10 Best Degrees for the CIA | What to study for a career in the Central Intelligence Agency (2023)

If you want a career that contributes to the national security of the United States, a job with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) might be for you. The world’s most well-known foreign intelligence agency, the CIA analyzes foreign intelligence and conducts covert operations. The President and Congress use the information to make decisions about policy.

What Does the CIA Do?

The roots of the CIA date back to World War II, but its goal to protect the lives of Americans has never changed. Its website says it is “the nation’s first line of defense,” and its officers “accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go.”

The CIA doesn’t enforce laws, but it works with law enforcement agencies on complicated issues like counterterrorism and counterintelligence. Although the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are both members of the U.S. Intelligence Community, the CIA only collects information about foreign countries and their residents. It cannot investigate U.S. citizens, legal immigrants, resident aliens or U.S. corporations.

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How Much Do CIA Agents Make?

To provide an independent stream of unbiased information, the CIA needs people with all kinds of skills. Entry-level jobs require a bachelor’s degree, but majors vary depending on individual career paths. The organization follows the federal General Schedule (GS), a system that has 15 pay grades and 10 pay steps within each grade. The starting level for most CIA job descriptions is GS-10/11.

After being hired, employees spend their first two years completing various interim assignments. They also do classroom training and engage in practical exercises. Then, they undergo advanced training activities that prepare them for their specific careers. Because so much preparation is involved, officers must agree to a five-year contract.

Employees who are proficient in more than one language may be eligible for one of several bonuses and incentives the CIA offers to bilingual officers. They also enjoy a list of benefits, including various types of leave, alternative work schedules, financial planning, student loan assistance and insurance. All applicants must be willing to move to Washington, D.C.

What Opportunities Does the CIA Offer Students?

The CIA has special programs for students:

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  • Undergraduate internships and co-ops
  • Undergraduate scholarships
  • Graduate studies programs
  • Graduate scholarships

Undergraduate programs range from computer science and accounting to engineering and human resources. Other examples include graphic design, cybersecurity, systems management and logistics. Among the offerings are fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students in schools that serve minorities and needs-based scholarships for graduate students.

Does the CIA Hire Veterans?

Veterans hired by the CIA may have special benefits based on their military service. The CIA participates in Operation Warfighter, an organization that supports service members recovering at military centers by offering internships and career opportunities that benefit the CIA and service members.

Positions require a Top Secret security clearance and come with no guarantee of employment. Participants receive the training and experience they need to be eligible for CIA employment after leaving the military.

Does the CIA Hire STEM Majors?

Whether you want to solve concrete problems with your knowledge of science, design new nuclear technology, or analyze foreign missile systems, there’s a job in the CIA. Here are some examples of careers for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors:

  • Aerospace engineer who works with a team to examine foreign missile systems and assess their threat to the U.S.
  • Systems engineer who looks for safety gaps in weapons of mass destruction technology and finds solutions to make them safer
  • Nuclear engineer who tracks nuclear technology suppliers and materials
  • Chemical engineer who analyzes the potential threat of terrorist explosive devices
  • Astro engineer who develops innovative satellite technology for national security
  • Mathematician who decodes enemy messages and safely saves the communication
  • Virologist who assesses foreign biotechnology threats
  • Biologist who tracks down biological toxins, such as anthrax
  • Chemist who studies liquid explosives to make air travel safer
  • Geologist who measures damage to infrastructure caused by war or natural disasters
  • Environmental security analyst who analyzes the effects of climate change on food and water supplies
  • Cybersecurity professional who protects financial information from hackers
  • Program manager who leads team to develop innovative ways to collect intelligence with nanotechnology

What Are the 10 Best Degrees for the CIA?

Many careers in the CIA don’t demand specific degrees, but they all require good grades and a major in a job-related area. There are four departments: intelligence; science and technology; clandestine service; and national support. The CIA director oversees staff positions that address public policy, information management, congressional affairs, mission innovation and more.

Jobs are extremely competitive. Although the degrees below aren’t the only ones that qualify you for a CIA career, they are some of the most helpful:

1. Technology

Candidates with computer science, programming and engineering backgrounds have access to the largest number of internships in the CIA. The organization needs technology majors of all kinds to develop high-tech programs that collect and protect sensitive information. Graduates with concentrations in IT management, computer programming, network systems engineering and systems analysis will be in high demand in coming years. Interns will apply their skills in a fast-paced environment dealing with national intelligence and security. Here is a list of helpful degrees:

  • Computer development
  • Computer programming
  • Computer networking
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data Analytics
  • Health Information Management (HIM)
  • Information Technology
  • Technology Management
  • Data or digital engineering
  • Digital forensics engineering
  • Field IT engineering
  • Mathematics

Specific job titles include applications developer, cyber operations officer, digital forensics engineer, enterprise systems IT specialist and field IT engineer. Graduate studies programs include cyber operations and mission readiness, computer science, digital targeting and data exploitation, telecommunications services officer, and data and systems management.

