Why This Matters

  • 4.5 MILLION U.S. ADULTS ARE ON PROBATION

    According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 55 adults in the U.S. were under community supervision, either as probationers or parolees, in 2016.

  • DEMAND FOR SOCIAL SERVICE WORKERS UP 11%

    Probation officers bridge the divide between the criminal justice system and the communities in which offenders and their families live. The job outlook for social service occupations is strong through 2028.

  • INCREASE YOUR SALARY BY $13,710 PER YEAR

    Probation officers who work for local governments earn an average annual salary of $58,040. Comparatively, correctional officers and bailiffs earn an average annual salary of $45,760.

Our Research

The most common path to a career as a probation officer is a degree in criminal justice. Most jobs require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. However, some students seek an associate’s degree to build a foundation for undergraduate study, while those who already have a bachelor’s degree may pursue a master’s for career advancement. We included all three levels of degrees on this list

All programs are offered online. Many schools also offer their programs on-campus, or in a hybrid format.

The programs on our list are all offered at regionally accredited schools, which confirms that they meet high standards of quality for higher education.

We reviewed all of the listed programs on the basis of cost, coursework, flexibility, faculty, and reputation. We then calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. Our top picks for the best probation officer degrees are highly respected, flexible, and a good value.(For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 54 hours to write this article
  • 95 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 278 education programs we compared

The Top 29 Probation Officer Degrees

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What You Should Know About This Degree

As there are no specific probation officer degrees, most students prepare for a career as a probation officer by earning a degree in criminal justice. This degree will give you a thorough understanding of the criminal justice system in the U.S., as well as develop the critical-thinking, decision-making, and communications skills necessary for a probation officer career. A degree in social work, sociology, or behavioral science can also prepare you to work as a probation officer.

Job growth for probation officers is expected to be slower than average in the coming decade, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 3,000 new jobs will be added by 2028. As most probation officers are employed at the state and local levels, the number of positions available will depend on funding from these governments.

Job prospects will be better for those who are fluent in a second language, particularly Spanish. This is something to consider when choosing electives or a minor as part of your degree program.

Even if you have a degree, most probation officers must also complete a government-sponsored training program, and pass a test to become certified. Probation officers must also be able to pass background and drug tests.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching Probation Officer programs:

  • Do I meet the qualifications for this program? Each program sets its own eligibility requirements. For example, some bachelor’s degree programs are specifically designed for transfer students who have already completed most or all of their general education requirements. At the master’s level, some programs may seek students who have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, or professional experience. Review the program’s requirements to make sure you meet the minimum qualifications for admission.
  • Are there any in-person requirements? Some online programs may have in-person components for internships or residencies. Individuals who are already working in criminal justice settings may be able to fulfill their internship hours at their job. Check with the program to find out what, if any, internship requirements they have, and make sure you can accommodate them in your schedule.

Look up the program’s application requirements and deadlines online, or contact the school’s admissions department for this information. Being aware of deadlines and staying organized will facilitate a smooth admissions process.

Now is also a good time to think about paying for your degree. Talk to a financial aid counselor about loans, scholarships, and assistantships. If you are currently employed, find out if your job offers tuition assistance benefits.