Learn About Private Detective School and See if a PI Career is for You

Read about the qualifications you'll need in a private investigator career.

Career Overview

private detective school graduate spying with binoculars

Using techniques such as surveillance, interviews and background checks, private investigators gather evidence and verify facts about individuals or companies. Going to private detective school might not be mandatory, but a degree in criminal investigations can give you the qualifications to start a career.

Private detectives provide assistance in civil liability and personal injury cases, insurance claims and fraud, child custody and protection cases, marital infidelity cases and premarital screening. They also offer pre-employment verification and executive, corporate and celebrity protection. Detectives may make phone calls or visit a subject's workplace to verify facts. In missing persons and background check cases, investigators often interview people to gather as much information as possible about an individual.

Training and Education

While there are no academic requirements for this field, a two-year associate's program or a 4-year bachelor's program in a criminal justice-related area is helpful to aspiring private detectives and investigators.

Most corporate investigators must have a bachelor's degree, and some corporate investigators have master's degrees in business administration or law, but any training to be a private detective will help you in your career.

Many schools offering criminal justice degrees also cover private investigation, criminal, financial and cybercrime investigation techniques.

Corporate investigators hired by large companies may also receive formal training from their employers on business practices, management structure and various finance-related topics.

Licensing and Certification

Most states require private detectives and investigators to be licensed. Requirements vary widely, but convicted felons cannot get a detective license.

In California, private detectives and investigators must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a combination of education in police science, criminal law or justice
  • Have three years (6,000 hours) of investigative experience
  • Pass an evaluation by the Federal Department of Justice and a criminal history background check
  • Pass a state examination covering laws and regulations
  • Meet requirements for a firearms permit

There are many organizations that certify investigators. The National Association of Legal Investigators (NALI) confers the title Certified Legal Investigator to licensed investigators who specialize in negligence or criminal defense investigation and meet experience, education and continuing training requirements.