What can I do with a degree in Parks & Recreation?

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A television series by the same name (Parks and Recreation) created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur first aired on April 9, 2009, starring Amy Poehler. After season one, the main character, Leslie Knope (Poehler), underwent some changes after fans complained that she appeared unintelligent. Other notable stars on the shows were Chris Pratt and Rob Lowe, who worked in the fictional town of Pawnee in Indiana. Before launching the program, the creators researched local politics in California and consulted with urban planners and officials.

Subsequently, the series was a huge success running for seven seasons and 125 episodes. The producers added authenticity with guest appearances by John McCain, Joe Biden, and Michelle Obama over the years. The series’ popularity did not go unnoticed at award ceremonies, as it was nominated for 14 Primetime Emmy Awards during its tenure. These prominent people fit in well with the political overtones with the local Pawnee government – Knope runs for city council in season four.

Sure, some jobs will have you wearing green, khaki, and brown, spending a lot of time outdoors, and maybe even hiking through the woods. But other positions are indoors, working from a desk and organizing community programs for the town or city where the person resides.

Maybe you’ve got loftier career goals? Working on a cruise ship or guiding tours in an exotic destination? If any of that sounds like something you are interested in, you need to get an education in Parks and Recreation.

However, anyone who has watched the Parks and Recreation television reruns needs to be aware that the show is not entirely accurate. As humorous as the performances were, the potential employment may not sound attractive to many students. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 354,100 employees in the occupation of Recreation Workers in 2020. The group includes those who work for national, state, and local parks, summer camps, recreation centers, and recreational care facilities.

The BLS reported that the minimum education is a high school diploma; however, some positions require a bachelor’s degree. The Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism, and Related Professions, a branch of the National Recreation and Park Association, accredits more than 70 bachelor’s degree programs in recreation or leisure studies.

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The degree level can determine the individual’s duties and responsibilities in the field of recreation. Those who believe a high school diploma is inadequate could begin with an associate degree. By reviewing examples of curricula, individuals will have insight into where they can use the knowledge. Some of these are available at local community and technical colleges, saving time and expense.

Associate Degree

The following are random examples of schools offering degrees in parks and recreation or a related discipline.

Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California, has an associate degree in Recreation Management that covers recreation services in public and private domains, including parks and military settings. Other courses examine recreational sports, mathematics, leadership behaviors and principles, and communication. Students also learn about recreational planning, organizing, implementing, and evaluating activities in the private and public sectors.

Washington County Community College (WCCC) in Calais, Maine, has an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Adventure Recreation and Tourism that emphasizes leadership skills. In addition to leadership, the program immerses students in physically demanding hands-on training in several adventure activities. Examples are rock climbing, backpacking, whitewater canoeing, scuba diving, and mountaineering.

Graduates of the WCCC concentration will qualify for a career as an outdoor educator, park guide or interpreter, trip leader, camp director, recreational director, and recreation coordinator. These positions are attainable through the study of adventure programming, environmental interpretation, business ethics, advanced first aid, wilderness skills, and a rope course.

Students need to know more about the national park service before setting their aspirations on working for a national park. Hypothetically, if this is a goal, keep in mind that employment in a national park is a government job. Openings at more than 400 national parks are posted at USAJOBS. The site is where most federal jobs are listed subject to the government-established General Schedule (GS) Payscale.

One posting seeks a Facility Services Assistant at Glacier National Park, a support position for asset management activities. These involve the management software to track maintenance of buildings, rods, trails, campgrounds, and cultural resources throughout the park.

Bachelor’s Degree

Applicants for the above job should have a bachelor’s degree, be a U.S. citizen, have volunteer experience, and have a valid driver’s license. The park service accepts experience instead of completing an undergraduate degree – subject to approval. Candidates may start at the GS-04 level, ranging from $27,184 to $35,338 in 2021. However, the GS base salaries are adjusted based on the cost of living at different locales across the country.

Individuals should consider a bachelor’s degree for more job opportunities. For example, a job posting on Indeed for a Park Activities Coordinator in West Virginia requires applicants to have a four-year degree. Acceptable applicants may have a degree in geology, zoology, recreation, park management, forestry, conservation, or natural science. Those who fall short by a year on the bachelor’s degree may be able to substitute experience.

Hires will plan and conduct a host of year-round activities at four West Virginia parks for visitors. Other responsibilities are researching and preparing naturalist and recreational material for visitors – the material also acts as an aid to boost park attendance and revenues. The salaried coordinator has a wage range of $25,147 to $46,521.

Not all jobs in park and recreation require a degree- for example, a posting for a Park and Recreation Ranger at Presque Isle, Michigan, specifies a high school diploma with one year of experience as a Ranger 7. The completion of eight college semesters substitutes for ranger experience in this position with a stated hourly rate of $18.29 to $25.70.

Certificate and Associate programs are available from technical and community colleges. A Bachelor’s degree will typically provide you with the requirements to get hired for a town, state, and government job. An Associate’s can be entry-level for nursing homes, community centers, and non-profits looking for Activity and Recreation positions within their organizations.

