Border patrol agents are the law enforcement officers of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  They are primarily responsible for patrolling the Mexican and Canadian international land borders and the coastal waters surrounding the Florida Peninsula and the island of Puerto Rico to detect, prevent and apprehend terrorists, undocumented aliens and smugglers of aliens at or near the land border. Working with other law enforcement officers, they help to facilitate the flow of legal immigration and importation of goods while preventing illegal trafficking. More than 20,000 Border Patrol Agents protect our way of life 24/7, safeguarding nearly 6,000 miles of land border the United States shares with Canada and Mexico, and more than 2,000 miles of coastal waters.

There are different levels to being a Patrol Agent. To qualify for the General Schedule/GS-5 level, the lowest rank, you must have at least three years of work experience that demonstrates your decision-making and ability to maintain composure in potentially dangerous situations. A four-year degree may be substituted if you don’t have the required background experience. Although there is not a requirement that your degree be in a particular field, a bachelor degree in criminal justice may help to give you a competitive edge.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, four (4) years of study in any field leading to a bachelor’s degree in an accredited college or university is fully qualifying for the GS-5 level.

(The general schedule (GS) is the predominant pay scale within the United States civil service. The GS is separated into 15 grades (GS-1, GS-2, etc. up to GS-15); each grade is separated into 10 steps.)


Proceeding under the premise that a degree in Criminal Justice would be most beneficial, the following is a sampling of typical courses at the undergraduate level:

  •  Intro to Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Criminal Justice Theory
  • Statistical Methods in Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science Application
  • Homeland Security Theory, Policy and Practice
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment

For the GS-7 level, one full academic year of graduate education, or a master’s degree is qualifying or meeting the provisions of Superior Academic Achievement. The GS-5 level requires 36 months, and the GS-7 level requires 12 months of full-time qualifying experience. To calculate the percentage of undergraduate education, divide the number of undergraduate semester hours by 120 or the number of quarter hours by 180. For GS-7, divide the number of graduate semester hours by 18, graduate quarter hours by 27, or by the school’s definition of one year of graduate study. Finally, add your percentages of education and experience. The two percentages must total at least 100 percent for the applicant to qualify under the combination of experience and education.

In addition to one’s educational or experience level, the applicant must be a U.S. citizen, be fluent in Spanish, possess a valid driver’s license and pass a pre-employment fitness and drug test. All applicants are subject to background checks pertaining to criminal activity, debts and financial issues, and use of excessive alcohol and/or use of illegal drugs. The latter two criteria are also subject to random testing.


New hires must successfully complete a 58-day paid “Basic Academy” training at the “U.S. Border Patrol Academy” in Artesia, N.M. Training includes such topics as immigration and nationality laws, physical training and marksmanship. An additional 40 days will be required, past the 58 day Basic Academy training, for those that need Spanish language instruction. Border Patrol Agents must be willing to work overtime and shift work under arduous conditions, and be proficient in the use of and carry firearms.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this profession is expected to grow at a rate of 7% through 2022. The median income in 2012 was $56,980 with a high school diploma plus experience.