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Learn About Becoming A Law Enforcement Officer With a BA in Criminology

For those interested in public service and keeping the community safe, law enforcement can be a fulfilling career choice. Whether you are interested in working as a police officer, an FBI agent or a private investigator, a BA in criminology can provide a foundation for a variety of positions. This field is perfect for those who prefer jobs outside of the typical office setting and wish to make a positive impact on their community.

It is not surprising that the barriers to entry differ based on the position in question. Private investigators have the fewest prerequisites, while FBI agents have the most stringent. Through a BA in criminology program, you can gain an understanding of the law — and the criminals who break those laws — that can help you in your career, no matter which path you choose.

Becoming a Police Officer

The role of police officer is one of the most versatile jobs in law enforcement. Police officers must be able to handle a wide variety of situations and communicate effectively with many different kinds of people.

According to USA Today, candidates must be at least 21 years old, hold U.S. citizenship and have a valid driver’s license. They must also have a clean background check and be cleared to carry firearms and operate vehicles. A psychological evaluation is also required.

While police officers are not required to have a bachelor’s degree, they must have some college credits. This requirement varies depending on the state, with some states requiring up to 60 credit hours. It is of great benefit to have an educational background in criminology as well as knowledge of a foreign language.

Candidates who meet these requirements and pass the entrance exam undergo 12 to 14 weeks of training in the policy academy. The curriculum includes legal studies, emergency first-aid and firearms training.

PayScale places the average salary for police officers in the U.S. at $50,789 per year, based on May 2019 data.

Becoming an FBI Agent

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, is a branch of the federal government responsible for investigating federal crimes. The requirements to become an FBI agent are more rigorous than those to become a police officer, although many of the skill sets are similar. Chron contributor Jayne Thomson writes, “On any given day, [an FBI agent] may be interviewing witnesses, conducting surveillance activities, participating in arrests or working undercover.”

According to, applicants must be U.S. citizens between 23 and 37 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, and pass a background check and drug test. Unlike police officers, FBI agents must have a bachelor’s degree. There is a range of acceptable degrees, including those in computer science, law and accounting. Applicants must also have three or more years of work experience related to their field.

The FBI application process involves tests for physical health and fitness as well as an extensive background check. Candidates who pass these tests undergo a 20-week training program at the FBI academy, followed by a two-year probationary period.

A BA in criminology can help students gain the knowledge they will need to become FBI agents. Related work experience, FBI internships and physical fitness are other ways to make your application stand out.

According to May 2019 PayScale data, the average salary for FBI agents is $64,428 per year.

Become a Private Investigator

Unlike police officers and FBI agents, private investigators can be hired by private citizens. states, “A private investigator, or PI, may conduct surveillance and background investigations on individuals, study crime scenes to search for clues, report information to the authorities, and occasionally testify in court.”

Broadly speaking, there are no educational requirements for being a private investigator, although candidates are much more likely to be hired if they have a bachelor’s degree. Most states require a PI license, and most PI firms will require background checks and drug screens prior to hiring. Overall, however, the requirements for becoming a PI are much less stringent than those of a police officer or FBI agent.

According to How Stuff Works, roughly a quarter of private investigators are self-employed, while the rest work for PI firms. They must possess a broad and versatile skill set that includes knowing how to use technology, navigate the legal system and communicate effectively.

According to May 2019 PayScale data, private investigators earn an average of $51,733 per year.

Having a BA in criminology is a great way to gain an understanding of the criminal justice and legal systems in the U.S. Whether you are interested in becoming a private investigator, police officer or FBI agent, you’ll find that the skills and knowledge gained in a criminology degree program can serve you well in your pursuits.

Learn more about A-State’s online Bachelor of Arts in Criminology program.


USA Today: 8 Requirements to Become a Police Officer How to Become an FBI Special Agent Private Investigator

Chron: How Much Does an FBI Agent Make Per Year?

How Stuff Works: How Private Investigators Work

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