Spending time outdoors is something many people have to save for weekends or vacations, but there are plenty of careers that have fresh air and natural scenery built in. Degrees in subjects like natural sciences, forestry, engineering, agriculture, outdoor education and conservation can help students pursue a wide range of careers, from safely guiding tourists over rapids to figuring out efficient ways to extract petroleum from the earth. Outdoor careers and the degrees that lead to them may be ideal for people who can’t see themselves limited to a desk and chair or a standard workday, with many other unique career benefits baked in. Learn about the variety of outdoor careers available, what they entail and how to get them.
Emma Prichard grew up in Colorado, where she quickly developed an appreciation and passion for nature and conservation. She attended Portland State University, where she studied environmental science, served as campaign manager for the school’s Take Back the Tap program, president of PSU’s crew club, Rec Clubs Student Coordinator, EcoRep intern, Waste Force Reduction Task Force member and research assistant for the environmental science department. She continues her water quality research and activism in her free time and gets out in nature whenever she can.
Aside from helping students land the job they want, earning a degree that leads to an outdoor career has many benefits. The perks of working outside are far-ranging, from increased physical health to making a living sharing your hobby with others. Check out some of the top reasons to pursue an outdoor career:
While this reason may seem obvious, being able to get away from an office environment—even for a few hours a week—and enjoy fresh air, nature and the elements is one of the best reasons to earn a degree that leads to an outdoor-related field.
The purpose of many outdoor careers is to study different aspects of the natural work, but even those with careers whose primary focus is not scientific research, like outdoor guides or landscape architects, can inherently learn about and gain a deeper appreciation of their natural surroundings.
Whether exploring new wetland areas, traveling to remote job sites, dealing with changing weather or responding to emergency situations, those who have outdoor careers are privy to workweeks with a lot of variety.
Many outdoor careers, even ones that don’t involve daily hikes or scaling rock faces, require a fair amount of physical activity. Getting an outdoor career can help people stay fit and healthy.
Working indoors all the time can lead to a condition called “nature deficit disorder,” which can increase physical and mental ailments. Being outside combats this, so having a job with nature and the outdoors built in can mean better mental health.
While people have acknowledged for centuries that different students prefer learning in different ways, it wasn’t until the 1980s that these learning preferences were divided into four categories, auditory, visual, read/write and kinesthetic. Not only do these styles influence behavior and learning, but using one’s preferred learning style can increase comprehension and motivation. Choosing an outdoor degree and career path that aligns with your learning style could lead to better job satisfaction and success.
Auditory, or aural, learners perceive information better when it is spoken or heard. They learn well through lecture, conversation, asking questions, rephrasing in their own words and talking to themselves.Potential Outdoor Degrees & Careers
Fish and game warden
Visual learners learn best when concepts that could be explained in words are represented graphically instead. Meaningful graphics include diagrams, maps, charts, symbols, graphs, patterns and designs.Potential Outdoor Degrees & Careers
Those with the read/write preference best understand information when they read it or write it out. All forms of reading and writing are helpful, but read/write learners tend to find manuals, essays and reports most valuable.Potential Outdoor Degrees & Careers
Kinesthetic learners prefer learning that is ground in real experiences. They are often called “hands-on” or “experiential” learners, because physical modes of learning, like touching, tasting or building, are most helpful to them. These learners prefer example-based over theory- or proposition-based learning.Potential Outdoor Degrees & Careers
There are outdoor careers suited to people with all types of interests, education and experiences. While some may like nothing more than to spend their entire workday outside, in any weather conditions, others may prefer just enough outdoor time to get some fresh air and a little physical activity. The following list of careers can give prospective outdoor professionals an idea of the variety of careers out there and some steps they can take to get them.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) unless otherwise stated
Students going after outdoor-related degrees have many broad and subject-specific scholarships available to them. Getting that extra financial aid from scholarships can be extremely helpful, especially for students whose career paths require advanced degrees and field- or training schools. On top of that, many scholarships for students pursuing outdoor careers are offered by professional associations and corporations, so earning the award could even expose future professional connections. Check out some of these opportunities to get started.
This scholarship is sponsored by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) and awards $750 to a student pursuing post-secondary education or training in wildlife rehabilitation.
American Agri-Women offers a handful of different scholarships to support women in agriculture and the daughters of women in agriculture.
Students pursuing degrees in enology or viticulture, or those whose curricula emphasizes wine a grape industry science, can reapply annually for the ASEV scholarship. The award amount varies.
This scholarship, awarded by Annie’s Homegrown, gives $1,000 to undergraduate and graduate students studying sustainable and organic agriculture.
The Outdoor Writers Association of America sponsors this $1,000-$5,000 award, given to junior or senior undergraduate and graduate students pursuing an accredited, full-time degree leading to a career in an outdoor communications field, including print, photography, film, art or broadcasting.
Brown and Caldwell sponsors this scholarship, which is awarded to students majoring in environmental engineering with a focus on wastewater management. The award amount varies. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA.
Graduate students pursuing advanced degrees in coastal wetlands science can apply for this $5,000 award, which is intended to support the recipient’s field-based wetlands research. The Garden Club of America also offers scholarships for those studying botany, conservation and ecological restoration, desert studies, horticulture, landscape architecture, native bird habitat studies, pollinator research and urban forestry.
The Equal Opportunities section of the American Fisheries Association (AFA) awards $2,500 to a female Ph.D. student conducting aquatic research related to fisheries science, aquatic biology, fish culture, limnology, oceanography or marine engineering.
This scholarship, sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America, offers $1,000 to help students planning to do archaeological fieldwork for the first time offset field school expenses.
