Park Ranger Schools, Degree and Education Options

The park ranger profession is a broad one, not only because of the thousands of job opportunities that are present throughout the United States, but also because job duties and responsibilities can be quite extensive.

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The National Park Service (NPS), for example, recognizes a large number of majors/areas of study for its applicants, thereby reflecting the varied expertise park rangers often possess. Considering the many aspects of a park ranger career, such as enforcement, patrol, interpretation, and conservation, it is no wonder that education and degree programs for park rangers are plentiful.

Perhaps the best course of action for individuals who desire a career as a park ranger is to study the specific requirements for their state parks and recreation department or to research areas related to the profession that interest them.

To better understand the options available to individuals interested in park ranger careers, it is best to break down the many degrees by areas of study:

Parks and Recreation Degrees

Parks and recreation degrees are perhaps the most common area of study for individuals interested in park ranger jobs. The National Recreation and Park Association, through its Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism, and Related Professions (COAPRT), accredits 79 academic programs nationwide.

Just a few of the degree options for study in parks and recreation include (often available as both associate and bachelor degrees):

  • Parks and Recreation Management
  • Recreation Administration
  • Environmental Recreation and Tourism Management
  • Recreation Leadership and Management
  • Parks, Recreation and Tourism
  • Recreation Management and Policy

Typical courses within an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation often include:

  • Foundation of parks and recreation
  • Recreation management
  • Risk management in recreation
  • Community recreation
  • Outdoor recreation
  • National resource recreation management
  • First aid
  • Emergency response

Environmental Science Degrees

Environmental science has become a widely pursued area of study for individuals interested in park ranger jobs, as this area of science studies the relationship between nature and the overall environment or ecosystem. Park rangers involved in interpretation and education are best served by studying environmental science or a related program.

Therefore, environmental science degrees explore scientific principles and how they relate to the environment.

Just a few of the associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in environmental science include:

  • Environmental Protection and Management
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Environmental Studies
  • Social Science (Environment)
  • Environmental Technology
  • Natural Resource Management
  • Wildlife and Conservation Biology

For example a typical bachelor’s degree in environmental protection and management includes study in the following topics:

  • Introduction to biology
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Environmental regulations and policy
  • Environmental health
  • Global environmental management issues
  • Environmental policy

Park ranger school programs related to environmental science and typical to the park ranger profession include:

  • Anthropology
  • Archeology
  • Ecology
  • Environmental anthropology
  • Ecological anthropology
  • Wildlife ecology
  • Geology
  • Conservation biology
  • Biology
  • Biodiversity

Law Enforcement Degrees

Because many state park rangers serve as fully commissioned law enforcement officers or peace officers and because the National Park Service recognizes protection (law enforcement) park rangers, law enforcement degrees are popular in this profession.

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Common park ranger school programs related to law enforcement include:

  • Criminal justice
  • Police science
  • Criminology
  • Criminal justice administration
  • Public safety

These types of park ranger school programs often include study in the following:

  • Criminology
  • Criminal justice
  • Research methods in criminal justice
  • Ethics in criminal justice
  • Statistical analysis
  • Courts and the prosecution process
  • Corrections in America

Wildland/Wildlife/Park Ranger Degrees

Given the popularity of the park ranger profession, a number of institutions, including technical schools, community colleges, and traditional colleges and universities, are now offering programs designed specifically for individuals interested in pursuing park ranger careers.

Just a few of the options for individuals seeking these specialized programs include:

  • Associate of Science/certification in park ranger technology
  • Associate of Science in wildlife law enforcement
  • Bachelor of Science in wildlife management
  • Bachelor of Science in wildlands management
  • Bachelor of Science in fisheries and wildlife management
  • Bachelor of Science in wildlife conservation and management
  • Bachelor of Science in forest management

A fisheries and wildlife management bachelor’s degree, for example, studies the art and science of managing wildlife, which includes conservation and stewardship efforts. As such, this degree includes study in the following topics:

  • Biodiversity
  • General ecology
  • Forest ecology
  • Principles of wildlife and fish management
  • Water and soil conservation
  • Native plants in the landscape
  • Wildland fire behavior and management
  • Ecology and the management of mammals and birds
  • Human dimensions of wildlife and fisheries
  • Wildlife damage management
  • Upland habitat management
  • Wetlands ecology and management

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