How hard is it to become a National Park Ranger?
November 12, 2009 9:10 PM   Subscribe

How hard is it to become a National Park Ranger if you've got a location in mind?

I would love to be a National Park Ranger at either Rocky Mountain National Park, Cascades, or Yellowstone. I have a fair amount of outdoor experience and a solid understanding of basic environmental science, neither of which I have come by in any official capacity like a job or a university class. Either way, I imagine it's a position that a lot of people would like to have and that competition is pretty steep. Is this the case? What sort of experience do they look for in potential employees?

Looking at the job listings, I see a lot of jobs in the locations I am interested that pay by the hour and cover some of the less glamourous aspects of park administration, like "Water Treatment Plant Operator." While I'm obviously less excited about something like that, I'd still take it in a heartbeat. Is there a lot of competition for those jobs too? Anything else I should know?
posted by invitapriore to Work & Money (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
What type of ranger are you talking about? The Interior Department has different kinds. The most prominent and the one most likely to get you into park administration is the Law Enforcement ranger, who also does rescues and the like.

There is a lot of competition for those jobs. Best way to get hired on is to be a seasonal to start out.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 PM on November 12, 2009

I suspect you want to do what is called interpretation, or basically teaching visitors.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:52 PM on November 12, 2009

My summer job is interpretation with Parks Canada and I got it through the Federal Student Work Employment Program (FSWEP). Yeah, it's a mouthful but it connects students with a whole range of government jobs for a range of time periods and I definitely found a number of opportunities through it that I wouldn't have before. I can't recommend it highly enough if you're looking for a place to apply to find jobs with the Parks Canada agency. It's possible/likely that the US Park service has an application system such at this.

I know that for at least the summer hiring session you fill out all the basic information, including, and this might be interesting to you, where you can/want to work. This seems to be a common theme of federal agency job databases: if you say you can relocate, they take it seriously and show you all the jobs available wherever you want them. For example, I'm based in Ontario but I said that I would be willing to relocate and got the opportunity to apply for a job in Yoho National Park, which is several provinces away. It was a park attendant job, which sounds similar to what you are looking for, at least as a way to get a foot in the door in the national parks system here in Canada.

Hope you find your dream job!
posted by hepta at 10:34 PM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're going to want to apply for Visitor Use Assistant or Interpreter positions. VUAs are GS-4 positions and essentially campground rangers. Interpreters give guided tours and are GS-5 positions. There's usually 1-2 weeks of training when you're hired, so you can start learning your tours. Law Enforcement (LE) rangers carry guns, so you'll need to get that training before you apply.

You don't mention what your education/experience is. IIRC, for GS-4 positions, it's 2 years of experience, 1 year experience + 1 year post-HS studies, or a B.A./B.S. GS-5 is something like a BA or experience, but I don't remember the specifics. Your job apps will tell you what your options are though.

There's a ton of competition now. NPS gives priority to veterans, regardless of whether you're more qualified than them. Additionally, you might not get the park you want the first time around, so take what you can get (if financially feasible) and keep applying to your dream parks. Don't take any permanent positions though - "park hopping" is where it's at :).

Also, you'll want to be more positive about yourself on the application responses. It's more of a "can do" than "have done" thing. The application/test gives you a point score, and if it's high enough, your app and résumé is passed onto the hiring official. If not, then you get a fast rejection. In other words, if you don't score well, no one knows about you.

Finding NPS jobs: To look for all park service jobs, do an advanced search and choose "Department of the Interior - National Park Service". Once you apply to a job, you'll have to deal with "Application Manager", which is a different login, but you can get to it from the "My USAJobs" page. (USAJobs is an abomination, but it's sadly much better than Avue central, which is for forest service jobs.)

  • My sister: seasonal interpreter (2 seasons XP), B.A.
  • My mom: backcountry ranger from the '70s to '80s, B.S.
  • Me: failed biotech/VUA/interp. I have BAs in bio and chem, but I only managed a few offers that were either really slow to process or crummy (N. Cascades - shared housing is terrible). I didn't accept any, but it worked out for the better because I ended up with my current job (non-park related).

posted by fleeba at 10:40 PM on November 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You might be interested in some of the internships offered by the Student Conservation Association. It is now over 20 years since I took part in one of their programs but it looks like what they have on offer is still largely unchanged and I'd recommend both as a foot in the door to getting a job with the NPS as well as to working out exactly what sort of job you would like most. [I am not a US citizen as you can see from my profile - so a note to point out that this route is potentially open to foreigners too]

You can choose the type of internship you are interested in: life sciences, office work, trial construction, running tours, etc. Then you can choose the place you are are interested in. As with the full time jobs the degree of competition for internships varies dramatically.

I met a number of seasonal employees who would work summer time in somewhere like Denali and winter somewhere like the Everglades. An interesting life if you can set it up that way.
posted by rongorongo at 2:20 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everybody. I've marked the last two as best because those are the avenues I'll probably investigate.
posted by invitapriore at 1:14 PM on November 13, 2009

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