Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Career & Degree Guide
You’ll enforce the nation’s drug policy and curb the illegal sale and use of drugs.
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) special agents come from a variety of backgrounds and enforce controlled substances laws and regulations.
What You’ll Do as a DEA Agent
DEA agents bring to justice the organizations that are involved in controlled substance growing, manufacturing, and distribution. To accomplish this DEA agents work to dismantle drug trafficking rings, prosecute drug traffickers, and destroy the financial infrastructure of the organizations involved in the crime.
The DEA’s responsibilities include the following:
- Investigating violations of interstate and international drug laws
- Investigating and preparing for the prosecution of criminals and drug gangs
- Collecting, analyzing, and distributing drug intelligence information
- Seizing of assets derived from illegal drug trafficking
A bachelor’s degree is required for DEA applicants and special consideration is given to those applicants who have degrees in criminal justice, police science, or related fields. Your GPA needs to be 2.95 or higher to be considered.
Degrees in finance, accounting, economics, and foreign language also receive special consideration as needed by the agency. Unique skills and experiences, such as foreign language proficiency, may be a plus, but remember, you must also hold a bachelor’s degree or higher with coursework in a foreign language, literature, writing, communications, or humanities and cultural studies.
All academic degrees and coursework must be completed at a college or university that has obtained accreditation or pre-accreditation status from an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
The DEA also welcomes potential candidates who have earned a master’s degree in criminal justice or other areas, a Juris Doctor, or an LL.B (a professional degree in law).
For Grade 07 entry, in many instances you may substitute education for specialized experience if you have a completed a full academic year of graduate level school or law school. If you meet the requirements of the Superior Academic Achievement Provision, you may also be considered. Superior Academic Achievement includes:
- Your class standing
- A GPA of 2.95 or higher, based on your 4-year education or in your final 2-year curriculum
- Or, a GPA of 3.5 or higher based on your required courses in your major
If you plan to enter at a higher grade, such as Grade 09, only graduate-level education besides the Grade 07 level requirements will be considered.
After meeting the skills and education requirements, you’ll attend the DEA Agent facility, which is located in Quantico, VA, and is used by both the FBI and the DEA for instructing their agents. New agents attend courses for 16 weeks where they receive the following:
- Basic Agent Training
- Practical Applications
- Tactical Training
- Legal Training
- Intelligence Training
DEA Agent Salaries
Now that you know how to become a special agent, you’ll want to know how much you can make working for the DEA.
DEA Special Agents are generally hired at the GS-7 or GS-9 level, depending on their education and experience. DEA agent salaries include Criminal Investigator base pay plus a locality payment, depending on where you work. In addition, 25% Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) will be added to your base and locality pay. After four years of service, DEA Special Agents are eligible to progress to the GS-13 level and can earn approximately $92,592 or more per year.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies investigators under detectives and criminal investigators, and says as of 2022 the median annual wages for criminal investigators was $86,280, and for those employed in government agencies and offices, the average annual salary was $66,720.
Median Salary: $86,280
Projected job growth: 1.5%
10th Percentile: $47,990
25th Percentile: $61,240
75th Percentile: $110,530
90th Percentile: $150,570
Projected job growth: 1.5%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$142,420||$85,560||$175,340|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
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.