As federally commissioned law enforcement professionals, DEA agents carry badges and guns, make arrests and gather evidence for criminal cases. DEA special agents have a very targeted law enforcement agenda that requires unique methods and tactics to disrupt the drug trade on domestic and international fronts. Since 2001, the Drug Enforcement Administration has also adopted an aggressive strategy that inserts DEA agents into hostile organizations that use funds from narcotics sales to finance terrorist operations.
DEA special agents are among the federal government’s most highly qualified and comprehensively trained law enforcement professionals. The most eligible candidates have professional skills in linguistics, information technology, law enforcement or criminal investigations. Special agent candidates who have served honorably in the military or other law enforcement agencies also often receive special consideration.
Summary of DEA Special Agent Experience and Education Requirements
All special agent candidates must meet one of the following criteria to be considered for DEA Academy training:
- A bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 2.95
- A bachelor’s degree (no minimum GPA requirement) and at least 3 years of specialized experience in any one of the following: engineering, telecommunications, accounting and auditing, piloting aircraft, captaining a sea vessel, or speaking a foreign language (Russian, French, Spanish, Balkan Languages, Nigerian Languages, Urdu, Farsi, Chinese, Mandarin, Hebrew, Arabic, or Japanese)
- An LL.B., master’s degree or Juris Doctor (no minimum GPA requirement)
- Extensive law enforcement experience in undercover work, surveillance operations, drug/narcotics related operations, or evidence collection
Once hired, recruits must complete an 18-week training program at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, VA. After graduation, entering agents are assigned to one of four divisions:
- Operations Division
- Operations Support Division
- Inspection Division
- Intelligence Division
Minimum Requirements and Preferred Degrees for DEA Special Agents
In order to become a special agent with the DEA, candidates should meet the following minimum requirements:
- Bachelor’s degree or higher (may be waived for candidates with extensive and closely related law enforcement experience)
- At least 21 years of age and younger than 37
- Possess a valid driver’s license
- U.S. citizenship
- Near normal hearing and vision
The preferred fields of study for a candidate serious about learning how to become a DEA agent:
- Law (J.D. or LL.B.)
- Criminal justice
- Computer science
- Political science
- Foreign language
DEA Special Agent Application, Hiring and Training Process
With basic degree requirements met, the initial step in the application process is to contact a DEA Special Agent Coordinator from one of the many DEA Field Recruitment Offices located throughout the country.
DEA special agent jobs are often very physically, cognitively and psychologically demanding, so agents need to be prepared for anything. A day in the field may require agents to pursue fleeing fugitives, fire heavy weaponry, negotiate a crisis situation or even carry an injured associate out of a high risk zone. Initial testing is designed to select candidates with the physical ability, mental acuity and psychological fortitude necessary for this kind of work.
Once the application and supporting documents are submitted to a recruitment officer, applicants are scheduled for a series of written and oral tests. The written exam evaluates a candidate’s reasoning, problem solving and written communication skills. Phychological evaluations assess candidates’ ability to keep a steady head in tense situations. Oral interviews involve a panel or a single interviewer that assesses similar competencies.
Candidates that successfully pass these tests are scheduled for a urinalysis drug test and medical evaluation.
A physical task test is then conducted comprised of the following components:
- 2 mile run
- Shuttle run
- Push ups
- Sit ups
- Pull ups
Background and Character Examination
DEA agents are expected to have the highest moral character. Candidates with serious criminal infractions, histories of drug use, or habitual financial insolvency are typically disqualified from becoming DEA agents.
In order to ascertain the reputation and moral character of a candidate, the DEA administers a comprehensive background investigation. A polygraph examination is used to verify that all information submitted by the applicant is accurate and that no disqualifying factors were missed.
A psychological evaluation is then conducted to ensure that no disqualifying traits or pathologies are present.
Following all of these evaluations the hiring panel will weigh the candidate’s application in its entirety before rendering a final decision. Only applicants who have been deemed “Most Competitive” will receive offers to become DEA special agents.
New recruits must complete the 18-week Basic Agent Training program at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia before going on to become commissioned agents. This program is extremely rigorous and includes a military style physical training regimen that trains recruits in:
- Basic marksmanship
- Tactical shooting
- Non-lethal weapons
- Deadly force decision making
- Distance running
- Wrestling and marshal arts
- Defensive tactics
The academic program introduces recruits to a variety of specialized law enforcement topics, including:
- Surveillance and criminal investigations
- Interrogation techniques
- Crisis negotiation
- Report writing
- Database research and management