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Students seeking distance-learning training in private investigation can find fully online options at traditional colleges and universities as well as private online career schools. These institutions may offer a private investigator certificate or diploma program, but relevant coursework could also be found in bachelor's degree programs focused on criminal justice. Admission to an online undergraduate or continuing education program may primarily require a high school diploma or GED. Some programs require reference letters as well.
Private Investigation Certificate
Investigative techniques are the core of this online private investigation certificate program. Students receive training in reporting, surveillance, and information gathering. The program prepares students for private investigation careers, as well as state licensing. Unlike on-campus learners, online students complete courses asynchronously and courses are available online 24 hours a day.
The curriculum includes courses in criminal law and investigative theories. Courses typically provide generalized information that can be applied to all states. Classes a prospective private investigator may take include the following:
- Private investigations
- Legal principles
- Loss prevention
Crime Investigation and Analysis Certificate
Actual crime data and research is integrated into coursework in an online crime investigation and analysis program, which prepares students to process crime scenes and identify crime prevention techniques. Though not an on-campus program, students still have the opportunity to acquire hands-on experience analyzing and interpreting relevant data. Online learners complete supplemental text readings, as well as view online lectures through slides and presentations. Assignments are completed online and submitted through e-mail.
This program focuses on subjects unique to crime scene investigation that enable students to collect and interpret evidence, as well as prevent and control crime. Common coursework includes:
- Crime control strategies
- Crime analysis
- Criminal justice research
- Geographic criminology
- Applied crime mapping
Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
Students who successfully complete a distance learning criminal justice bachelor-level program possess the skills and knowledge necessary to begin or advance a private investigator career path. Some online programs offer a specialization in crime scene investigation (CSI), which enhances the understanding of criminal behavior and investigative techniques. Online bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice may include synchronous lectures using real-time conferencing software. Students interact with faculty and students through course management systems, e-mail, discussion boards and instant messenger.
Crime scene investigation principles are explored in a variety of online courses designed to familiarize students with key concepts in criminal justice, corrections and criminal law. General education courses in areas like English, math and science are required along with classes in the major including:
- Criminal theories
- Criminal justice research
- Crime analysis
- Blood patterns and crime scenes
- Fingerprint identification
- Ballistics and firearms
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), working as a private investigator typically requires at least a high school diploma but postsecondary training is often preferred or required as well (www.bls.gov). Regardless of formal academic backgrounds, most professionals in this field have previous work experience in law enforcement, the military, or in related fields. Most states require private investigators to obtain licensure, which may require candidates to have a certain amount of relevant work experience and a clean criminal background check. The BLS reports that employment in this occupation is expected to grow 5% between 2014 and 2024.
Aspiring private investigators can get career-specific training from an online certificate in private investigation or the related field of crime investigation and analysis. Bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice can also lead to a career in the field, but students can expect to study a broader range of topics and take general education courses as well.