As a federal agency devoted to national security – and responsible for intervening in an array of constantly evolving threats and challenging situations – the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is constantly looking for new recruits. The agency gets plenty of applications, averaging more than 10,000 each month. However, sending current and former officers and agents directly to college campuses is one way for the CIA to incite enthusiasm in the best and brightest students pursuing studies in the most in-demand fields and to encourage them to devote their professional lives to service with the agency.

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Where the CIA Recruits Officers and Agents

You may expect the CIA to focus primarily on recruiting new talent at the most prestigious and well-connected schools in the nation. In fact, some such colleges – like Harvard University – have been known for permitting the controversial practice of undercover enrollment of CIA agents into the school to scout out new talent, Inside Higher Ed reported.

However, it’s not only the ultra-exclusive – and expensive – Ivy League universities that CIA recruiters visit. Nowadays, the CIA also sends recruiters to less influential local colleges, CNBC News reported. Technical schools host informational events like presentations, question-and-answer sessions and opportunities for one-on-one career advice from current CIA agents. Even community colleges host CIA recruitments events.

If you think the CIA is only interested in recruiting recent college graduates, you might be surprised. As many as 20 percent of newly recruited CIA officers and agents are mid-career professionals, often with special skills, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

Changes in CIA College Recruiting Efforts

Although CIA recruitment on college campuses is common and widespread today, that wasn’t always the case. At one time, most CIA recruitment at schools was done discreetly, NPR reported. In fact, there was a time in the 1970s when a CIA recruiter’s campus visit would have been likely to prompt student protests, according to NPR.

Since that time, things have changed considerably. By the mid-1980s, student protests were rarer and interest in a CIA career was much more prevalent, according to the agency. The CIA is also much more diverse today, in terms of both the officers and agents who work for the agency and the variety of career fields and academic backgrounds from which they come.

Although degrees in criminal justice, information technology and foreign language are still assets to the CIA, the agency also looks for recruits with backgrounds in business, accounting, finance, economics, science, technology and even communications.

What Students Should Know About Working for the CIA

Working for the CIA isn’t just another job. For one thing, you will need to get a security clearance – a process that can take months and require a polygraph, or “lie detector,” test. Opportunities for the CIA often require relocation, especially to the Washington, D.C. area, or domestic or international travel. You also have to undergo a background investigation by the United States government. Factors such as any drug use in the past year or a history of criminal activity may bar you from employment, temporarily or permanently, by the CIA. To some degree, depending on your role at the CIA, there work you do for the agency will need to be kept confidential.

Despite the challenges, there are many benefits of working for the CIA, from serving your country to the generous compensation and benefits packages.

What If the CIA Doesn’t Recruit From Your School?

If you have asked around your college’s career center only to find that no CIA recruitment events are planned, that doesn’t mean you’ll never get the opportunity to work for the CIA. The agency offers numerous student opportunities that you can apply for even if the agency is not actively recruiting at your school. Through internships with the CIA, you can gain college credits toward your degree while acquiring valuable work experience and connections within the agency. You could also apply for the CIA scholarship programs for undergraduate or graduate students. These opportunities require you to complete a summer of paid work in your field for the CIA and provide tuition assistance up to $18,000 for one calendar year.

Receiving a CIA scholarship effectively guarantees you a job with the CIA after graduation, because as part of the terms of the scholarship, students agree to work for the agency for 1.5 years per every year the scholarship was received.

Additional Resources

What Degree Should I Get to Join the CIA?

How Do I Apply to the CIA?

Can I Get Into Law Enforcement If I Have a Felony on My Record?