DEA Careers – DEA Special Agent Career, Salary and Training Info

With their diverse backgrounds, DEA Special Agents are the most highly regarded federal drug law enforcement agents in the world. The professional respect accorded DEA Special Agents is a direct result of the experience, commitment, and training associated with this career.

A large percentage of new trainees begin with prior law enforcement experience while about thirty percent are from a military background.

DEA Special Agent Requirements

Applicants must be at least 21 years of age and no more than 36 years of age at the time of appointment. Competitive candidates for these coveted positions have a bachelor’s or master’s degree with a GPA of 2.95 or higher. Preference may be given to candidates with degrees in certain disciplines such as finance, law, language, and as of recently, criminal justice.

The hiring process is multi-step and all candidates must complete each phase successfully to remain in the most competitive group and receive a final offer of employment. There is an initial qualifications review followed by a written, oral, and panel interview. Applicants must pass a medical examination which includes a test for drug presence.

A Physical Task test determines if you can withstand the physical rigors of training. If you fail the PT test you will have a second opportunity to pass it within 30 days.

Candidates will take a polygraph examination, undergo a psychological assessment, and a thorough background investigation will be conducted. This extensive application process may take up to a year to complete before a candidate is hired as a DEA Special Agent.

Education and Training

Basic training is a 16 week resident program with emphasis on leadership, ethics and human relations. The typical class size is 40 to 50 Basic Agent trainees.

The basics of report writing, law, automated info systems, and drug recognition are provided in the academic instruction. This academic focus is in addition to a rigorous 84-hour regiment in physical fitness and defensive tactics which prepares new Agents for compliant and non-compliant arrest scenarios.

In addition, students have 122 hours of firearms training ranging from basic marksmanship to tactical shooting and deadly force decision training.

Through the training of a DEA Special Agent, there is an emphasis on the respect for human life, leadership and ethics, human dignity and sound judgment in the use of deadly force.

As the training progresses, students must apply the classroom knowledge to a series of increasingly demanding practical exercises to test leadership, decisiveness, and procedural knowledge.

DEA Special Agent Salary

Salary includes federal Law Enforcement Officer base pay at the GS-7 or GS-9 level plus a locality payment which is based on duty station assigned.

After graduation from the DEA Training Academy, 25% Availability Pay is added to the base and locality pay. Starting salaries range from $49,746 for a GS-7 to $55,483 for a GS-9. DEA Special Agents can progress to the level of GS-13 after four years and earn about $92,500 or more per year.

DEA Career Opportunities

Special Agents are subject to transfer throughout their career so mobility is a condition of employment, but also an opportunity for those who enjoy exploring new areas of the country. You will receive your final duty station assignment between the 8th and 12th week of training.

In addition to relocation, as a DEA Special Agent you may be required to travel frequently with little advance notice. Ongoing individual training will allow you to focus and progress in areas where your individual talents, skills, and interests can best be utilized.

Take a look at other great Criminal Justice Careers.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

50 comments… add one
  • Austin Alder

    My name is Austin Alder I am currently a student at Utah State University studying Sociology/Criminial Justice. We dont have an actual criminal justice program but do have all the required courses for the degree through the sociology department. I am also obtaining a Law and areas Certificate with a minor in business. I have been very interested in working somewhere in the federal government such as the DEA, ATF, ICE or possibly border patrol. I graduate next spring semester and am considering pursuing my masters degree, if I choose not to I was wondering what route I should do or the steps to take to become an agent in one of those fields. Any feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks

    • Radek M. Gadek


      I am always for more education. However, a Bachelor’s degree is mostly a requirement for nearly all Federal law enforcement agencies. So when you’re done at Utah State, consider your options. You can always apply for the position and since it takes a while to hear back (up to a year or longer) you can consider a Master’s degree. Heck, you can even get one in 12 months from one of the best criminal justice universities in the world – University of Cincinnati (no exaggeration there – check out If you plan to go on campus for your degree, it may take up to 3 years to complete it. If online, Boston University has an 18 month program, as does University of Cincinnati (along with its much more accelerated 1 year program). Pennsylvania State University as well as Michigan State University have wonderful programs online, too. Oh, and Northeastern University in Massachusetts is a great great choice in online education. All schools are regionally accredited, which is very important as you may know. Last, but not least, check out the State university system in Utah for options, or in case you want to move, check out any other State university in the U.S.. Some to consider: University of California and California State University, Washington State University, or Florida State University and University of Florida. Make sure to “Google” around for which specific university has the top program. I gauge a lot of these programs from the graduate rankings I obtained from U.S. News, The Princeton Review, forum posts, and personal experience. Hope this gives you some good ideas.

