Outdoor Degrees & Careers
Tips, Scholarships, and Resources for an Outdoor Career
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.
Top 5 Reasons to Have an Outdoor Career
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:
1 Spend your workday outside
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.
2 Understanding your environment
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.
3 Variety at your job
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.
4 Physical wellness
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.5 Reduce stress, depression and anxiety
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.
Outdoor Degrees & Careers to Fit Your Learning Style
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.
Explore 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.
Viticulturists are responsible for growing grapes that are used to make wine. They engage in a variety of tasks, like monitoring soil, plant growth, irrigation and fertilizer levels; planting and trellising grapevines; pruning; and making sure plants aren’t eaten by insects or animals. They are also responsible for understanding the needs of different grape varietals in specific regions. After managing the harvest, viticulturists oversee the winemaking process, including crushing, fermenting and aging. Annual Salary $34,000 – $102,000
(U.S. Department of Labor via Inside Jobs) Education & Training
Viticulturists and winemakers often need a bachelor’s degree in viticulture, enology or horticulture. A master’s degree in one of these subjects may also be necessary for some positions. Related Careers
- Vineyard manager
- Food scientist
Farm and ranch managers are responsible for making sure that farms, ranches, nurseries, greenhouses and other agricultural operations run smoothly. They hire and train workers, manages farm or ranch finances, plan and supervise planting and harvesting and may even help with labor for smaller operations. Farm and ranch managers are often self-employed and spend most of their time outdoors, although some office work is involved. Annual Salary $64,170 Education & Training
Farm and ranch managers often need a high school diploma, but the need for education at the associate or bachelor’s level is increasing as farming becomes more complicated. It’s important that prospective farm and ranch managers have field experience, which is typically gained through family, school or apprenticeships. Related Careers
- Organic farm manager
- Aquaculture farmer or manager
- Field manager
Construction & Engineering
Civil engineers make sure that the construction of buildings, roads, sewage systems, railways, bridges, power plants and other infrastructure runs smoothly. They are involved in many aspects of the construction process, from designing and doing cost analyses to overseeing the building process and making sure safety protocols are met. Civil engineers may even test soils and building materials for strength and structure. Civil engineering is largely an office job, though these professionals frequently travel to outdoor sites for certain tasks. Annual Salary $82,220 Education & Training
Civil engineers need to have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or related fields, like construction engineering or geotechnical engineering. Advanced positions require the Professional Engineering (PE) license and potentially a master’s degree. In order to earn licensure, civil engineers must graduate from an ABET-accredited program. Related Careers
- Environmental engineer
- Construction manager
- Geotechnical engineer
Construction managers are involved in multiple aspects of construction projects, from the early planning stages through completion. They communicate with clients and work with other professionals, like architects and engineers, to make sure projects go as planned. Construction managers may prepare cost estimates and budgets, create schedules, coordinate construction processes and supervise workers. They spend some time in the office with their contracting or construction company, but construction managers spend most of their time in a field office at a construction site. Annual Salary $87,400 Education & Training
Construction managers need a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field, like engineering, architecture, construction science or construction management. Many construction managers get on-the-job training and experience as interns or journeymen. Certification is not required but may be helpful for employment. Related Careers
- Civil engineer
- Construction consultant
- General contractor
Environmental engineers combine biology, engineering, chemistry and environmental science knowledge to create projects that help the environment. They may work to solve waste management, pollution, water conservation and habitat degradation issues. Environmental engineers also make sure facilities are compliant with environmental regulations and educate governments and the public about environmental issues. They work both indoors and outdoors and may be employed by engineering and consulting services or governments. Annual Salary $84,560 Education & Training
Environmental engineers need a bachelor’s degree in environmental, civil or general engineering. While a graduate degree is not required, it may open up more career opportunities, especially for those who want to conduct research. Licensure is not necessarily required for entry-level engineering, but those seeking advanced positions need to earn a Professional Engineering (PE) license. Related Careers
- Chemical engineer
- Civil engineer
- Environmental engineering technician
- Pollution control engineer
- Water supply engineer
Landscape architects plan and design outdoor areas that are both functional and aesthetic. They use computer-aided design and drafting to create plans and coordinate with clients, designers and engineers to carry out those plans. Landscape architects may help with restorations or design green roofs. Most of their time is spent in an office working for landscaping or architecture and engineering companies, but they do visit job sites to oversee projects. Annual Salary $63,810 Education & Training
Landscape architects need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture. Some five-year undergraduate programs lead to licensure, which is required by most states, or students can earn a master’s degree and take the licensure exam. Students must earn their degrees from a program approved by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board. Related Careers
- Landscape designer
- Urban planner
Petroleum engineers design equipment and develop methods used for extracting oil and gas from the earth and old wells. They monitor and analyze production data and, with the help of geoscientists, use that information to improve extraction methods. Most petroleum engineers split their time between outdoor drilling sites, labs and offices, and they often need to travel overseas for extended periods of time. Annual Salary $129,990 Education & Training
