Our online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology prepares students with the skills they need, such as interpersonal communication and critical thinking, to pursue a career as a probation officer.

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Also called correctional treatment specialists, probation officers are responsible for counseling criminal offenders and developing rehabilitation plans for them to follow once they are out of prison. The people skills learned in a psychology program, such as empathy, listening, mood interpretation and interpersonal communication, will help candidates succeed in this role. Probation officers evaluate offenders so that they can develop the best rehabilitation programs for each offender’s specific needs. They also conduct drug testing and sometimes offer substance abuse counseling. Occasionally, they meet with the families and friends of criminal offenders so that they have a clear sense of the offender’s situation and history. Furthermore, probation officers monitor the behavior of offenders to make sure that it’s in line with the treatment plan. To keep track of their clients’ progress, probation officers write reports and keep detailed records.

Depending on where a probation officer works, they can have clients who are currently incarcerated, are given probation instead of jail time or have already been released from prison after completing their sentence. Probation officers have personal contact with offenders and their families, sometimes over a long period of time. In some states, they work as both probation and parole officers. Types of probation officers include community supervision officers, parole officers, pretrial service workers, correctional treatment specialists and case managers.

Outlook and Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average probation officer salary is $48,440 annually. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,590 and the top 10 percent earned more than $83,410. They work full-time and sometimes longer hours due to the demanding nature of the position. When on call, probation officers must be available to respond to issues 24 hours a day. The outlook for this career path is good, with little or no change expected in the rate of employment through 2022. As alternative forms of justice, like probation, become more and more widely used by governments, demand for this profession should continue.

Characteristics of Successful Probation Officers

Probation officers should have good speaking and listening skills so that they can communicate effectively with offenders and their families. In this role, you’ll also need to have a strong sense of social perceptiveness so that you can accurately assess your clients. Keen judgment and decision-making skills are also important, as you are working with those who have broken the law. Successful probation officers are also able to monitor individuals and situations to make improvements and identify areas that should be corrected. Finally, it’s important to have a strong sense of right and wrong because your clients are criminals, and you are working within the criminal justice system, so you must have a strong moral compass that is not dependent on external circumstance.


Many probation officers have a degree in psychology or a similar field because of the interpersonal nature of the work they do. Also, the sociocultural diversity training they gain from psychology programs is invaluable in their profession. Other transferable skills from undergraduate psychology study include thinking critically and synthesizing information, as well as applying psychological principles to person, social and organizational situations. Finally, probation officers often use skills related to understanding the behavior of others and the mental processes involved. These are especially relevant to the study of psychology.