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How to Be a Park Ranger

Three Parts:Deciding to Become a Park RangerMeeting the Requirements for Becoming a Park RangerFinding a Job as a Park Ranger

Are you called to the life of a park ranger? Park rangers act as stewards of state and national parks, working to keep these natural areas safe for wildlife and plant species and accessible to the millions of people who visit them each year. They have job duties as varied as protecting endangered areas, teaching visitors about wildlife and plants, gathering scientific information and conducting search and rescue operations. This article provides information on the career of a park ranger, the requirements for becoming one, and finding a job with the National Parks Service or within a state park system.

Part 1
Deciding to Become a Park Ranger

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    Decide what type of park ranger you want to become. Do you hope to work in the back country, or wilderness, collecting environmental data and searching for people who have lost their way? Or do you see yourself welcoming park visitors at the entrance and teaching children about plants and animals? Before you start pursuing a career as a park ranger, it's important to know what park ranger roles will be the right fit for you.
    • Some park rangers have a background in science. They collect important information on wildlife and plant populations, and participate in decisions that affect the health of the park in which they work. These park rangers usually have a degree in earth sciences or forestry.
    • Other park rangers focus on education. They're responsible for teaching the public not only about the wildlife and geological formations in their park, but also how the park is affected by pollution, litter and climate change. They teach people how to enjoy nature while also helping to preserve it.
    • Another common focus for park rangers is law enforcement and firefighting services. Rangers are the first line of security in areas remote from police and fire stations. They make sure visitors follow park rules for the sake of everyone's safety.
    • Fee collection, grounds maintenance, paperwork, and permit and equipment sales are also common park ranger responsibilities.
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    Know the benefits and the drawbacks of being a park ranger. Many people are attracted to becoming a park ranger because they care about nature and wish to work outdoors every day. The flipside is that they have to be willing to do manual labor in cold, hot, or wet conditions, and they often work weekends and holidays. Park rangers who provide law enforcement may face dangerous situations, and sometimes the job can be emotionally difficult, as when people get injured or die in the park. A park ranger's work is sometimes grueling, but it's often blissful, and most park rangers say that they love their jobs.
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    Understand the park ranger's mindset. Park rangers are government workers who play a serious part in the protection of federal and state land. Whether their primary role is education, conservation, or law enforcement, park rangers tend to have the following qualities:
    • They honor the natural world. Park rangers spend their days learning about the land where they work. They care about protecting animals, trees and other plants.
    • They're confident leaders. Whether leading a night walk through a forest or heading a search expedition for a lost backpacker, park rangers are usually the expert in a given situation, and they must often take on the responsibility of guiding others.
    • They don't mind seasonal work, or working weekends and holidays. Since the majority of park visitors flock to the parks during warmer months and days off, park rangers are busiest when other people are vacationing.

Part 2
Meeting the Requirements for Becoming a Park Ranger

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    Acquire a college education. To qualify as a ranger for the National Parks Service, you will need at least a two-year degree, one year of work experience in a park, or a combination of these two.
    • The most common degrees held by park rangers are public administration, law enforcement, and park and recreation management, but there are other degree programs that would also qualify you to be a park ranger. Most departments want their rangers to hold a minimum at least a two-year degree; some positions might require a four-year degree.
    • If you intend to focus in the area of ecology or conservation, pursue a bachelor's degree in the natural sciences, such as environmental studies, forestry, biology or geology.
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    Get familiar with the parks system. Visit state and national parks. Research the parks' histories, rules and regulations. Speak with the rangers there about how they pursued their careers. Volunteer to spend time assisting a ranger to get a better understanding of what the job entails.
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    Gain relevant work experience. Many parks hire entry-level seasonal workers who go on to become park rangers. You may also volunteer at a national park, state park, municipal park or historic site. Consider working as a tour guide or docent at a museum, or working as an expense-paid intern with the Student Conservation Association.

Part 3
Finding a Job as a Park Ranger

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    Get in touch with parks that interest you. Contact the office that has jurisdiction over the area where you want to work and ask how to be a park ranger. Requirements vary for each department, depending on its needs.
    • Contact the regional office of the National Parks Service if you want to work in a national park. You can also find vacancies by searching for them on the Federal government's official job website,
    • Contact your state's department of parks and recreation if you want to work in a state park, or your city's department of parks and recreation if you want to work in a municipal park.
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    Apply for jobs. The application process for a job as a park ranger varies according to the department offering the position. In any case, it will include an application, testing, an interview process, and a background check before you are eventually hired. Know the requirements for the particular job for which you're applying, and be sure you meet them before proceeding.
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    Pass the Group VI Law Enforcement and Investigation examination. This examination is administered by Administrative Careers with America to help the National Parks Service determine whether you're qualified to be a park ranger. You'll be asked to take the exam after applying for a job vacancy through the Office of Personnel Management.
    • If you want to be a law enforcement park ranger, you must also complete the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program at one of the nine colleges that offer it. You cannot substitute other training programs or work experience for this class, and there is no distance learning option.


  • Competition for park ranger jobs can be stiff, especially for law enforcement park rangers.
  • Determining the education, job experience and other prerequisites for obtaining the park ranger position you want can be difficult. Take care to obtain detailed information from the parks department you want to work for, rather than relying on general descriptions of job requirements.

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Categories: Careers in Government