How to Land a Park Ranger Job

how-to-become-a-park-ranger-featuredChances are if you’re read­ing this, you’ve enter­tained the idea of land­ing a job in the out­doors. The most com­mon­ly thought of (and reg­u­lar­ly sought-after) out­door-relat­ed gig is that of a Park Ranger. Sure, some folks may pic­ture a guy in the famil­iar kha­ki and green uni­form, cam­paign hat atop his head, sit­ting alone in the woods qui­et­ly going crazy from iso­la­tion, but all-in-all, it’s an amaz­ing job for an out­doors enthu­si­ast. I would know, as I’ve been one for a lit­tle over five years.

If the out­doors is your thing, there are few cool­er ways to get paid while tromp­ing around the forests, boat­ing the lakes and rivers, and impart­ing your out­door knowl­edge to chil­dren and adults alike. Oth­er perks (out­side of that studly uni­form) include gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits (assum­ing you’re work­ing for a gov­ern­ment agency), cool on-the-job gear, a whole boat­load of awe­some sto­ries, and often the posi­tion comes with free…yes, free…housing. The down­side, how­ev­er, is that find­ing a full-time, per­ma­nent posi­tion in the field can be extreme­ly chal­leng­ing. Sev­er­al fac­tors may come into play that can great­ly increase your chances of land­ing a gig, so here are some pointers.

Start from the bot­tom
Many of the park rangers you’ll meet start­ed out as part-time sum­mer help. They got their start clean­ing bath­rooms, run­ning a con­ces­sion stand, or col­lect­ing entrance fees in some god­for­sak­en gate­house in the mid­dle of nowhere. Obvi­ous­ly, being a trust­wor­thy, knowl­edge­able, and sea­soned vet­er­an of any park will cur­ry great favor with park man­age­ment when they are deter­min­ing which can­di­date they want to hire. It’s sim­ple, real­ly. You’re going to have a much greater chance at get­ting hired if you’ve been there for sev­er­al sum­mers, ingra­ti­at­ed your­self with the full-time employ­ees, and proven your­self as a stand-up individual.

In the same vein as the last tip, offer­ing your ser­vices to help clean or main­tain the park, help with inter­pre­tive pro­gram­ming, or head­ing a par­tic­u­lar inter­est group of vol­un­teers will get you noticed. Many parks have “friends” groups, who meet reg­u­lar­ly with park man­age­ment. These groups are large, orga­nized, and actu­al­ly have some sway with how the park is man­aged sim­ply because of the sheer amount of grunt work and fundrais­ing they do to bet­ter the place. Join­ing such a group will not only get you the afore­men­tioned amount of notice, but it is also an amaz­ing way to get to know the ins and outs of that par­tic­u­lar park.

Be dili­gent
Find­ing the right posi­tion can be dif­fi­cult, so be sure to fre­quent­ly check post­ings with every state you’d be okay with mov­ing to as well as fed­er­al jobs on Often, posi­tions are only open for a short time, and many peo­ple apply for the same job. Pick out spe­cif­ic cities, regions, or parks and sub­scribe to their employ­ment pages, keep an eye on their social media posts, and make phone calls. If you want to get paid to hang out at a park, you’re going to have to do your home­work and keep at it. Some peo­ple wait years for just the right job, and will pounce at the first chance.

Get a degree, ya dum­my
Most full-time, per­ma­nent Park Ranger posi­tions require some kind of degree. Some only require an Associate’s, most require at least a Bachelor’s, and the high­er-lev­el admin­is­tra­tors almost always have a Master’s diplo­ma hang­ing on their wall. There are hun­dreds of great schools around the coun­try that offer Nat­ur­al Resources pro­grams. Oth­er majors to look into are His­to­ry, Biol­o­gy, Zool­o­gy, Recre­ation, and in some cas­es Crim­i­nal Jus­tice. Most of the more pop­u­lar regions for out­doorsy folk also have a col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty in the area which offers an out­door-relat­ed degree pro­gram. Some exam­ples of schools to look at include Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty, Cor­nell, Duke, Col­lege of the Atlantic, and Green Moun­tain College.

Keep a clean record
Depend­ing on the details of the posi­tion or what state you’re work­ing in, you may have to go through some kind of police train­ing. Many state and fed­er­al Park Ranger posi­tions (Law Enforce­ment) do. If you have some blem­ish­es on your record that pop on your back­ground check, you’re a heck of a lot less like­ly to land the job you want. Many times, small mis­de­meanors that you might’ve dum­mied their way into your record can be over­looked if you’ve cleaned up your act, but if you’ve got an exten­sive rap sheet, kiss your chances of work­ing with Smokey Bear goodbye.

Law enforce­ment-focused ranger posi­tions involve very intense and exten­sive back­ground checks. This includes back­ground inves­ti­ga­tors inter­view­ing your high school coun­selor, to that ex who thinks you’re a scum­bag, to that guy you got into a shov­ing match with while tail­gat­ing dur­ing your sopho­more year. There’s no hid­ing from what you’ve done, as the back­ground check will reveal all. When it comes to the back­ground checks, unfet­tered hon­esty is always the best policy.