel interview
- Pass a background check
FBI Agent Training
If a candidate meets all of the requirements discussed earlier, they will be invited to complete the Basic Field Training Course (BFTC) at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This is the final phase of the FBI application process. This 20 week, intensive training prepares applicants for a career as an FBI agent. BFTC students are trained in intelligence reporting, research, behavioral science, interviewing, investigative techniques, interrogation, and forensic science. They also learn how to conduct investigations in counterterrorism, counterintelligence, cybercrime, and more. Additionally, students are given 110 hours of weapons training and 90 hours of tactical operations training. If a candidate completes and passes all 20 weeks of training, they will be assigned to a field office, either in the United States or abroad.
For those whose ambition is to work in law enforcement, the FBI is the pinnacle of achievement. Now that you know how to become an FBI agent, you can begin taking the steps necessary to set yourself up for success. The first step is with a focused degree in Criminal Justice. You may choose to earn your bachelor’s in Criminal Justice online, or on-campus near you.
Is a career in Criminal Justice for you? Learn about the University of Bridgeport’s Criminal Justice and Human Security degree here!