How To Become an FBI Agent

FBI agent in the field holding binoculars

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is tasked with keeping the country safe and upholding the United States Constitution. This is no small feat, given that communities across the nation are vulnerable to a variety of threats every day.

Although the FBI hires many different kinds of professionals, the most well-known position at the Bureau is that of a special agent. Special agents work in a variety of areas, including cybercrime, public corruption, civil rights and counterintelligence. If a career along these lines interests you, consider earning your criminal justice degree and applying to the FBI.

In This Article:

What Does an FBI Agent Do?

There really isn’t a “typical” day in the life of an FBI special agent. Their day-to-day routines and tasks depend on the particular case they’re working on, as well as which field office they’re assigned to. Aspiring FBI special agent applicants should be aware that this isn’t a nine-to-five job; the hours can be irregular and frequent travel is often a must.

FBI agents typically spend a great deal of time out in the field. They work on cultivating sources and acquiring information from sources. They conduct surveillance operations and apprehend suspected criminals. FBI agents must also spend time in their assigned field office, where they handle paperwork and coordinate operations with colleagues and professionals from other agencies. Some days are spent in courtrooms testifying.

Furthermore, there are many opportunities for specialization within the FBI — even for special agents. Some special agents perform work in labs, while others specialize in fingerprinting. Still other FBI special agents specialize in training or public affairs. In short, every day is a little different in the life of an FBI special agent.

FBI Special Agent Requirements: Are You Eligible?

Before considering the details of how to become an FBI agent, it’s necessary to first determine whether you can meet the basic eligibility requirements. There are quite a few FBI special agent requirements, including academic and work requirements.

Candidates for any position in the FBI must be United States citizens who are in compliance with the Bureau’s drug policy and can obtain a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartment Information (TS/SCI) clearance.

In addition, those who apply for the special agent position must meet the following eligibility criteria at the time of their application:1

  • Be between 23 and 36 years of age
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree
  • Have two years of full-time work experience, or one year plus a master’s degree
  • Meet the special agent physical fitness requirements2
  • Have a valid driver’s license and at least six months of driving experience

Regarding the bachelor’s degree, it isn’t strictly necessary to earn an FBI criminal justice degree. In fact, you’d likely be hard-pressed to find a specific FBI criminal justice degree; a broader degree in criminal justice is far more common. Any type of degree in criminal justice is a good choice, although the FBI will consider applicants with different academic backgrounds who are otherwise qualified.

In addition to these basic eligibility requirements, aspiring special agents are required to travel to one of the FBI’s 56 field offices several times during the application process. Applicants are responsible for their own travel arrangements and accommodations, which the Bureau does not provide.

Automatic Disqualifiers From Becoming an FBI Agent

In addition to the eligibility requirements, there are automatic disqualifiers that prevent people from even applying to the FBI. For example, you are automatically disqualified if you are not a United States citizen or if you have ever been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor.

You are also automatically disqualified if you have ever:3

  • Committed knowing or willful acts or activities intended to overthrow the United States government by force
  • Defaulted on a United States government-backed student loan
  • Violated the FBI’s drug policy
  • Failed a urinalysis drug test administered by the FBI
  • Failed to pay court-ordered child support
  • Failed to file local, state or federal income tax returns
  • For males only: failed to register with the Selective Service (unless exempted)

How To Become an FBI Agent: Essential Steps To Take

Of the many steps to becoming an FBI agent, most pertain to the eligibility requirements and the application process. Aspiring special agents must follow all the required steps to ensure success in their career endeavors.

Earning a Degree: What Degree Do You Need To Be an FBI Agent?

What degree do you need to be an FBI agent? is a common question asked by aspiring applicants. Although the special agent position doesn’t require any particular subject area for the bachelor’s degree, a criminal justice degree is certainly a practical choice.

This route offers a thorough grounding in the principles of criminal law and community protection. You might also consider declaring a minor that would provide additional relevant skills, such as a second language or forensic psychology.

In addition to earning your bachelor’s degree, you may wish to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice or justice studies. This could help make you a more competitive candidate and would reduce the work experience time requirement by half (from two years to one year).

