How to Become a Licensed Private Investigator Online

Apr 26, 2020

Explore information about licensure requirements and online study options for private investigators. Although individuals cannot become licensed private investigators completely online, they can take advantage of private investigator training and licensing exam prep courses that are available online.

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Online Study Options

If you want to become a private investigator, you can prepare for the licensure exam through online certificate and degree programs, as well as stand-alone courses. Such training opportunities are also available on campus. While licensure exams must be completed on site at approved testing centers, you can find online opportunities to fulfill education and training requirements. For instance, a student may earn a certificate or diploma in private investigations through an online program. Topics of study within these programs can include investigation and interview techniques, information gathering, an overview of state and federal laws, crime scenes, surveillance, and undercover work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some private investigators need to have earned an associate's or bachelor's degree in criminal justice or police science. Interested students can find online programs in these fields, covering topics like:

  • Criminology
  • Law, policing, and corrections in the United States
  • Police administration
  • Juvenile justice system
  • Sociology
  • Criminal justice ethics

Online license exam prep courses, which focus specifically on preparing students for the licensure exam, are also available. They focus on subjects such as gathering and using information and basic investigative techniques. They are often required in order to obtain a license in the state in which the student resides.

On-Campus Study Options

On-campus courses and degree programs are also available in private investigation, criminal justice, or police science. Criminal justice and police science degree programs often offer courses that provide the background necessary for a career as a private investigator. General course topics include:

  • Criminal investigation
  • The U.S. criminal justice system
  • Research methods
  • Criminology

Licensure Requirements

Most states require that private investigators be licensed, with specific licensing requirements varying from state to state. Many states require private investigators to be a certain age, have a combination of education and work experience, pass a criminal background check, and pass a written examination. Private investigators who wish to carry guns or other weapons may have to obtain additional licenses.

Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported average salaries for private detectives and investigators in May 2018. The mean annual salary for this profession was $56,810. The highest-paid private investigators worked for electric power generation, transmission and distribution companies, making a mean annual wage of $100,560. Private investigators working for local governments made an average of $60,290. The BLS anticipates an 8% increase in jobs for private investigators from 2018-2028, largely due to concerns about Internet threats, data protection, and property safeguarding.

To get ready for the private investigator licensure exam and for future career success, it can be helpful to complete an online educational program covering topics related to criminal justice and the legal system.

Expert Contributor: Edward LaBarge Edward is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional & digital forensic examiner. He's taught cyber crime courses & worked in the US Army.

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