The Path to an ATF Agent Career

Read how ATF agents share similarities with police officers.

The job of an ATF agent is a challenging one with risk, physical and mental demands and substantial travel. It’s also a career that can be rewarding for those looking to fight crime at a federal level. Do you have what it takes?

What You’ll Do as an ATF Agent

Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or ATF work under the umbrella of the U.S. Treasury Department.  A job as an ATF Agent involves investigating violations of laws governing the possession and sale of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives.  An ATF Agent works closely with local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies.

The ATF Agent career is similar to that of a police officer because their duties include:

  • Obtaining warrants
  • Serving warrants
  • Conducting raids
  • Collecting evidence
  • Investigating crime scenes
  • Testifying in trials

ATF Qualifications and Education

Applicants must be U.S. Citizens, at least 21 years of age, physical and written testing, background and drug screening.

To be eligible for an entry-level ATF position, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in any field, but a criminal justice or law enforcement focus can often help your chances. A certain amount of work experience can substitute for a degree, but this can take longer for advancement.

You’ll also want to earn a four-year degree if you plan to further your education in the future. Having a master’s degree in areas such as sociology, criminal justice or political science can help you advance to higher grade (and pay) levels.


Once hired as a new ATF Agent there may be a significant amount of law enforcement training. First, you’ll spend nine weeks in Glynco, GA where new agents are instructed in surveillance, arrest techniques, firearms training and other skills. New agents then spend 13 weeks at FLETC where they are learn about explosives, bomb scene investigation and other similar areas.

ATF Special Agent Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook, which classifies ATF Agents under Police and Detectives, the median annual salary is $61,600.

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.

Employment of police and detectives is expected to grow 7 percent through 2026, and qualified applicants for ATF careers will always be in demand, especially as older agents retire.

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