Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So You Want To Be A Park Ranger

One of the questions that I was asked quite frequently during my career and even today is, "How do I get a job as a park ranger?" Working for a large bureaucracy you can imagine that this might not be the easiest question to answer. Each ranger you talk to will likely have a bit different story of how they got their first jobs. The system and procedures have changed quite a few times over the years, but here are some of the common denominators for those who are seriously interested:

Most full time park rangers started their careers working in temporary seasonal positions.
These jobs run for periods of three to six months and do not include any benefits such as
health and life insurance or retirement. There is also no guarentee of employment beyond the
period hired for.

The basic requirement for a park ranger job in any discipline is a four year college degree. Many rangers started out working in temporary seasonal positions while in college. There are no specific degree requirements. I worked with park rangers with degrees in history, biology, parks and recreation management, nuclear physics, Russian studies, education, business, criminal justice, English and more. Several Universities have programs specifically designed to prepare a student to become a park ranger.

The advantages of working a temporary seasonal position are that you get to learn if this is the career for you, you have the opportunity to develop skills and abilities to aid in obtaining a full
time job, and you have the chance to show your stuff and establish a solid work reputation.

To find these jobs you need to become familiar with the Office Of Personnel Management
(OPM) website. All positions are announced nationwide at OPM's USAJobs website
( Specific application instructions can be found for each position listed at this site.

Permanent full time positions can also be found at this same site. To apply for these jobs the
position needs to be open to the general public or all sources. Otherwise only those
person who already have federal hiring status can apply. That translates to people who
are already in permanent positions with the federal government.

Applicants who have experience working in parks as temporary seasonal employees have
a great advantage in the hiring process since they have direct experience to site and
are often known entities to the agency.

Remember the National Park Service is a small agency with large responsibilities. A weak employee can not be easily absorbed into the organization without causing disruption to the accomplishment of its mission. That is why a person whose abilities and attitudes have been tested through previous employment will stand out on a list of applicants.

So no matter what your level of education or experience in other jobs, you will greatly increase your opportunity for starting a career by considering those temporary seasonal positions first.

If you are interested in park ranger jobs in protection or law enforcement, there are colleges and universities approved by the National Park Service to train and certify candidates for temporary seasonal positions in that field. For a list of schools and details about these types of positions, you can go to


  1. Thanks for all the info, you'd be surprised how hard this information is to come by. It took me a few months to figure out most of the stuff you just touched on for a few paragraphs.

  2. I am glad that this information was useful to you. Dealing with any large agency can be frustrating. I wish you good luck in your pursuits.

  3. I'm prejudiced since I'm the Father of the author of this book but I really enjoyed reading it. I'm proud of Bruce and his success as a Ranger in the National Park Service. He has always been interested in the outdoors and conservation. He started out as a Boy Scout and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. His first service was as a volunteer at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md. I remember how delighted he was when his application for permanent status was approved. At that time only 5% of applicants were accepted. He is a first rate historian, recounteur, and servant of the public interest. I hope he continues to tell his story about his experiences as a law enforcement officer and protector of the American Heritage.

  4. Bruce, I retired from military service in 2011, dissatisfied with the private aviation sector, I decided to return to school pursuing a degree in history. Long ago I realized everyone has a gift, history is mine & not to use it is a discredit. Grew up frequenting NPS & state parks, specifically Ft. Pulaski near Savannah, GA. I spent countless days climbing all over that fort, asking questions til I left. The impact those Rangers had on me as a young boy was lifelong. I knew that one day, given the opportunity, I would be one. I plan to apply next year & although I've no volunteer time, wonder if that will hurt my chances? Also, will my military service be of any benefit? Finally, is there any single piece of advice that you might give that would increase my chances? I would be honored to wear the uniform of the NPS given the chance. Thanks in advance, Ray