In general, petroleum engineers need a bachelor’s degree in petroleum or general engineering, though other branches of engineering may also be suitable. Most positions require candidates to have field and lab experience, which can be gained through school and internships. Some positions may favor candidates with master’s degrees. Related Careers
- Drilling engineer
- Production engineer
- Natural gas engineer
Archaeologists conduct research at outdoor sites and in labs to learn about history. They may excavate on land and underwater to recover remains. Often, archaeologists work to uncover, preserve, restore and identify artifacts and may travel to remote areas to conduct their research and digs. Because of this travel, archaeologists may have to learn new languages, work in unfamiliar conditions and be away from home for extended periods of time. They typically work for governments or independent research organizations. Annual Salary $61,220 Education & Training
Archaeologists usually need a master’s degree in archaeology as well as field experience, which can be gained through school or internships. A bachelor’s degree may be sufficient to get entry level field- or lab tech positions, while advanced positions generally require graduate-level education. A Ph.D. may be required for certain positions, especially ones in foreign countries. Related Careers
Botanists study various aspects of plants, especially their biology and relationship to the environment and other organisms. They tend to work both outdoors and in labs to identify and classify plants, find rare plants and research plant environments and communities. Botanists many also work on projects, like restoring and monitoring plant populations. They are usually employed by government organizations, research facilities or colleges and universities. Annual Salary $49,890 (Payscale, 2016) Education & Training
Botanists tend to need at least a bachelor’s degree in botany. Degrees in related fields may also be sufficient, as long as students take courses in subjects like biology and ecology. Some botany positions may require a master’s degree or Ph.D. Related Careers
- Environmental scientist
Environmental scientist is a broad title for scientists who may conduct a variety of research related to the environment, from collecting and analyzing soil data to helping corporations reduce their negative impacts on the planet. Environmental scientists work to identify and address environmental concerns. They may conduct outdoor surveys to study soils, water, air and other environmental components and use their findings to educate private groups or the public and create solutions that help the environment. Annual Salary $67,460 Education & Training
To get entry-level positions, environmental scientists need at least bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related field, like biology, chemistry or geosciences. Advanced degrees may be necessary for some positions, especially supervisory roles. Related Careers
- Conservation scientists
- Climate change analyst
- Environmental health specialist
Marine biologists focus on saltwater ecosystems. They study plants, animals and other organisms and assess the health of marine environments. Marine biologists work both outdoors and in labs, and they sometimes have to travel to conduct their studies. These scientists may also work on habitat rehabilitation projects. Marine biologists are typically employed by education, research or oceanography centers. Annual Salary $51,289 (Payscale, 2016) Education & Training
Marine biologists need a bachelor’s degree in marine biology or a related field, like zoology, wildlife biology or ecology. Master’s degrees are often necessary for higher-level scientific work, and Ph.D.s are typically needed for most marine biology research positions. Marine biologists with outdoor skills like swimming and scuba diving are often helpful. Related Careers
- Wildlife biologist
- Marine Engineer
Geologists learn about Earth’s history by studying its materials. They work outdoors, in labs and in offices on a variety of tasks, like studying rock formations, conducting land surveys, addressing environmental issues and natural disaster risks, making geological maps, studying surface- and groundwater and advising for construction. Geologists often work for the mining, quarrying, oil and gas industries or are employed by engineering services, consulting groups, education centers or governments. Annual Salary $89,700 Education & Training
Geologists need a bachelor’s degree in geoscience or geology along with field and lab experience to get entry-level positions. A master’s degree may be necessary for advancement, and Ph.D.s are usually needed for research and university positions. Geologists should be familiar with computer-aided modeling, data analysis and digital mapping. Licensure is required in some states. Related Careers
- Petroleum geologist
Outdoor and adventure guides work in many areas, like rock climbing, rafting, hiking, outdoor education, biking, photography, hunting and fishing. These guides ensure guests have fun and are safe during activities. They teach proper technique, guide people to specific activity locations and educate about the surrounding environment and its history. Outdoor and adventure guides may also need to take on first responder and first aid duties. They work outside almost exclusively, even in unfavorable conditions. Annual Salary Varies with experience Education & Training
While there is no specific degree required to work as an outdoor or adventure guide, degrees in outdoor education or outdoor leadership can be beneficial. Job-specific training and a passion for the activity are generally the most important job qualifications. Prospective guides may seek training in first aid, swift water rescue, wilderness first response or other activity-specific certification. Strong customer service skills and a driver’s license with a clean record are also key. Related Careers
- Whitewater instructor/guide
- Camp counselor
- Fishing guide
- Bike tour guide
- Ski/snowboard instructor
- Recreational therapist
Photographers use creative and technical skills to capture images for a variety of purposes. They may take fine art photos, portraits, nature photos, commercial or industrial photos or photos for marketing purposes. Photographers may also document events, like weddings, sports or news happenings. Some photographers use their skills to take aerial photos for mapping or macro photos for science. They are able to compose and edit their images. Photographers may also need to travel, and those interested in types of outdoor photography should have a good knowledge of natural lighting. Annual Salary $31,710 Education & Training
A specific degree is not required for many photography careers, although associate and bachelor’s degrees in photography can be helpful. Certain photography careers, like photojournalism or scientific photography may require a bachelor’s degree in photography or a field-related subject. Related Careers
- Wildlife photographer
- Nature photographer
