How Do You Become a Detective? Become an Investigator

You may wonder how do you become a detective or an investigator? Well, the answer is twofold for those considering a career in law enforcement.

If you would like to become a detective, you may want to consider which department you would like to work for, first. Do you want to handle robberies, homicides, car thefts, or something else? But before then, you will most likely have to be a police officer. You will have to go through a probation period which may last anywhere from 6 to 24 months, depending on the Police Department. Exams might not be offered to you until you complete a certain number of years on the force.

In most cases an educational requirement must be met in order to qualify for the detective exam. This also varies by the Police Department, but usually requires no more than a bachelor degree.

Once you have that covered, you apply for the detective exam. Granted you pass the exam, you will be stationed in a precinct where your newly acquired skill may be needed the most. If you passed the exam with flying colors you may have the opportunity to pick your new precinct, but don’t count on it.

If you would like to become an investigator then you have to consider what type of investigator you would like to be:

  • Would you like to become a homicide detective or one that handles, robberies and other crimes?
  • Would you like to become a forensic investigator? This definitely requires more schooling, but is a very rewarding position which has many opportunities in local, state, and federal law enforcement.
  • Would you like to become an arson investigator? If so, your skills can be used in local law enforcement, as well as federal positions, like: ATF, FBI, or US Forest Service (which has a law-enforcement branch).

The investigator and the detective positions pay considerably more when compared with the title of a police officer. However, with higher pay come higher expectations. These expectations may include a sharp mind and a higher level of education.

Both positions are usually a step beyond the entry-level position and either require additional training, examination, or both.

If you are busy expanding your career, then you should consider criminal justice online courses, certificates, and degree programs. I hope this blog could be of an assistance to you.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

41 comments… add one
  • Annmarie sanchez

    Hey okay I’m very far from being a detective or an investigator but I love this industry so much!! That I have a million & one questions because I’m afraid I’m probably not fit for the job but boy would I love to become something in the criminal justice industry its like my dream and passion if there was a way or someone I could like keep in contact to help me out that would be so great!!

    • Radek M. Gadek


      That’s great to hear. If by “I’m probably not fit for the job” you mean that you may not be the right candidate, then you should take some time to weigh your options and look at other criminal justice career options. If you mean “not fit” physically, then I highly recommend working on the issues prior to becoming a police officer / detective. Also, there are CJ careers that do not require stringent physical requirements, and many are listed on this very site. Keep in touch.

  • Rash

    I highly recommend working on the issues prior to becoming a police officer / detective. Also, there are CJ careers that do not require stringent physical requirements, and many are listed on this very site. Thanks.



  • Ali kk

    My question is i am from Asia, if i want to be a US police officer or detective even i have bachelor degree and American nationality so can i be a officer or detective in US is that possible.Even i have American nationality.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      If you’re an American national, you should be fine. You may be required to live in the US prior to starting work, however. Your English and communication skills will be tested, too.

  • Ali kk

    Ok if i have bachelor degree in criminology so what kind of jobs for me even i have English and communication skills.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Ali, click around the site. Check out the “Careers” section on top.

  • mmitchell

    how much does a homicide detective gets paid? and how many homicides been solved?

  • miriam macias

    how many years it takes to graduate from criminal investigator?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Usually a Criminal Investigator, or a Detective, tends to need more experience than education under his or her belt. Basically, one should qualify for becoming a police officer first, and then, move onto being an investigator. There are some State investigative agencies that hire straight out of college, but usually a bachelor level education is required.

      • shafaq

        Can we do a course, to be a detective? Is it possible?? How many years will it take just studying to be one???

  • Jorge P.

    First let me start by saying that you have an amazing website and it’s very detailed and helpful. Well, I’m a freshman in high school and I have already chosen the career path i want to go in to after high school. I would like to become a detective working in homicides definitely and maybe other things alongside homicides, can detectives do that? Also what are the requirements in Massachusetts if any, and any degrees that are needed and degrees that are recommended that will help me in attaining my very possible dream of becoming a detective. thank you so much .

    • Radek M. Gadek


      Usually detectives are set up to work in their unit, like: homicide, robbery, auto-theft, sex crimes, and etc. However, there are those that jump from one to the other. This is usually NOT the norm and that may happen in smaller departments more than anywhere else.

