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What Should I Major in If I Want to Be a Private Investigator?

by Owen R. Smith, studioD

Private investigators gained notoriety thanks to Hollywood films and pulp fiction, but the fictional portrayal only tells part of the story. Modern real-life private eyes need to have the right education to do their job properly, and that often includes a college degree. While not all private detective jobs require a bachelor's degree, there are certain majors that can help prepare you for a career as a P.I.


There are certain qualities that separate good private detectives from bad ones. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are five qualities that each private investigator must possess: communication skills, honesty, inquisitiveness, the ability to solve problems and resourcefulness. These are the same sorts of skills that many law enforcement officers use in their jobs, and for that reason many people believe that you need to be a former law enforcement officer to become a private eye. However, those same skills can be learned in just about any college classroom.


Many private investigators who are not former law enforcement officers have law degrees. In some states, such as California, a law degree or equivalent experience is required to become a licensed P.I. Studying law gives detectives a strong understanding of their rights, the rights of their clients and the rights of the subjects of their investigations. It also utilizes and hones the same five skills that the Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends private investigators master.

Business And Computer Science

For investigators who want to enter the corporate world, some special skills are required. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, corporate investigators will need to understand accounting, finance and business. By majoring in any of those subjects, you can give yourself a strong knowledge base from which to work. To become a computer forensics investigator, you will need to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science. However, computer forensics investigators also need to be expert detectives, and the bureau warns that you might need lengthy training to become proficient in both areas.


Journalism classes can be especially helpful since they teach you how to investigate, analyze and then write about a variety of situations. Investigative journalists do much of the same work as a private investigator and utilize many of the same skills, with the difference being that journalists publish their findings while investigators report back to individuals or corporations. There are numerous undergraduate and graduate journalism programs that teach investigative journalism, such as the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University or the journalism program at Columbia University.

About the Author

Owen R. Smith is a client relations manager for Bridgewater Digital who has held staff positions with the "East Oregonian" and" The Oregonian." He began his professional writing career at the "Portland State Vanguard," which included stints as news editor, copy editor and editor-in-chief. He published his first book in 2010.

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