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Criminal Investigations Degree

Criminal investigation degrees are generally two-year programs consisting of 60 credit hours focusing on the fundamentals of proper evidence handling, law enforcement techniques, and interrogation. This degree can help graduates qualify for a position as a law enforcement officer or criminal investigator. There are many options for earning the degree through on-campus and online criminal investigation programs. While a degree may not be necessary for entry-level positions, advanced training may help with career advancement. According to O*Net OnLine, criminal investigators and special agents made a median salary of $77,210 with no projected job growth through 2024.1

CJDS Fact: Employers of criminal investigators include private firms, local police agencies, and federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

Criminal Investigation Training and Courses

Formal criminal investigation training includes learning how to collect and record evidence and establish crime scenes, important aspects of work for most law enforcement officers. Students earning criminal investigations degrees also learn about methods of analyzing evidence in the field of forensic science.

Many departments appreciate at least 60 credit hours of college credit (which is the equivalent of an associate’s degree) for entry-level law enforcement positions and therefore a criminal investigations degree can be a good choice for students who want a career in law enforcement or police work. Keeping in mind that applicants still face a four-to-six-month period of training at an academy, taking coursework in criminal investigations can give one an advantage over other recruits. According to O*NET OnLine, 40% of criminal investigators and special agents had either a post-graduate certificate or some college education.1

Common courses in a criminal investigator program include:

  • Introduction to Law Enforcement
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Interview & Interrogation
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Criminal Evidence
  • Forensic Techniques
  • Cyber Crime
  • Security Operations
  • Homeland Security
  • Police Administration
  • Leadership in Criminal Justice

Traditional Criminal Investigator Degree Programs

Fox Valley Technical College logo

Fox Valley Technical College (Appleton, WI)

The Fox Valley Technical College certificate program in Criminal Investigations introduces students to various aspects of investigation, including crime scene analysis, interviewing, and computer crime investigations. The program comprises 16 credits and can be completed in one year. Courses include Interview & Interrogation, Basic Crime Scene Photography, and Investigating Internet Crime. Credits from previous study can be easily transferred towards the certificate program or the certificate credits can be used towards another associate’s or bachelor’s degree program at many of the college’s affiliates. Further study is available through the university’s associate’s degree in criminal justice, associate’s degree in forensic science, or technical degree in law enforcement. Students benefit from the National Criminal Justice Training Center, which provides additional training opportunities and professional development to law enforcement professionals in all areas.

Saint Peter's University

Saint Peter’s University (Jersey City, NJ)

Saint Peter’s University offers a Bachelor of Arts with several concentrations that may appeal to individuals interested in a career in criminal investigations: Corrections, Police Administration, and Investigative Sciences. All programs require students to complete 48 credits, including core courses such as criminology, criminal procedure, and criminal evidence. In the Corrections concentration, students study psychology and criminal behavior and prepare for employment in correctional facilities or law enforcement. In the Police Administration concentration, the courses focus on various aspects of law enforcement training. Finally, the Investigative Sciences concentration prepares majors for work opportunities in crime analysis and leadership. All students complete an internship as part of the degree that allows them to connect classroom learning to practical environments. Saint Peter’s University is a Jesuit institution and many spiritual and community-oriented resources are available to students.

Online Criminal Investigations Degree Programs

Miller-Motte College logo

Miller-Motte College (Wilmington, NC)

Students at Miller-Motte College can complete either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree online in criminal justice with a broad foundation including criminal investigations. The associate’s degree requires 92 quarter credits and takes two years of full-time study to complete while the bachelor’s degree takes four years of full-time study to complete. Students take general education credits in English, math, and psychology, as well as major credits including criminology, juvenile justice, and criminal investigations. The programs also include an externship to help students apply their learning in a supervised setting and gain work experience in the field. Miller-Motte College programs offer flexible program structures to accommodate that are designed with the needs of working professionals, part-time students, and adult learners who are returning to school in mind.

Eastern Kentucky University logo

Eastern Kentucky University (Richmond, KY)

Eastern Kentucky University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Corrections and Juvenile Justice that prepares students to work in many different law enforcement settings. Students are required to complete 120 credits, including core courses, electives, and general education requirements. Courses are offered in an accelerated, eight-week format, with new courses starting every six weeks during the year. Completing the degree takes four years if completed full-time. Faculty have extensive experience in different areas of law enforcement and criminal justice practice and graduates have found employment in various correctional institutions in Kentucky. The university also offers two undergraduate certificate programs in Correctional Intervention Strategies and Youth Services. These programs only require 24 credits and offer an introduction to specific areas of criminal investigation and analysis.

Criminal Investigations Job Description

Positions for criminal investigation degree holders are available at nearly every level of government. Many graduates find employment in local and regional law enforcement or crime scene investigation. Common job tasks for law enforcement professionals include locating and apprehending criminals, interrogating suspects, and securing crime scenes. Individuals who pursue crime scene investigation careers may be involved in locating and securing crime scenes, identifying suspects, and analyzing evidence. Some private laboratories also need help analyzing fluid samples or other evidence-related tasks that criminal investigations students will be prepared to undertake.

Related Jobs

A degree in criminal investigations may help graduates get started in criminal justice careers such as:

You can also view current job openings in your state and research job requirements at our criminal justice job board.

Criminal Investigations Professional Certification

There is no required professional certification for criminal investigation graduates as individuals may choose different career paths after graduation. Graduates may wish to review relevant voluntary professional certifications offered by organizations such as ASIS International.

Criminal Investigations Salary and Job Outlook

Pay varies depending on the career path you choose, your education and experience level, and the agency for which you work. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an annual median wage of $77,210 for detectives and criminal investigators in 2015.2 Salaries for law enforcement professionals also vary based on experience. Police patrol officers earned a median salary of $58,320, while first-line supervisors of police and detectives earned $82,090.3,43,4

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What is the difference between a criminal investigations degree and a crime scene investigations degree?

Answer: These two degree programs have some courses in common as they both endeavor to teach students about crime scene investigation techniques. However, the criminal investigation degree may also include courses on law enforcement techniques and criminal interrogations.

Question: Can I earn a criminal investigations degree online?

Answer: Yes. There are many criminal investigations programs at the associate or undergraduate level that can be completed either completely online or in a hybrid manner.

1. O*Net OnLine: Criminal Investigators and Special Agents: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.03
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages May 2015, Detectives and Criminal Investigators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm
3. O*Net OnLine: Police Patrol Officers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3051.01
4. O*Net OnLine: First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-1012.00