Is it Hard to Become a TSA Agent? What You Must Know.

Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) was created after the attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001. TSA agents have worked hard since keeping travel within The United States safe. With such an important job, the TSA wants to make sure that the best candidates get hired and are trained well. TSA agents do not just become one overnight. The training is intense and the hiring process is time-consuming. There are multiple steps to be a TSA agent and individuals planning on choosing this career should be prepared for this difficult process.

While the minimum requirements to apply to become a TSA agent are not hard, the application process is competitive so exceeding the minimum requirements helps to ensure that an individual wanting to be a TSA agent gets hired. The TSA agents have many physical and cognitive exams that must be passed to be selected to go to TSA training. The extensive training program makes sure that TSA agents are competent and able to perform their job well. Between the hiring process and the training requirements, it can take up to several months to start as a TSA agent.

Is it Hard to Become a TSA Agent? What You Must Know.

What is a TSA agent?

TSA is a large part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and almost makes up one-fourth of DHS. TSA is composed of almost 50,000 employees at more than 450 locations throughout the United States.

TSA agents have the responsibility to keep travel within the United States safe. TSA agents do not just work at airports they also work at train stations, marinas, and shipping areas. They screen approximately 700 million passengers a year.

Steps to Becoming a TSA Agent

There is a minimum of six steps that TSA agents must complete. A TSA agent applicant must be prepared that this process can take several months to complete. The six steps to becoming a TSA agent are:

  1. Meeting the Minimum Application Requirements
    Before filling out an application, it is important to make sure that these requirements are met, or else the application will be thrown out immediately and the applicant will not be considered at that time.
  2. Find Job Openings and Apply
    Various job positions can be found on TSA’s official website or through USAJOBS.
  3. Interviewing
    To ensure that the right people for the job advance to the hiring and training process applicants are interviewed. Certain skills are qualities are assessed for in this step.
  4. Hiring Process
    Cognitive exams, physical exams, and checks into an individual’s background and credit must be completed during this step. All of these must be completed and passed before an individual can continue to training.
  5. Classroom Training
    TSA has its training school located in Georgia that all TSA agents must attend and pass.
  6. On the Job Training
    A TSA agent is required to do on-the-job training and job shadowing before they can be released on their own and earn the official title of a TSA agent.

Minimum Requirements

TSA agents only have three minimum requirements that they must meet to apply. The minimum requirements to apply are:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • Applicants must be a United States citizen
  • One year of experience as a security officer or police officer
Is it Hard to Become a TSA Agent? What You Must Know.

Instead of a year of experience as a security officer or police officer, the TSA will also accept a year as an x-ray technician.

College Degree

While the TSA has few requirements to apply, TSA is a competitive field to get into. The TSA receives many applicants from people of all different backgrounds and education levels. To ensure that an individual applying to has the best chance of being accepted, many applicants get a degree from a college or university to help their applications stand out from others.

Some common degrees that TSA agent applicants have are:

  1. Criminology
  2. Sociology
  3. Political Science
  4. Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice is a common degree that TSA applicants choose because many of the skills learned for a degree in Criminal Justice carry over to a TSA agent’s roles and responsibilities. In college for Criminal, Justice students are taught how to spot and handle threats and suspicious people and activity which are skills that are important for a TSA agent to have.

Military Experience

Some applicants choose to join the military to help their applications stand out from others. The military experience looks great on a TSA application because many of the skills and training used in the military are carried over to tasks a TSA agent performs.

Almost 60% of all the TSA agents have five or more years of experience working with protecting the United States from terrorism. Additionally, 20% of all TSA agents are active military or are veterans.

Originally when TSA was devolved after September 11th, there was a big push to hire military veterans for TSA agents.

Finding and applying for Job Opportunities

All TSA job opportunities can be found on TSA’s official website. Jobs may vary from full-time to part-time positions. Jobs can be searched for by locations and specific job types. Before being able to apply, an applicant must set up a USAJOBS profile. This should only take a few minutes and the website walks you through the process.


Once an application is looked over and the applicant seems to be a good fit an interview is set up. An applicant may be asked about their additional job-related experiences and educational background.

Is it Hard to Become a TSA Agent? What You Must Know.

TSA agents go through a structured interview process. For a structured interview, applicants are asked questions that relate to their prior experiences or may be asked what they may do in a certain situation through hypothetical questions. These questions are then given a score and used to determine if the applicant is a good candidate for the job. Structured interviews use a standardized scale for rating the applicant’s answers which helps to ensure that every applicant has a fair and equal opportunity in the interview process.

