U.S. Border Patrol Agent Requirements and Education

Border patrol agents have to fulfill a number of requirements to be hired. Learn how a college degree can help you.

border patrol agent speaking to driver

The top priority of U.S. border patrol agents is to keep terrorists and undocumented aliens from entering the United States, and to apprehend those who have illegally entered the country.

Border patrol agents have a challenging and potentially dangerous career. Find out what you can expect.

Border Patrol Agents: What You'll Do

The U.S. Border Patrol has become the first-line agency for detecting and preventing the illegal smuggling of drugs across U.S. borders. Border patrol agents also play a large role in detecting and preventing terrorists from entering the U.S. and harming its citizens.

U.S. Border Patrol Requirements

  • You must be a US citizen with a valid driver's license
  • You must pass a drug test
  • You cannot be a convicted criminal
  • You must pass the CBP Border Patrol entrance exam (see below)
  • Other medical and physical requirements

To qualify for the GL-5 level (border patrol agent trainee), you must have experience (either paid or voluntary) that demonstrates an ability to make decisions and maintain composure in potentially dangerous situations. You must also be able to learn both on the job and through formal instruction.

To qualify at the GL-7 level, you must have one year of law enforcement experience comparable in difficulty and responsibility level to GL-5.

If work experience isn't possible, keep reading to find out how a degree can help.

Border Patrol Entrance Exam

One of the main Border Patrol requirements is to pass the Customs and Border Protection entrance exam. The test is made up of three sections, and you can find a test-prep manual on the CBP website.

  • Section 1: Logical Reasoning
  • Section 2: Spanish Language Proficiency
  • Section 3: Artificial Language Exam: Tests your ability to learn new languages

Border Patrol Agent Education

If you don't have the required experience for GL-5, you can still become a border patrol agent with the right education. If you don't have law enforcement experience, consider enrolling in a criminal justice or law enforcement bachelor's degree program.

If you don't have one year of experience for GL-7, one full year of graduate education in law or a law enforcement related field (e.g., criminal justice), will qualify you for this level. You may want to consider a master's degree in criminal justice.

Border Patrol Agent Job Outlook and Salary

A starting salary as a border patrol agent is based on your initial grade (GL-5 or GL-7). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook classifies border patrol officers under police and detectives and lists the median annual average salary at $56,980.

Job growth for police and detectives is expected to be slower than average—5 percent through 2022, which is due to the fact that federal and state budgets are generally under scrutiny and cuts are often made. 

Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.