Ombudsman Carpio-Morales graduated valedictorian in elementary and high school at Paoay Elementary School and Paoay North Institute, respectively. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Economics in 1964 and Bachelor of Laws in 1968, both from the University of the Philippines (UP).
After graduation from law school, she worked at the Atienza Tabora and Del Rosario Law Offices. In 1971, she joined the Department of Justice as Special Assistant to then Justice Secretary Vicente Abad Santos. After almost 12 years at the Department of Justice, she joined the Judiciary in 1983 when President Ferdinand Marcos appointed her as Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge in Pili, Camarines Sur.
In 1986, President Corazon Aquino appointed her as RTC Judge in Pasay City. In 1994, President Fidel V. Ramos appointed her to the Court of Appeals where she eventually headed its 7th Division. In 2002, upon the unanimous endorsement of the Judicial and Bar Council, she was elevated to the Supreme Court by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
A reform-oriented member of the Judiciary, she acted as the Chairperson of the Supreme Court's Committee on Gender Responsiveness in the Judiciary, and a member of the Committee on Knowledge Sharing and Exchange. A Bar Examiner in Legal Ethics in 2000, she was the Chairperson of the 2010 Bar Examinations Committee.
During the Centenary of UP in 2008, the UP Alumni Association conferred on Justice Carpio Morales the Outstanding Award in Championing Justice/Judiciary "for delivering justice with courage and untrammeled integrity" - "a shining paragon to all magistrates, worthy of emulation and respect."
In June 2011, she was adjudged as one of the Ten Outstanding Manilans for her contribution in the field of law and jurisprudence, citing her "unquestionable integrity, impartial and fearless dispensation of justice and her untarnished and dedicated 40-year government public service record."
On 12 October 2013, the Quezon City government adjudged her as one of the City's "Ten Most Outstanding Citizens for 2013."
The Ombudsman also received the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, in September 2013 from the University of the East, on the occasion of its 67th Founding Anniversary. The conferment was "in recognition of her outstanding accomplishments in the field of law and jurisprudence for delivering justice with courage and her unequivocal integrity during her untarnished 42 years of dedicated service to the government."
In September 2014, the Ateneo De Manila University recognized the initiatives of Ombudsman Carpio-Morales as a fighter for justice and good governance by honoring her with the Government Service Award.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer chose her, along with then Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima and Commission on Audit Chair Grace Pulido-Tan, Filipino of the Year 2014.
The UP School of Economics Alumni Association honored her with a Distinguished Alumna Award on 07 February 2015.
On 10 February 2015, the Philippine Constitution Association honored her with "The Fearless and Peerless Crusader Award (Against Graft and Corruption in Public Service)."
On 27 June 2016, her alma mater, the University of the Philippines conferred on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, during the commencement exercises of the UP College of Law for the graduating class of 2016 at which she was the guest speaker. The conferment recognized her "twenty-eight-year service to the judiciary unmarked by any accusation of impropriety," and for being herself "the measure of integrity in government service" and "the face of courage and daring determination, of competence and independence, and one of resolutely intolerant of corruption."
In the same year, Ombudsman Carpio Morales was chosen as the Philippines' 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for restoring faith in the rule of law. In presenting the award, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation board of trustees recognized "her moral courage and commitment to justice in taking head-on one of the most intractable problems in the Philippines; promoting by her example of incorruptibility, diligence, vision and leadership, the highest ethical standards in public service."
On 6 January 2017, the Local Government Unit of Quezon City conferred on Ombudsman Carpio Morales the Tandang Sora Award in recognition of her ideals and virtues that mirror that of Filipino heroine Melchora Aquino who took the moniker Tandang Sora. She was cited for possessing the virtues of honesty, industry, service, word of honor, kindness, caring, and protectiveness. The award also recognized the Ombudsman's dedication and untarnished record as a public servant.
Ombudsman Carpio-Morales holds the distinction of being the first woman magistrate to administer the oath of office of a Philippine President.