Thursday June 20, 2024  

Outdoor Action Guide to
Outdoor/Environmental Careers

This job resource guide is from a workshop on Outdoor and Environmental Careers given to students at Princeton University. It is made available to the Internet community as an educational resource. We hope that the information here is helpful to others interested in these fields. We are not able to provide personal job counseling across the Internet so please do not send mail asking for specific leads to positions. Thank you.

Many OA Leaders are interested in combining their enjoyment of the wilderness with summer jobs or careers. There is an extensive range of possible career options with this type of focus. Early spring is the time to start looking for summer positions or, for seniors, post-graduation job opportunities. This guide is designed to briefly present some of the issues and resources for starting a career in the outdoors on the environment.

Table of Contents

Finding Your Career

One of the great things about careers in the outdoors or the environment is that they are everywhere. You can fins just about any position and create connections to the outdoors and/or the environment. However, that sometimes makes it harder to know where to look. I recommend two approaches to those who are trying to identify what type of career to focus on. Try one of both of these.

  • Fantasy & Deconstruction Approach - spend time fantasizing about the ultimate job for yourself. Think about responsibilities, populations you would work with, daily tasks, goals, etc. You may have multiple "fantasy jobs." Then, after the daydreaming, do an analysis of why that fantasy job is so appealing. Deconstruct the position and determine what parts of the job make it so great. You can now start to generate a list showing what the important parts of a future job are. You may not find your fantasy job (or maybe you will), but you may find a job that meets many if not most of your criteria. Now you can take these pieces, prioritize them and build them back up into a potential job description. Knowing what you are looking for and what's important to you is have the battle of finding your job.


  • Look at Real Jobs & Deconstruction Approach - similar to the approach described above. Look at some of the many job newsletters mentioned below and see what jobs really excite you. Now do the same deconstruction analysis to take the job apart into the important components for you, and put those components back together in one of several ways to create potential jobs. The other valuable thing about looking at real jobs is that you can see the qualifications people are looking for.


  • Inventory Your Skills - do a thorough inventory of all your skills--outdoor skills, first aid, writing, art, music, teaching, sports, research, computer, etc. By looking at either real jobs or your fantasy jobs or both, you can compare your list of skills against the requirements of the job(s). This will also help you identify areas where you need to acquire more skills.

Types of Careers

Below is just a small list of some of the types of careers you can be involved in.

  • Teacher - secondary school focusing on outdoor/environmental issues through literature, science, history, politics
  • Teacher working at a school with an outdoor program
  • Educator at an Environmental Center
  • Educator at an Outdoor Center
  • Management Consultant focusing on corporate challenge & development
  • Outdoor Trip Leader - Outward Bound, National Outdoor Leadership School, or similar program,
  • Program Director/Manager for outdoor center, environmental center, environmental organization, conservation group
  • Scientist - University setting, private foundation, environmental organization, state or federal government
  • Lobbyist for an environmental organization, conservation group
  • Engineer working for an environmental consulting firm, environmental organization, conservation group, state or federal government
  • Lawyer working for an environmental consulting firm, environmental organization, conservation group, state or federal government
  • Urban Planner/Architect working on a state or local level
  • Forest Ranger working for state or federal government
  • Fund Raiser for an environmental organization, conservation group, foundation
  • Researcher for an environmental organization, conservation group

Career Examples


  • Department of Environmental Protection (State by State)
  • National Park Service
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Geological Survey
  • Justice Department


  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Sierra Club
  • National Audobon
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • Greenpeace
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • The Wilderness Society
  • American Rivers Conservation Council
  • Friends of the Earth
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • League of Women Voters


  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Annapolis, MD
  • Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Bozeman, MT
  • Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, Hopewell, NJ


  • Outward Bound, Greenwich, CT
  • National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, WY


  • Project U.S.E, Red Bank, NJ


  • Princeton Education Center at Blairstown, Blairstown, NJ
  • Chewonki Foundation, Wiscassett, ME
  • Manice Education Center, North Adams, MA
  • Sargent Camp, Peterborough, NH
  • Hulbert Outdoor Center, Fairlee, VT

SECONDARY SCHOOLS (With Outdoor Programs)

  • Albuquerque Academy, Albuqueque, NM
  • Gilman School, Baltimore, MD

Because of the diversity of positions it is hard to get too specific about requirements and training. There are a few thoughts you should keep in mind.

