What Major to Pursue for a CIA Job?

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Central Intelligence Agency employment does not require a specific college major, unless the particular job requires skill in an area that must be learned, such as engineering or science. CIA recruiters are more interested in good grades and in traits and abilities that will help on the job. Since many CIA jobs are overseas or include overseas travel, knowledge of foreign affairs, fluency in other languages and a desire to learn about other cultures is also important.

1 No Specific Major

The official answer from the CIA is that there are no specific majors required for employment with the agency, and that agency personnel traditionally come from diverse educational arenas. Recruiters for the CIA prefer to see good grades, which are defined as at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

2 Job Specific Majors

Certain CIA jobs, like jobs in the private sector, require specific fields of study. A geographer, for example, should have a geography degree, a scientist needs some type of science degree and an engineer requires an engineering degree. Job openings with the CIA are always changing, however, so it is difficult to know at the beginning of your college study whether the agency will need one major over another at the time of your graduation. Studying an area you are passionate about and can excel in is most important.

3 Clandestine Employment

Undercover jobs with the CIA do not require any specific major. However, knowledge of foreign affairs is preferred, since these positions involve a significant amount of foreign travel after the training period. Some study in international relations or experience living outside the U.S. would be a plus. Proficiency in a foreign language is also a plus, especially languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Indonesian, Korean, Pashto, Persian, Russian, Turkish, Kurdish and Urdu.

4 Additional Requirements

CIA applicants must be U.S. citizens currently living in the U.S. Although a college degree is not mandatory, it is preferred, and many CIA employees have advanced degrees. CIA employees must be good communicators, have good writing skills, good interpersonal skills, an understanding of and interest in foreign cultures, and a desire to continually learn throughout their careers. Ideal candidates will also have the ability to determine, on a regular basis, what information to divulge, and to whom.

5 Student Opportunities

The CIA has programs for college students, including scholarships, internships and co-op programs. Scholarship recipients receive funds for tuition and fees, an annual salary and health benefits in exchange for working at the agency during summer breaks and after college graduation for 1.5 times the amount of time of the scholarship. So, for example, if you received a scholarship for two years of college, you would be required to work at the agency during those summers and for three years following graduation. The co-op and internship programs require working at the CIA during summer breaks and possibly for a certain number of quarters during the school year. For these programs, the CIA particularly looks for majors in engineering, computer science, mathematics, economics, physical sciences, foreign languages, area studies, business administration, accounting, international relations, finance, logistics, human resources, geography, national security studies, military and foreign affairs, political science and graphic design.

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.