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2. Business

Like other big organizations, the CIA needs people with degrees in business administration, accounting and finance. A degree in international business, which prepares graduates to deal with different cultures and engage in foreign business practices, is a good fit for the CIA.

Accounting majors manage teams that calculate, record and track financial transactions. They analyze financial programs, supervise business deals, and ensure accurate documentation. Opportunities for global advancement in the CIA may be available after successful completion of training.

A business analytics degree bridges the gap between business management and technology. The CIA depends on employees with business analytic degrees to use technology, social media and the internet to make innovations in organizations around the globe. One advantage of a business analytics degree is that it can be used in any industry or institution.

Employees with business degrees do strategic planning in corporate and risk management. Job titles include staff operations officer, telecommunications services office, business analytics officer, and inspector general chief strategy officer.

3. Political science and other social sciences

Political science is the study of governments, political theory, international relations and more. The degree implies an understanding of political issues and an ability to explore and research questions. Undergraduates may work toward a graduate and doctorate program or go into fields like international law. Political science students often get college credit for working in law firms, campaign offices and various organizations.

Students with political science degrees have extensive training in written and oral communication. They also have good analytical and computer skills, and their well-rounded liberal arts degree puts them in an excellent position to understand and debate current events and world affairs. Job titles in the CIA include open source collection specialist; science, technology and weapons analyst; staff operations officer; and telecommunications service officer.

Social science is a branch of study that examines human beings and their interaction in social and cultural settings. The discipline usually includes economics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science and economics. The CIA hires social scientists in various disciplines to provide cultural information, plan missions, and work with local citizens. Psychologists and other social scientists may research classified information or work on projects, such as building better irrigation systems or training people to improve quality of life.

4. International studies

An international studies major examines the links between international and regional affairs. Students focus on a specific location and language somewhere in the world and analyze the connection to complex world affairs. A degree prepares graduates to understand different cultures and solve global challenges.

The course work emphasizes social studies, such as politics, history, anthropology, geography, literature and economics. A second language is helpful and may be required in some programs. An international studies degree is a good fit for analytical minds who have an interest in causes like political justice or human rights.

5. International relations

International relations is the study of the interaction between nations and non-governmental organizations around the globe. A bachelor’s degree begins with a broad foundation in liberal arts. Students study sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, history, politics, economics, data science and statistics, early in the program.

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Later, students choose a specific theme and regional focus. Locations may include diverse areas, such as parts of the Middle East, Africa, Asia or Europe. Related classes make up the course load and look at problems like these:

  • environmental issues
  • conflict resolution
  • world peace
  • global health
  • human rights
  • national security

A foreign language may be recommended or required, and students usually spend a semester abroad to learn about other cultures. Before graduating, students may document their knowledge with a film, thesis or other project.

6. Foreign language or foreign studies

A bachelor’s degree in foreign language includes the study of one or more foreign languages. Students also learn about the culture and literature of the country or region. A second language is an asset for any job with the CIA, and it is a requirement for some.

Job titles that demand or offer bonuses for a foreign language include directorate of operations officer, foreign language instructor and foreign language specialist internship. A foreign language is a plus for technical job descriptions that involve the collection and analysis of information.

7. Criminal justice

A criminal justice degree gives students a broad knowledge of the justice system, including the courts, law enforcement and penal system. The curriculum focuses on the study of crime, criminal theory and criminal psychology. A bachelor of arts (BA) in criminal justice focuses more on philosophical issues of crime, and a bachelor of science (BS) is oriented toward a career in law enforcement. Either degree may require an internship for experience and/or a thesis to show knowledge of the topic.

Criminal justice, especially when combined with a foreign language or technology degree, may qualify candidates for CIA job titles, such as inspector general criminal investigator; science, technology and weapons analyst; or criminal investigator. Western Governors University is known for criminal justice programs.

