Students who dream of spending their days outdoors instead of in an office might enjoy pursuing an outdoor degree. Schools award outdoor degrees in a variety of majors and education levels. For example, many colleges offer degrees in natural science, forestry, and agriculture. Other schools offer degrees in conservation and outdoor education.
Outdoor degrees open up many doors for students unsure about what kind of work they want to do. Graduates can find many exciting outdoor careers that require a lot of time out of an office. Learners can also choose from several paths in outdoor education. Students interested in conserving the environment may enjoy a career in the outdoors.
To succeed in the outdoor field, students should have a passion for nature and the environment. Many outdoor jobs require knowledge of earth and life sciences. Students should also possess hands-on research skills.
The job outlook holds strong for many outdoor careers. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for conservation scientists to grow 5% from 2019-2029.
Frequently Asked Questions About Outdoor Careers
Q. What careers involve being outdoors?
Learners can pursue outdoor careers in agriculture, food science, forestry, and geoscience. Careers in conservation, environmental engineering, architecture, and landscaping may also interest students. Other options include jobs in parks, public lands, and outdoor/adventure guiding.
Q. What degree do you need to work outdoors?
Many jobs in these fields do not require a degree. But, jobs in the sciences usually require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in life science or engineering.
Q. What are the best-paying outdoor jobs?
The highest-paying outdoor jobs include civil engineers, wildlife biologists, and conservation scientists. Architectural engineers and landscape architects also earn high wages.
Students choose from several degree options depending on their grade level, subject area, and specialization. For example, students may pursue a bachelor’s degree in agriculture or a master’s degree in conservation sciences. Admission requirements for each program vary. Depending on the type of degree, completion requirements also vary.
Below we list a few of the many degrees available to students interested in careers for the outdoors.
Agriculture or agricultural sciences degrees prepare students for roles as farm, ranch, or vineyard managers. Other options include agricultural scientists and food scientists. But, the information learned in an agriculture program could prove useful in various outdoor jobs. Agriculture degrees include coursework in biology, botany, chemistry, and plant conservation. Students also learn business skills and the practice of managing land. Many programs encourage students to pursue internships or fellowships.
Degrees in environmental engineering train students to solve environmental issues. These issues include recycling, climate change, and waste disposal. Because environmental engineering draws from many skill sets, programs offer coursework in biology, engineering, mathematics, soil science, and chemistry. Master’s degrees usually require research or hands-on work. Environmental engineering degrees prepare students for jobs in government, architecture, and consulting.
Schools offer landscape architecture degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These degrees teach students how to design parks, yards, universities, and other open spaces. Typically, the degree offers a cross between a life science or agriculture degree and an architecture degree. Coursework may include ecology, landscape and site design, and construction. Some programs may also offer business courses. Students learn how to use computer-aided design and drafting software through hands-on projects and assignments.
Marine biology degrees may overlap with ecology, zoology, or wildlife biology degrees. However, many schools offer degrees in marine biology at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Students take coursework in ecology, anatomy, cellular biology, habitat analysis, and conservation. Some programs also offer hands-on experience through at-sea expeditions. Marine biology degrees prepare students for jobs in research. These jobs usually combine work outdoors and in laboratories.
Learners can earn environmental science degrees at several levels of study. They prepare students for careers as environmental scientists, specialists, researchers, or consultants. Environmental science curricula may include classes in chemistry, biology, geology, and physics. Programs sometimes offer classes in environmental regulation and policy. Others require students to complete research or an internship.
Degrees in wilderness conservation prepare students for careers as conservation scientists, foresters, and researchers. These occupations are typically hands-on and include significant fieldwork. Similar degree subjects include forestry, natural resources, and agricultural science. In addition to biology, ecology, chemistry, and forest resource management topics, courses also teach students theory. Degree-seekers learn how to examine and solve problems in natural conservation.
