The FBI has an unparalleled reputation in global law enforcement. From the Watergate investigation to the investigation of the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, the Bureau has a storied history of cracking cases that involve both technical sleuthing and a willingness to follow leads wherever they go… even in the face of immense political or public pressure.
That reputation rests on the backs of the Bureau’s corps of Special Agents… men and women with the intelligence, preparation, and willingness to take on criminals at any level and in any venue necessary to protect the property and citizens of the United States.
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Above all else, Special Agents must be steadfast in upholding the values and ideals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI Special Agents are trustworthy and honorable, committed to upholding democracy, dedicated to protecting the nation’s citizens, economy, and infrastructure, and are guided by a strict moral compass.
Every Special Agent is expected to embody the Bureau’s motto: Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity.
Never have those essential qualities been more important, or more under fire, than they are today.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about meeting the eligibility, testing and training requirements to become a Special Agent with the FBI. Click on the links to learn more:
- Basic FBI Special Agent Eligibility Requirements
- Application, Physical Fitness Testing, Background Check and Polygraph
- Waivers and Preferential Hiring For Military Veterans and Bureau Employees
- Training Requirements for Special Agents at Quantico Virginia
- Additional Requirements for Specialized Roles for Agents
A Changing Focus Has Elevated Special Agent Requirements
The Bureau’s mission has changed over the years. Although the FBI has long held a role in counterintelligence, the September 11thattacks abruptly brought intelligence and counterterrorism to the forefront in 2001. Law enforcement now goes hand-in-hand with matters of national defense. The Bureau is charged with defending the country against terrorist attack, foreign intelligence operations (including cybersecurity), and combating corruption alongside its traditional roles in dealing with major interstate crimes and civil rights protection.
The demands for fulfilling all these varied tasks calls for very special individuals on the front lines capable of adhering to the Bureau’s code, and possessing the technical and psychological skills to take on crime and terrorism in a diverse, high-tech world. This means special agents have to be capable of coordinating with local and international law enforcement and business contacts as well as confidential informants and sources.
Basic FBI Special Agent Eligibility Requirements
The work that FBI Special Agents perform is exacting and demanding and it requires a high caliber of individual to successfully fill the role. Because of the sensitive nature of this work, the FBI has very strict entry requirements in place. To qualify for a position as an FBI Special Agent:
- Candidates must be at least 23 years old, but younger than 37 at the time of appointment.
- Candidates must be citizens of the United States.
- Candidates must hold a four-year degree from a college or university accredited in the United States.
- Candidates must possess a valid U.S. driver’s license.
- Candidates must have completed at least two years of professional work experience, or one year for those that hold a master’s or higher degree.
- Candidates must comply with the FBI Drug Policy and meet the physical fitness standards described below.
- Candidates must be able to be cleared for Top Secret SCI (Secure Compartmentalized Information).
The Bureau also has a few requirements for things agents must nothave done prior to applying. Hitting any one of these automatically disqualifies someone from serving as a special agent (although they may still be eligible to join the Bureau in other roles).
- Non-U.S. citizenship
- Conviction of a felony (conviction of a domestic violence misdemeanor or more serious offense may also apply)
- Violation of the FBI Employment Drug Policy
- Default on a student loan insured by the U.S. Government
- Failure of an FBI-administered urinalysis drug test
- Failure to register with the Selective Service System (some exceptions apply)
- Knowingly or willfully engaged in acts or activities designed to overthrow the U.S. government by force
- Failure to pay court ordered child support
- Failure to file federal, state, or local income tax returns
The FBI Employment Drug Policy
The FBI’s employment drug policy has evolved from a zero-tolerance stance to one more reflective of the evolution of recreational drug use and societal attitudes in the United States. Although the Bureau is committed to both a drug-free society and workplace, and does not condone any prior drug use by applicants, it also recognizes that decisions made by teenagers may not ultimately be reflective of their capabilities and perspectives as an adult.
So pre-employment drug use now has a number of caveats and exceptions… although any misrepresentation about anypast use will also automatically disqualify applicants.
