Private Investigation School: Courses and Certification Program Info

Private investigation courses are sometimes available as part of a criminal justice degree program, or they may be offered as part of a stand-alone certificate program.

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Essential Information

Private investigators are often self-employed, and licensing requirements vary by state, but some training is typically required. While private investigation courses may be part of criminal justice programs, they are also commonly offered as independent certificate programs. A certificate can qualify private investigators to pursue state licensure, but some states also require apprenticeships. Courses included in a private investigation training program cover basic legal training regarding criminal codes, courtroom procedures and relevant laws. Students practice interviewing techniques by role-playing, and they learn to use surveillance equipment and other relevant technology.

Here are some major concepts covered in private investigation courses:

  • Basics of law
  • Investigation techniques
  • Ethics of private investigation
  • Surveillance practices
  • Technology and surveillance
  • Interview techniques

List of Courses

Legal Basics

Private investigators must be aware of their rights and obligations under the law. In this class, students review applicable state and federal civil and criminal codes. Coursework includes legal terminology, courtroom procedures, deposition procedures and how to prepare court-admissible files.

Investigative Techniques

Aspiring private investigators are introduced to common case types and learn how to handle them legally and ethically. Examples include missing person's cases, accidents, domestic cases, pre-employment checks, competitive intelligence, and asset searches. Students practice research skills using local, state and federal public records; they also learn to utilize commercial databases and the Internet. Standards for documenting results and preparing reports are also discussed.


A key responsibility of private investigators is conducting surveillance to collect evidence. This class emphasizes the development of observation and reporting skills using audio and video recordings, as well as photography. Students perform surveillance indoors and outdoors, on foot and while driving. They learn to be mindful of the potential for counter-surveillance measures. This class includes the use of technology in surveillance and how to prepare findings for client review.

Interview Procedures

Interviewing clients and persons of interest is a crucial part of a private investigator's work. This class is required to complete most private investigator certificate programs. It covers how to document conversations through taking notes, videotaping or audio recording interviews. The art of interpreting interviews and gleaning useful information is honed through role-playing and the review of video and audio recordings.


Colleges and universities typically offer courses in private investigation separate from 4-year degree programs for criminal justice. Most award certificates of completion to students who successfully complete a series of such courses. This certificate qualifies its holders to pursue state licensure, which may also be informally referred to as 'certification.' In some states, an apprenticeship is also required to become licensed. Licensed private investigators can open their own investigative agencies or work for law enforcement agencies.

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