How Can I Have a Career in the CIA?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Read on to learn more about the education requirements and job options, along with salary information. Schools offering Criminal Justice & Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Do CIA Agents Do?

Being an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency involves more than spies, car chases and fancy guns. In fact, most work done by CIA agents has nothing to do with any of that. In most cases, CIA agents are scientists, detectives and analysts. They work in labs, spend hours breaking code and spend a lot of time analyzing data. Other agents may collect Internet metadata and go over the material to find patterns or leaks of information to the enemy. Some prepare reports for directors, department heads and even Congress and the President himself.

A career with the CIA calls for strong analytical skills and an interest in foreign affairs, policy-making and national security. There are a variety of career options available within the agency. The chart below outlines the education requirements, salary potential and job outlook for three of them.

Core Collector/Operations Officer Cyber Security Officer Cartographer
Degree Required Bachelor's Bachelor's Bachelor's
Education Field of Study International affairs/foreign service Information assurance/computer science Cartography/geospatial information systems
Job Growth (2014-2024) -1%* (all detectives/criminal investigators) 18%* (all information security analysts) 29%* (all cartographers)
Salary Range (2016) $56,805 - $86,460** $60,557 - $141,555** $51,603 - $69,460**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **cia.gov

What Careers Can I Find in the CIA?

The Central Intelligence Agency, or the CIA, is comprised of departments in intelligence, national clandestine service, science and technology and nation support (www.cia.gov). There also staff positions under the CIA director that address congressional affairs, information management, mission innovation, public affairs and other concerns.

Since the CIA is a multi-tiered agency, there are a variety of job categories and positions. These include legal, library and medical services, as well as information management and technology. Other categories include contracts and acquisitions, cyber and non-cyber security, education and training, geography and cartography.

Are There Opportunities for Students?

If you're an undergraduate or graduate student, you may qualify for one of the CIA's competitive paid internship programs, including the Undergraduate Scholar, Undergraduate Co-op, Undergraduate Internship and Graduate Studies programs. Each one of these programs may potentially lead to a career with the CIA.

You may also be interested in exploring one of the CIA's diversity-based partnership programs, such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), Inroads, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF).

What Should I Study?

Although there are not specific academic programs required by the CIA, the agency notes that an interest and background in foreign affairs is necessary for many positions. You can develop this background through bachelor's degree programs in fields like foreign affairs or international affairs. You can also find related majors in political science and criminal justice to prepare for a CIA position.

What Requirements Do I Need to Meet?

In order to qualify for a student internship, the CIA states you need to be a U.S. citizen with a 3.0 GPA or higher. While it is not required, applicants who have lived in a foreign country, speak another language or have prior military experience might be in a more competitive position. Student interns are expected to live in Washington, D.C., and provide their own housing.

In addition to an interest in foreign affairs, you also need to possess exceptional interpersonal and writing skills. The CIA also indicates that you need to complete a clearance process, which includes a background check as well as medical and polygraph tests.

How Do I Apply for a Position?

The CIA states that the application process could take as little as two months to over a year. This is due, in part, to the classified nature of the agency. Since each department has its own positions, you'll want to decide where you would like to work before applying to the relevant position. The application is available online.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Many positions that are related to CIA work have much to do with computer analysis or research and include research specialists, network architects, programmers and support specialists. All of these positions work closely with clients or companies to do everything from installing software to analyzing data and information. They all require at least a bachelor's degree. Officer work could translate to a position as a police officer or detective, which requires a bachelor's degree and police academy training, with additional education needed for detectives for their work in solving a variety of crimes.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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