How to Become a Secret Service Agent

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Secret Service Director Resigns Over Recent Security Breaches At The White House
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With the resignation of director Julia Pierson over multiple security breaches--including allowing an armed man to ride in an elevator with President Obama last month--it hasn't been a great press week for the Secret Service. In fact, there are bound to be a few readers out there who might be wondering if they couldn't do a better job themselves. So how about it? What does it take, exactly, to become a Secret Service agent?Luckily enough, the Secret Service website has a bullet list that tells you precisely what you need to do if you want to join the agency's ranks. Surprise! It's not easy. When your job description includes protecting the lives of the President, Vice President, and other high-ranking officials, they're not going to take any schlub who's seen First Kid and likes to wear sunglasses.

First of all, let's get the minimum requirements out of the way. You must be a U.S. citizen between the ages 21 and 37, with a valid driver's license and vision no worse than 20/60 (correctable to 20/20)--but don't worry, you can get Lasik if you're a little fuzzy.

Got that part? Good. How about educational credentials? You'll need to either have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, have graduated in the top third of your class, or be a member of a national academic honor society (and no, Chess Club doesn't count). That's just for the GL-7 pay grade; if you want to qualify for the higher GL-9, you're going to need a master's degree. Starting salary can range anywhere from $43,964 to $74,891, according to secretservice.gov.

The high education requirements might surprise readers who think of the Secret Service as big lugs in suits, the political equivalent of the bouncers at Frank's Pub on a Friday night. That couldn't be further from the truth. In addition to protecting lives, Secret Service agents conduct investigations into national security violations, forged documents, and even financial crimes. And on the protective side, agents need to be consistently sharp and observant, and prepared to be thrown into a potentially life-threatening situation at any moment.

Okay, so let's say you've made it past the initial, hyper-competitive application process and have now entered the testing phase. What kind of tests, you ask? A physical fitness test, for one thing, which includes an evaluation from a government physician and a 1.5-mile run, as well as the expected push-ups, sit-ups, and we're willing to bet there's a climbing rope in there somewhere. You'll also have to pass the Treasury Enforcement Agent (TEA) exam, which tests reading, writing, and mathematical skills.

From there, the very, very best applicants will move on to the expected interviews and background checks on the way to obtaining Top Secret clearance. According to About.com, you can be disqualified for everything from student loan defaults to teenaged drug use to...just about anything, really. And if you try to sneak something past them in your application, have fun dealing with the mandatory polygraph test that comes later.

So, once you've actually been appointed, what's the job itself like? Well, you can rest assured that application process is actually the easy part of the whole affair; a job in the Secret Service is as demanding as jobs come. Writing at MSN.com, Secret Service agent Dan Emmett shared some bracing insights about the daily realities of his career:

In terms of the actual physical experience, imagine something like this: Forgo sleep for 24 hours, skip lunch and dinner, stand outside of a house in the rain at 3 a.m. for several hours, take a cab to the airport and finally board a plane to a large city for a four-hour flight. Repeat this regimen for several days in a row. To make the simulation complete, you also need to fail to attend a child's birthday or graduation and miss the holidays or your wedding anniversary.

Sound rough? Sure. But for all of its challenges--and this is surely one of the most challenging jobs in the world--a career in the Secret Service means performing a truly essential duty, one that more than merits its mental, physical, and emotional rigors. Even when it looks like you're just standing around in a suit.
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