The ATF was formerly part of the United States Department of the Treasury, having been formed in 1886 as the “Revenue Laboratory” within the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue. Post 9/11, with the creation of The Department of Homeland Security, the law shifted ATF from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Justice. The agency’s name was changed to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Today, this Bureau conducts criminal investigations, regulate the firearms and explosives industries and assist other law enforcement agencies. They help to prevent terrorism, reduce violent crime and protect the public in a manner that is faithful to the Constitution and the laws of the United States. To be considered for this elite law enforcement agency, there is a long list of conditions that each applicant must meet. The short list consists of these requirements:

  • Be a U.S. Citizen
  • Complete the ATF special agent applicant questionnaire
  • Take and pass the ATF special agent exam
  • Take and pass the ATF Pre-employment Physical Task Test
  • Appear for and successfully complete a field panel interview
  • Be in compliance with ATF’s drug policy for special agent applicants

Applicants will be considered with a high school diploma. However, individuals without prior experience may qualify for ATF special agent jobs if they possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Although the ATF does not demand any specific college degree, individuals with interest in pursuing special agent careers generally choose to complete a college degree program in a related field, such as: Criminal Justice, Psychology, Political Science or Sociology. To move up through the GL (government/law) pay scale, agents will need at least a Bachelor’s degree. For example, GL-9 level: Candidates must possess a master’s degree (or equivalent graduate degree) or at least two full years of higher-level graduate education leading to a degree in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, political science, or a directly related field.

Schools such as Capella University offers online criminal justice degree programs led by professors with real-world experience and even allow you to earn credit for POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training). Also, Regis University offers online Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Criminology.

Another route to a career in the ATF is through their Internship Program. It is open to all students enrolled at least half-time in an educational institution that has been accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Eligibility includes those in high school to students pursuing a doctorate. There is also The Presidential Management Fellows Program– a flagship leadership development program at the entry-level for advanced degree candidates. Applicants must have completed within the past two years, a qualifying advanced degree (e.g., masters or professional degree). A third option is the student volunteer program which is an unpaid program that allows you to learn about the responsibilities of the ATF. Again, this is open to all students from high school to professional degree programs.

Regardless of how you are accepted into this federal agency, all agents undergo two training programs. The first part (12 weeks) is the Criminal Investigators Training Program (CITP) delivered by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), Department of Homeland Security, Glynco, Georgia. The second part of training is the Special Agent Basic Training (SABT). SABT is a demanding and intensive training program that covers a wide range of disciplines including firearms and ammunition identification; firearms trafficking; and report writing, to name a few. This lasts 15 weeks with a class of 24 trainees.