The better-paying jobs typically prefer a bachelor’s degree, particularly for management roles. For example, Homosassa Springs State Park in Florida advertised for a Recreation General Manager at $55,000 per year. Some of the duties include:

  • Analyze sales, labor costs, and profitability
  • Maintain accounting records
  • Manage the profit and loss statement
  • Maintain safety standards for equipment, housekeeping, sanitation, and facilities
  • Recruit, interview, hire, train, and direct new employees
  • Conduct annual performance reviews for staff
  • Manage boats, including scheduling and slip leasing
  • Oversee maintenance of docks and park grounds

Candidates should have three to five years to apply for the above job and have boating or marine experience. Operation of Microsoft Office software and CPR Certification are other requisites for applicants.

Working for state or national parks is a service to the visiting public. All employees directly or indirectly strive to make each guest’s experience memorable, safe, and enjoyable. Some responsibilities are behind the scenes, such as office work, whereas others may have frequent interaction with visitors. Individuals should use their experience and/or college degrees to match their personalities. If you have a penchant for acting as a tour guide, select a job that offers this opportunity. Others might prefer to assume a role that doesn’t involve speaking to groups.

Another example of no-degree-required is a Park Resource Technician at Mueller State Park in Colorado. The minimum qualifications are four years working in construction, farming, resource management, landscaping, or ranching. It would be best to have electrical, plumbing, or carpentry experience. However, the State of Colorado accepts a bachelor’s degree as a substitute for experience on a year-for-year basis. The posting has a long list of acceptable college degrees, some of which are:

  • Environmental Science
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Parks Administration
  • Parks Management
  • Wildlife biology
  • Forestry
  • Ecology

There is no mention of how applicants with a college degree gain electrical and plumbing experience. Again, the preferred qualifications emphasize experience (as stated above), including GIS (geographic information system) understanding and Microsoft Office skills. Other abilities you won’t receive during your college years are the operation of:

  • Dump Trucks
  • Snow Plows
  • Mowers (riding)
  • Boats
  • Tractors
  • An assortment of power tools

Reviewing these qualifications lends more support to having experience in the stated areas than spending the time and money earning a bachelor’s degree.

PennState World Campus offers an online Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management that qualifies graduates for work in the recreation and tourism industry. The 120-credit program features courses in leadership, human behavior, legal and political aspects, sustainability, marketing recreation, event planning, and tourism. There aren’t any classes teaching how to operate tractors and dump trucks; the study plan leans towards managing and encouraging recreational activities – certainly less fieldwork involved.

Penn attests that graduates can pursue a career in these three fields:

  1. Entertainment, Sport, and Fitness Venue Management: Park manager, athletic director, campus recreation director, sports marketing manager
  2. Youth and Senior Recreation Services: Youth summer camp director, senior center physical activities, nature parks manager, and fitness center manager
  3. Tourism and Event Management: Travel agent, tour guide, event planner, and convention center director

Work Environment

Here is a sampling of different Parks and Recreation job titles:

  • Director of Aquatics Center
  • Recreation Programs Supervisor
  • Cultural Arts Director
  • Athletic Coordinator
  • Assistant Professor of College Recreation Department
  • City Pool Manager
  • Seasonal Camp Instructor
  • Park Development Manager
  • Senior Park Manager
  • Research Specialist
  • Park Ranger
  • Research and Planning Supervisor
  • Resort Manager
  • Equipment Store Specialist

As expected, some recreation workers need to be physically active to meet the job’s demands, like hiking trails and inspecting facilities scattered across a state or national park. Recreation Workers can do anything from leading a group of seniors in Tai Chi in a city park to running a group of experienced paddlers down Class V rapids in the Grand Canyon.

As highlighted, not all positions are physically taxing. For example, those in a management function where you perform much of the work in the comfort of a heated or air-conditioned building.

As we see, many of the positions involve planning, organizing, and leading skills. Your degree program will set you up to perform these and many other tasks required of this occupation. You will need to explain rules and activities to groups of participants. A Recreation Worker needs to enforce safety and may even have to administer basic first aid if the moment arises.


Employment of Recreation Workers is estimated to grow by 16% between 2020 and 2030, as stated on the BLS website. The percentage translates to a turnover of 57,800 jobs or approximately 5,780 each year. Most of the job changes will come from local government, as there are 109,410 (almost a third) employed as recreation workers in this sector. Nursing care facilities and civic organizations are second and third with 36,650 and 25,640, respectively.

Surprisingly, metropolitan areas with the highest employment level are New York-Newark-Jersey City (25,820), followed by Los Angeles (19,070). These figures do not represent just those employed in a state or national park. According to the BLS, recreation workers encompass those in games, music, social recreation, camping, arts, crafts, and dramatics. A vast spectrum of recreational activities.

Data from the National Park Service (NPS) reports that more than 20,000 work in various disciplines and organizations in regional, local, state, and national parks. The directorship of the NPS extends from Region 1, North Atlantic-Appalachian area, to Region 11, covering Alaska. Anchorage’s Alaska Regional Park Office manages 15 national parks, preserves, monuments, and historical parks. There are also 50 National Historic Landmarks and 16 National Natural Landmarks.

Job satisfaction is a crucial element to success in your chosen field and your welfare. Individuals who want a job that can take them beyond the confines of an office may relish a degree in parks and recreation. As many examples show, there are many areas to use the degree, or you may opt to forgo the college route and gain the necessary experience. As shown, the salaries are not what you could make in healthcare technology with an associate’s degree or in a prestigious management position, but being away from the city commotion has its benefits.

Additional Resources:

The 20 Best Online Master’s Degrees in Recreation, Tourism, and Coaching

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The Top 10 “Green” Careers for Nature-Lovers

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Top 10 Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Environmental Science