Outdoor Program Jobs: The training and trip leading you have with OA is excellent preparation for working as an outdoor educator. There are a number of OA leader alumni working at NOLS, Outward Bound, and other programs. Over the last 5 years OA has developed a good reputation for having a solid leadership program. The one universal prerequisite is solid first aid training. HEART offers a good course but one that is not recognized outside Princeton. Most places are moving to Wilderness First Responder (a 64-hour course) as the minimum standard for outdoor instructors. This course is taught by groups such as Solo in New Hampshire and Wilderness Medical Associates in Maine. The 32-hour Wilderness First Aid Course that was taught over intersession may be acceptable to some organizations. Other skills include basic backpacking and minimal impact camping skills. Good leadership and group interaction skills are essential as well as the ability to work with different populations. Some places require specialized skills like rock climbing, canoeing, etc. However, many places can train you. Experience with high and low ropes courses can also be a good selling point on your resume. Cradlerock will be offering training courses this spring.

Environmental Jobs: This is a catch-all for any position which doesn't involve leading groups in the wilderness. As the list above shows this can be almost anything. You should be able to push your Princeton academic experience with writing, research skills, organizational and time management skills as well as your specific academic training. Computer literacy is also a big selling point these days. If you don't have much computer experience, take advantage of some of CIT's free training courses before you graduate.

Internships & Volunteer Positions: These can provide you with both job experience and specific skill training, a chance to experiment with possible career options, and, in some cases, a lead to future employment. For example, the Student Conservation Association offers positions in the National Parks. You get room and board and a small stipend. A number of people have parlayed their experience and being a known entity into a regular job with that park in subsequent seasons. With NPS jobs being scarce, this is one important entry into that structure.

Jobs Newsletters

Environmental Opportunities Newsletter - monthly

ISSN 0736-9603
P.O. Box 1253
Edgartown, MA 02539
6 months - $26.00, 1 year - $47.0

Association for Experiential Education Jobs Clearing House - monthly

2305 Canyon Boulevard, Suite #100
Boulder, CO 80302
FAX 303-440-9581
Tel. 303-440-8844
1 year - $50.00 (member) $95.00 (non-member)
3 issues - $25.00 (member) $50.00 (non-member)

Earth Work Magazine - monthly: Each month Earth Work magarine contains articles on career trends for natural resource and environmenal professionals as well as current job classifieds and internships from entry level through CEO.

Student Conservation Association
ISBN 1060-5053
P.O. Box 550
Charlestown, NH 03603-9982
6 months - $21.95, 1 year $31.95

Environmental Careers (trade publication)

760 Whalers Way, Suite 100, Bldg. A.
Fort Collins, CO 80525-9802

Catalog of SCA Expense-Paid Volunteer Opportunities for high school or Resource Assistant (adult). Available free from:

Student Conservation Association
P.O. Box 550
Charlestown, NH 03603


Adventure Careers: by Alex Haim and Susan Angle, Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ. Information on outdoor expreiences, adventure-preneurship, artistic adventures, altenative education, volunteerism, and overseas travel and living. ISBN 1-556414-175-6

Earth Work: Resource Guide to Nationwide Green Jobs by the Student Conservation Association, Harper Collins West, 1994. Earth Work outlines the necessary steps in any job search nad provides tools and information for entering the environmental field. ISBN 0-06-258531-2

Education for the Earth by Peterson's Guides in cooperation with the Alliance for Environmental Education, 1994. A guide to top environmental studies undergraduate programs. A must-have resource for the environmentally conscious college-bound student.

The Environmental Career Guide by Nicholas Basta, John Wiley Press, 1992. Descriptions of many specific environmental professions, tips on entering the job market, and lists of resources including nonprofits, government agencies, and graduate schools of environmental engineering.

Environmental Jobs for Scientists & Engineers by Nicholas Basta, John Wiley & Sons, 1992. Basta is senior editor of Chemical Engineering Magazine.

Ecopreneuring: The Complete Guide to Small Business Opportunities from the Environmental Revolution by Steven J. Bennett, John Wiley & Sons, 1992. A crash course in starting a green business with a resource directory.

Environmental Careers: A Practical Guide to Opportunities in the 90's by David J. Warner, CRC Press/Lewis Publishers, 1992. Descriptions of specific careers in environmental protection, environmental health and safety, environmental education, natural resource management, and non-degree technical careers with an analysis of the best job prospects.

Financing Graduate School by Patricia Wade, Peterson's Guides, 1993. Information on getting money for graduate school, including funding sources, maximizing your chances of getting aid, and special sources of aid for women, minorities, veterans, and international students by the Dean of Financial Aid for Georgetown University.

Green at Work by Susan Cohn, Island Press, 1992. Focuses on business careers that work for the environment, including opportunities in management, green marketing, and development. It includes an invaluable corporate directory.

Job Opportunities: The Environment. Peterson's Guides, 1994. Listing of 2,000 companies and government agencies that are hiring, including waste management companies, state and federal agencies, nonprofit environmental organizations, advocacy groups, environmental design firms, and manufacturers increasing their environmental activities.