- Marijuana Usage
Candidates must not have used marijuana within three years preceding their application to the Bureau. This is true regardless of the state of residence, form of consumption, or medical prescription.
- Other Illegal Drugs
Candidates must not have used any other illegal drug within ten years preceding their application to the Bureau. Additionally, they must never have sold, manufactured, transported, or distributed any such drug without legal authorization.
- Prescription Drugs
Anabolic steroids must not have been used within ten years preceding a candidate’s application. Additionally, candidate’s must not have sold, manufactured, transported, or distributed even legal prescription drugs without legal authorization.
Education and Work Requirements
At one time, the Bureau leaned heavily toward a preference for hiring candidates with either a law enforcement or accounting background… a legacy of the Hoover years and a historical focus on financial crimes.
Today, the horizons of the Bureau’s investigative portfolio have widened remarkably, and with them the types of expertise it seeks in prospective Special Agents.
A bachelor’s degree is required, but accounting or law are no longer the only options. In fact, more unusual degrees are often more in demand at the Bureau, including those in:
- Computer Science
- Physical Sciences
The Bureau is also open-minded about the professional work experience requirement. Any occupation that requires a college degree or specialized training, or has a managerial or leadership role, is eligible to fulfill that requirement. That includes volunteer work or even non-traditional careers such as major league sports.
Any degree or position that can boost aptitude in the core competencies of a Special Agent is a possibility. This competencies are:
- Interpersonal Ability
- Problem Solving/Judgment
Application, Physical Fitness Testing, Background Check and Polygraph
All FBI Special Agent applicants must complete an online application. Once eligibility and qualifications have been established, the Bureau offers a select few the opportunity to continue through the next phases of the hiring process, known as the Special Agent Selection System (SASS).
It’s an arduous process that can last for a year or more, and begins with two rigorous test processes:
- Phase 1 Testing – A 3-hour proctored, computer-based exam designed to assess everything from a candidate’s personality and personal interests to their ability to apply logic-based reasoning and situational judgment.
- Phase 2 Testing – Upon passing Phase 1 testing, candidates move on to Phase 2 testing, which includes a writing test and an in-person interview conducted by a panel of FBI Special Agents.
Physical Fitness Test
Candidates who pass Phase 2 testing will then undergo the FBI Physical Fitness Test.Passing the basic fitness assessment requires earning a cumulative 12 points in 5 different events, with a minimum of at least 1 point in each:
- Situps – The maximum number that can be performed in 1 minute.
- Timed Sprint – A 300-meter sprint.
- Pushups – An untimed maximum value.
- Run – A 1.5 miles run.
- Pullups – An untimed maximum value.
Scores are awarded on separate scales for male and female candidates.
Special Agents on the path to one of the Bureau’s operational tactical units through the Tactical Recruitment Program (TRP) must score a minimum of 20 cumulative points.
Vision and hearing requirements are also considered part of the PFT, as well as a general medical review.
- Vision – Distant visual acuity must be measured at 20/20 in one eye and no worse than 20/40 in the other; corrective surgery or lenses used to achieve those standards are accepted with some caveats.
- Hearing – Hearing loss on average may not exceed 25 decibels in certain tone ranges.
The initial PFT must be attempted within 14 days of passing the Phase 2 Test. Candidates can take the PFT as many as three times over a one-year period in an attempt to pass, but failure to pass within that timeframe would disqualify a candidate from being eligible for the Special Agent position.
Conditional Appointment Offer
Candidates who pass Phase 2 testing and the PFT would then receive a Conditional Appointment Offer (CAO). Candidates have 5 days to accept or reject the offer of employment. It is conditional on the successful completion of the remaining steps in the SASS.
FBI Background Check and Polygraph
All FBI Special Agent candidates who receive a Conditional Appointment Offer must then pass a comprehensive background investigation. As part of the investigation, candidates are subject to credit checks, arrest record searches, polygraph examinations, and interviews with past employers, neighbors, and personal and business references.
On average, this phase takes approximately 6 months. Candidates who have lived, worked, or traveled extensively abroad can expect the background check to take substantially longer, up to 18 months in some cases.
