Posted by: rmorrisey | April 2, 2007

What Kind of College Degree Do I Need?

This is probably the most common question from Park Ranger Wannabees.  What kind of degree do I need?  What should I major in?

Bottom line . . . Most federal jobs don’t require a college degree as long as you have sufficient experience to meet the qualification standards.  Park Ranger jobs are no different — with the exception of Law Enforcement rangers.  If you want to carry a gun, you’ll need to complete the Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program at one of the nine colleges that offer it.

In addition, your college experience and work experience can be combined to meet qualification standards.  So, if you’ve completed some college it will be counted as long as it is relevant to the position.  The OPM qualification standards are pretty lenient when it comes to what kind of courses are considered relevant for park ranger jobs:   natural resource management, natural sciences, earth sciences, history, archeology, anthropology, park and recreation management, law enforcement/police science, social sciences, museum sciences, business administration, public administration, behavioral sciences, sociology, or other closely related subjects pertinent to the management and protection of natural and cultural resources. Course work in fields other than those specified may be accepted if it clearly provides applicants with the background of knowledge and skills necessary for successful job performance in the position to be filled. 

So, according to the OPM qualification standards, in order to a qualify for a GS-05 park ranger position, you need a 4-year degree OR one year of experience working in a park setting OR a combination of the two.

Next question:  How do I get park experience?

Lots of options . . .

Volunteer for the National Park Service.

Work or volunteer at a state or municipal park or historic site.

Become a tour guide or docent at a local museum.

If you’re a student, sign up for an internship with the Student Conservation Association.

Work for a park concessionaire.

For more ideas, check out the Park Ranger Career Handbook.

Let me be clear — I’m not discouraging anyone from getting a college education.  It is one of the best investments you can make in your future and studies show that college graduates do make more money.

But just because you don’t have a degree doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill your dream of becoming a park ranger with the National Park Service. 

Any experienced supervisor knows that a college degree doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a good employee.  I’ve worked with people who have advanced degrees but get fired because they can’t seem to get anything done.  The work never gets finished because they’re too busy studying, analyzing, reading and talking about it.

Good people skills, a strong work ethic and good old fashioned common sense will take you a long ways.

Keep the faith.




  1. yes i’m considering getting out of the military in 2012, i would have 14 years of service. but by reading some of the requirements of age, i’m currently 34 and would be 35 at my time of exiting the service. would a waiver be available for some one like me.

    • Jim – I have heard rumors of OPM waiving the age requirements for people coming out of the military. I’ll try to find more information about this and post it on my website in the near future.

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