The Windstar Foundation awards one $1,000 and two $5,000 scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students studying environmental science, outdoor recreation, outdoor education, environmental engineering or a related field at an accredited U.S. college. Applicants must be have at least junior standing and a 3.0 college GPA.
The Public Education Foundation (PEF) awards $1,000 to graduating high school seniors who are pursuing degrees in law enforcement, emergency medical services, outdoor education or recreation management. Applicants must be actively engaged in outdoor activities like rafting, kayaking, hiking and mountain climbing.
The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) award $2,500 to an outstanding landscape architecture, horticulture or irrigation science student in his or her final two years of undergraduate study. Applicants must show their commitment through extracurricular activities and scholastic achievement.
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists offers various scholarships ranging between $500 and $14,000 to graduate and undergraduate students whose studies are geared toward geophysics or related areas, like geosciences, physics, geology, earth sciences and environmental sciences.
While not technically a scholarship, the Switzer Fellowship Program awards $15,000 to “highly talented” graduate students in New England and California. Applicants’ studies and career goals can be in various fields as long as they are focused on environmental improvement.
After finishing their education, graduates can turn to a multitude of job search resources to help them find the right outdoor career for their experiences and interests. Whether graduates want to find an organic farm overseas that needs an extra hand or a botanical research position at a university, the following job search resources can help.
Browse thousands of domestic and international job openings across all agriculture industries including farming, agribusiness, biotechnology and horticulture.
Search for jobs in agribusiness, agronomy and seed production and farm and livestock production. Fill out applications online.
Find organic farming volunteer opportunities through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Exchange labor services for room and board across the globe.
This site provides tons of resources, including a job and internship board, for those looking to get into farming.
Look through agriculture-related job postings and refine by specific fields, like biofuels, engineering or public relations.
Search for landscape architecture jobs by location, experience and job title, and post resumes on ASLA’s job board.
Browse civil engineering career opportunities, create a profile and set up job search alerts.
Find jobs by location or category, including civil engineering, environmental engineering, petroleum engineering and mining engineering.
Browse through construction job listings or narrow the search by location, job title, company and wage.
Go Overseas connects volunteers with building projects around the world, particularly in developing countries.
Check out company profiles, search job openings, post resumes and submit application through Outdoor Industry Jobs.
Find outdoor industry careers by location, job title, level and keyword, and set up job search alerts.
Outdoor educators can browse through job opportunities, conduct a filtered search and sign up for weekly newsletters.
Find outdoor industry jobs, particularly those related to outdoor gear, products and services, and post resumes.
This is an excellent resource for those who are interested in finding jobs at ski resorts.
Search for parks and recreation jobs, check out career profiles, access certification programs and get advice from peers.
Find careers related to natural sciences, including biomedical science, environmental science and science technician jobs.
Archaeologists can search for field schools, jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities and engage with peers via online forums.
This federal website provides information on forestry jobs and volunteer opportunities.
Young people and veterans in particular can take advantage of the conservation education, training and employment opportunities offered by 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.
Outdoor careers are often highly competitive, so it’s important that students and recent graduates take steps to help them land the career they want. Having a polished resume and meaningful experiences to discuss during the interview, for instance, can help students begin their outdoor careers. Students can check out these tips and start preparing to nail their outdoor job interviews.
Outdoor activities from backpacking to whitewater kayaking can show outdoor industry employers your practical experience and dedication to the field. For technical careers, spending time on hobbies like small-scale engineering projects, restoration projects and environmental research projects can demonstrate practical experience and passion to employers.
College campuses offer many opportunities to engage in outdoor hobbies and career-related activities. Conservation clubs, eco representatives, activities that involve outdoor leadership and safety can all provide valuable experience and discussion points that look good on resumes.
Interning is a great way to gain very practical job experience. Some job positions even require employees to have internship or apprenticeship experience, so getting an early start in school can be a big advantage.
Showing genuine interest in the field, the outdoors, safety, helping people, improving infrastructure, environmental and public health—whatever the job entails—can help job seekers stand out to employers. Just make sure you have real experiences to back up your claims.
Whether this means being willing to start at the bottom and work your way up or being comfortable doing not-so-fun tasks in a variety of weather conditions, expressing that you could step in where needed is something many outdoor employers not only like but need.
Matt Ishler is Associate Director for Career Counseling at Penn State. He holds a Master's in Counselor Education from Penn State as well as a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting. Matt is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Pennsylvania and a member of National Career Development Association (NCDA). Matt has been employed with Penn State Career Services for nearly fifteen years, serving in roles of Career Counselor, Assistant Director for Employer Relations, and Associate Director of Career Counseling. Outside of work, Matt enjoys time with family and friends and cheering for the Nittany Lions.
Growing up in Colorado hiking, backpacking, running, fishing and canoeing gave me ample time to discover the wonder and humility that results from observing the natural world. I began by loving the physical challenge and the athleticism required to backpack and trail run. As I was taught more about ecological systems and the way that we interact with them, for good or ill, I fell in love with observing the intricacies of the world around us.
My education was trifold. I got a degree in environmental science; I completed internships, activism and research; and I maintained my fitness and my outdoor skills throughout college. Because I was enthusiastic and interested, I learned more than just what was presented to me in my classes. This extra knowledge helped me get to the career I wanted.
Many students go to environmental science hoping for a career outside, but forget that being outside, potentially doing field work alone far away from others, requires physical fitness, outdoor survival skills and sturdy set of legs. If you are already a climber, hiker or kayaker, then you will have an advantage over your peers when it comes to getting good work done in strenuous conditions. Become a person that belongs outside if you want to do good work and be happy doing it. The best geologists, biologists and ecologists actually use their legs and their bodies to go see what they were studying for themselves.