Qualities that make a good TSA agent

During the interview, an applicant will be assessed on if they have qualities that would make them a good fit to become a TSA agent. Some of these qualities that the interviewer may be looking for include:

  • Detailed oriented
    A TSA agent must always be looking out for suspicious and potentially dangerous people and items. TSA agents must work quickly but effectively to screen people and items and quickly spot potential danger.
  • Quick learner
    TSA has new technology coming out frequently as well as frequent changes to policies and procedures.
  • Handle stressful situations well
    A TSA agent has a dangerous and stressful job. Every day at work a TSA agent can handle explosive, illegal, and dangerous, and potentially deadly substances. A TSA agent must remain calm in dangerous situations.
  • Works well with a large number of people
    Approximately two million passengers travel throughout The United States airports, train stations, marina ports and terminals, coastlines, pipelines, bridges, and tunnels. All these people must be screened by a TSA agent. In airports especially, TSA agents help the airport run smoothly and effectively.

Hiring Process

Before a TSA agent can advance in the application process and go to training there are still some steps and exams that they must pass first. A TSA agent must pass a color vision test, hearing exam, medical exam, computer-based testing (CBT), object recognition skill exam, fingerprint screening, background check, credit check, and drug test.

Vision, Hearing, and Medical Exam

The color vision test and medical exam are required because TSA agents must have excellent vision and can detect potentially dangerous substances through the x-ray machines. Color vision, as well as to object recognition skills, are important qualities for a TSA agent to have for the same reason. TSA agents must have good hearing and be able to pass a hearing exam.

A TSA agent also needs to be able to physically do their job which may require frequent lifting heaving baggage and stand for long periods. TSA agents have a very physically demanding job and must be able to lift and carry up to 50 lbs, stand for three to four hours at one time, and must be able to walk three miles during their shifts.

More on TSA Agents HERE.

Computer-based testing (CBT)

The computer-based testing tests the applicant’s proficiency in English, critical thinking skills, and x-ray interpretation. The CBT must be passed to move on in the application and training process.

Background and Credit Checks

TSA agents’ criminal background is asked on the application and then checked during this portion of the hiring process. An applicant will be rejected for certain criminal offenses or lying about a criminal record on the application. A drug test is required for all applicants to pass to ensure that the applicant is drug-free.
An applicant’s credit is also checked at this time and certain delinquent debt may also cause an application to be rejected during this portion of the hiring process.

The hiring process usually takes the longest out of the five steps. This helps to ensure a TSA agent physically and mentally can handle this challenging job.

Two Parts to Training

Once steps one through four are completed then the potential TSA agent is required to go through an extensive training program. All TSA agent applicants must pass all parts of training in order to continue on and become a TSA agent.  

TSA agents must go through a total of 100 hours’ worth of training. There are two portions to training. Step one is a training program known as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). FLETC is located in Glynco Georgia. The second step is on the job training where an applicant job shadows a TSA agent.  

How long is the TSA Academy?  

A TSA agent is required to have 40 hours of classroom training at FLETC. The skills learned at FLETO help agents be prepared for the job. During training TSA agents learn various skill to help them on the job which include: 

  1. X- ray operation
  2. Proper screening of passengers
  3. Searching properly through passenger’s property 
  4. Checked baggage searching
  5. Proper operation and use of all equipment that is used to test for various explosives

FLETC is a large campus that is composed of various classrooms, simulation labs, mission labs, dorms, and a cafeteria. In total the campus has 20 classrooms, ten simulation labs, two mission focused labs. In addition, there are four more large buildings that are used for checkpoint labs and a mock airport. 

There typically are 200 potential TSA agents who go through training all at once. These potential TSA agents are broken down into eight classes with 24 students each and with three instructors per class. 

All classes and exams must be passed or else a TSA agent cannot move on to on the job training and will not become a TSA agent. Training is paid for by the federal government and pays for each potential TSA agent’s travel expenses to the facility, lodging, and various other training expenses. In total it costs approximately $2,400 per potential TSA agent. 

On the Job Training 

Once training is completed and passed the potential TSA agents must then complete on the job training at various locations working with TSA agents. TSA agents are required to complete a minimum of 60 hours of on the job training before they can be released to work on their own.  

During this training applicants will be working with a TSA agent who will evaluate the applicant for their knowledge of equipment and their overall job performance. A TSA applicant is paid for their time during this training. This is the last step in becoming a TSA agent however, if this step is not passed then the TSA applicant cannot become a TSA agent. 

Benefits of TSA Hiring Events 

Throughout the year TSA offers hiring events throughout the United States. The goal of these hiring events is to help ease some of the application process and make it go a little faster. At these hiring events individuals that attend have the option to learn more about the job as a TSA agent and ask questions.  

Is it Hard to Become a TSA Agent? What You Must Know.

