Park rangers are often said to be the keepers of our nation’s natural resources and protected public lands. Their mission it is to preserve and protect our nation’s local, state and national parks for public use and enjoyment today, and for many years to come. Park rangers are there to educate the public, enforce the law, as well as to implement and support conservation efforts so future generations can enjoy these ecologically and historically significant sites.
Those interested in learning how to become a park ranger should begin by determining if they would like to serve in a municipal, state or national park, and whether they would be better suited for working in law enforcement and protection, or interpretation and visitor services.
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Explore Opportunities with Local, State or National Parks
Park rangers are found working for municipal and county parks departments, state park systems and for the National Park Service (NPS). Whether at the local, state or national level, becoming a park ranger begins by meeting the education and experience requirements of the prospective employer.
- Grand Canyon University - B.S. in Justice Studies and M.S. in Criminal Justice
- SNHU - A.S. in Criminal Justice, B.S. in Criminal Justice, and M.S. in Criminal Justice
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Penn Foster - Online Wildlife and Forestry Conservation Career Diploma
For example, both year-round and seasonal park rangers working in interpretation or law enforcement for the National Park Service must meet the requirements of the GS-5 federal level, which means:
- Earning a bachelor’s degree if qualifying through education
- Having at least one year of specialized experience at the GS-4 level and two years of post-secondary education if qualifying through a combination of education and experience.
Additional academy training is also required to qualify for NPS park ranger jobs.
Local parks departments and state park systems often maintain requirements similar to those of the NPS, and often set their sights on candidates with an appropriate combination of education and experience.
Earn a Degree in a Relevant Major
There is a wide range of academic majors relevant to working as a park ranger. Many aspiring park rangers choose to pursue degrees related to conservation, biology, botany, ecology, forestry, earth science, and anthropology, just to name a few.
Some of the most relevant majors include:
- Park and recreation management
- Environmental studies
- Environmental science
- Environmental management
- Wildlife and Forestry
- Wildlife management
- Police science/criminal justice
- Natural resources management
- Biological sciences
- Fisheries and wildlife law enforcement
Although the National Park Service does not specify a particular major, they do require applicants to possess at least 24 credit hours in one or more of the following:
- Natural resource management
- Natural sciences
- Earth sciences
- Park and recreation management
- Law enforcement/police science
- Social sciences
- Museum sciences
- Business administration
- Public administration
- Behavioral science
Seek out Seasonal Park Ranger Jobs and Volunteer Opportunities
Many individuals interested in becoming park rangers seek out volunteer opportunities and seasonal parks department jobs while pursuing their college degree. Volunteer and seasonal work introduces candidates to the profession and provides them with invaluable experience and connections.
Entry-level seasonal jobs with NPS provide an excellent opportunity for college students to gain valuable experience during summer months. For example, college students are eligible for seasonal park guide jobs, which means qualifying at the GS-3 level with just one year of college education or six months of relevant experience. Seasonal visitor use assistant jobs are available at the GS-4 level after two years of college or one year of relevant experience.
Even seasonal maintenance and laborer jobs provide great exposure to the working environment and useful experience for those interested in eventually becoming park rangers. These entry-level positions call for job candidates with the skills necessary to maintain trails and park grounds, but don’t require any post-secondary education.
In addition to seeking internships or seasonal work opportunities with the NPS or state parks departments, some aspiring park rangers obtain beneficial experience by working or volunteering in museums, historical sites, monuments or municipal parks departments.