Should I Be a Secret Service Agent?
The U.S. Secret Service has two main missions: protection of the president, vice president, and other designated U.S. and foreign dignitaries; and criminal investigations relating to counterfeiting and other financial crimes. Special agents work long hours in undesirable locations, travel on short notice, and perform assignments keeping them away from home for up to 30 days or longer. This job is also physically demanding and requires applicants to be in top physical shape.
Agents work undercover assignments and, as law enforcement officers, face dangerous situations with a high level of personal risk. However, they also have the satisfaction of protecting the lives of important political figures and their families, as well as being a part of trying to foil criminal activity, such as counterfeiting, that can damage the country's infrastructure on a wide scale.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree; college coursework with specialized experience|
|Degree Field(s)||Any; criminal justice or related area is helpful|
|Training Opportunities||Internships; work-study program|
|Experience||In lieu of bachelor's degree, three years of law enforcement experience in criminal violations or a combination of college courses and law enforcement experience|
|Key Skills||Strong observational and criminal investigation skills; online research and database skills; firearms, surveillance, protection, and self-defense training; must be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 21 and 37; possess excellent health and physical condition; pass a written examination; complete all training programs; pass drug test, medical exam, and polygraph test; qualify for Top Secret clearance; complete a background investigation; be willing to travel; hold a valid driver's license|
|Salary||$79,867 (2016 median for federal special agents)|
Sources: U.S. Secret Service, PayScale.com
Secret service agents need a bachelor's degree, typically in criminal justice or a related area. In lieu of a bachelor's degree, aspiring secret service agents would need three years of law enforcement experience in criminal violations or a combination of college courses and law enforcement experience. These professionals require strong observational, criminal investigation, online research, and database skills, as well as firearms, surveillance, protection, and self-defense training.
Other requirements include being a U.S. citizen between the ages of 21 and 37, possessing excellent health and physical condition, passing a written examination, and completing all training programs. They also need to pass drug test, medical exam, and polygraph test. Additionally, secret service agents must complete a background investigation and qualify for top secret clearance. A willingness to travel is also required. According to 2016 earnings information gathered by Payscale.com, federal special agents earned a median salary of $79,867.
Steps to Be a Secret Service Agent
Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree
While any major is acceptable, those related to law enforcement, such as criminology, criminal justice, homeland security, or protection management, give applicants a better understanding of the job. These programs include courses in law enforcement, criminal justice administration, crime scene investigation, and intelligence.
Interested individuals might consider enrolling in one of the Secret Service student programs. The Secret Service Student Temporary Education Employment Program (STEP) offers federal employment opportunities for degree-seeking students. The agency's Student Career Experience Program offers a two-year work study program in certain fields of study. Positions in these programs are limited. Also, the agency offers unpaid internships through the Student Volunteer Service Program, at which students work a minimum of 12 hours per week.
Step 2: Apply for Employment
Along with educational, U.S. citizenship, and age requirements, applicants must pass a polygraph test, drug test, and personal interview. Individuals meeting all the requirements must complete an online application through USAJobs.gov. This website allows applicants to upload resumes and supporting documentation, and to check on the status of their applications.
In order to obtain a top secret clearance for employment, applicants must undergo a full background investigation. This takes up to nine months to complete and includes verification of employment history, police records, credit history, and military records.
Step 3: Complete Training
New agent trainees are sent to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) for a 10-week Criminal Investigator Training Program covering investigative techniques, firearms, first aid, laws of arrest, police procedures, and criminal law. After this, recruits must complete a 17-week Special Agent training course at the James J. Rowley Training Center near Washington, D.C. This training provides basic and advanced instruction in physical protection, emergency medicine, and combating counterfeiting and financial device fraud, along with extensive training in physical fitness, marksmanship, and water survival skills.
Step 4: Enter the Field
New Special Agents spend up to their first eight years assigned to field offices, after which they are transferred to a protective detail for another three to five years. Afterwards, an agent seeks another assignment at a training office, headquarters, or an international office, provided he or she has foreign language skills and training.
Step 5: Undergo Continuous Advanced Training
Agents must engage in periodic training, including emergency medicine refresher courses and firearms requalification. Those who undertake protective assignments must also participate in specialized crisis training situations. Agents also acquire advanced criminal investigations training, and all agents are encouraged to attend training sponsored by other law enforcement agencies. Finally, all employees of the Secret Service periodically participate in personal development courses and management, ethics, and diversity training.
Secret Service agents need either a bachelor's degree or a combination of law enforcement experience and education or at least three years of law enforcement experience. They also need to be able to pass physical screenings as well as thorough background investigations for top security clearance.