      I’m not too sure on the requirements for MA, but I did write about best criminal justice schools in Massachusetts and that should help you get started. Also, check out the Detective Career page for more great info (make sure to read the comments, too).

  • Rebecca R. Silva

    i love to be a detective but am still stuck because i really want to be a probation officer. Now that am gonna start college in a couple months am still not decided on what to be, but at the same time i feel if i become a detective its gonna take time from my life and i want to have a family in the future. So idk what ill be but i know its gonna be something in criminal justice

  • Ana

    Is there any other faster way to become a detective/investigator without having to be a police officer for X amount of years.? Like a degree will get you straight to detective/investigator.??

    thankz :)

    • Radek M. Gadek

      most of the time, NO. A college degree may work for state and federal investigative agencies, but often law enforcement / investigative experience may be preferred.

  • melody

    i want to be detective but do i really have to be a police officer? i want to work with kids who are being abused. this website has really helped thanks!!!!!!!!

  • Whitney

    hey I’m in school now getting my AS degree in Criminal Justice, will that get me to be a investigator/ detective, or will I have to attend a police academy?

    • Jasmine

      You definitely have to attend a police academy first.

  • joshua

    hey i was wondering if you can get a job as a /investigator or detective/ if you have a AS degree without doing the police academy?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Most detectives are police officers first. That said, not all police officers / detectives go to a “police academy.” Many states have certification courses that help certify a person for law enforcement positions for which he or she will need to apply. Where as, a police academy is a big investment in a recruit by the police department that teaches more than the certification courses would alone. Even though not everyone who goes through the police academy passes the tests and makes it on the force, it seems a more “sure” way of knowing that you’ll have a job. Thousands of dollars are invested in your education and training, and many departments pay a recruit while he or she attends the academy; where a certification would actually cost money to obtain. Still, there are those departments, especially in rural areas where they would love for the applicant to have gone through the State certification process.

      Education, even a Master’s or a PhD, does not substitute for the training requirements set forth by the State or individual police departments that follow the State mandate.

  • Dorothyh

    I was in the police academy at a Community college many years ago. I am beyond the age limit for police officer. I recently graduated with an Associates degree in Law enforcement, since I can not work as a police officer I would like to become a detective…what would I have to do..?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      A vast majority of detective positions, with the exception of a private detective, are law enforcement positions. Thus, one would have to become a police officer first.

      After performing a cursory search at the State Bureaus of Investigation (ie. Georgia and Tennessee has one), where Special Agents investigate various crimes, I couldn’t find any info on the max age limit; at least it’s not prominently shown. I would shoot them an email or give them a ring to find out more.

      Certain agencies may forgo the max age limit or stretch it several years if you have prior law enforcement experience or have been a member of the U.S. Military. Otherwise, it can be hard to find employment as a detective over the age of 35.

  • John

    Hello, everyone my name is John Alvarez. I am very interesting become detective or police officer. I always want to police because I love to help people solve a problem. I have a small problem and i want to share with my life. When i was born deaf and mute all my life until now my life is very competeing become hearing impaired and speak too. I can hear the radio and speak too. I know I can become a police officer but they afraid of me to become a police officer because i am disabled. My mind said (not true) because I can show them i can do it and prove them that i am one can become police officer dream my true. I am tired of same thing over over over time so only way it s time new 2012 year as move new step by step let people see me that I am really want challenge hearing people are same human being. I can handle with people and disable too. Anyone can help me out and what is your opinion? I know U.S. LAW but I disagree!

  • CHeath

    I am very interested in investigative work. I am currently in college and will acquire my associates this semester. I need to decide which direction I want to go with my education/career. I am obsessed with missing persons cases and spend my free time reading about them. What type of investigator/detective works on these types of cases? What would I need to do to get there? I am a healthy 32 year old woman with 2 children. Am I too old to pursue this career at this point?

    • Ls

      Hi CHeath,
      I am also very interesting in this. I am currently in my 2nd year at UCSD, so if you found out any information, please let me know!
      Thank you!

  • Destiney

    i am a junior in high school and have started looking at schools and jobs i think i might want to pursue. i am thinking about school social work or a homicide detective. to be a detective do you have to become a police officer first? do you have to go to the police academy or is there a different school you go too?

