Border Patrol Education

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is one of the largest and most diverse agencies within the federal government.  This agency draws the best and brightest from around the country to serve in a wide variety of law enforcement, administrative, and intelligence positions.  Among the numerous careers available within this 45,000 member agency are Border Patrol Agents, CBP Officers, UAV Pilots, Agriculture Specialists, and Intelligence Research Specialists.

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Securing our national borders has become much more complex in recent years. As smugglers, terrorists and other criminals have become more sophisticated, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has responded by putting together a highly effective team of professionals with diverse educational backgrounds that include criminal justice degrees, Homeland Security degrees, and even international relations degrees.


Each U.S. Customs and Border Patrol profession requires a different set of professional skills. Together, these professions form the bulwark necessary to keep the United States secure from international threats like terrorists, gangs, financial criminals, narcotics traffickers and child exploiters.  Despite its large workforce, U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains the highest standards in hiring.  Only the most qualified and best educated candidates gain admission to the Border Patrol training academy and go on to join this select group of law enforcement professionals.

The rigors of these jobs require not only physical stamina and emotional maturity, but require the intellectual capacity to analyze complex situations and formulate response strategies within moments.  The responsibilities of CBP personnel are diverse and, therefore, require individuals who have the capacity to successfully complete many cognitively challenging tasks. These tasks may range from developing tactical mission plans, interviewing suspects in Spanish, to utilizing the latest intelligence reports to help allocate personnel and resources for interdicting a potential Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Although the CBP does hire professionals who have demonstrated these skills through past law enforcement and military experience, in most cases, they evaluate the candidates seeking these competitive positions on the basis of their academic achievement.  The knowledge and skills necessary to perform at the high level of the CBP is often acquired through intensive study at the associate’s bachelor’s or master’s level, depending on the job.  Many careers within U.S. Customs and Border Protection require at least a bachelor’s degree, and initial salary is always contingent upon academic credentials. Even positions that do not stipulate a college degree often give preference to applicants with an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field of study.

Border Patrol Agent Educational Criteria

The majority of CBP field officers are designated as Border Patrol Agents after formal Border Patrol training.  The most viable applicants possess a college degree, and many of the specialized agent positions require at least 3.0 GPA in order to qualify.  A college degree may not be stipulated in the job opening for general agent jobs, but preference is often given to those with a bachelor’s or higher resulting in formal training in criminal justice, military science, international relations or foreign language.  Proficiency in Spanish or the ability to quickly learn it is a requirement to serve in the CBP, so some academic preparation is often helpful.

CBP Officer Educational Criteria

Candidates for CBP Officer jobs are expected to possess at least a bachelor’s degree or three years of law enforcement or Border Patrol training experience before beginning formal U.S. Customs training to become a CBP Officer.  Some job requirements may be satisfied by completion of a course of study at a police academy.  This career requires exceptional communication and reasoning skills that are often developed through bachelor’s and graduate degree programs.  The most competitive majors for this position are those related to law, criminal justice or even business management.

Air Interdiction Agent Educational Criteria

Air Interdiction Officers are required to have considerable experience in the operation of fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters.  In order to apply to the Office of Air and Marine, candidates must possess either a Commercial Pilot Certification or an Airline Transport Certification.  Both of these certifications require hundreds of hours in the cockpit as well as extensive knowledge of aircraft operations.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must authorize these certifications, but preparation and testing may be conducted within a private commercial environment or through an academic portal.  Due to extensive nature of these licensing exams, many private schools and universities offer courses that prepare prospective pilots.

Marine Interdiction Agent Educational Criteria

Marine Interdiction Officers should possess strong academic and professional credentials.  The most competitive applicants should possess a U.S. Coast Guard Marine License, Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV) License, or a Master’s License.  These licenses are offered through a variety of governmental agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Naval Academy, or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.  In almost all cases, extensive experience aboard maritime vessels is required as well as demonstrated proficiency in the operation of such vessels.  Many of the skills and knowledge necessary to pass the licensing exams can be acquired through private training and academic institutions.  Some accredited universities provide concentrations or courses in marine vessel operation.

Field Canine Coordinator Educational Criteria

Field Canine Coordinators are required to possess at least a bachelor’s degree, while those in criminal justice, police science or related disciplines are most competitive.  Advanced degrees in these fields also demonstrate superior understanding and ability to comprehend many of the sophisticated methodologies unique to this profession.  While prior experience with canine units is not a pre-requisite it is certainly helpful.

UAV Pilot/Operator Educational Criteria

The minimum requirements for this career are similar to those for an Air Interdiction Officer.  Possession of a FAA Commercial Pilots License is required, which can only be obtained through hundreds of hours in flight and after completing a comprehensive examination.  Additionally, UAV Pilots must also possess experience operating specific classes of UAVs.  A license in UAV piloting is available through military and law enforcement organizations and through some select private institutions.

Agriculture Specialist Educational Criteria

Agriculture Specialists are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree and a large portion of these professionals possess bachelor’s or master’s in science degrees in areas such as botany, entomology, agriculture, chemistry, biology or any of the other Earth sciences.  Agriculture Specialists should possess extensive knowledge about specialized disciplines within the biology field, which is often acquired through post-graduate studies.

Contract Specialist Educational Criteria

Due to commercial nature of Contract Specialist jobs, all such positions require at least a bachelor’s degree.  Many of these jobs are awarded to candidates with advanced degrees, especially a Master of Business Administration (MBA).  The majors that are most competitive include Accounting, Law, Finance, Management, and Economics.

Intelligence Research Specialist Educational Criteria

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required, and a master’s degree or higher is often recommended in order to compete for these limited positions. These careers are intellectually challenging and often are awarded to those with the most extensive educations, so advanced degree holders are present in this profession in greater numbers than other CBP professions.  The most desirable degree concentrations are in International Relations, Foreign Affairs or Security Studies.

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