How to Become a Probation Officer: Career Guide

A probation officer has the responsibility of supervising the activities of individuals who have been convicted of crimes and released on probation.

A probation officer is very similar to a parole officer in that both types of law enforcement deal with convicts, but probation officers primarily deal with convicts of lesser crimes who have not been recently discharged from state or federal prison.

How to be a probation officer

Probation officers work with local, state, and federal prison systems.

When a convict is released from state or federal prison, in most cases they are discharged from physical custody but may remain in the custody of the state by way of parole for a period of time.

Learn more about how to become a parole officer.

The job of a probation officer includes helping these individuals find treatment options, gain employment, and track the individual’s overall progress when they are released from prison.

Probation officers will document their findings and hold meetings with other individuals responsible for the case to discuss different options that may be available.

Ultimately, the job of a probation officer is to serve as a mentor and supervisor for offenders who are trying to rejoin society.

Job Description

The ultimate goal of a Probation Officer is to guide recently released felons to life after prison.

A Probation Officer will supervise said people and ensure that they are abiding by laws and completing the terms of their release.

There are plenty of tasks for a Probation Officer to do on a daily basis, and that includes:

  • Counsel offenders
  • Monitor recently released inmates
  • Interview offenders, families, and law enforcement
  • Identify the social or personal problems of the offender
  • Provide knowledge to offenders about rules and regulations
  • Prepare pre-sentencing reports
  • Visit the homes, workplaces, and schools of the offender
  • Testify in court
  • Drug testing
  • Install a monitoring system on an offender

Minimum Qualifications

One of the skills that a person must have in order to be successful in this career is communication ability.

This job requires a person to communicate not only with the offender, but also with the offender’s friends and family, the judge who is overseeing the case, and treatment specialists, all on a regular basis.

How to Become a Probation Officer – In 6 Steps

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

After finishing high school or earning your GED, you’ll need to head off to college in order to become a Probation Officer.

There are plenty of opportunities to earn a degree in your state, but you may opt to do an online program that can be completed in the comfort of your home.

Either option is a great start, and you’ll need about four years to complete a Bachelor’s degree.

It is also important to make sure that you are earning a degree in a relevant area, such as:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Social Work
  • Criminal Law
  • Human Relations
  • Behavioral Science

You’ll want to consider classes that teach about laws in the United States as well as multicultural understanding, interpersonal skills, and how the courts work.

2. Meet Requirements

After you complete a Bachelor’s degree, you are still not ready to become a Probation Officer.

That is because this career requires certain requirements before you can put on the uniform.

In order to become a Probation Officer, you will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Be a United States Citizen
  • Be at least 37 years of age
  • Have a college degree
  • Pass written, endurance, and capability exams
  • Pass psychological and physical exams
  • Complete a background check
  • Have no prior convictions

If you do not meet these requirements, consider joining the police force or other law enforcement until you have successfully completed the list.

3. Gain Experience

Whether you have college experience and are of the right age to become a Probation Officer or not, you still have the opportunity to gain some valuable experience.

This can be done in a variety of ways, including joining law enforcement such as the police force, corrections officer, or even working in case management.

The more experience that you have, the better, and if you can start early, that is the recommended path.

Learning how to control prisoners, understanding where they are coming from, and keeping your emotions in check are all valuable ways to gain experience in this field.

4. Complete Interview Process

Once you have turned 37 and have a Bachelor’s degree as well as relevant experience, you are now ready to apply for a Probation Officer position.

Find job openings online through career websites, or check your local law enforcement agency to help you down the right path.

In order to be eligible for an interview, you will need to have a valid driver’s license, and social security card and possess a transcript from the university in which you graduated.

After applying and being accepted for an interview, you will likely go in front of a panel of senior Probation Officers or law enforcement agents to answer questions.

These questions will pertain to scenarios and how you would deal with them, as well as your personal experience in the field.

5. Complete Training

You’re hired and are ready to take the next step in the process, which is on-the-job training.

This job training is sponsored by the employer that you have applied for, and will likely be a paid position.

This probation/training period can last as long as twelve months or be as short as six months.

Training is given by senior Probation Officers and will often have you shadowing them to understand the expectations of the career.

During this time, learning how to monitor offenders, write reports, conduct surveillance, and administer CPR will be important aspects of the job.

Once you have the training process done, you will be required to complete a certification exam.

Passing this exam will make you a certified Probation Officer.