  • Sandy

    Hi, Well I was a police officer for about 10 yrs. I got an AA degree first even though it was not required. I am female, 5 ft. 135lbs, or I was when I became an officer. I went through the police academy along with others from other police depts. But let me tell you, being a police officer is not like on t.v. There is a lot of boring time when just nothing is happening and being a detective (which I did also) requires you to knock on a lot of doors and talk to the same people the originating officer talked to. Law enforcement is a calling… not an exciting t.v. series. Even the real life shows like Cops only shows you the “action” times. Mainly you drive around and look for people committing crimes, answer radio calls, and do a lot of paperwork. I loved my job and I miss it. But you need to be realistic about it. And being a detective takes years of being a cop and then there are the politics you have to go through. Even if you have a degree it is not a sure thing that you will be a detective. You might find yourself being a street cop for years.. or life. And there are lots of disappointments when you go through the whole nine yards, put your suspect in jail, and then some attorney gets him off the hook in court or a jury lets him go. Prepare yourselves… talk to real cops before you decide that you want to be one..or want to be a detective. Good luck.

    • Radek Gadek

      Sandy, well said. Thank you for sharing your story.

      On a side not, a good detective show, where they also show the “action moments” with the daily grind intertwined, is The First 48 on A&E. Imagine that for every minute of footage (about 42min per one-hour show) it takes countless man-hours of questioning, canvasing the neighborhood, coordinating with various departments and agencies, writing up reports, working on other open cases, and more. The First 48 is probably the most realistic out of all the cop shows, but as Sandy described it, take it with a grain of salt. A healthy dose of skepticism and realism is a good thing when watching “reality TV.”

  • Tiffany

    I heard that there are some states that do not require you to be a police officer first, do you know which states that would be?

  • Keala

    Hi.. I have a just a question in how to become an agent of some sort that helps and does some investigating on online child abuse? I’m not sure of what or who there called. But I’ve been seeing so many videos online with parents abusing their own child and posting them on the internet like it’s funny. I know most of them are internationally and I want to be someone who cracks down on them. It’s just so disturbing and I want to be apart of putting them in jail or just finding them and giving them to the right authorities. Please let me know what I need to do. thank you

    • Ivan

      I am no expert here, but I definitely know that international crimes, no matter what offense, are usually dealt with through an agency called Interpol. The Interpol is kind of like world-wide FBI if you will. They have branches for all kinds of crimes, ranging from terrorism to financial fraud. I am sure they also have a child protection branch and if you want, you can look into that, but be aware that Interpol is a very difficult place to get into.

      Interpol has a specific area for Crimes against Children. Here is the direct link to it:

  • Dario

    Hi, I was wondering if I get a major in criminal justice do I still have to become a police officer or can I just take the test?

    • Radek Gadek

      In most cases you have to hold the position of a police officer first, no matter the degree you hold.

  • Ivan

    First of all, thank you for this website. It has given so much information that I couldn’t find for a long time on other sources. I am looking for a career in Law Enforcement (specifically detective, or investigator) and am applying to John Jay College for Criminal Justice in New York. Am I headed in the right direction, and if so, what major should I go for? Thank you

    • Radek Gadek

      Hey Ivan,

      John Jay is one of the best schools for CJ, but I want to make sure you’re aware of other degrees like Business or Accounting which may be of great help, too. I wrote a few articles on “other” great options… make sure to read the comments as well.

      1. What Jobs Can You Get With a Criminal Justice Degree?
      2. Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth It or Worthless?

      BTW, thanks for contributing. I’m putting both of your contributing comments together for curating purposes.

  • Nick

    Hey. My dream is to eventually become a police chief of either New York or Miami. And I am really sincerely trying my hardest. Now i joined the military in order to get free college to get a masters degree in criminal justice. But my question is would it be better for me to get my masters degree right now or just join the police force now?

  • dericka Jackson

    Could you become a detective starting off as a probation officer?

  • Alvins Mcleans

    Hi,i am really interested in solving crimes and look forward into taking a course in that question is can one be a detective and a forensic scientist at the same time and which universities in the world (especially Africa) provide forensic courses and my last question is does one require proper physical training to be a detective/investigator ?

  • Sarah

    Hello, I want to become a police detective. also is there any discrimination for weight and height to be a police officer? anyway how long would I have to be a police officer to take the test to be a detective?

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