Criminal investigators like police detectives and FBI agents are the everyday heroes in our lives, but securing a high-paying position in this rewarding field is actually quite competitive. Because criminal investigators need minimal college before entering the profession, carefully planning a high school course load that reflects the knowledge needs of a criminal investigator is a wise choice for would-be Eliot Ness types.


Criminal investigators work with forensic scientists to examine the physical evidence surrounding crimes, including fingerprints and other biological evidence, chemicals from weapons or tools, and physical damage done to crime scene environments. Investigators also work with cyber security specialists to examine the computer, phone and other electronic data of criminal suspects, victims and witnesses. Because of this involvement, aspiring criminal investigators should take four years of science in high school, including biology, chemistry, physics and computer science.

Biology and chemistry help investigators identify the materials left at a crime scene, while physics helps them understand the nature of physical damage such as a broken window. Computer science gives investigators a fundamental sense for how data is tracked and stored.


Criminal investigators need sharp logical and analytical skills, and they must understand the physical space in which crime occurs. For this reason, future criminal investigators should take four years of math. Algebra, the study of variables, helps investigators find missing information in a relationship, which is always helpful for solving a crime. Calculus, the study of probability, will help determine how likely it is that certain variables will occur and have an effect on a situation.


Because criminal investigators deal with various members of the public, including lawyers, judges, reporters, psychologists, social workers, criminals, crime witnesses, victims and victims’ families, it’s important that investigators have good communication skills. Therefore, future criminal investigators should take four years of English in high school, including a course devoted solely to writing and a course devoted solely to speech. Criminal investigators have to write detailed reports that lawyers will use in court and from which reporters will quote. They also have to speak on television occasionally and testify in courtrooms.

Social Sciences and Foreign Language

Many forces such as poverty, war and social norms have an influence on criminal activity. Therefore, it is also important for criminal investigators to study the social sciences so that they can better appreciate the unseen factors influencing different crimes. Future criminal investigators should take at least four years of social science courses in high school. They need to understand both the history of different communities and human psychology and sociology to have better knowledge of why crime occurs. Courses like psychology can enhance an investigator’s interpersonal skills, which are important for questioning suspects and witnesses.

Also useful in this regard is the study of foreign languages, since the United States is an immigrant country. It takes four years of high school study to develop a basic ability to speak a foreign language. In the United States, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese and French are all good languages to know, with Spanish in greatest demand.