A college degree can mean a higher salary, although in some cases work experience can serve as a substitute for education. Field experience is very valuable and will set you apart from other high school graduates. You can volunteer or intern at a nature center, outdoor education center, or state or national park to get experience in the field and find out which duties or geographic areas you prefer. Try contacting your local forester, wildlife manager, or naturalist to inquire about such opportunities.
Many park rangers break into entry-level positions after high school, beginning their careers as seasonal rangers (or as volunteers). Seasonal rangers either work in one park for part of the year or travel from park to park, working at one in the winter and another in the summer. They usually perform the ranger equivalent of grunt work, such as toll collecting, cleaning campsites, maintaining trails, staffing information desks, and guiding tours. They receive few if any benefits. You may have to work as a seasonal ranger for several years before a full-time position becomes available. Once you win this job, however, you will enjoy good job security and greater stability. Most full-time park rangers remain at the same park for many years.
The orientation and training a ranger receives on the job is sometimes supplemented with formal training courses. Training for duties that are unique to the National Park Service is available at the Horace M. Albright Training Center at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, and at the Stephen T. Mather Training Center at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It is also a good idea to take courses in environmental sciences, park management, natural history, forestry, outdoor recreation, and/or communications during seasonal layoffs. The more formal education you can combine with real-world experience, the better your chances of landing a full-time ranger position. You may want to be aware, however, that some park ranger positions do require a bachelor's degree, while a master's degree is helpful for those hoping to become supervisors and managers.
Those interested in park ranger jobs (at city, county, state, or national parks) should apply at county, city, special district personnel, and regional offices of the National Park Service.
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