6. Get Sworn In

You’ve got the job and done the training, all you have left to do is get sworn in.

Being sworn in is a sacred process that shows employers, citizens, and offenders that you are serious about the job and are officially a Probation Officer.

A sworn-in Probation Officer has the power to enforce laws against offenders and take them back to jail if a situation arises.

The swearing-in process typically takes one day and will require you to repeat the oath for officers that you will stay in shape, do your duties efficiently, be honorable, maintain proper conduct, and recognize that you are a public servant.


The road to becoming a Probation Officer can take up to four years to complete.

That is because you will need to possess a Bachelor’s degree in order to hold this position.

With a Bachelor’s degree, you will be able to ensure that you have the necessary education to do the job effectively.

Prospective Probation Officers can choose to enroll online or at a local university to complete their degree.

It is important to note that you will need to have a relevant degree in order to pursue this career.

Some degrees that are considered appropriate for a Probation Officer’s education are:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Correctional Administration
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Criminology
  • Counseling
  • Human Relations

While you are taking the time to study, you’ll need to obtain certain skills in order to be successful in this career.

Consider taking classes that will expand your understanding of the criminal justice system, diversity, public speaking, and computer skills.

Some departments may require that you have at least one year of training in the Department of Corrections before you can complete your goal of working as a Probation Officer.

The types of roles you can assume at the Department of Corrections are:

  • Social Worker
  • Corrections Officer
  • Mental Health Service Provider
  • Department Analyst

It will also be important to maintain on-the-job training, which you’ll likely have to do each year to stay up to date with rules, regulations, and laws.

This training can be in-house, or it could be at a local precinct, law enforcement office, or even through your state’s government.

Sometimes, you will need to complete an exam in order to finish training, other times you may have to do physical work or learn about crisis intervention.

It is not an easy task to become a Probation Officer, but with the right education and determination, you can make this a quality life-long career.

Licensing and Certification

Some departments do not require any certification in order to become a Probation Officer, while others may require that you take an exam in order to become certified.

In some states, you’ll be required to take and pass the Civil Service Exam, which will also require that you complete a background check, drug test, and physical exam.

The Civil Service Exam may take up to one year to study for, and in order to complete you will need to score at least 70 percent.

It is also likely that you’ll only need to be certified in a specific area if you plan to apply for a certain role, including if you are looking to work as a Juvenile Probation Officer.

Certification may require you to attend seminars, complete an academic course, or simply online education.

The time it takes to become certified depends on the type of certification and varies from test to test.

Topics will typically cover a variety of areas that are pertinent to the field, such as firearm protocol, state regulations, adult and juvenile laws, how to manage offenders, defense techniques, communication methods, and more.

You won’t want to skip out on these certifications, as you will likely need to show proof of completion in order to keep your career.

Certifications will expire, but the expiration date will vary depending on the type of certification, so make sure you check in with your employer to see what the next steps are in the process.

As for licensing, it is important to have a valid driver’s license to be a Probation Officer.

You will also need to have a working vehicle for this career.

This is because you will need to drive places in order to conduct research, and interviews, and help the offender stay on the right path.

Job Outlook

A Probation Officer will always be needed as long as there are criminals, unfortunately.

That is good news for those who want to enter into this career, as it will likely rise about three percent over the next decade.

This percentage is about average for the field and will consist of new job openings from recently retired employees as well as those seeking new employment ventures.

It is likely that there will be about 7,000 new job opportunities opening up around the United States in the next ten years.

When you are ready to start your journey as a Probation Officer, consider taking your chance now.

Become a Probation Officer


Probation Officers in the United States make an average salary of about $59,860 per year.

This comes out to about $28.78 per hour for those who work full-time.

With seniority, promotions, and raises, Probation Officers can make upwards of $86,723 per year in some areas.

While this sounds like a great salary, you will likely start out making a smaller amount, around $27,455 to begin.

After training, certification, and time spent on the job, it is possible to make a larger wage.

Probation Officers who work in larger buildings and cities may make more money than those working in smaller towns and who have less clientele.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
New Hampshire190$66,300$31.88$78,350$50,460
New Jersey2,800$77,670$37.34$97,830$48,370
New Mexico590$49,450$23.77$59,160$42,220
New York5,130$81,370$39.12$103,050$58,910
North Carolina3,300$45,190$21.73$55,640$35,780
North Dakota210$63,340$30.45$81,390$49,800
South Carolina350$49,770$23.93$65,150$41,000
South Dakota330$52,840$25.41$62,110$44,700
West Virginia810$46,900$22.55$61,050$33,100

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $97,300.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • California - $97,300
  • Connecticut - $91,690
  • Massachusetts - $83,370
  • New York - $81,370
  • New Jersey - $77,670
  • Minnesota - $74,630
  • Iowa - $72,330
  • Vermont - $70,200
  • Washington - $69,960
  • Oregon - $69,720
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, OCC Code 21-1092, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Should You Become a Probation Officer?

