When exploring which college major will best prepare you for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), there’s no one right answer. In fact, the CIA itself reports that the agency can’t suggest any one academic track or major due to the breadth of its ever-changing needs. On occasion, the CIA even recruits recent high school graduates who have no college education. That said, some disciplines are consistently in demand and are more likely to land you a job with the CIA than others. Generally, the CIA’s need for workers with expertise in technology, foreign languages, business and science is evergreen. In particular, many students considering a CIA career path chose to study information technology, foreign language, finance, accounting, engineering or criminal justice.
Information Technology Degrees
Analyzing and processing the information gleaned through strategic intelligence efforts is crucial to the work of the CIA. Having a degree in information technology (IT), computer science or another tech-focused field can put you on the path to a role such as Science & Technology technical intelligence officer. Job duties in this role can range from computer programming to technical analysis.
As an undergraduate student of IT, you will start your studies with coursework in the fundamentals of information technology foundations and applications. Students learn about different types of network and security applications, data management foundations, programming, web development, spreadsheets, and IT management systems and strategies.
Some bachelor’s programs in information technology prepare students for professional certification exams, which can be valuable whether you end up working for the CIA or in the private sector.
Foreign Language Degrees
The CIA operates across the globe, garnering information and intelligence from every corner of the world. To retrieve and interpret this information, the agency relies on dedicated workers who have strong proficiencies in foreign languages. Because CIA employees with foreign language competency are often stationed in other countries, it is important that you understand not only the linguistics and mechanics of how to speak and write in the language but also the nuances of cultural practices and perspectives.
The CIA includes more than 80 different languages as part of its Foreign Language Incentive Program, which provides monetary bonuses to workers who are proficient in speaking the languages considered most relevant to national security. Languages on the list range from French and Italian to Lithuanian, Romanian, Macedonian and Swahili.
Students of foreign language programs of study must complete a minimum number of upper-division courses in their chosen language and in cultural context. Students majoring in Chinese, for example, study Advanced Chinese, Chinese history and Chinese politics.
Finance and Accounting Degrees
Can majoring in business land you a job with the CIA? Some business majors use a degree in economics, finance, accounting or business management to become an economic analyst. In this role, you might evaluate the financial activities – everything from foreign trade activities to money laundering and terrorism funding – that impact national security. The CIA also seeks candidates with a business background for its enterprise and support career paths. These roles include many different job titles, from accountant and auditor to finance resource officer.
Majoring in a business discipline means building a foundation in one or more areas related to business operations. In a business administration or management program, you are likely to develop competency in many different areas of business, while accounting majors focus more narrowly on records and statements of financial reporting and finance majors focus more on managing money and assets.
Economics is another discipline sought after by the CIA. Sometimes housed in a school of business and other times considered a social science, economics is the study of the use and scarcity of resources, including decision-making processes and impact on the economy.
Engineering and Science Degrees
Virtually all disciplines of science and engineering appeal to the CIA. A background in biology, physics, chemistry and math can all lead to a Technical Intelligence Officer role in the Directorate of Science and Technology. Chemical, electrical, computer, mechanical, systems and aerospace engineering backgrounds are also useful in these roles. Depending on your interests and areas of expertise, you might end up working in technical operations, technical analysis, technical research or technical development.
Although your core curriculum will depend on your precise major, students of engineering and science should expect to take plenty of lecture and laboratory classes in mathematics and in introductory through advanced science principles and research applications.
Criminal Justice Degrees
The CIA is not an agency of law enforcement, focusing on intelligence collection rather than arrests. However, the CIA requires its special agents to possess many of the same skills that are valuable in traditional law enforcement careers, and the agency often collaborates with law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). As a result, pursuing a degree in criminal justice can help you get started in a position with the CIA. Most criminal justice programs include coursework in criminal law and procedures, corrections, security, law enforcement and criminal investigations.
In some criminal justice programs, you may have the opportunity to take courses in domestic relations, cybercrime and cyberterrorism, white-collar crime and terrorism.