  • Francisco

    My name is Francisco and I would like to get some information on trying to become a DEA agent. I just recently served six years in the US Army and have been deployed twice in that span. In both those tours I have done some kind of related police work and was a Military Police officer for the military as well. I have a secret clearance with the government and will graduate with a BA in Security Management and get another degree in Criminal Justice by the end of this year. I wanted to see if you could help me in getting some help in becoming a DEA officer. Thank you so much. Hope to hear from you soon.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      I can’t get you more help than you can get yourself. The best thing to do is to research the career position, visit the DEA website for current opportunities, and then apply. You seem to have a great resume, so use it to your advantage.

  • cindy

    Hi im cindy. and i would like to know if theres a good chance for a female to become a dea agent?

  • Jesse

    I was just wondering where the DEA trains and what their dorms are like (shower,sink bathroom,.ECT)

    hope to hear from you, thanks.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      The DEA Training Academy is located at Quantico, Virginia. As for the showers, sinks, bathrooms, and etc. I am not quite sure how they are like. Hopefully someone who’s been there can chime in.

      • Karli

        My sister just completed her training at Quantico. She said that the accommodations were very adequate. She said the food was very good too. However, she said it was very rich. Everyone gained weight by the end of their training.

        • Radek Gadek

          Thanks Karli

  • steve

    hi my name is Steve, i am a senior at my high school. i am very interested in becoming a DEA agent and i would very much appreciate if anyone could give me some advice on what classes i should take in college. Any information on how to be on the road on becoming a DEA agent would be very helpful to me.

  • Kyle

    Hi my name is Kyle. I am interested in becoming a DEA agent. I have four years experience in the Marine Corps and am currently attending college to attain my nursing degree. Would I need some kind of criminal justice degree to join the DEA or would nursing be practical?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      The DEA has their degree “preferences” posted on their website — I think in the FAQ section, but last time I checked, DEA likes grads with a Criminal Justice degree… however, they do look for a diverse team and other college programs are accepted. I would worry most about your academic marks, character traits, credit rating, and giving it your best shot.

      • Edwin kidd

        Dear Radek Gadek

        Why is it so hard to find openings with federal agencies? As I always check seems as if they are never hiring. Been sitting on my degree for 6 months and it seems as if the only things hiring are municipal police depts or sheriff offices.

        • Radek Gadek

          It seems like it’s been a long long while… a couple years, at least. The agencies will open hiring based on need. Retirement and attrition will play the biggest role. Keep in mind that people that applied 3 years ago may still be in the hiring pool, thus no public hiring announcements.

  • Cody Stroup

    Hi my name is Cody.

    I am currently attending Virginia Commonwealth University and I am in the Army ROTC program. I am majoring in criminal justice and minoring in homeland security and emergency preparedness. I was wondering what rank (or pay-grade) I would start at if I became a DEA special agent coming in as a 1LT or CPT in the Army.

    Thank You

    • Andres Oviedo

      One thing has nothing to do with the other in regards to salary. I am an Army officer myself and it didn’t have an impact on how much I get paid with DEA. Being an officer will just give you an extra set of skills that can put you ahead of other applicants but you should think about learning another language or learning a new set of skills on top of your officership since there are plenty of applicants just like you.

  • Paige Self

    I’m Paige Self, and my husband is currently in the Marine Corps. However he gets out in October of this year, and was wanting to know his options. He has always been interested in DEA, but hasn’t gone to any college. From what I understand some of his courses taken during his Corps career do count as college courses and credit. What would be his steps in order to join the DEA team?

    Thank you!

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Sorry for the delay.. I don’t remember too well, but I think the DEA wants college grads — I could be wrong. Check out for more info and look under the Careers section.

      • JAYTEE

        I am currently awaiting a final hiring decision with DEA and have passed all phases and my BI is almost completed. With hiring freezes, and other budget limitations, the hiring process is taking a considerable amount of time. I am in the pool to make a class by 2013 and I applied in early 2010. To my knowledge, to become a DEA agent, one must possess at least a bachelors degree. Mine was in business paired with military service as well as currently being a federal correctional officer. The “total package” is what the DEA is looking for, not just a specific degree. I can say, though, that being in excellent physical condition is a must. The official DEA website has lots of great info. From looking over this thread, I can see a lot of eligible candidates for application. Good luck to you all.

