Which Major Area of Study Gives an Applicant the Best Chance of Working at the CIA or FBI?

The Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation both have rigorous application processes with multiple qualifying criteria including critical thinking tests, physical and psychological health examinations, and a demonstration of professional expertise. These agencies hire people with a wide range of experiences, but an applicant must have obtained at least a BA or BS degree from an accredited university to be considered for employment. The analytical needs of both agencies are ever-evolving as the sociopolitical climate both globally and domestically continues to change. As such, it is difficult to say which specific degree gives an applicant an edge in the hiring process. However, what both agencies look for in applicants more than anything else is specific expertise.

Choose a Consistently Relevant Field of Study

While it’s not a bad idea to occasionally browse the job listings at www.fbijobs.gov and www.cia.gov/careers to get an idea of the current needs of both agencies, there is no guarantee that these postings will be representative of either agency’s needs by the time a potential applicant finishes college. Therefore, it is wise for a student to choose a degree field that is consistently relevant to the work of these agencies. For example, there will always be a need for linguists and translators fluent in languages like Arabic, Chinese, Russian and German. Bi-lingual fluency in any language greatly increases an applicant’s prospects. Degrees related to math or computer science are also promising, because the skills developed in these degree programs help prepare one for the kind of critical thinking required by the work for which these agencies are responsible.

Positions are also sometimes available in fields many people do not immediately associate with the CIA or FBI such as accounting, finance, cartography, medicine, architecture, law, and even app development. To see a full list of these fields visit CIA Careers and FBI Careers. A potential applicant will want to select a field in which he believes he will be able to exhibit his best work, because positions are very competitive. The CIA alone receives over 10,000 resumes every month and hires only superior applicants. There are many degrees that could potentially lead to a career with the CIA or FBI, but the specific degree is not as important as the experience and expertise an applicant can offer.

Consider Internship Opportunities

For those interested in obtaining an edge over other applicants, internship and co-op opportunities are available with the CIA and FBI. These temporary positions can sometimes be more competitive than full-time employment; however, an applicant who already has internship experience is far more likely to be considered for future employment. For full details about internship opportunities with the CIA or FBI visit the respective agency career pages.

Military Experience

Applicants particularly interested in work as a Special Agent in the FBI should consider gaining military experience during and after college in officer training programs such as the ROTC. Not only will this help an applicant pass the Special Agent physical fitness examination, but military experience will count as a “critical skill” during the hiring process. Applicants who already have a critical skill in a different area such as engineering or computer science may want to consider military experience as well, because applicants with multiple critical skills are prioritized in the hiring process.