Waivers and Preferential Hiring For Military Veterans and Bureau Employees
Because of the general alignment of character and qualities between service members and the ranks of Special Agents, applicants with active military service in their background have a number of advantages and exceptions to claim during the FBI hiring process.
Current civilian employees of the Bureau also have some advantages in the hiring process beyond simply their familiarity with the service.
Preferential Test Scoring
Applicants who served and were discharged honorably from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard may be eligible to have up to ten points added to their passing exam score in Phase One, making them a stronger candidate in a competitive hiring process.
Veterans who served during a war or certain certified operations, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, can apply to have five points added to their score. Disabled veterans can apply ten points, as can survivors of veterans who were either killed in the line of duty or disabled beyond the point of being eligible to become Special Agents themselves.
The preference is not available to retirees from the rank of O-4 or above, unless they were also disabled in the line of duty.
Age Limit Exception
Both veterans and Bureau employees can apply for a waiver to the 37 years of age limit for most applicants. Current FBI employees can apply prior to their 39thbirthday if they can be appointed and assigned prior to the month of their 40thbirthday.
Training Requirements for Special Agents at Quantico Virginia
Getting that coveted job offer isn’t easy, but it’s easier than what comes next: 21 weeks of rigorous training at the world-famous FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Agents have to pass courses in academics, case exercises, firearms training, and operational skills before they finally get that eagle-topped gold shield.
Once they graduate, agents can expect to:
- Work minimum 50 hour work weeks.
- Be permanently or temporarily assigned to locations throughout the U.S. and around the world.
- Maintain high physical fitness standards.
- Maintain high degree of proficiency in firearms use and operational techniques.
- Be exposed to numerous dangerous situations and individuals.
Failure to maintain any of those standards, or the strict ethical and moral requirements of the job, will result in a very short career as an FBI agent.
Additional Requirements for Specialized Roles for Agents
Special Agents are a basic building block of the Bureau’s portfolio of expertise. The shared background experience of the Academy at Quantico gives each Special Agent a common set of skills and approach to analysis and law enforcement that allows them to work together with other agents, even those they may never have met before, at short notice and in high-stress situations.
Special Agents fill a variety of specialized roles within the Bureau, however, each of which demands additional qualifications and training.
The Bureau maintains a variety of specialized federal tactical units that mirror and expand on those of domestic police departments. After two years of general investigative service, Special Agents can join units such as:
- Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) – An elite full-time counter-terrorism unit.
- Special Agent Bomb Technician (SABT) Program – The Bureau’s Bomb Squad, with agents distributed among the various field offices who have special training in ordnance disarming and disposal and the analysis and collection of evidence in explosives cases.
- Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team – Special mission teams working out of each field office with specialized tactical equipment and training for high-risk duties including warrant service, dignitary protection, or counter-terrorist response.
- Evidence Response Team – Special Agents supervise evidence collection teams with advanced forensic training and tools.
- Operational Medic Program – Special Agents who have advanced medical skills as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or even doctors.
The HRT, SABT, and SWAT teams all participate in the Tactical Recruitment Program (TRP), which serves as a pipeline to service for applicants with extensive tactical experience and has higher fitness score and training requirements.
The Intelligence Branch came about as a direct result of the intelligence failures leading up to the September 11thterrorist attacks on the United States. Working alongside intelligence analysts, surveillance specialists, and foreign language specialists, Special Agents participate in and oversee counterintelligence investigations. Their role includes coordinating and sharing information with other government agencies, at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as internationally.
Although there are no formal requirements for intelligence branch service, foreign language skills are prized for Special Agents working here.
Computer Analysis Response Team and the Cyber Division
Special Agents work with information technology experts and specialists to offer digital forensic and investigative services that have become an elemental part of almost any other type of investigation in today’s networked world. With around 500 specially trained Special Agents working both at FBI Headquarters and in field offices around the country (as well as six mobile lab units), the Computer Analysis Response Team (CART) works on investigations ranging from financial crimes to counter-intelligence.
Special Agents assigned to the cyber division are expected to have not only a high degree of familiarity with technology, but also the communication skills to translate their expertise into terms that other agents and civilians can understand.