Are you interested in a fascinating and meaningful career that allows you to provide a direct service to our country? If so, you may want to explore how to become a Secret Service agent. The U.S. Secret Service is tasked with protecting top U.S. officials and the integrity of the country’s financial infrastructure.
You must meet strict eligibility requirements to apply to the Secret Service. In addition to these Secret Service requirements, you must also undergo rigorous training. Those who succeed are rewarded with a worthwhile and lucrative career.
What Do Secret Service Agents Do?
Since its inception in 1865,1 the prestigious U.S. Secret Service and its special agents have been charged with ensuring the safety and security of top U.S. officials and visiting foreign officials. Special agents are perhaps best known for remaining at the side of such dignitaries as the U.S. president and vice president; however, their duties encompass much more than protection. The agency also serves as an investigative arm, working on cases ranging from cybersecurity to financial crimes, like counterfeiting.
Special agents are tasked with protecting U.S. interests at home and abroad, and they may be assigned to duties anywhere in the world. Agents are expected to adhere to the highest standards of professional ethics and responsibility and they must be of sound moral character.
The process of how to become a Secret Service agent is long and rigorous. New special agents who have passed the intensive training programs are typically assigned to a field office in the U.S., where they gain on-the-job experience before receiving their first protective assignments. These assignments may last three to five years; at their completion, the special agents may be transferred to another field assignment or to the headquarters in Washington, D.C.
How to Become a Secret Service Agent: An Overview
The process of how to become a Secret Service agent is quite lengthy, and you must be wholly committed to your intended profession to complete it. Because Secret Service special agents are entrusted with significant responsibilities that affect the security of the entire nation, they are required to meet rigorous eligibility requirements. Some of these are basic, such as the requirement to possess a valid driver’s license. However, other requirements involve advanced skills, education or training.
The first step is to determine whether you can meet the basic requirements. You must also earn at least an undergraduate degree, such as a criminal justice degree. It is in your best interest to keep your grades as high as possible because the Secret Service may eliminate you from eligibility if you fail to demonstrate strong academic performance.
While you are an undergraduate, you should work out regularly so that you can meet the rigorous physical fitness requirements. After you graduate, you can begin the lengthy process of becoming a special agent. This process is divided into two phases, followed by intense special agent training.
Phase 1 involves submitting your application and proof of your qualifications to the Secret Service. Then, you may be invited to take two initial qualifying tests (one is an academic assessment, and the other is a physical fitness test). You will also need to attend an interview. If you pass this phase, you may be extended a conditional job offer.
Phase 2 is comprised of extensive background investigations, credit checks, and medical exams. If you pass Phase 2, you will be invited to begin your training as a special agent trainee. You will complete two initial training programs, followed by continuous advanced training throughout your career.
A Look at the Basic Secret Service Requirements
You must meet many eligibility requirements before you can apply to become a special agent. For instance, you must be a U.S. citizen with a current, valid driver’s license. You must also be between 21 and 37 years of age, unless you are an armed services veteran — in which case, you must be younger than 40.
Other Secret Service requirements are as follows:
- Pass vision and hearing exams
- Not have visible body markings, with limited exceptions, or be able to medically remove them at your own expense
- Be willing and able to accept geographically diverse assignments (anywhere in the U.S. or overseas)
- Be able to obtain Top Secret clearance and pass a thorough background investigation
- Have registered with the Selective Service or possess an exemption
- Be in outstanding physical health and pass a physical fitness test
- Be able to carry and use a firearm
In addition, you must be able to meet and adhere to the Secret Service’s drug policy, which prohibits the use of illegal drugs and the misuse of prescription drugs.
The U.S. Secret Service requirements include various academic considerations. Because the Secret Service is a government job, different levels of employment, such as the GL-07 and GL-09 levels, dictate each agent’s pay rate. To qualify for the lowest level, you must demonstrate at least one of the following:
- Possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and demonstrate superior academic achievement (3.0 GPA or higher, membership in a national honor society, or a graduation rank in the top third of your class)
- Have at least one full year of graduate-level education
- Possess at least one full year of specialized experience in law enforcement techniques, investigative methods, or protective methods
In other words, if you hold a bachelor’s degree, but you are unable to demonstrate “superior academic achievement” (SAA), you can still meet the Secret Service requirements by completing graduate-level coursework or gaining relevant work experience. The more education and experience you possess, the greater your chances of ascending to a higher level and its accompanying pay rate.
Earning Your Criminal Justice Degree
If you are excited about beginning the process of how to become a Secret Service agent, the first step is to earn your criminal justice degree. The Secret Service does not maintain strict requirements regarding the type of degree it prefers future agents to earn. However, a criminal justice degree makes the most sense for this career path.