8. Physical sciences

Physical science degrees cover a wide range of disciplines necessary for clandestine or cultural operations:

  • Astronomy – the study of the universe and heavenly bodies
  • Astrophysics – the study of the effect of physical laws on the universe
  • Chemistry – the study of matter, its composition and its transformation
  • Earth science – study of the physical nature of the earth
  • Geography – study of the characteristics of a location, population and topography
  • Geology – the study of the earth and rocks
  • Meteorology – the study of the atmosphere
  • Oceanography – the study of the world’s oceans
  • Physics – the study of physical laws
  • Planetary science – the study of the planets, their composition and their behavior

Physical science majors in the CIA do various jobs, including collecting and analyzing information about climate change, bio-warfare and spy satellites. Other duties include analyzing the buildup of foreign weapons, understanding cyber warfare, and investigating the intentions and capabilities of foreign entities. There is also a need for scientists to study energy shortages, environmental crises and preservation of natural resources.

9. Graphic design or cartography

In 2016, the CIA celebrated the 75th anniversary of its cartography department by putting decades of secret maps online. The organization still hires people to research, design and create maps with specific themes and locations for clandestine use.

A cartographer, or mapmaker, usually needs a bachelor’s degree in cartography, surveying, geomatics or geography. Some states require a surveying license, and others offer licenses for photogrammetrists. A photogrammetrist is a person who uses aerial photos, satellite images and other technology to make maps of the earth’s surface and features. The displays show data like elevation and distance.

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Related degrees include engineering, forestry and computer science. Common skills include a knowledge of tools and software for detecting light images, processing images, and remote sensing. A photogrammetrist may be required to be licensed as a surveyor. Each state has its own rules, and all states require at least a high school diploma and test.

A graphic designer puts together typography, images or moving graphics to create a design. Graphics may be printed, published or displayed on electronic media. Examples include advertisements, posters and brochures.

10. Human resources

Human resource (HR) managers supervise employment and workplace issues, including hiring and departures. They also plan and coordinate administrative functions in an organization.

A bachelor’s degree and work experience are typically required for employment. To work for the CIA, it also helps to have training in foreign languages, science or technology. A master’s degree increases the chances of career advancement. The CIA hires human resource analysts, human resource officers and customer service representatives. Some HR employees are deployed to other countries to support global projects.

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The Takeaway

Most CIA jobs have little to do with international travel or exciting espionage. Often, agents spend long hours in labs, breaking code and analyzing data. Others search for patterns and hidden information in metadata or compile reports for department heads, directors, Congress or the President.

The job demands an interest in foreign affairs, international policy and national security. Candidates with a strong background in foreign languages or technology increase their odds of being chosen for a CIA career, regardless of the job title. Applicants must show integrity, knowledge, skill and talent. The hiring process takes a long time, but candidates can apply for up to four positions.

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10 Best Degrees for the CIA | What to study for a career in the Central Intelligence Agency? ›

A degree in law enforcement, criminal justice or a related field serves as good preparation for a career as a CIA agent. However, a degree in computer science or other fields may be beneficial depending on where within the CIA you want to work.

What are the best degrees for the CIA? ›

What Are the 10 Best Degrees for the CIA?
  • Political science and other social sciences. ...
  • International studies. ...
  • International relations. ...
  • Foreign language or foreign studies. ...
  • Criminal justice. ...
  • Physical sciences. ...
  • Graphic design or cartography. ...
  • Human resources.

What degree is best for CIA spy? ›

A degree in law enforcement, criminal justice or a related field serves as good preparation for a career as a CIA agent. However, a degree in computer science or other fields may be beneficial depending on where within the CIA you want to work.

What degrees do CIA analysts have? ›

Steps for Becoming a CIA Analyst

Generally, a bachelor's degree in political studies, international relations, or foreign area studies is required. A master's degree or doctorate is generally mandatory for higher-level positions.

What is the career path for CIA agent? ›

There are five career paths within the CIA, including science, technical, and engineering; national clandestine service; language opportunities; analytical opportunities; and support services.

What colleges does CIA hire from? ›

Although Yale is still on the list, the top schools, in order, are Georgetown, George Washington University, the University of Maryland and American University. All are in the Washington area. Perhaps typical of the Georgetown students who explore the C.I.A.

What is the highest position at CIA? ›

Director of the CIA - CIA.

What is the most secret job in the CIA? ›

The most secretive jobs in the CIA – the spies – work in an area officially known as "Clandestine Service." More specifically, these employees are operations and collection management officers who work in foreign countries.

Is there a CIA Spy school? ›

CIA: The Farm, Virginia‍

Yes, particularly on the operations side. The adrenaline starts at the CIA's Virginia training school known as 'the Farm'. Trainees spend six months roaming the fake Republic of Vertania (as it is known) and learning how to fire M4 rifles, race speedboats, flip cars, and recruit assets.