Krupin's Toll-Free Environmental Directory by Paul J. Krupin, Direct Contact Publishing, 1994. A comprehensive nation-wide 800 phone number listing of over 4,500 environmental firms, organizations, government agencies, and private institutions that every career seeker and working professional can call long distance for free.

The New Complete Guide to Environmental Careers by the Environmental Careers Organization (ECO formerly CEIP Fund), Island Press, 1993. Complete overview of careers in natural resources, environmental protection, and planning and communications. Kevin Doyle of ECO provides advice regularly in Earth Work. This is the all-time bestseller at Island Press. ISBN 0-933280-84-X.

Guide to Outdoor Careers offers information and discriptions of a range of outdoor careers. Stackpole Books, 1981. ISBN 0-8117-1047-5

Careers in the Outdoors a complete guide to what jobs exits, salary ranges and pay scales, training and education requiremens, growth potential, pluese and minuese of each job, where to apply and where to get more information. Foghorn Press, 1992. ISBN 0-935701-56-7

Opportunities in Environmental Careers by Odom Fanning, 1981.

Volunteer! an annual publication by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) that lists vlounteer opportunities in the US and aborad including environmental options. Available from CIEE, 205 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017

Conservation Directory published annually by the National Wildlife Federation, 1400 Sixteeth Stree, Washongton, DC 20036-2266. Lists governmental and nongovernmental organizations and personnell engaged in conservation work at state, national, and international levels. The state listings in the directory give names and addresses of NWF affiliates.

The Northeast Field Guide to Environmental Education published by Antioch New England Graduate School, 1991. Box C, Roxbury St., Keene, NH 03431. Lists environmental organizations that provide environmental education to school groups, the public, and/or other groups by state in CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VT.

American Camping Association (ACA) Camps Directory published by the ACA it lists ACA accredited camps across the country with information about types of programs offered by the camps. Available from ACA Bookstore

The Directory of National Environmental Organizations published by US Environmental Directories, P.O. Box 65156, St. Paul, MN 55165. An alphabetical listing of environmental organizations (1986).

The Nature Directory: A Guide to Environmental Organizaitons an alphabetical list of environmental organizations with basic history, past accompliashments, membership informaiton, address, etc. ISBN 0-8027-7348-6

The National Parks Trade Journal a guide to job offerings within the National Park system both with the park and with park concession operations. ISBN 0-9616595-0-5

Wilderness U: by Bill McMillon, Chicago Review Press, to national and international outdoor education programs. ISBN 1-55652-158-8

A Guide to Environmental Internships - National Society for Internships and Experiential Education

122 St. Mary's St., 2nd Floor
Raleigh, NC 27605

New Jersey Environmental Directory - Youth Environmental Society

P.O. Box 1127
New Brunswick, NJ 08903

Helping Out in the Outdoors - Directory of Volunteer Work & Internships on Public Lands

The American Hiking Society
1015 31st St., NW
Washington, DC 20007


National Science for Youth Foundation
763 Silvermine Road
New Canaan, CT 06840

Volunteer Opportunities Guide - Idaho Panhandle National Forests

Route 4, Box 4860
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805

Other Resources

Student Conservation Association

P.O. Box 550
Charlestown, NH 03603

Resource Assistant Program - seasonal placements in the National Parks (room, board, stipend)

Conservation Career Development Program - conservation vocational training program

The Environmental Careers Organization (ECO)

68 Harrison Ave.
Boston, MA 02111

Environmental Asosociate Services - places college students and recent graduates in short-term, paid professional level positions with corporation, consultants, government agencies, and nonprofits

Association of Interpretive Naturalists Dial-a-job - between 5:00 PM and 9:00 AM Monday - Friday or all day Saturday and Sunday.

Career Services - Clio Hall

Environmental Protection Agency - Washington, DC

Graduate Programs in Environmental Education (partial list)

Institute for Environmental Studies - University of Wisconsin

Mankato State University - MS in Environmental Education, Michigan

Antioch New England - New Hampshire

University of Vermont - School of Natual Resources - MS in Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries Biology, Natural Resource Planning, contact Dean's Office, School of Natural Resources

Aiken Center, University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405

Bard College - Graduate School of Environmental Studies - Master of Science in Environmental Studies (three intensive summer sessions)

Bard College
Graduate School of Environmental Studies
Box JS
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504

University of Alaska Fairbanks - graduate program in Natural Resources Management

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Dept. S
Fairbanks, AK 99775-0100

University of Michigan - graduate programs in Natural Resources

Office of Academic Programs
School of Natural Resources
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1115

Clark University - program in Environment, Technology & Society, MA & PhD

Clark University
950 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

Environmental Job LeadsEnvironmental Job Leads

The Environmental Careers Organization

Placement service for short and long-term positions. Application process required.

