A criminal investigator’s career may seem like prime material for the TV or movie screen. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while some criminal investigators have a college education, the majority have nothing more than a high school diploma -- they learn their skills on the job. A number of classes can hone your skills and help prepare you for a job as a criminal investigator -- and improve your chances of being hired.
Computer science is a powerful tool in a criminal investigator's arsenal. Computer forensics, computer monitoring and computer-based research can all provide valuable evidence in a case. While your high school isn't likely to offer advanced-level computer science courses, you probably do have access to classes in computer research, computer applications and maybe even computer programming. Take as many of these classes as you can, and use computers in your research for other classes, as well. The more comfortable you are with computers, and the more knowledgeable you are with software, the better.
As a criminal investigator, you will need to interview subjects and to write up extensive reports, both of which will require competency in English language, writing and reading. Basic courses in writing and composition can teach you how to construct an argument and to analyze evidence for support, which will help you develop the critical thinking skills necessary for your work as a criminal investigator. Classes in journalism, public speaking or debate can further hone the skills you will use in interviewing subjects. If these classes are not available, extracurricular activities like a student newspaper or debate team can also help you develop these skills.
More and more people in the United States speak another language, and you may end up having to interview some of them in your work as a criminal investigator. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.9 percent of people in the U.S. spoke Spanish in 2011, and that number is expected to continue to rise. Most high school programs offer up to four years of Spanish classes. Taking these courses can give you the skills you need to interact with more witnesses and clients. If you achieve fluency, you can also increase your marketability and your salary potential. If you live in an area that has a large population that speaks a different language, you may want to consider taking courses in that language instead.
Psychology and Social Science
A large part of your job as a criminal investigator will be to understand the motivation behind certain crimes in order to find out who did them. Education in basic psychology can help you gain some insight. Courses in social sciences can also help you understand how factors such as poverty, abuse and cultural trends influence crime. Most high schools offer courses in both basic psychology and in social sciences. Taking these courses can give you insights that will help you do your job as a criminal investigator.
2016 Salary Information for Private Detectives and Investigators
Private detectives and investigators earned a median annual salary of $48,190 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, private detectives and investigators earned a 25th percentile salary of $35,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $66,300, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 41,400 people were employed in the U.S. as private detectives and investigators.
- U.S. Census Bureau: Language Use in the United States: 2011
- Everest College: Criminal Investigations, Associate in Science Degree
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Private Detectives and Investigators
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: Detectives and Criminal Investigators
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Private Detectives and Investigators
- Career Trend: Private Detectives and Investigators
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images