How long is a CIA degree? ›

The Bachelor's programs are completed in 38 months, and an Associate's degree can be earned in as little as 21 months. For those pursuing Bachelor's degrees, CIA offers travel opportunities to attend special Wine and Food seminars on the West Coast, in Spain, or Italy.

What GPA do you need to be a CIA agent? ›

Candidates for CIA agent jobs in clandestine services must: Be a citizen of the United States. Be at least 18 years old. Possess a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0.

What agency is higher than the CIA? ›

The National Security Agency (NSA) is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

What classes do CIA agents take? ›

CIA University

Coursework includes study in terrorist threats, critical regions of the world, foreign language training, and weapons of mass destruction, among many others. General topics taken at CIA University include information technology, the intelligence community, communication skills, and project management.

How long is CIA hiring? ›

The CIA recruitment process takes much longer and includes a more invasive vetting than used by most companies in the private sector. The CIA hiring timeline in 2021 from application to hiring was estimated to be approximately one year.

How does the CIA recruit you? ›

Hiring Process

Submit your resume via MyLINK. Receive an invitation to apply for a specific position. Successfully complete screening, testing, and interviews. Receive a Conditional Offer of Employment (COE)

Will the CIA pay for college? ›

We offer financial needs-based scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to a year-round salary, scholarship recipients will get up to $25,000 in tuition assistance per calendar year. All recipients must be either entering or attending an accredited university.

Does the CIA hire right out of college? ›

It's possible to get a job at the CIA without a college degree. However, most CIA jobs require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree. Aspiring CIA agents, operations officers, analysts, computer specialists and more all need to get a four-year degree before applying.

Where is CIA University? ›

CIA University (CIAU) is the primary education facility of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Founded in 2002 and located in Chantilly, Virginia, the school holds courses on various intelligence-related subjects, ranging from chemical weapons manufacturing to foreign languages.

What GPA does the FBI want? ›

Have and maintain a 2.95 cumulative GPA or better on a 4.0 scale at the time of application and through graduation. Not be a current, permanent FBI employee. Pass all of the FBI employment background investigation requirements and be able to receive a Top Secret Clearance.

How many years of college do you need to be an FBI agent? ›

How long does it take to become an FBI agent? It's a long process to become an FBI agent—generally at least six or seven years. First you need at least a bachelor's degree, which typically takes four years of full-time study. You will also need at least two years of full-time professional work experience.

Is criminology a good major? ›

Many people might consider criminology to be a good career choice because of the variety of career paths available to criminology professionals. There are positions for individuals at varying levels of education, and a criminology degree can enhance your chances of advancement in your chosen field.

What is the CIA pay scale? ›

Central Intelligence Agency Jobs by Salary
Job TitleRange
Job Title:Special Agent (CIA)Range:$65k - $195k (Estimated *)
Economic AnalystRange:$48k - $119k (Estimated *)
Intelligence OfficerRange:$69k - $150k (Estimated *)
Commercial PilotRange:$43k - $134k (Estimated *)
3 more rows
Feb 20, 2023

Are CIA salaries good? ›

How much does a Cia Agents make? The average Cia Agents in the US makes $82,363. Cia Agents make the most in San Francisco, CA at $124,425, averaging total compensation 51% greater than the US average.

What is CIA Black Ops? ›

A black operation or black op is a covert or clandestine operation by a government agency, a military unit or a paramilitary organization; it can include activities by private companies or groups. Key features of a black operation are that it is secret and it is not attributable to the organization carrying it out.

What jobs are similar to assassin? ›

  • butcher.
  • dropper.
  • eliminator.
  • enforcer.
  • executioner.
  • gun.
  • killer.
  • liquidator.

How hard is it to get into CIA? ›

If you read the qualifications, you probably realize it's pretty tough to get into the CIA, especially if you want to be one of the 10% of CIA officers who are field operatives. Your chances will be much better if you've first been honest with yourself about who you are and what you're capable of.

What is the physical fitness test for the CIA? ›

There is a strictly defined scoring scale and protocol for each event. The minimum scores are sit-ups (31), sprint (68 seconds), push-ups (25), 1.5 mile run (13:30), cross-load (62 seconds), and pull-ups (4). If the applicant fails to meet any of the assessment standards, they will be removed from the hiring process.

How do you get recruited to be a Spy? ›

How are spies recruited? Spies are recruited via an approach or pitch by a case officer. This often seeks to persuade the individual through appealing to ideology, patriotism, religion, ego, greed, or love, or sometimes by using blackmail or some other form of coercion.

