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Become a DEA Agent: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Learn about the job description and duties, and see the step-by-step process to start a career as a DEA special agent. View article »

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  • 0:03 DEA Agents
  • 1:00 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:57 Obtain Relevant Work…
  • 2:33 Apply for a DEA Agent Position
  • 3:10 Complete DEA Basic…

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Video Transcript

DEA Agents

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (or DEA) enforces the country's laws and regulations regarding controlled substances. The DEA seeks to arrest and prosecute any individual or organization that traffics in illegal drugs in the United States. Special agents carry out this mission by conducting investigations, collecting and preparing evidence, working undercover, arresting offenders, and confiscating illegal drugs, among other activities.

Many law enforcement officers, including DEA agents, are at risk of physical injury as a result of their potentially dangerous encounters with people breaking the law. Although the work can be physically and mentally taxing, many who work in law enforcement find protecting their communities by upholding the law to be emotionally rewarding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for detectives and criminal investigators is $77,210 per year as of May 2015.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Bachelor's degree or higher
Degree Field Criminal justice, criminology, sociology or other
Licensure and/or Certification Take an oath of office as a federal law enforcement officer
Experience Applicants without a degree but who have extensive experience in drug-related investigations or substantial skills as a maritime pilot, accountant, auditor, military member or law enforcement officer, or in information systems, foreign language or other desired area may be considered
Key Skills Strong written and oral communication skills, proven judgment, interpersonal skills, self-management, integrity and honesty, teamwork, computer skills; must pass tactical, intelligence, and firearms training, among others
Median Salary (2015) $77,210 (for detectives and criminal investigators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step to becoming a DEA agent is to earn an undergraduate degree. Individuals interested in becoming a special agent will need to possess at least a bachelor's degree with a grade point average of 2.95 or higher. Degree majors in criminology, sociology, or a related field may help prepare individuals for work as an agent. Other ways to become a more competitive applicant is to major in a foreign language or other special skill area desired by the DEA.

Success Tip:

Prospective DEA agents should seek a DEA internship. The DEA offers student and intern programs to introduce college students to law enforcement careers. For example, the Student Educational Employment Program lets students observe firsthand the daily business of combating drug smuggling. Students must be at least age 16, attending full-time in an accredited degree program, and a U.S. citizen to be eligible for this program.

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Obtain Relevant Work Experience

The second step to becoming a DEA agent is to gain some relevant work experience. Applicants without a bachelor's degree but with relevant work experience may be eligible to become a special agent. For example, the DEA seeks individuals with substantive experience in law enforcement investigations related to narcotics, which includes providing information toward prosecution and testifying in court. It also desires applicants who have at least three years of experience in specific skill areas such as a maritime pilot, auditor, accountant, military investigations, foreign language, and other areas.

Apply for a DEA Agent Position

The third step to becoming a DEA agent is to apply for an agent position. To apply, prospective DEA agents should attend a special agent applicant orientation at a field division office. The hiring process may take 12 months or longer. The hiring process includes written and panel interviews, a drug test, a medical exam, a physical test, a polygraph examination, a psychological assessment, and a background investigation. Applicants must be at least age 21, a U.S. citizen with a valid state driver's license, able to meet security clearance requirements, and able to pass physical and medical condition requirements.

Complete DEA Basic Agent Training

The fourth step to becoming a DEA agent is to complete DEA Basic Training. Newly hired applicants must successfully complete an 18-week Basic Agent Training program to become a special agent. This training is held at a DEA training academy at Quantico, VA. Trainees reside and attend classes at the academy. They must pass rigorous training related to firearms, physical fitness, defensive tactics, practical applications, tactics, and intelligence. Upon completion, trainees are sworn in as special agents and are sent to their first assignment.

In summary, in order to become a DEA agent you should earn a bachelor's degree, participate in a DEA internship, obtain some relevant law enforcement experience, apply for a DEA special agent position, and complete the DEA Basic Agent Training program.

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