As of July 2021, attending college for one year in the U.S. costs $35,720 on average. However, the average cost at an in-state public college amounts to $25,620 annually or $9,580 for tuition alone. Private universities charge $53,950 on average per academic year or $37,200 for tuition alone.
Taking courses online can cost less. Students might not need to relocate, live on campus, or pay student fees. Also, online schools have fewer expenses and therefore do not need to charge students as much per credit hour.
Some outdoor degrees require lab fees for certain classes. Students should check with department heads about specific fees. If a program requires an internship or field experience, a student may need to pay extra or take an unpaid internship or fellowship.
Career and Salary Outlook for Outdoor Degrees
Graduates of outdoor degrees can pursue a variety of career paths. Some graduates might pursue jobs that need field and lab research. Examples include environmental scientists, conservation scientists, and ecologists. Others who want to spend most of their time outside can pursue careers in agriculture, farming, and viticulture. For those who want a more traditional job that deals with the environment, teaching and engineering are good options. Below we highlight a few careers for the outdoors:
Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist
Zoologists and wildlife biologists work in fields, labs, and offices. They study animals, wildlife, and ecosystems. They also direct experiments, analyze research, and write research papers and reports. Zoologists and wildlife biologists need a bachelor’s degree, but more advanced jobs require a master’s degree. Those wanting to research independently or teach will need a Ph.D.
Environmental Scientist and Specialist
These professionals perform research to protect the environment and the health of humans and wildlife. They study the effects of construction and development on waterways and soil. Areas of focus vary greatly. They often work for consulting firms but can also conduct research at universities with a higher-level degree.
Landscape architects design outdoor spaces. This includes public facilities such as parks, college campuses, playgrounds, and gardens. Architects work both to make an attractive outdoor space and to lessen environmental damage. Landscape architects need both a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued license, which requires an internship.
Agricultural engineers use their skills to solve problems involving power, machines, pollution, and the environment. They also work on agricultural products. These engineers can work in many fields, including fishing and food processing, and on various projects. Some projects could include increasing crop storage capacity. Others may involve developing solutions for better waste disposal. Agricultural engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree in agricultural or biological engineering.
Students can pursue several certifications and licenses to supplement their outdoor degrees. These certifications and licenses allow students to pursue specific jobs or advance their careers. Some licenses require exams or prior degrees. Learners can earn other licenses independently. Here we provide a few of the licenses and certificates available for outdoor careers.
Landscape Architecture Licensure
The American Society of Landscape Architects offers licensure for landscape architects. Every state requires that landscape architects hold licensure. Thirty states require applicants to pursue higher education to maintain a license. Applicants must take the Landscape Architect Registration Exam, which tests knowledge and understanding of landscape architecture. The board administers the test three times a year, in April, August, and December.
The National Registry of Environmental Professionals offers this credential to environmental scientists. Candidates should show a high understanding of topics such as air, waste, water, and radiation. To take the certification exam, students need a bachelor’s degree in an environmentally related discipline. They must also hold three years of work experience in environmental science. Applicants can substitute three years of work experience for one year of academic experience.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) offers this 9- to 10-day course to teach medical care in remote, emergency situations. Students who complete the program can conduct a physical exam, take patient history, assess vital signs, and provide emergency care. This certification is the national standard for wilderness guides, and search and rescue team members.
National Recreation and Park Association
This nonprofit organization dedicated to building communities through parks and recreation offers many resources for outdoor job-seekers. The website includes career advice, salary information, and links to certification programs.
The site from Springer Nature keeps an updated list of nature- and environment-related job openings. Users can search by location, employer, or type of job.
United States Forest Service
The Forest Service is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its website lists job openings nationwide and provides information for young applicants. The Forest Service also offers fellowships and volunteer opportunities.
Outdoor Industry Jobs
The job board lists openings in the outdoor recreation industry. Areas include hiking, biking, fitness, and water sports. The website features full-time, part-time, seasonal, and contract-based jobs throughout the United States and Canada.