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What Is Needed in College to Become a CIA Special Agent?

by Van Thompson, studioD

Central Intelligence Agency special agents perform a variety of investigative functions designed to protect national security. This career can be a lucrative one, with the CIA reporting that special agents make between $74,872 and $155,500 annually. There's no specific path that will guarantee acceptance as a CIA agent, and you'll have to pass an exhaustive background check and gain security clearance. The right career experience and education, however, can boost your chances of being accepted.

Educational Requirements

You'll have to have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree to be considered for a special agent position. A major related to law enforcement or criminal justice can help you gain the knowledge and skills you need, so consider degrees in criminal justice, law enforcement or security. Intelligence agencies frequently rely on technology to achieve their goals, so a degree in engineering, computer science, information technology or science, technology and weapons can help your application stand out.

College Options

Numerous colleges offer degrees that can help you gain the educational credentials you need to land a job with the CIA. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice offers a major in police science, while the University of Maryland and North Carolina Central University offer degrees in criminal justice. The University of Wisconsin offers students a degree in forensic investigation. If you're interested in working on the technical side of CIA investigations, you might choose a school that offers degrees in engineering and computer science. The Rochester Institute of Technology and Georgia Institute of Technology both offer degrees in computer science and computer engineering. RIT also offers a degree in computing security.

College Grades

The CIA requires a GPA of at least 3.0 to be considered for a job with the Agency. High grades not only make you a more competitive applicant, but can also help you develop strong relationships with your professors, who may be willing to write you recommendation letters and refer you to internships that can help you gain the experience you'll need to work with the CIA.

Criminal Investigative Experience

Your college education isn't enough to get you into the CIA. You'll also need at least three years of experience with criminal investigations. You can begin building experience by taking law enforcement internships in college, then working with the police or a criminal investigations lab after you graduate. The CIA website points out that candidates who have focused on complex investigations are more attractive candidates.

Training Programs

While not absolutely mandatory, the CIA gives priority to applicants who have completed the Criminal Investigator Training Program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. To gain admission to the program, you'll have to already be an employee of one of the CIA's partner agencies or get special permission from the CIA to attend the program on behalf of the agency with which you are employed. If you don't complete this program prior to applying for your job, you'll have to complete it after you're hired.

Desirable Skills

If you possess specialized skills the CIA needs, you may be a more attractive applicant. Foreign language competence, particularly in Arabic and related languages, can boost your chances. The CIA's employment website notes that experience with different cultures and the ability to interact with people who have a wide variety of values can also help. Consider taking foreign language classes, courses in international affairs or sociology and psychology.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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