The National Park Service employs nearly 4,000 park rangers across its 397 national parks, as of publication. These rangers work to protect our national park areas as well as enhance the experience of visitors to the parks. Some park ranger positions require a law enforcement background, while others draw from a wide array of backgrounds ranging from college degrees specific to parks and recreation to degrees in history, anthropology and the environment.
Types of Degrees
According to park ranger job listings posted on USAJOBS by the National Park Service, acceptable majors for the education requirement include anthropology, archaeology, behavioral sciences, business administration, earth sciences, history, law enforcement, museum sciences, natural resource management, natural sciences, park and recreation management, police science, public administration, social sciences, sociology, or “other closely related subjects pertinent to the management and protection of natural and cultural resources.” Degrees need to be from an accredited institution.
Parks and Recreation Degrees
The National Recreation and Park Association awards accreditation to about 80 academic programs that prepare students for careers in parks, recreation and related professions. Programs include Leisure Studies, Recreation and Parks Management, and Parks and Leisure Services Administration among others. These programs focus on facilities management and developing educational and recreational programs for parks.
While degrees in earth science or other natural sciences might be sufficient, the College Board suggests that a degree in an environmental field might be preferable. Environmental science studies the interactions that occur in nature as well as how those interactions affect our overall environment. Social sciences, especially archaeology or anthropology, may also serve as a basis for a career as a park ranger. These fields investigate the history and evolution of mankind and society.
Law Enforcement Programs
Protection-related jobs with national parks require a Type II law enforcement commission. Nine institutions across the country offer Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Programs (SLETPs) leading to the commission, as of 2013. These are typically 12-week programs requiring 400-500 credit hours. Programs combine physical training and firearm training with coursework such as behavioral science, environmental and criminal law, patrol procedures and enforcement operations.
Park Ranger Programs
A small number of institutions offer programs specific to park rangers. Red Rocks Community College, for example, offers a Park Ranger Technology program. Such programs might be appropriate for students with some previous college experience or those planning to transfer to a four-year institution. Coursework includes natural resource management, outdoor leadership and law enforcement training.