Monday, January 18, 2010

How To Get Started As a Park Ranger

At each of the book events I attend and through the blog and Facebook page, I often hear from people wanting to start a career as a Park Ranger. Back in early November I wrote an entry to the blog on that subject. Since it seems to be a recurring theme, I am republishing a newer edition. This may be timely in that now is when applications for summer jobs in the national parks are coming due.

How to get started can be a bit complicated since you are dealing with a small part of the largest bureaucracy in our country. Each park 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, life insurance, or retirement. There is also no guarantee 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 now have programs specifically designed to prepare a student to become a park ranger. You might want to look at Slippery Rock University, Northern Arizona University, Memphis State, or Clemson just to name a few.

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 and credibility.

To find these jobs you need to become familiar with the Office Of Personnel Management(OPM) website. All positions whether temporary or full time are announced nationwide at OPM's USAJobs website ( Specific application instructions can be found for each position listed at this site. Applications for the coming summer season temporary jobs are generally due in January.

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 employees 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 knowledge and skills related to national parks and are often known entities to hiring authorities within 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. To qualify for a seasonal law enforcement position, you need to graduate from a certified academy or school. For a list of schools and details about these types of positions, you can go to For positions in law enforcement or firefighting you will also be required to take and pass a medical exam and physical fitness test. So be prepared for those. Law Enforcement positions also require a Federal security clearance. All Federal positions are subject to drug testing when initially hired and periodically there after. So if you think you may have problems with those requirements, you may not qualify to work for the National Park Service.


  1. I am 24 and just got out of the Army. I have always wanted to be a park ranger. IS there anyone specific I can speak to in the NC area that could give me a more specific description on how to become a Ranger?

  2. I a 23 and just got out of the army last August. I don't have a degree but I'm in school for HVAC and i plan to take the seasonal law enforcement training NC this August. Will my time in the army make me a good candidate or do i need a degree? thanks