What to expect at the hiring events?

The hiring events allow individuals who are interested in becoming TSA agents the opportunity to attend information sessions. These information sessions are hosted by a TSA representative and give helpful information about what the job of a TSA agent entails and benefits of working for TSA.

The TSA representatives are able to walk individuals who are interested in becoming TSA agents through the application process and tell them what to expect along the way. At the end of these sessions the TSA representative answers any questions that anyone may have about applying, training, or being a TSA agent. 

What to bring to the hiring event? 

Anyone planning on attending this event should bring either a laptop or mobile device that can be connected to the internet as well as speakers or a headset. Also, if an individual has a USAJOBS profile already set up it is important to bring the login information. 

It is not required but it is encouraged to have already completed the application online prior to attending. A resume is not required to bring but may be beneficial to have while attending the hiring event. 

Annual Job Performance and Procedure Exams 

TSA agents must always stay up to date on current security policies and procedures. Equipment available to TSA agents is advancing continuously as well and TSA agents must know how to properly use all the equipment. 

TSA agents are required to test their knowledge every year and must pass annual certification exams. If someone does not pass these exams then they can lose their job. These annual exams consist of written tests, image interpretation, and a job evaluation. 


TSA technology is constantly changing and advancing to speed up the process of airport security as well as catching more illegal and potentially deadly substances from going on board with passengers.  Some equipment that TSA agents must use and be familiar with are: 

  • Biometrics 
  • Paperless boarding passes 
  • Bottle liquid scanners 
  • Explosive detection on tracing systems
  • Threat image projection
  • Imaging technology such as x-rays 

Promotions and Additional Job Opportunities 

TSA agents do have the opportunity to grow and advance in their career. Once a TSA agent has some experience, they may advance to a number of different higher-ranking positions. These positions include:

  • Scheduling Operations Officer 
  • Aviation Regulatory Inspector 
  • Transportation Security Inspector of Cargo
  • Transport Security Manager
  • Supervisory Transportation Security Officer 
  • Lead Transportation Security Officer 
  • Intelligence Operations Specialist

Each of these positions are available to TSA agents once they have enough experience. Each of these higher-ranking positions require various education and experience levels. 

If instead of taking on a higher-ranking position a TSA agent can also specialize in different areas. A TSA agent also has the opportunity to become specialized in one of five additional areas which include: 

  • Transportation Security Specialist – Explosives

Transportation Security Specialist -Explosives requires additional training which specializes in screening for explosives, and how to detect explosive devices that may be uniquely disguised.

  • Behavior Detection

Behavior Detection are highly trained TSA agents who specialize in detecting suspicious activities and are trained how to question these individuals. 

  • Federal Air Marshal Services 

The Federal Air Marshal Service is used to help manage and support the VIPR Teams, explosive detection canine teams, the federal flight deck officer program, and they help train flight crew members in self-defense programs. 

  • Explosive Detection Canine Teams 

Explosive Detection Canine Teams requires several months of training for both the K-9 and the handler. These teams use K-9 units to detect explosives and other illegal substances that are trying to be brought on. 

  • Visible Intermodal and Response Teams 

Visible Intermodal and Response Teams (VIPR) help to provide additional law enforcement or security presence. The VIRP teams work closely with local law enforcement to help stop terrorist acts and other crimes. They are also used during special events. 

TSA is an essential part in keeping travel by air, water, trains, and roadways safe in The United States. TSA agents interact with many people every day and keep airports not only running safely, but also efficiently. In order to make sure that the most qualified people are hired the TSA has a long hiring and training process sometimes even lasting a few months before a TSA agent can work on their own. 

The training to be a TSA agent takes a long time and once on the job a TSA agent is always learning and must keep up on their skills so that they can pass the annual exams. 

Related Questions 

Is it possible to apply to become a TSA agent if there are not any current positions posted on USAJOBS?

Yes, if there are not any current positions available at the time an individual is wanting to apply, TSA does have something known as a ready pool. With the ready pool individuals who have completed the application and interview process are put into a database for up to one year. If a job opening comes up within that year then the TSA can pull from this list of applications. 

What is the starting pay of a TSA agent? How does it compare to similar jobs? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual salary for a new TSA agent is approximately $42,439 per year. Pay does have the potential to increase the longer a TSA agent is working. In comparison security guards make approximately $28,530 per year, correctional officers make $44,400 per year, and police officers and detectives make approximately $67,290 per year. 

What is the job outlook like for TSA agents? 

The employment growth for TSA agents is slower than what the overall employment growth for jobs in the United States is expected. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, TSA agents are expected to have a three percent growth in employment through the year 2026. Whereas the growth of overall employment in the United States is seven percent. 

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.