Guide to Becoming a Probation Officer

Probation officers play a direct role in supervising convicted offenders who were given a non-correctional facility sentence. If you’re searching for a career that’s challenging, but also one that can make a significant difference in the life of a convicted offender, then you should consider a career as a probation officer. While this, and many others, criminal justice system careers are not for the weak-spirited, its challenges are only matched by its rewards. Those seeking to start a career as a probation officer, must gain a solid understanding of its education and training pathways.

Educational Requirements for Probation Officers

While each state determines the final requirements for those seeking to start a career as a probation officer, most require aspiring officers to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Those seeking a “leg up” from their competition should major in criminal justice with an emphasis in corrections or law enforcement. Along with a bachelor’s degree, some states require aspiring probation officers to successfully obtain a federal or state government sponsored certificate program. These certificate programs typically take less than one year to complete. Contact your state board of licensing to determine whether or not this certificate is required, and how to begin the process.

Although most choose a general criminal justice degree program, there are several specialized criminal justice degree programs available to those seeking enhanced advancement and employment opportunities. Perhaps the most common specialized probation officer programs include: adult criminal probation, juvenile probation processes and substance abuse probation specializations.

Of course, those who wish to enter this field in a position for advancement should consider obtaining a master’s degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in corrections or criminal psychology. Upon completing these degree pathways, you’re set up to enter the workforce in a Mangagement-level position.


Because of the nature of this profession, many probation officers are required to undergo specific examinations before entering the workforce. Aspiring probation officers may be required to undergo extensive psychological and physical exams to ensure they are mentally and physically fit for the requirements of this position. Depending on the state, in order to begin working they may be required to undergo certification examinations, which cover topics related to probation. Topics covered within these examinations typically include: reading comprehension, investigative issues, probation concepts, probation theories and relationship techniques between officers and probationers.

In order to gain state-specific information, contact your state board of licensing. You may also find this information by navigating your Web browser to the State Department of Law Enforcement. This department typically oversees certification and training requirements for probation officers – along with other careers within the law enforcement industry.