- Film and video editor
Ski patrollers monitor ski slopes and make sure guests are safe. They provide information and advice to visitors about mountain and weather conditions and often perform first responder and first aid duties. Ski patrollers sometimes have to conduct search and rescues and transport injured or distressed visitors to safety. Ski patrollers work seasonally, sometimes in blizzards, avalanche conditions and severe weather. Annual Salary $19,500 Education & Training
No specific degree is required to become a ski patroller; however, ski patrollers have to complete training courses and pass an exam administered by the National Ski Patrol, including a course in outdoor emergency care. They need to be CPR certified and have adequate skiing skills. Larger mountains or ski resorts may require additional training. Related Careers
- Ski instructor
- Rescue worker
Wildlife & Wilderness Conservation
Conservation scientists and foresters protect, improve and manage natural resources like parks, forests and rangelands. They monitor the health of natural areas and work to prevent disease, invasive and harmful organisms and fires. Conservation scientists and foresters also create conservation and restoration plans, make sure that conservation and forestry activities are government compliant, assess fire risks and solutions, act as emergency responders and educate the public. They sometimes work in offices and labs and spend a lot of time outdoors, sometimes alone, in remote areas or in unfavorable weather conditions. Annual Salary $60,220 Education & Training
Conservation scientists and foresters usually hold bachelor’s degrees in forestry or a related field, such as environmental science or rangeland management. Both theoretical and practical knowledge is important, as well as studies in biology, ecology, forest resource management and geographic information systems (GIS). Certain states offer credentials that may be required. Credentials are available through the Society of American Foresters and the Society for Range Management. Related Careers
- Conservation land manager
- Range manager/conservationist
- Soil and water conservationist
- Fish and game warden
- Park ranger
Fish & Game Warden
Fish and game wardens have a variety of duties related to protecting natural areas. They prevent fish and game law violations, investigate suspicious or illegal activities and wildlife damage and make plans to prevent and repair damage caused by human activity. Fish and game wardens also assess and improve hunting and trapping regulations and issue licenses and permits. They also provide information and advice to park visitors and occasionally perform search-and-rescue duties. Fish and game wardens spend most of their time outside, but some time is spent in an on-site office. They are usually employed by state, local and federal governments. Annual Salary $54,970 Education & Training
Some fish and game warden positions only require a high school diploma with some college education in related fields, like biology or resource management, but some positions, especially federal ones, require a bachelor’s degree. Fish and game wardens also receive on-the-job training. Related Careers
- Federal wildlife officer
- Conservation officer
- Natural resource officer
- Park ranger
Park rangers watch over and care for parks, historic sites and other outdoor areas. They attend to wildlife and make sure visitors stay safe and adhere to park rules. Park rangers also conduct park maintenance and cleanup, and they provide visitors with useful information. Park rangers also serve as first responders in the event of fires, suspicious behavior and other hazards. Most of their time is spent outdoors in varying weather conditions, but some paperwork is done in an office. Annual Salary Varies with experience Education & Training
Park rangers typically need a bachelor’s degree in forestry, environmental science, wildlife management or a similar field. They also must complete a job-specific training school. Related Careers
- Fish and game warden
- Wildlife conservation officer
- Law enforcement officer
- Forestry and wildlife manager
Wildland firefighters are firefighters specially trained to control forest fires. Their duties can include reaching hard-to-access areas via parachute to fight fires, conduct controlled burns, create fire lines, rescue victims and administer first aid. Wildland firefighters must be prepared to respond to fires at any time of day and in any type of weather. They usually work for local governments but may be employed by national or state governments. Annual Salary $46,870 Education & Training
Wildland firefighters need a high school diploma or its equivalent plus job-specific training. They need to earn EMT certifications, complete fire academy training and pass written and physical tests. Related Careers
- Forest firefighter
- Forest fire warden
- Forestry technician
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) unless otherwise stated
Scholarships for Students Pursuing Outdoor Degrees
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.
Find It: Job Search Resources for Outdoor Careers
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.
Construction & Engineering
Search for landscape architecture jobs by location, experience and job title, and post resumes on ASLA’s job board.
American Society of Civil Engineers Career Connections
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 – Building
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.
Outdoor Industry Association Career Center
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.
Science & Nature
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.
United States Forest Service
This federal website provides information on forestry jobs and volunteer opportunities.
21st Century Conservation Service Corps
Young people and veterans in particular can take advantage of the conservation education, training and employment opportunities offered by 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.
Nail It: Tips for Landing an Outdoor Job
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.
- Turn hobbies into resume and portfolio builders 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.
- Join outdoor clubs and associations 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.
- Land an outdoor internship 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.
- Express passion during the interview 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.
- Be flexible 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.
Advice from the Field: Shaping Up for an Outdoor Career
Why did you decide to pursue an outdoor career?
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.
How did your education help prepare you for this career?
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.
What advice do you have for students who are pursuing outdoor careers and degrees that prepare them for such careers?
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.
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