I received an email request from a high school freshman interested in becoming a park ranger. He posed several good questions. So here is his email and I will address his questions individually.
I am a freshman in high school and love the outdoors. I'm a boy scout working on my Life rank and then on to Eagle! I love to camp, hike and go white water rafting. In high school, we have to choose a career track. Unfortunately, I love drawing, brochure design and photography as much as I enjoy the horticulture classes. My mom says that parks need rangers with those skills as well as the other skills. I have a few questions for you since I am considering being a park ranger when I graduate.
Can you give me some suggestions as to what courses I should take in high school?
Communications is essential for a park ranger to be successful. So the public speaking would be important in addition to courses that help to improve on writing skills. You will need to go on to college (more on that below) so look at what you would be interested in majoring in and direct your course choices in that direction. Parks have different needs depending on the purpose of the area when established. Some look for people with a background in history and others natural sciences. As an example I would look at your strengths and consider courses in that area. If your goal is to work at a park like Yellowstone you might want to think about a college program in natural sciences.
Will achieving Eagle rank in Boy Scouts help me get a job as a ranger?
Yes, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout will definitely help you in getting a park ranger job. I am an Eagle Scout and one of the reasons I was considered for my first seasonal job was this factor. During my career I worked with quite a few other fellow Eagle Scouts in addition to quite a few Girl Scouts. Being an Eagle Scout shows any considering employer or college that you are a person that can follow through and stick with hard work over a long period of time. Many think that this is a quality that is all too rare these days. Eagle Scout status also puts you ahead of others with experience in leadership, outdoor skills, technical abilities, and communications skills. I know at your age there are so many distractions and other activities to get involved in. I would recommend finding time to make it to Eagle.
Is a 4-year college degree required, or can I attend a tech school to get a degree that would qualify me for a park ranger position?
For a permanent National Park Ranger job a four year degree is required. There is no specific degree that you need to have. There are some colleges that offer programs in Resource Protection and park ranger oriented studies. I worked with rangers with degrees in fields of all kinds including nuclear physics, Russian studies, biology, public administration, English, etc. You can work as a seasonal or temporary employee without a full degree. In fact most people start out this way working summers during college. If you go to the search window in the right column on my blog and type in “jobs” you can learn more about this. You can also consider starting at a two year college and then transfer to a four year institution to finish off your education.
How old do I have to be before a state park will hire me for the summer? Do I have to live nearby or do most parks have housing for summer help?
The National Park Service and most like agencies do not hire regular paid temporary or permanent employees under the age of 18. For some jobs such as law enforcement the age limit is 21. There are other options to get started earlier in developing experience. Many National Park areas and State Parks are work with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC). These are high school students that are hired for 6 to 8 weeks during the summer to work in parks. Many times they do trail maintenance or other resource oriented projects along with some education components. You can ask your high school counselor to look into this for you or contact any parks that may be near you to see if they use this program. Another organization called the Student Conservation Association http://www.thesca.org/ places people to work in parks. Most of their programs are for college students, but they do run special programs for high school students. Most parks also have volunteer opportunities where you can gain experience. You may want to plan your Eagle community service project to be done in a park.
Thanks for your time and helping others with their dreams of becoming a ranger one day.
I really appreciate it,
I recommend you checking out several books on this topic.
Of course there is the book I have written A Park Ranger’s Life: Thirty Two Years Protecting Our National Parks. This book is being used by several universities as required reading for students that want to be rangers. You can find it at Amazon.com and several additional on line sources. www.aparkrangerslifethebook.com
Also check out these:
National Park Ranger: An American Icon and Off the Wall: Death In Yosemite both by Charles R. Butch Farabee
Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks , by Andrea Lankford
Ranger Up!:True Stories of National Park Protection Rangers, by Richard E. Brown