As the lead agency in the government’s War on Drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) entrusts its critical responsibilities to only the most qualified law enforcement agents, intelligence analysts, and support professionals. The DEA has a workforce almost 9,600 strong comprised of special agents, forensic scientists, administrators and anylists, and an annual budget of more than $2.5 billion.
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The qualifications for joining the DEA are among the most restrictive among all federal law enforcement agencies. Most applicants possess a bachelor’s degree or higher. A bachelor’s degree with a 2.95 GPA is the base minimum educational requirement that must be met when considering a career as a DEA special agent. Only bachelor’s degree holders with extensive relevant experience and specialized skills may be allowed a waiver on the 2.95 GPA requirement – and only candidates with extensive law enforcement experience are allowed an exemption to the bachelor’s degree requirement.
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Almost 20 percent of each class at the DEA Training Academy is made up of individuals with a master’s degree, J.D., LL.B. or PhD. Many of these recruits have served in front-line units in the military or with law enforcement organizations at the federal, state or local level.
Four Year Colleges and Universities for DEA Special Agents
Although there is some possibility that candidates who have outstanding records in elite military units, federal agencies, or police organizations may be competitive for a position in the DEA, the vast majority of DEA special agent candidates possess at least a bachelor’s degree and a GPA of 2.95 or higher over the entire four year period or at least the two final years. A 2.95 GPA is required of all candidates with bachelor’s degrees, except for those with specialized skills and experience as described below.
Even within this exclusive group, preference is given to students who majored or completed substantial coursework in the following concentrations:
- Law (LL.B.)
- Criminal justice
- Finance, economics or accounting
- Information technology
- Telecommunications, electrical or mechanical engineering
- Foreign language
The 2.95 GPA requirement is waived for bachelor’s degree holders with extensive, verifiable experience and specialized skills as:
- Evidence technicians
- Records managers
- Telecommunications specialists
- Maritime captains or first mates
- Foreign languages speakers
- Balkan languages
- Nigerian languages
Graduate-Level Education for Special Agents and Others in the DEA
A substantial number of special agent recruits enter the agency with some level of post-undergraduate education. Candidates with a master’s degree or higher are not required to meet the 2.95 GPA requirement. Like candidates with only a four year degree, an outstanding level of achievement is expected from those with a master’s degree. Advanced degrees are important criteria for determining a candidates entering pay grade and speed of promotion.
For entering intelligence research specialists, a master’s degree is often essential to receiving hiring consideration. While some recent college graduates may enter the agency, these individuals typically possess exceptional transcripts and national recognition for scholastic achievement. Candidates with only four year degrees must usually possess at least a year of professional experience in intelligence related duties.
The vast majority of attorneys and many special agents who work at the DEA possess at least a Juris Doctor, or in some rare cases an LL.B. Due to the critical importance attached to the cases that the DEA initiates against suspected criminals and terrorists, the agency takes great care to hire only the most qualified legal professionals who have outstanding academic credentials and substantial experience producing successful outcomes in a variety of legal proceedings at all levels of the judicial system. While international law experience is not necessarily a pre-requisite, it is often a distinguishing feature that provides a competitive advantage due to the many international operations conducted by the agency.
The vast majority of DEA attorneys have extensive experience with litigation in the federal judiciary.
Doctor of Philosophy
A Doctor of Philosophy denotes academic study that involves research that advances the field of knowledge. While most DEA professionals do not require this level of knowledge to perform their responsibilities, there are some jobs that benefit from PhD studies.
- Forensic Chemist— The production of new compounds is a highly technical process which involves considerable knowledge of chemistry. As criminal organizations direct scientists to create these new drugs, equally or superior intellects must often analyze and reverse engineer these substances. Extensive knowledge of chemistry and chemical engineering is likely to facilitate this investigative processs.
- Information Systems Analyst— The use of computers to organize or support narcotics or diversion operations is widely prevalent throughout the criminal underworld. Because of the sheer scale of these financial operations as well as their importance to various terrorist groups, great sophistication has been introduced into these networks to hide them on the internet or shield them from monitoring. The nature of computer security is one of almost constant change and innovation, which is most easily analyzed, breached or anticipated by scholars who have exhaustively studied the field.