CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a probation officer.

Step 1

Is becoming a probation officer right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do probation officers do?
Career Satisfaction
Are probation officers happy with their careers?
What are probation officers like?

Still unsure if becoming a probation officer is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a probation officer or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

Students considering a career as a probation officer should take the following courses in high school:

• English and Literature – to develop writing skills
• Math and Accounting – as probation officers are often responsible for financial recordkeeping
• Government, Social Studies, and Civics – to begin learning about the Constitution and social justice

Step 3

Bachelor’s Degree

The vast majority of candidates seeking employment as a probation officer hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, Criminology, Psychology, Behavioral Science, Social Science, Sociology, Social Work, or Public Administration.

Foundation courses generally include:
• Constitutional law
• Criminal Law
• Justice Studies
• Justice Administration
• Ethics
• Addiction Counseling
• Technology in Criminal Justice

Among the most common elective courses are:
• Oral and Written Communications
• Deviant Behavior
• Recidivism (reoffending)

In addition to classroom training, degree programs expose students to the challenging work environment of probation officers through simulations and field training. This field work also allows aspiring officers to begin building a network in the criminal justice community.

Step 4

Master’s Degree (mandatory for some positions)

Applicants for probation officer positions with the Federal government may be required to hold a Master’s Degree in the Socials Sciences or Criminal Justice. This may also be the case for advanced positions with state and local law enforcement agencies.

Step 5

Meet the basic national requirements

Probation officer job candidates in all U.S. states and judicial districts must meet these basic requirements:
• Be between 20 and 38 years of age
• Be in superior physical, emotional, and mental health
• Be a U.S. citizen
• Possess a valid driver’s license
• Have no felony convictions

Step 6

Meet specific jurisdictional requirements

After completing the initial screening and selection process, probation officer job candidates qualify for pre-employment training. While the length of this phase varies, it typically comprises instruction in district policy; court routines; report writing; first aid and CPR; surveillance and investigation; handling of firearms; and defensive tactics. Candidates also learn how to monitor probationees and may be encouraged to focus on a specific kind of casework based on demonstrated abilities.

Most jurisdictions require active probation officers to undergo a certain number of continuing education hours each year. This education focuses on ethics and changes to the law.

Newly hired officers with the Federal government must complete mandatory new officer orientation at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in South Carolina. The six-week training program prepares probation officers for their responsibilities as a supervisor. After reporting to duty at their assigned district, officers typically continue with on-the-job training.

Click here to review specific state and district regulations concerning qualifications, pre-employment in-service training, certification exams, new-hire probationary periods, and continuing education requirements.

Step 7


These professional organizations are dedicated to educating, advocating for, and empowering probation, parole, and corrections officers:

American Probation and Parole Association

American Correctional Association

Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association

National Institute of Corrections