After College

You’ll need to accumulate full-time work experience before you can apply to the FBI. Two years are required if you hold a bachelor’s degree and one year if you have a master’s. Although there are no specific requirements for work experience, it’s best to look for jobs in a relevant field. Aspiring special agents might seek a civilian job in law enforcement, such as that of a crime analyst, police dispatcher, bailiff, private security guard or victim advocate.

The Special Agent Application Process

You can begin the application process after ensuring that you meet the minimum eligibility requirements, are free of automatic disqualifiers and can pass the Physical Fitness Test (PFT). You’ll need to attach your college transcripts and any military documents along with your resume. The resume must follow the Federal Resume Template.4

After Submitting the Special Agent Application

Once you submit your application, multiple steps must be completed before placement. First, your information will undergo a preliminary screening. If you pass, you’ll be invited to take a computerized test within 21 days of the invitation. In a proctored setting, you’ll take a three-hour test that examines the following areas:5

  • Logic-based reasoning
  • Figural reasoning
  • Personality assessment
  • Preferences and interests
  • Situational judgment

You’ll receive your results within an hour of taking the test. If you receive a passing score, you’ll be invited to complete the “Required Information” section of the application. This section includes a self-evaluation of the PFT.

Once you submit this information, you may be invited to attend a meet and greet session with evaluators, who will validate the information you provided and determine your physical, mental and ethical fitness.

If you are deemed suitable to be an FBI special agent candidate, you’ll be invited to move forward with Phase II of the application process. The first step in Phase II is a written assessment test and a structured interview with three special agents. If you pass this portion of the application process, you’ll be invited to take the PFT.

You must take the PFT within 14 days of being notified of your eligibility. If you fail the PFT the first time around, you will have two more chances to pass. If you pass the PFT, you’ll be extended a Conditional Appointment Offer (CAO). A CAO is an offer of employment as a special agent contingent on your successfully passing a thorough, rigorous background investigation and the Basic Field Training Course (BFTC), which includes 800 hours of intensive training and lasts about 19 weeks.

If you successfully complete the BFTC, you will graduate and be sworn in as a new FBI special agent by the FBI director or the director’s representative. You’ll then be assigned to your field office to begin your career. Periodically, you will return to the FBI academy to complete refresher courses and specialized training to enhance your skills.

How Much Do FBI Agents Make?

Because FBI special agents are employed by the government, they are subject to governmental pay scales based on locality.6 A new FBI agent earns a salary at the GL-10 special base rate for law enforcement officers' pay grade. Those without prior work experience in the government will be at the GL-10, step 1 pay level.

While working through the Basic Field Training Course (BFTC), agent trainees earn at this pay level and also receive locality pay and availability pay. The same applies to special agents who have graduated from the BFTC and have been assigned to their first field office. Locality pay is adjusted according to the agent’s geographical location.7

If you’re passionate about protecting your country and joining the FBI, Grand Canyon University (GCU) is pleased to offer a variety of degrees that can help you reach your goal, including the Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies and the Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Legal Studies or Law Enforcement. Fill out the form on this page to begin your academic journey at GCU.


1Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2021, April). FBI Jobs: Eligibility. FBI Jobs. Retrieved March 22, 2023.

2Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2021, April). FBI Jobs: Physical requirements. FBI Jobs. Retrieved March 22, 2023.

3Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2021, April). FBI Jobs: Employment eligibility. FBI Jobs. Retrieved March 22, 2023.

4Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2021, April). Working at the FBI: How to apply. FBI Jobs. Retrieved March 22, 2023.

5Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2021, April). Special Agent Selection Process-All You Need to Know to Apply. FBI Jobs. Retrieved March 22, 2023.

6The United States Office of Personnel Management. (2021, April). Policy, Data, Oversight-Pay and Leave. FBI Jobs. Retrieved March 22, 2023.

7Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2021, April). FBI Jobs: FAQS. FBI Jobs. Retrieved March 22, 2023.


Approved by the faculty of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on April 18, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.