The Path to CIA Agent Careers

They look glamorous in the movies, but CIA agents are dedicated professionals who often put themselves in harm's way.

cia agent on duty with wire

The job of a CIA agent is often glamorized on TV and in the movies. While it can have its cushy parts, the career can also be challenging and potentially dangerous.

If you're a bright, energetic and dedicated person, you may be a good fit for the CIA.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Career Fields

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recommends that you start by researching one of their many career paths:

  • Investigations
  • Technical and engineering
  • Security
  • Clandestine services
  • Language opportunities
  • Analytical opportunities
  • Support services

Determining what interests you most will help guide you toward the appropriate college degree program.

CIA Agent Degree

The CIA requires a bachelor's degree for most entry-level positions and an advanced degree for non-clerical careers such as overseas officer or intelligence analyst.

Once you've reviewed the different career paths and have chosen one that interests you, start researching four-year degrees that are most relevant to what you hope to do. A few to consider:
  • Criminal justice
  • Homeland security
  • Engineering
  • Math
  • Sciences
  • Accounting

About the Career

The hiring and screening process for CIA agents is very competitive, lengthy and thorough. You'll also be required to take a polygraph test to become a CIA agent. If you're fluent in a foreign language, particularly Arabic, Farsi or Urdu, this could help you get hired more quickly. It can also put more money in your pocket.

The CIA pays out a one-time lump sum bonus—the maximum amount is $35,000—to individuals fluent in another language.

You must be a U.S. Citizen and be no older than 35 years of age (the age limit may be waived in certain cases). If you are married, your spouse must also be a U.S. Citizen.

CIA Salary and Job Growth

CIA agent salaries vary, but you can anticipate making between $50,000 and $95,000 a year, depending on the specific job, your work experience and level of education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook classifies federal and special agents under police and detectives, and reports the median annual wage for protective services officers as $56,980.

Employment for protective services officers is expected to grow 8 percent through 2022, which is slower than average.

As you work toward a career in the CIA, remember that earning a degree can help improve your salary range and create more opportunities for advancement.