If you love the outdoors, the idea of being a park ranger — whether in a state or national park — may appeal to you. However, if you don't know anyone who works as a park ranger (and let's face it, how many people do?), it may be difficult to figure out how to become one.
Before embarking on the journey to becoming a park ranger, you need to understand what the job entails. At the most fundamental level, a park ranger is someone whose work revolves around the conservation and responsible use of state or national park resources.
Therefore, park rangers usually:
Some park rangers whose jobs are more specialized (such as law-enforcement or cultural-education rangers) may have more limited scopes of responsibilities.
Park rangers are sometimes also called park wardens, park police or forest rangers.
Those interested in becoming a park ranger generally need to have a four-year degree. A bachelor's degree in a field that's relevant to a career as a park ranger (such as biology, environmental sciences or forestry) is the most useful educational credential for those looking to become park rangers after college.
While you're in school, you can take advantage of opportunities to work, intern or volunteer with the National Park Service (for national parks) or a local state park. If there's a particular park of interest to you, contact them directly to ask about opportunities and ways for you to get involved in the park's work.
As park rangers spend the vast majority of their time at work outside, they need to be physically fit. If you're already in shape, work to maintain your good physical condition. If you're not yet in shape, make it a goal to get into healthy, fit physical shape so you can cope with the stresses of the job.
Due to the fact that public education is one of their main responsibilities, park rangers need to have strong communication skills. It would, after all, be difficult to lead tours or answer questions from park visitors if you weren't comfortable with public speaking or interacting with others.
In some states, those who want to become park rangers need to have further training beyond a bachelor's degree. If you're looking to become a state park ranger, it's a good idea to check whether this is the case in the state(s) you want to work in.
As a general rule, park rangers need to be able to relocate for a job.
New park ranger recruits perform duties at the entry or training level. These duties are carried out under the supervision of higher-ranking park rangers, who ensure that the new cadets are taught properly. The training period often entails participation in:
Successful completion of this training program is required to become a full park ranger.
While most park ranger jobs won't require a master's degree, having one can still help you advance in your career. It's worth investigating what — if any — particular degrees would be most beneficial.
Meeting the education, experience and training requirements to become a park ranger can take three to five years or longer.
ParkRangerEdu.org reports that park ranger salaries are highly variable. Some earn as little as $15/hour for seasonal work at small state parks, while others earn $80,000/year or more for supervisory positions at large state or national parks.
Salary ranges are affected by a number of factors, including:
Park ranger pay is also affected by seasonality. During busy months, overtime pay can be extensive, allowing them to earn significantly more in some months than they do in others.
Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.