How To Become a Probation Officer

Updated June 30, 2023

A probation officer is an important part of rehabilitating offenders back into society. They comply with court orders outlining the stipulations of probation and work with their clients alongside state or federal agencies to fulfill probation requirements. If you are interested in pursuing this law enforcement career, you may be required to complete relevant education and training to develop key skills and a strong knowledge of state and federal laws.

In this article, we explain the education, skills and experience you need to become a probation officer.

Key takeaways:

  • Probation officers are government employees who monitor individuals' behavior during probation to ensure they follow court orders.

  • Working as a probation officer requires some experience in corrections and a bachelor's degree, ideally in a relevant field like criminal justice or social work.

  • Requirements to work as a probation officer include being 37 years old or younger, passing entrance exams and being free of felony convictions.

What does a probation officer do?

A probation officer is a law enforcement professional who supervises an individual who the court has sentenced to serve probation. Probation is the time a person is under supervision to complete their sentence instead of or after time served in prison. These professionals may also be referred to as community supervision officers.

Some of the most common responsibilities of a probation officer include:

  • Following the requirements of their clients' probation orders

  • Collaborating with various law enforcement and social service agencies to support offenders as they transition back into society after completing their sentences

  • Coordinating education, training, housing and job placement

  • Monitoring clients' activities to ensure they are complying with probation requirements

  • Documenting an offender's status and progress as well as preparing reports for court officials

  • Overseeing compliance with the probation order by conducting drug tests, making home visits, scheduling regular meetings and interviewing employers

Average salary for a probation officer

The average salary for a probation officer in the United States is $46,527 per year. Salaries range from $14,000 to $113,000 per year. Salaries may vary from state to state or increase with additional education and training. Employment may also include benefits packages that have health and life insurance or retirement plans.

How to become a probation officer

Probation officers generally work for the state or federal government and require a degree in a related field. Prospective probation officers may undergo testing and checks to ensure they meet the requirements of the position. These requirements may be different depending on the state or agency that employs the officer. In general, however, you can follow these steps to become a probation officer:

1. Earn a relevant degree

Probation officers need a bachelor's degree in a field related to the work they are doing to assist clients. These officers are also required to understand how the criminal justice system works and learn the best ways to help their clients effectively reenter society. For a federal position, a master's level degree and experience in related fields may also be required.

Typical qualifying degree fields include:

  • Behavioral science

  • Criminal justice

  • Social work

  • Psychology

  • Criminal law

  • Human relations

  • Public administration

Related: 15 Jobs You Can Get With a Degree in Criminal Justice Degree

2. Acquire related experience

Some agencies may require experience before qualifying for a probation officer position. Aspiring officers may gain relevant experience working in the court system or interning at a probation office. In some agencies, age and experience may be equal to higher education. Related working environments include:

  • Law enforcement

  • Case management

  • Counseling

  • Criminal investigation

  • Corrections

3. Meet hiring requirements

Requirements for probation officers may vary from state to state or if you are applying for a federal position. However, most probation officers are required to:

  • Be a United States citizen

  • Be 37 years old or younger at the time of application

  • Hold a college degree and gain relevant training

  • Be of decent moral character

  • Pass a written exam, endurance tests and capability assessments

  • Pass competitive oral, psychological and physical exams

  • Pass a background check

  • Not be a convicted felon

4. Apply to an open position

Considering the responsibility involved, open positions for probation officers may be competitive, and state and federal agencies are meticulous when hiring probation officers. It's important to thoroughly review which documents you will need since the requirements may vary. Documents you may need include:

  • Valid driver's license

  • Social security card

  • College transcript

  • Selective service registration card

  • Updated resume or CV

5. Pass the interview process

In this process, candidates might go before a panel and answer questions about the position to screen the candidate's personality and ability to perform the job. You may be presented with scenarios to assess how you would handle job-related situations. Questions may be related to temperament and the ability to communicate effectively.

Questions that may be asked in a probation officer interview include:

  • Tell me about your ability to work under pressure.

  • How would you handle a probationer who became physically threatening?

  • What methods do you use to track the probationer's progress?

  • How do you establish trust with a probationer?

Related: Interview Question: “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?"

6. Complete training academy

Probation officers undergo on-the-job training and orientations. Requirements vary by location or differ depending on the state or agency. Officers may be credentialed and issued a certification during or after their training is complete. Federal probation officers may be required to attend continuing education during their employment.

Training to become a probation officer includes:

  • Understanding district policy

  • Learning court routines

  • Practicing how to write official reports

  • Completing first aid and CPR training

  • Learning surveillance and investigation policies and techniques

  • Handling firearms

  • Applying defensive tactics

  • Becoming safety instructors

Probation officers typically complete a 90-day employment probationary period before they are considered permanent employees. During the course of their employment, officers may undergo periodic drug testing, firearm proficiency testing or updated background checks to ensure optimal performance.

Related: What Is On-the-Job Training?

Frequently asked questions about becoming a probation officer

Here are some common questions about the extensive role of a probation officer:

What is the difference between a probation officer and a parole officer?

Probation is defined as an extension of a prison sentence completed outside of the prison system. Probationers are under the direct supervision of their appointed probation officer. The probation officer works with their clients to meet the requirements of the probation order and to successfully complete their sentences while integrating back into society.

Parole is defined as an early release from prison under certain conditions. Parole officers supervise parolees to meet the conditions of their release and to integrate back into society following their time in prison.

What is the work schedule like?

Probation officers typically work a traditional full-time schedule, and hours may include nights and weekends. Probation officers may need to be on-call to respond to immediate issues or problems regarding their clients.

Can probation officers work with specific types of offenders?

Probation officers may choose to work with specific populations, such as substance abusers or juvenile offenders. Probation officers who wish to work with select populations require additional education or an advanced degree. Areas of additional study include:

  • Juvenile processes

  • Probation terminology

  • Information gathering

  • Adult criminal justice

  • Case law

  • Interviewing and counseling

  • Fines and restitution

  • Gang affiliation indicators

  • Court reports and presentation

What skills are needed to become an effective probation officer?

Probation officers work with many different people from various backgrounds. Skills that make probation officers effective in their roles include:

Verbal communication

Probation officers should be able to speak clearly with their client, often adjusting their communication style to make sure probationers understand them and feel as comfortable as possible with them. They also must be able to collaborate and communicate with other law enforcement agents and social workers to provide support to their clients.

Written communication

Since probation officers prepare reports for judges or law enforcement agencies on a regular basis, written communication skills are a critical factor for job success. They must be thorough in their observations and use court and law terminology correctly.


Probation officers work with people who are integrating back into society, so developing soft skills like problem-solving helps them make informed decisions and find the most appropriate solutions that comply with probation requirements or guidelines.

Time management

Probation officers often oversee several clients at once, and knowing how to manage time makes them effective at prioritizing tasks.

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