        • Radek M. Gadek

          JAYTEE, thanks for the insight and the good word. I know it will be of great help to others. Let us know how things turn out.

  • Mary Kate

    Hi my name is Mary Kate and I’m going to be a freshman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC. I was just curious as to how the job situation looks for prospective DEA’s. Is it a hard and competitive work field?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      little slow right now (see JAYTEE’s comment above)

  • Jordan

    Hey im about to get my degree in Criminal Justice soon. I thought about federal jobs but i dont want to be on the move like every 3 years or so. Are there any agencies that dont require you to move i am open to suggestions thanks?

  • Hardeep


    I am currently attending college and majoring in criminal justice and also would like to be a DEA agent. I am 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds. Do you think that makes a difference? I am 20 years old and do not really have any experience in the criminal justice field. Do you have any suggestions for me on what I should work on?

  • Joe

    My suggestion is get experience, a lot of DEA are ex-military / police that have a lot of experience in this field. No one wants to work with another person who does not know that job and is an expert at it. Get experience, that is the key!

  • matt

    Hello my name is Matt I am starting to look into the DEA a bit. I am a active duty Navy SEAL and have been in the Navy for 10 years and have done 4 overseas deployments. However I do not have a college degree, do you think that would prevent me from getting a job with the DEA or other Federal Agencies? Thank you

  • Dave Eze

    Hi, I got a quick question. I will be graduating with a GPA either at or above a 3.5, with a BS in criminal justice. My credit rating is messed up due to cosigning on to major purchases and being screwed over. Do I still have an honest shot at a job on the federal level?

  • cristina demartino

    my name is Cristina i am 19 and have my high school diploma. i live in RI so we don’t have many good schools for criminal justice. i am in love with this carer i want to be a DEA agent so bad. is there any way to go to a tech school and still get a carer with the DEA. RI has the new England tech school and you can get your bachelors. i have a 3 year old daughter so going off to collage out of state is out of the question for me and suggestions to what i can do or what school i should go to

  • Yari

    Hi,I have a question.I will become US Citizen end of 2012 and i’m getting hire at sheriff department.I speak Farsi witch is one the languages need for DEA department.I’m trying to get my 2 years college question is can i get hire at DEA with combining my law Enforcement experience with 2 years college degree(instead bachelor)?

  • mick

    Hi, I have a quick question about hiring requirements. I get my degree (BA) at the end of the fall semester. Should i apply now during the summer or dont even bother until I have my degree?

    Thank You

  • Amber

    I’m very interested in the Criminal Justice field and i was wanting to know that on my background I have served time for a Youthful Offender Act. Can i still pursue this field?

  • Trish

    Just wondering if my son should still apply for DEA career if he doesn’t have a 2.95, he will be graduating Dec. 2012 from Ohio State University with his Criminal Justice degree with a 2.79, and considering going to trooper school or the police academy because it takes a while to even get considered.. We think he should still apply for this even though he doesn’t have the 2.9 but has the his bachelors in criminology.. so just was wondering what you thought he should do.. Thanks

  • sam

    Hi, im currenly a freshman in college and im planning on majoring in criminal justice. I was wondering about any recommendations you could have on choosing a minor. I heard that being fluent in another language is regarded as an important skill for DEA agents. Basically i want to know what you think someone should minor in, in addition to a criminal justice major if they want to be a DEA agent. Also do you think being a female will make the process of becoming a DEA agent difficult


    I retired as an Investigator (Consumer Safety Officer) after 25 yrs with the Food And Drug Administration. I have many awards and commendations and a very good resume. I worked on cases with Customs, FBI, and DEA,and was liaison between FDA and Customs, and attended 2 mos at FLETC. Although I was asked to become a Criminal Investigator when FDA started their Criminal Investigation Division, I preferred not to do any more undercover and hard core criminal work . I miss working for the Feds and have for a long time wanted very much to be a Diversion Investigator. Prescription Drugs and Clinical Investigator inspections were my specialty and one of my favorite assignments. Do you hire only young people (I’m still very physically fit), and do you hire many DI’sand how often?

