How To Become a DEA Agent

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: October 1, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Criminal Justice
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If you have ever thought of working in law enforcement at a high level, you might want to know how to become a DEA agent. DEA stands for Drug Enforcement Administration. As a DEA agent, you will work to enforce the laws when it comes to drug-related crimes.

These agents are government employees and help to serve the public. If you’ve dreamed of going into law enforcement, this might be the right career for you. Let’s look at the job duties of a DEA agent and how you can become one.

How To Become a DEA Agent

Job Duties of a DEA Agent

The main duty of any DEA agent includes investigating any major drug crimes. This might include doing investigations in the United States and in other countries. It’s common for DEA agents to work with all levels of law enforcement. This may include local, state, federal, and foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

As a DEA agent, you will be in charge of many different things. Of course, like any other law enforcement group, there are different levels within the DEA. You may have more job duties or less, depending on your actual position.

DEA agents have the ability to confiscate illegal substances. They carry firearms and other weapons. It’s common for DEA agents to spend time going undercover, as well.

Some of the common job duties of a DEA agent include:

These job duties and many others may be a part of your job as a DEA agent.

How To Become a DEA Agent in 8 Steps

Step #1 – Complete High School

You will need a high school education to follow the path to becoming a DEA agent. You will need to get your diploma or GED before you can move on to the next step. It can also be helpful to have a high GPA and good SAT or ACT scores.

A good prep course can help ensure you score high on the SAT or ACT. This will help you to get into a good college or university.

Step #2 – Meet the Basic Requirements

You will need to be at least 21 years of age and younger than 37 to become a DEA agent. It’s required to be a U.S. citizen and you will need to have a valid driver’s license. DEA agents will also have to have near-normal vision and hearing to qualify.

Step #3 – Get Your Degree

If you want to become a DEA agent, you will need to have a Bachelor’s Degree. This degree should be in one of the following majors:

Another field related to law enforcement you will likely need to complete coursework in criminology, forensics, sociology, criminal investigations.

While a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to become a DEA agent, it’s required. You will need a four-year degree to qualify for this type of law enforcement position.

Step #4 – Gain Law Enforcement Experience

Before you can become a DEA agent, you will likely need to become a police officer or a government agent. Military experience can also help you gain this type of position. With the right level of law enforcement experience, you may not have to get a Bachelor’s Degree.

Step #5 – Apply at the DEA Recruitment Office

After getting the right level of experience and meeting the basic requirements, you will need to apply. Your applications will need to be submitted to your local DEA recruitment office.

The application process will include providing specific documents. You will need to prove your identity and citizenship. It’s also necessary to speak with a Special Agent Recruitment Coordinator to get any questions you have answered.

Step #6 – Pass All Necessary Exams

If you want to become a DEA agent, you will need to pass all the necessary exams. These include oral and written tests to evaluate your reasoning, written communication skills, and problem-solving abilities.

Along with the exams, you will also need to take a psychiatric evaluation. This evaluation will assess your ability to remain stable during stressful situations.

A physical exam will also be necessary. You will need to complete an exam with sit-ups, running, and push-ups. A drug test and a medical exam will also be necessary.

Step #7 – Pass all Background Checks

You won’t be able to become a DEA agent without going through extensive background checks. The DEA will look very closely at your work history, education, financial history, and any criminal history you might have. Drug infractions or pathological issues will likely disqualify you.

If you have any serious criminal charges, you will likely be disqualified. With a clean background check, you will be able to move on and become a DEA agent.

Step #8 – Training

If you make it through the entire interview and application process, you will enter into basic training. This course is 18 weeks long. It’s held at the DEA Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia. You will go through many different types of training including:

Basic training will include some classroom instruction and plenty of field instruction. You will study negotiation, interrogation techniques, conducting investigations, and criminal research. If you graduate from this training course, you are qualified to become a DEA agent.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a DEA Agent

How much can I make as a DEA agent?

The yearly salary for a DEA agent is much higher than that of a police officer. Most DEA agents will make $100K or more per year, however, the average DEA agent salary is around $71K per year.

Some employers pay more than others. The top-paying employer is the Department of Homeland Security paying an average of close to $135K. The United States Department of Justice is next on the list paying an average of $130K per year.

The average salary goes down at the state level but is still much higher than a regular police officer. The California Department of Justice, for example, pays an average salary of $84K for DEA agents.

Your actual salary will also depend on your location. Atlanta is the highest-paying city for DEA agents. Washington D.C., New York City, San Diego, and Los Angeles all pay higher than average salaries, too.

What type of benefits do I get as a DEA agent?

Your actual benefits may vary, but the most common benefits of a DEA agent include:

It’s common for DEA agents to gain access to professional development assistance, as well.

What type of work environment can I expect as a DEA agent?

If you become a DEA agent, you will be based in the DEA headquarters in Virginia. However, travel is a very common part of the job. You will be given assignments by a supervising officer. It’s common for DEA agents to work with partners and coordinate with other law enforcement agencies.

DEA agents will likely travel overseas. You may also need to go undercover as a part of the job.

How long will it take me to become a DEA agent?

Most candidates will need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree and gain law enforcement experience. These two requirements can be done at the same time, in some circumstances.

Once you have some law enforcement experience and a degree, the hiring process may take up to a full year to complete. You will also need to complete the 18-week training course. For most DEA agents, the entire process will take around 5 to 8 years.

What are the education requirements to become a DEA agent?

The education requirements can be a bit confusing if you want to become a DEA agent. If you earn a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of a 2.95 GPA, you have met the requirements.

Another way to meet the education requirements is to have three years of specialized experience in engineering, accounting and auditing, piloting aircraft, speaking a foreign language, telecommunications, captaining a sea vessel, and also having a bachelor’s degree with no minimum GPA.

If you earn an LL.B., master’s degree, or a Juris Doctor, you will meet the education requirements. There is no GPA requirement with this type of degree.

Those without a degree can meet the minimum education requirements with extensive law enforcement experience. If you have experience in undercover work, evidence collection, drug-related operations, or surveillance operations, you may not need a degree at all.

There are many things to be aware of if you want to become a DEA agent. This is a very specialized career in law enforcement. If you want to know more about how to become a DEA agent, it’s best to speak with someone at a recruiting office.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.