Probation Officer Graduate Degree Program Overviews

Aspiring or currently employed probation officers may consider pursuing master's degrees in criminal justice or social work. Criminal justice master's programs offer specialization options, while social work programs offer hands-on clinical training.

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Essential Information

Social work master's programs tend to focus on counseling skills, social initiatives and clinical treatment approaches for different populations. On the other hand, criminal justice master's programs emphasize the legal system and criminology research.

For admission to both master's degree programs in criminal justice and social work, a bachelor's degree is required, preferably in the social sciences. Students also need a satisfactory score on the GRE, and some programs want to see actively demonstrated interest in social services.

Students who pursue a graduate degree may increase their opportunities for a supervisory role or other advancement. In some cases, probation officers are required to hold a master's degree.

Master of Science in Criminal Justice

This graduate-level criminal justice program is designed to help students develop their critical thinking skills. Emphasis is also placed on public policy, formation of laws, justice systems and law enforcement. Current events in criminal justice are examined. Each candidate should expect to conduct research on a topic of interest and write an original thesis based on the research.

Master's-level students of criminal justice study several core areas and often choose to specialize in corrections, homeland security, juvenile justice or another related area. Coursework topics may include:

  • Judicial systems
  • Police administration
  • Legal issues
  • Crime prevention
  • Professional placement

Master of Social Work

Almost all clinical practitioners in the social work field now obtain a graduate degree, as it is required for state licensure. Social workers employed as probation officers may have only a bachelor's degree.

Students take a variety of behavioral science and social science courses, including:

  • Human diversity
  • Social work policy
  • Counseling
  • Feminism

Job Outlook and Salary Information

From 2014-2024, probation officer and correctional treatment specialist employment is expected to increase by 4%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also states that the median salary of a probation officer and correctional treatment specialist as of 2015 was $49,360.

Students who live in a state that requires probation officers to hold a master's degree might consider a Master of Science in Criminal Justice or a Master of Social Work. Given how different these two degrees are, students should think about their career objectives before choosing a program.

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