Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership

The Best Degrees for Federal Law Enforcement Jobs

There are many opportunities in federal law enforcement for both current law enforcement professionals and those hoping to enter the field. But to qualify for a job at the federal level there are certain requirements that often go beyond what is necessary for law enforcement positions with a local agency. And because these positions can be competitive, in addition to the fact that most federal jobs deal with highly sensitive information, there is generally a long list of preferred and required qualifications that each agency looks for in candidates.

Education and Skills Requirements for Select Federal Law Enforcement Jobs

Higher education, in particular, is especially important at this level of law enforcement. So what’s the best degree for a federal law enforcement job? And what other skills do candidates need to be competitive? The below chart outlines a sampling of federal law enforcement jobs along with the degrees and skills most highly sought by each agency.

It is important to note that the majority of federal law enforcement jobs require candidates to have at a minimum a bachelor’s degree, with preference and advancement to certain pay grades given to those with advanced degrees (master’s degree and/or doctorate). There are also a number of requirements that vary by the agency that is not listed here. To see if you meet the minimum requirements, visit the agency website that pertains to the job you are interested in.

Occupation Preferred Degree (Bachelors and/or Masters) Required Skills and Attributes Skills and Experience Worth Special Consideration Agency
FBI Special Agent
  • Terrorism (Bio, Counter, International)
  • Criminal Justice
  • Cyber Security
  • Finance
  • Forensic Accounting/Science
  • International Studies
  • Law Enforcement and Public Safety
  • Leadership
  • Oral communication
  • Initiative and Motivation
  • adaptability and flexibility
  • Organizing, planning and prioritizing
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Evaluating information and making decisions
  • Writing


  • Foreign language skills (to interview witnesses)
  • IT skills (to locate evidence within a computer network)
  • CPA certified (to uncover hidden assets)


DEA Agent
  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement and Public Safety
  • Law
  • Finance
  • Written and Oral Communication
  • Attention to Detail/Memory
  • Decision-making/judgment
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Integrity/Honesty
  • Flexibility; Problem-solving
  • Self-management
  • Teamwork


  • Finance/Accounting
  • Information Systems/Telecommunications
  • Electrical/Mechanical Engineering
  • Military leadership experience or a foreign language fluency


Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
US Marshal/Deputy Marshal
  • Law Enforcement
  • Criminal Justice
  • Sociology
  • Law
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Planning and project management skills
  • Knowledge of law and court procedures
  • Written and oral communication
Superior academic achievement Department of Justice (DOJ)
US Border Patrol Agent
  • Law
  • Law Enforcement and Public Safety
  • Police Science
  • Criminal Justice
  • Logical reasoning
  • Spanish language fluency or the ability to learn Spanish
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to maintain composure and make decisions in a stressful situation
  • Ability to analyze information rapidly
Spanish language skills Homeland Security (DHS)
Postal Inspector


  • Law Enforcement
  • Criminal Justice
  • Law
  • Computer Science
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Written and oral communication skills
  • Foreign language skills
  • Prior postal experience
  • Academic achievement
  • Military experience
  • Law degree
  • Law enforcement experience
  • Certification in auditing or investigations
  • Computer science education
  • Computer systems certification
  • Bio-terrorism investigation experience


US Postal Inspection Service
US Secret Service Special Agent/Uniformed Crew Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement and Public Safety, Law or Pre-Law
  • Superior academic achievement or a graduate level education
  • Written and oral communication skills
  • Ability to analyze and summarize information
  • Deadline driven
  • Presentation skills
  • Foreign language fluency
  • Past military or law enforcement experience
  • Graduate level education
Homeland Security (DHS)
ATF Special Agent
  • Law Enforcement and Public Safety
  • Criminal Justice
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Political Science
  • Verbal, quantitative and investigative reasoning
  • Strong writing and leadership skills
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)

In addition to an advanced degree in a related field, most agencies also list a number of additional qualifications such as legal knowledge, financial acumen and leadership skills as highly important factors for successful candidates looking to build a career with a federal agency. Finally, the majority of federal law enforcement jobs require a physical ability test, drug screening, aptitude tests, a citizenship requirement and more depending upon the specific agency and job. All qualifications and application information can be found on the agency websites.

Choosing the Best Degree for Your Federal Law Enforcement Career Goals

The broad skill set required of law enforcement professionals looking to earn a place in a federal agency means that choosing the right education pathway and program is especially important. But perhaps what is even more important when vying for a competitive federal law enforcement job is going beyond a bachelor’s degree and obtaining a graduate level education. Attaining specialized skills and an advanced education, such as a master’s or doctorate degree, will increase the job options available to you within an agency and give you the ability to attain a higher pay grade and rank, plus offer increased mobility throughout your career.

The specific degree you choose to study will depend greatly on the role you are looking to obtain. But if you’re not sure of your exact career path when you enter school a degree with a curriculum focused on law enforcement leadership is a solid choice for most of the positions listed above.

In order to prepare law enforcement professionals for leadership positions at the federal, state and local level, the University of San Diego created a 100% online Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership degree. This unique degree program differs from a traditional criminal justice degree by offering a more extensive curriculum that goes beyond the criminal justice basics and teaches the contemporary skills that federal agencies seek. To learn more about USD’s law enforcement leadership M.S. program and how it can help prepare you for a career in federal law enforcement, contact an admissions representative today.

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