Steps to Become a DEA Agent: Requirements & Skills

A career as a DEA agent provides the opportunity to prevent drug activity. If using your investigative mind to fight crime sounds like your ideal career, this might be a great choice for you! Read on to learn about the skills and other requirements necessary for this role. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a federal law enforcement agency tasked with preventing illegal drug activity in the United States. It is formed of a group of highly-trained personnel who must work in sometimes dangerous terrain. The table below provides key details about pursuing a career as a DEA agent, such as the education and skills required, potential salary and projected job growth.

Education Required Bachelor's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Engineering
Certification and Licensure Driver's license required
Other RequirementsAged 21-36, pass security clearance, pass physical and medical requirements, consent to using firearms
Trainingphysical training, firearms training, basic agent training
Key Skills Flexibility, detail-orientated, communication skills, perceptiveness, problem solving skills, teamwork skills, physical stamina, good memory, integrity, leadership skill, judgement and decision making skills
Median Salary (2019) $65,000*
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 3%** (Detectives and criminal investigators)

Source: *; ** U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a DEA Agent Do?

DEA agents are carefully selected to control the availability of illicit drugs in the country. A DEA special agent must investigate sources of illegal drugs within the United States and abroad and contribute toward criminal prosecution of those suspected of drug-related activity. The primary duties of a DEA agent include collecting evidence, interviewing suspects and witnesses, writing reports, seizing assets, observing suspects, raiding areas suspected of illicit drug activity, and more. A DEA special agent may also be involved in programs with law enforcement agencies from other countries and will work under the policy guidelines of U.S. ambassadors and the Secretary of State.

What Education is Required To Be A DEA Agent?

The DEA seeks talented individuals who are able to cope with the challenging nature of this role. A DEA agent is expected to have a bachelor's degree, in addition to experience in substantial investigative work, as a pilot, in accounting, the military, engineering, or IT (Information Technology). A prospective DEA agent will need to be between the ages of 21-36, have a U.S. driver's license, pass top secret security clearance, pass a physical examination showing excellent hearing and visual ability and consent to carrying and handling firearms. Applicants who are able to speak more than one language may have an edge in the job market. A DEA agent must undergo physical training, firearms training and basic agent training.

What Skills and Attributes Do You Need to Become a DEA Agent?

As a DEA agent you will be expected to pay close attention to detail and have excellent memory in order to collect evidence against a suspect. You will need to have good verbal and written communication skills to write detailed reports and to speak with people during interviews. You will need physical strength and stamina in order to perform raids and arrests. You will also require flexibility as this role may require that you relocate anywhere in the United States.

How Much Does a DEA Agent Earn Annually? states that DEA agents made a median salary of $65,000 a year in October 2019. In comparison, the BLS reports that in May 2018, detectives and criminal investigators earned a median annual salary of $81,920 and those working for the federal government earned a median salary of $87,130 a year. The lowest-paid 10% of police and detectives earned less than $36,550 and the highest paid 10% earned over $106,090 a year. Variations in pay may be affected by work experience, investigative experience, education, and military experience.

What is the Career Outlook and Some of the Related Career Options for a DEA Agent?

The BLS projects that jobs in the category of detectives and criminal investigators, which include DEA agents will increase by 3% between 2018 and 2028. This is a fairly stable career outlook, with the national average of growth for all occupations at 7%. Other options similar to a career as a DEA agent include, working as a police officer, other federal agencies e.g. FBI, private detectives and investigators, probation officers, correctional officers and forensic science technicians.

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