Overall Satisfaction

About half of all Probation Officers would recommend working in this field.

The reason for this is the great pay and benefits that come with the job.

However, the work is hard and can be exhausting when you are working with convicted felons on a daily basis.

Plus, there are times when employees do not get along or other factors make for a difficult day on the job.

If you have the mental for this type of career, you can make the best out of your experience.

Average Salary

When you work as a Probation Officer, you should expect decent compensation for your time spent on the job.

The average salary for a Probation Officer in the United States is $59,860.

This is around $28.78 an hour or $1,151 per week for full-time employees.

It is likely that you could make more or less than average, as factors like certifications, experience, and location all contribute to the amount of money you will be provided for your work.

Job Growth Outlook

The job outlook for a Probation Officer will be good over the next decade.

There will be about a three percent increase in career opportunities in this vocation.

Consider this about an average growth among careers in similar areas.

This is largely due to people retiring from their careers, but also factors such as expansion, people finding new careers, and exiting the workforce as a whole.

Expect to see more than 7,000 jobs pop up for Probation Officers in the next ten years.

Education Duration

In order to work as a Probation Officer in the United States, you will need to have a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant area.

This will take about four years to complete and you can even find some degrees online.

It is likely that you will need some form of on-the-job training as well, which can take from one week to a month of your time.

Continued education is also a must for this field, which can take weeks or months to obtain.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a Probation Officer?

It is unlikely that you will be hired as a Probation Officer without a Bachelor,s degree.

It typically takes about four years to earn this type of degree.

You will also be introduced to on-the-job training, which can consist of about a week to a month of working and learning with a senior Probation Officer.

It typically takes anywhere from four years to five years to complete your Probation Officer education.

How much money does a Probation Officer make a year?

Starting in this career, it is likely that the yearly salary for a Probation Officer is close to $27,455.

After gaining experience and time on the job, the average Probation Officer gets paid $59,860 annually.

Probation Officers with the maximum experience, education, and years of working can make more than $86,000 per year.

With time and experience, you will be well compensated for this career.

What kind of education do you need to be a Probation Officer?

The minimum time spent on your education to become a Probation Officer is four years.

This will result in a Bachelor’s degree, which can be provided through a university.

It is possible to complete your degree online or in person, but you will need to enroll in a relevant program.

You should not expect to leave high school and find a career as a Probation Officer, as it takes time and training to learn the skills needed for this career.

Are Probation Officers in high demand?

Considering that offenders are being released from prison each year, this career is in high demand all the time.

There are plenty of opportunities to work in this environment, and with the right attitude, you can do well in this career.

Expect to see more jobs popping up over the next ten years, especially as older Probation Officers retire and others seek employment elsewhere.

What skills do you need to have to be a Probation Officer?

Working as a Probation Officer can be hard, as you’ll be dealing with recently released offenders who may hold a grudge against the judicial system.

That is why you will need a certain set of skills to become successful in this career.

These skills may include but are not limited to:

  • Ability to speak to a variety of people
  • Problem-solving
  • Organization
  • Attention to detail
  • Compliance
  • Criminal justice knowledge
  • Stable emotions
  • Patience
  • Resilience
  • Assertiveness
  • Analytical understanding

Michael Morales

About Michael Morales

Michael Morales is the Webmaster and Editor in Chief for With a strong background in Web Publishing and Internet Marketing, he currently works as an independent consultant. A former paramedic and ems educator, he enjoys punishing himself doing triathlons and endurance sports. Michael currently lives in sunny Northern California, home of the highest tax rates in the world.

2 Responses to How to Become a Probation Officer: Career Guide

  1. Avatar
    Christopher Carlton #

    It offers a unique opportunity to see positive transformation in people’s lives which is a great experience too because you are able to help them with your job.

  2. Avatar
    Claudia Ross #

    Thy often work behind the scenes, but their work is a bit crucial in reducing recidivism and making our communities safer and more supportive.

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