How to become a Park Ranger
I hear it all the time, “I’ve always thought it would be really neat to be a Park Ranger”.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I used to think the same thing. Then I became a Park Ranger.
Before you quit your job and run to the nearest park to be their Ranger you must first consider these things:
- Park Ranger jobs can be extremely competitive. There are many people with the same dream as you, all fighting for the same few jobs out there.
- What do you have to offer? What makes you unique, makes you attractive and stand out among the masses. Especially if your looking to go federal (National Parks, Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife)
- A lot of Park Rangers have solid degrees in things like biology, environmental studies, forestry, or geology.
- You must be persistent in applying for jobs that 95% will tell you “No”. You must be willing to fix the voids on your application that will in turn make you more hirable.
- You have to be flexible. Most seasonal Park Rangers will have 4-8 month season. You’ll be working irregular hours and dealing with middle of the night calls. You have to be willing to move. This is the best chance you have at becoming a full time permanent (working year round, not just seasonal) Park Ranger. You could move as little as once in your career, but in some cases it could take you 5, 6, 7+ moves before you secure that Full Time Permanent Job. You might have to work at a park or an agency that you’re not interested in. Truth is, you have to start somewhere. You may have to start at the State Level and work your way up to NPS. Getting your dream park right out of the gate is rare.
- You have to be a teacher and student at the same time. You must teach those under you. Impart your knowledge onto those you supervise. But you must always be learning and bettering yourself. You’ll be attending quarterly trainings where you’ll constantly be tested on the knowledge you know.
- Be a steward. You have to give whatever knowledge you have on the people you encounter so that they get it, that they understand and appreciate the fact that they can make a difference.
- You have to have stone skin. You’re going to encounter people who don’t like you because you’re a Park Ranger. Because you have a gun. A badge. Because you’re working for a government they don’t care for.
- And the most important question you should consider: *Would you be able to take a life to protect your own or someone else’s in the line of duty.
This may seem like a lot of traits for one person to be, or try to be, but for the people that make it as a Ranger…it’s just a personality. It’s who they are. For most, it isn’t something they learned or were taught. It’s something they were born with.
So if you can identify with these traits the first place to start is Researching your academy you will attend and graduate from.
There isn’t just 1 way to become a Park Ranger. In fact there are many ways to do just about anything and becoming a Park Ranger is no exception.
This is how to become a Park Ranger…
or rather this is how I became a Park Ranger.
Step One: Research and find a Parks Law Enforcement Academy (PLEA) also can be called Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP).
A lot of the programs are conducted as full-time academy settings. A typical week consists of a minimum of 40+ hours for around 13 weeks. Most are daytime classes but there can be night classes and also weekends. Some academies limit their class sizes and have waiting lists. Most have 1-2 sessions a year, Spring and Fall.
Aside from the constitutional/criminal law courses and behavioral science courses, most academies curriculum will also include training in taser, radar, patrol rifle, park patrol and enforcement, driving, firearms and officer safety, patrol skills, and defensive tactics.
Some academies offer optional courses such as wild land firefighting class. Emergency Medical Responder course. Wilderness EMT. HAZMAT. Taking these courses along side the regular academy courses will only make you that much stronger of a candidate when applying for jobs but will also add a significant course load on top of the academys work.
Step Two: Choose your academy
Schools that offer these programs:
- Colorado Northwestern Community College Rangely, CO
- Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ
- SanAntonio College,Law Enforcement Training Academy SanAntonio,TX
- Santa Rosa Junior College Windsor, CA
- Skagit Valley College Mount Vernon, WA
- Slippery Rock University Slippery Rock, PA
- Temple University Philadelphia, PA
- Southwestern Community College Franklin, NC
- Unity College Unity, Maine
- Vermilion Community College Ely, Minnesota
Things to consider when picking an academy:
- Some academy’s will base their law courses on the state where you are attending. So keep that in mind when you are choosing. You may want to choose an academy where you will be interested in working inside their parks. If you’re wanting a federal Ranger job make sure the academy training supports that.
- Take a look at the academy’s employment success rate after graduation. This is pretty important and will help you gage how many students get jobs directly out of the academy.
- Consider the length of academy (full time will be around 3 months, part time or evenings will be longer) and what certifications you’ll walk out with when all is done.
- Does the tuition includes housing and meals or will you need to secure your own housing and shop for and prepare your own meals.
- How will you support yourself financially, especially if you will be attending classes full-time.
Step Three: While still attending the academy you should start applying for jobs. Many of the cadets, including myself, had jobs secured before graduation. All Park Ranger jobs are all applied for online. Either through www.usajobs.gov or a State career website.
A clean background check will only help you. They will be digging into your past and some states will require you to pass a polygraph test and other psychological exams. Things they may look into: any past criminal convictions, felonies, misdemeanors, domestic violence, driving records, and financial history. Not all of these will disqualify you, some things are taken on a case by case basis.
Step Four: Pass the Academy
At Skagit Valley I had to pass all written exams with a 70% or better. I had to pass fire arms qualifications, defensive tactics qualifications, physical fitness tests, and EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operator Course).
Some academies may require less, some may require more. I personally recommend choosing an academy with more hours and more courses. If you’re going to do it…do it well. You can also choose to goto a regular Police Academy Training course (B.L.E.A) and be eligible to apply for Park Ranger jobs as well.
Step Five: Start your career
You may have to attend state or park specific trainings before you start at your first Park. This will all be explained by your agency if need be.
If you haven’t secured a job after graduating then just keep applying. Apply for any and all jobs you qualify for. Go volunteer at a park. Get a job as a park aide. Just get your foot in the door somewhere somehow. If your determined, you’ll get there!
I hope that answered your question on how to become a park ranger. Please leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have further questions.