How to Become a Probation OfficerHow to Become a Probation OfficerHow to Become a Probation Officer

The primary role of probation officers is to assist individuals on probation (called probationers) through the rehabilitation process. At the heart of the job, probation officers are concerned with keeping the community safe and helping those in their charge successfully complete treatment plans or goals. Probation officers are crucial to communities and to individuals they work with, providing aid to those who may need a second chance. If you’re wondering how to become a probation officer, continue reading.

Probationers clean up litter in the city for community service.

What Does a Probation Officer Do?

Probation officers guide and advise individuals in navigating the terms of their probation. They explain the rules and assess progress over time. These assessments may be made in an office or a court, and they may include a probationer’s family or friends.

Probation officers also help probationers agree on a course of action to fulfill their probation term. They may test probationers for drugs and offer counseling. Additionally, officers recommend and provide access to helpful resources, such as job training opportunities. Throughout the process, probation officers keep detailed, accurate, and organized reports and case files.

Steps for Becoming a Probation Officer

Professionals working toward becoming probation officers need to complete several steps to gain the necessary combination of education, training, and experience for the role.


A career as a probation officer usually calls for at least a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice, social work, and behavioral sciences are particularly sought after. For example, an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can help prepare graduates to enter law enforcement career paths, including the position of probation officer. While a bachelor’s degree is a usual prerequisite, educational requirements vary by jurisdiction, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Training and Experience 

Becoming a probation officer usually requires completing state or federal government-based training that culminates in a certification test. Candidates may also need to work alongside other probation officers as a trainee for up to a year. This helps in gaining the experience necessary to know the ins and outs of the position, such as daily time management, the accurate completion of paperwork, and how to effectively communicate with both clients and legal professionals. Additional training may be required for specializations within the probation officer profession, such as dealing with substance abuse, violent probationers, or juvenile offenses.

Skill Set    

Due to the nature of their work, probation officers need a certain skill set to supervise, guide, and assist those on probation. These skills are reflective of what a probation officer does every day.

Communication: Probation officers speak regularly with probationers and their family members. Based on those discussions, they decide whether to contact lawyers, law enforcement officers, judges, or even treatment providers or specialists. Patience and clarity while communicating is key for any probation officer.

Critical Thinking: Probation officers must be able to use critical thinking skills to determine the best course of action. This includes deciding on the most helpful resources for probationers and their families.

Emotional Stability: Often, probation officers may deal with individuals who are upset or even hostile. During episodes of high emotion, they must stay even tempered and calm.

Organization: Probation officers often juggle many cases at the same time. Each case involves dozens of participants who are tied to it. This may include the probationer’s family, lawyers, law enforcement officers, treatment providers, judges, and more. Probation officers must be highly organized in their approach and systematically keep information accessible to all.

Probation Officer Salaries

Probation officer salaries vary depending on location and the officer’s educational level and experience. The BLS notes that in 2018, the median wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $53,020, with the bottom 10 percent earning less than $34,630 and the highest 10 percent earning more than $94,770.

As of 2018, the highest mean annual probation officer salaries are in the following states, according to the BLS: California ($89,240), Rhode Island ($83,060), New Jersey ($73,810), New York ($70,690), and Iowa ($70,360). More experienced officers may earn higher salaries, as well as those who attain advanced degrees.

Employment Outlook for Probation Officers

According to the BLS, job opportunities for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists are growing about as quickly as all other careers, with an expected increase of 6 percent from 2016 through 2026. Government budgets have a significant impact on hiring trends.

Explore Your Career Options

For professionals who wish to make a difference in their communities by helping those in need of a second chance, choosing Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice degree is a great place to start. Visit the program website to learn more about the degree and potential career opportunities it could help you pursue.


Maryville University, Criminal Justice Careers

Maryville University, Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics: Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: How to Become One

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: Job Outlook 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: Pay

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: What They Do

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