    • Dom

      I’m 100% that the hiring range is between 21-36 and that the mandatory retirement age is 57. (Starting at 50 i believe)

  • Pat

    Hello my name is pat, I am a freshman in college and the DEA is where I see myself in the next 6-8 years. I am working on becoming fluent in Spanish (currently in my fifth year of learning the language). I am also going to get my masters degree in crju and when I turn twenty one I will go to the police academy so I can get experience while attending school. And I am going to minor in management and marketing. Does that sound like a good place to start? Please get back to me at your earliest convenience. Thank you

  • Jacob S

    Hi my name is Jacob, I’m still in highschool and I plan on going to college and getting a degree in criminal justice, and psychology. I was wondering what kind of field experience i’d need to help me be a part of the DEA, CIA, FBI etc.

  • Kaycee

    My name is Kaycee Summers. I have been wanting to go into the Criminal Justice field for awhile now. It’s time for me to consider which colleges and what majors I want to study. However, I have been reading descriptions about all of the different jobs in the Criminal Justice field.. I’m deaf. Is it possible for me to become a DEA special agent? Or any agent at all?


  • Alex

    Hi, I’m Alex. What about those having foreign education only, speaking foreign languages like Russian, Dari/Farsi, have been traveled in many countries, but have a very limited U.S. background due to some reasons? Thanks, A

  • Jordan

    Hi, im Jordan. Im a junior in high school and i would like to be a special agent for the DEA, FBI, or ICE. i would also like to join the military. Should i join before or after college and what military branch will give me the best chance of becoming a special agent?

  • Veronica

    I’m 16 and I would like to become a DEA agent but I’m not really sure what they do.

  • olusegun Kudoro

    My name is Olusegun Kudoro and am trying to get into the DEA special agent. Kindly let me know what other direction i need to go and what else i need to add more to myself to make me a better applicant or employee when coming into DEA. I have a bachelors of Science degree in microbiology and have been working going to four years with Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutional Division. I am currently running a graduate certification program in forensic psychology in Texas State University. So kindly let me know what other directions i can walk to be a better employee to the DEA.

    • Jeff Rossi

      I have a friend who says her friend is a special agent for the DEA and says he makes $200,000 per year…is she blowing smoke or does that sound legit?

      any reply would be appreciated.
      Jeff Rossi

      • Dom

        Hi, I’m currently double majoring in Criminal Justice and Sociology and looking into becoming a agent of the DEA, ATF, HLS, and maybe even the Secret Service…etc. I’m sorry to tell you that she either Dirty and Takes/Splits the money they recover, orrrrrr she lying to you lol.

  • Omar

    Hey is finding a job as a DEA Agent hard? And what is the success rate of passing these tests?

  • Lorena Madrigal

    I’m wondering , if you are a DEA agent would you have to be moving country to country or just move to different states in the U.S ?

    if anyone knows can you please reply ? I would appreciate it (:

    • Dom

      Hi, I’m currently double majoring in Criminal Justice and Sociology and looking into becoming a agent of the DEA, ATF, HLS, and maybe even the Secret Service…etc. I do know that the DEA does work in around 59 other countries but I’m pretty sure that they will give you the option on moving to other countries, or just states. But there’s a strong chance that they will not let you deny state to state moving at times.

  • Brian

    Hello, my name is Brian and I am a High school senior. I have type one diabetes, so that means I’m a dependent on insulin. However, my glucose is under control very well and I was just wondering if the DEA will consider accepting me even if I have a medical condition. I am in shape, but I’m worried that my diabetes will be a disqualification for me.

  • Santino

    You won’t have to move at all if you decide not to promote within DEA. Your first assignment will be selected from a variety of vacancies throughout the domestic offices in the United States. Throughout your career with DEA, there are ample opportunities to relocate to overseas assignments; these vacancies are filled on a voluntary basis.

  • John

    Hi, my name is John and I am considering working in the law enforcement field, specifically DEA, FBI, or CIA. I would really love to be a special agent however, I am red/green color blind. Regardless of this I do have perfect vision and have nothing else “wrong” with me. I’ve been told that I can still be hired and that it could actually be considered a discriminatory act if turned a blind eye upon during the reviewing process, as it will not affect my ability to serve, but by other people I have been told differently. I would really love if I can have this whole situation cleared up and my question could finally be answered. Can I still be hired as a special agent with a red/green color blind deficiency?

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