Typical criminal justice degree programs allow students to gain knowledge in the following areas:
- The fundamentals of criminal law
- Criminal procedures
- Relevant public policies
- The justice process
- Threat assessments
- Professional ethics in the justice field
- Communication and leadership skills
You may wish to further bolster your academic credentials by declaring a minor. Aspiring Secret Service agents can benefit greatly from learning a foreign language, such as Spanish. Other good fields in which to pursue a minor include psychology, public administration, forensic psychology and communication studies.
The First Phase of Your Secret Service Application
If you have determined that you meet the basic eligibility requirements and have completed your bachelor’s degree, the next step is to search for job openings. Governmental job openings are always posted on USAJobs.gov. Once you find an opening for a special agent, you can submit your resume and proof of your qualifications in accordance with the agency’s instructions.
The next step is to take the Special Agent Entrance Exam (SAEE). You must pass this exam before being allowed to continue the hiring process. This recruitment exam uses a multiple choice format and includes five timed sections that you will complete in approximately three hours.
Here is a look at the sections of the SAEE:
- Logic-based reasoning: You will read multiple passages and answer related questions. This section tests your ability to understand and process information and draw logical conclusions based on that information. Remember to read each passage extremely carefully.
- Experience inventory, Part I: You will read a set of statements that describe various situations and then write the best possible responses or outcomes to those situations. You may not have encountered these situations before. Remember to work quickly because you have only 20 minutes to complete this section.
- Language usage: You will read two documents, each riddled with grammatical and language usage mistakes. Your task is to correct these mistakes. This section tests your ability to communicate in a professional manner.
- Experience inventory, Part II: This is similar to Part I, except that the statements describe situations that you have most likely encountered before. Your task is to choose the response that most closely explains your involvement in the various situations.
- Detail observation: You will have 2.5 minutes to examine a photo and its caption. Then, the photo will be removed and you will answer questions about your observations. In total, you will complete three photo scenarios.
This last section can be challenging, but some tips can help you. As you study each photo, focus on the people, objects, and background. Memorize details about the people’s appearances and the behaviors in which they are engaged as well as the appearance and locations of all objects. Lastly, memorize the setting of the photo.
If you successfully pass the SAEE, your next step in the recruitment process is to pass the Applicant Physical Abilities Test (APAT). This physical fitness exam tests your ability to perform push-ups, sit-ups, a short-distance agility run and a 1.5-mile run. You should begin preparing for this test as early as possible — for example, by participating in sports and remaining physically active while you are still an undergraduate.
After passing the APAT, you may be invited to an interview. Then, the hiring panel will review all of your application information and your qualifications. The hiring panel may decide to extend a conditional job offer to you.
Receiving a conditional job offer means that you have been invited to undertake Phase 2 of the hiring process. This is not a guarantee of employment as a special agent. The question of whether or not you will ultimately become a special agent is dependent on your ability to pass Phase 2 and successfully complete your training.
The Second Phase of Your Secret Service Application
Phase 2 consists of the following:
- Security interview and credit checks
- Polygraph exam
- Medical exam and physiological exam
- Background investigation
As you might imagine, the U.S. Secret Service takes its security interviews and background exams very seriously. You will be expected to complete lengthy questionnaires about your background, criminal history (if applicable) and residences. The background investigators will explore your credit history, financial status, school transcripts, neighborhood references and work history to ensure that you are of sound moral character and that you will not pose any potential liabilities as a special agent.
Many people are nervous during a polygraph exam. Just remember to always be honest. Dishonesty will automatically disqualify you, while being honest about any shortcomings you have might not. Phase 2 of your application process can take six to nine months to complete, as the agency is extremely thorough.
Training to Become a Secret Service Special Agent
If you successfully pass the preliminary phases of the hiring process, the next step in the process of how to become a Secret Service agent is to complete two training programs. The first is located at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. There, you will receive intensive, rigorous training alongside fellow special agent trainees.
Your first training program will consist of several months of physical fitness and firearms work. You’ll also receive classroom instruction and simulation training.
After you complete your training program at Glynco, you will be transferred to the Secret Service’s training academy located just outside Washington, D.C. This second program is an 18-week course that will instruct you in the procedures and policies specific to the Secret Service. The program emphasizes the dual nature of the agency: investigation and protection.
Some of the specific topics covered at the training center include the following:
- Investigation of criminal financial activity
- Control tactics
- Emergency medicine
- Physical protection techniques
- Protective intelligence investigations
- Water survival skills
- Physical fitness
If you successfully complete your training programs, you may be offered a job with the Secret Service. Throughout your career, you will receive refresher courses and advanced training. Special agents also have the opportunity to attend training sessions offered by other law enforcement agencies.
You can begin working toward pursuing a rewarding career in the Secret Service by earning your criminal justice degree online or on campus at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies is an interdisciplinary program that explores the fundamentals of criminal law, threat assessments, criminal behavior and community-based strategic planning. Our curriculum emphasizes ethical decision-making, servant leadership and strong communication skills.
To learn more about criminal justice degree programs and other degrees available at GCU, click on Request Info at the top of your screen.
1United States Secret Service,150+ years of history in June 2022.
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.