What is the retirement age for the CIA? ›

Service Retirement System at age 55 with 30 years of service. provides a mandatory retirement age of 60 for those employees in grade 06-17 or below and of 65 for those in grade GS-18 and above.

How many levels are there in CIA? ›

There are two cognitive proficiency levels tested on the CIA exam: Basic — Tests memory and comprehension. Proficient — Assesses application, analysis, and evaluation abilities.

What skills does the CIA look for? ›

Special agents/investigators must possess:
  • An in-depth knowledge of administrative investigative techniques and procedures.
  • The ability to bring together and organize large amounts of data.
  • The ability to draw appropriate conclusions.
  • The ability to work alone or as part of a team.
  • The ability to work under pressure.

How much does a CIA spy make? ›

The annual salary for cia agents ranges from $36,000 to $67,000 per year. About 42% of cia agents have a associate degree.

Is it stressful to be a CIA agent? ›

Dealing With Stress

Most CIA employees work in the D.C. area, and while there are postings around the world, employees are still likely to be bound to a desk. The hours can be long and irregular, and it can involve a lot of tedium. Other times, especially during a crisis, the hours can be long and stressful.

Can a felon join the CIA? ›

We trust our employees to uphold the highest standards of conduct. Recent involvement in criminal or unethical behavior can disqualify you from getting a clearance. This includes pending criminal charges, felony convictions, and a dishonorable discharge.

What guns do CIA agents carry? ›

The CIA prefers the Glock 19 as its weapon of choice, with its 9mm rounds, but operatives have access to a wide variety of other calibers within the Glock platform to choose from, if so desired. Some prefer the higher . 45 caliber Glock 30. Move over, James Bond, for the Sig Sauer's P228 is another favorite.

What is the most powerful agency in the world? ›

Central Intelligence Agency - The United States

In the United States Intelligence community, it is the most powerful agency. Most of the resources and manpower of the organization are spent on collecting foreign intelligence with a minimal amount of domestic data.

Can CIA have tattoos? ›

1. Tattoos or brands anywhere on the head, face, and neck above the uniform collar are prohibited. 2. Tattoos or brands that are indecent or violate the Agency's harassment policy must be covered at all times while at work, including while in locker rooms.

Is 40 too old to join CIA? ›

There's no maximum age limit for any role at the CIA with the exception of operations officers, which for them is 35.

Do you need a degree to work for the CIA? ›

CIA officers must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and some roles require graduate degrees. Many different degrees can prepare you for a career at the CIA. Criminal justice and political science are the most common, but people with a wide variety of educational backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

How much do CIA assassins get paid? ›

According to several sources, CIA Assassin salaries typically range from $60,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on various factors such as experience, skill set, and job complexity.

What is the highest CIA salary? ›

Salary Ranges for Cia Agents

The salaries of Cia Agents in the US range from $15,700 to $419,096 , with a median salary of $76,346 . The middle 57% of Cia Agents makes between $76,351 and $190,212, with the top 86% making $419,096.

Is CIA a hard school to get into? ›

Is CIA Hard to Get Into? It is moderately difficult to get into CIA.

Can you join CIA without college? ›

It's possible to get a job at the CIA without a college degree. However, most CIA jobs require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree. Aspiring CIA agents, operations officers, analysts, computer specialists and more all need to get a four-year degree before applying.

How many hours does a CIA agent work? ›

24/7, 365, 7 days a week, 24 hours in a day.

Does the CIA pay off student loans? ›

Student Loan Repayment

To help ease the burden of student loans, we can provide loan repayment assistance during the first six years of employment. Paired with salary and benefits, our student loan repayment benefits help you pay off your loans while you start your career.

Does the CIA hire anyone? ›

For us to consider you for a job at CIA, you must be: Physically in the United States or one of its territories when you submit your resume via MyLINK. A U.S. citizen (dual U.S. citizens also eligible) At least 18 years of age.

Can you say you work for the CIA? ›

Further, although many CIA employees may state their affiliation with the agency as long as they refrain from revealing classified information, individuals who covertly work for the CIA are forbidden from revealing their true identity to strangers while employed by the CIA.

What is a CIA boss called? ›

The CIA is headed by a director and deputy director, only one of whom may be a military officer. The director of central intelligence (DCI) serves as the chief intelligence adviser to the president of the United States.

What is the upper age limit for the CIA? ›

There's no maximum age limit for any role at the CIA with the exception of operations officers, which for them is 35. However, even for operations officers, its a case by case basis, and they may take you in the clandestine service beyond that age if you have in demand skill sets.


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