The Environmental Careers Organization
286 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210-1009

The Explorers Club

Youth Activity Fund - provides grants to enable students to participate in field reserach in the natural sciences under the supervision of a qaulified scientist (from several hundered to several thousand dollars). Application process.

The Explorers Club
Youth Activity Fund
46 E. 70th St.
New York, NY 10021

Martin A. Dale '53 Summer Awards

A grant program for student summer projects. Check with the Alumni Council. this program is only open to Princeton University sophomores.

Basic Job Questionnaire

One way to approach looking for a career is to ask yourself what types of actual work you like to do. Answer the following questions and you may think of other questions like it to ask yourself.

1. These are questions about your workplace environment. Add your own.

____I want to work with people.

____I want to work independently.

____I want to work as part of a team.

____I want to outside.

____I want to work with ______ age group (could be all).

____I want to work with urban/rural/disadvantaged/handicapped/ behavioral problem/other ________________or none of the above.

2 Below are some of the types of activities you may be involved in with an outdoor/environmental career. Check those that interest you.






____environmental issues


____work in the outdoors

____work with my hands


____fund raising


3. Below are some skills which may be important in working in an outdoor/environmental career. Check those which you have experience with or would like to develop more.

____writing skills

____research skills

____public speaking skills

____teaching skills

____outdoor skills (backpacking, canoeing etc.)

____environmental education skills (knowledge of biology, ecology)

____fund raising skills

____managing people

4. Another important area in looking for a job are lifestyle related questions. Below are some examples. Think up your own.

_____I want to live near the wilderness.

_____I want/don't want to have a house/apartment.

_____I only want to work 40 hours per week.

_____I am willing to work more than 40 hours/week.

_____I want flexible work hours.

_____I want/need to make $________ per year.

5. Another technique is to fantasize about what you would love to do such as do field research on baby seals in Antarctica. Then analyze why this is so intriguing. The reasons may point to other types of jobs that will satisfy those goals/needs/desires.

Promoting Staff Careers in Outdoor Education

This material is from a presentation given at the 19th Association for Experiential Education Conference, 10/91 by Molly Hampton, Dee Edelman, Don Garvey. This material is reproduced without permission of the original authors.

Trends in Employment

For the past 12 years the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) has published the Jobs Clearinghouse (JCH), which is a listing of positions in the broad field of experiential education. During this 12-year period, this publication has sustained a steady growth in the number of positions being advertised each month. Most recently we have witnessed a substantial growth of 16% in the positions listed. Each month more than 90 positions are advertised. This growth in jobs is a good indicator of the strength of experiential education as a possible career

The length of time AEE has been involved with the publication of the JCH, and the recent increase reveals some trends that are worth noting. In the early days of experiential education, if one were interested in becoming an outdoor instructor the primary employers were Outward Bound the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and the more traditional summer camp settings. The number of "spin-off" programs had greatly increased the employment possibilities for future and continuing outdoor leaders. A review of the positions advertised in the JCH over the past few years shows the following general categories of employers emerging:

Programs for "Troubled Youth"

Residential and day programs appear to be a solid employment opportunity as more and more communities attempt to use experiential education as a method to address the problems associated with teenagers.

Therapeutic Programs

There has been an increase in the number of private, and public psychiatric hospitals and clinics that are including adventure based counseling with the more traditional treatment plan. A great increase in the number of ropes courses constructed at these facilities indicates a commitment to adventure therapy.

Programs for People With Physical Disabilities

A steady increase in these positions is anticipated for the future as this culture begins to focus more seriously on the need for accessibility and inclusion. Results have been substantial and the number of programs serving this population appears to be on the rise.

University and College Programs

In addition to the traditional outing clubs that have been a part of many post-secondary institutions for decades, universities and colleges are moving experiential education closer to the academic center of the institutions by including these activities in orientation programs and academic departments. Many universities are beginning to recognize the profound learning that is possible using these methods.

Corporate Training Programs

This is perhaps the fastest growing area for possible outdoor leaders. Business has "discovered" the value of experiential education as a training and development tool and are sending ever increasing numbers of executives on adventure retreats.

International Programs

Increasingly, programs are advertising adventure trips for young and old to some rather remote areas around the world. This trend should mirror the general trend in the U.S. of more frequent and longer international travel with an emphasis on unique and challenging activities.

School Programs

The recent failures of the American school system have encouraged traditional educators to re-examine the role of experiential education. The result has been a slight increase in the number of school districts employing experiential educators either full-time or as a necessary qualification for another position.

These are but a few examples of the possible job opportunities for well qualified experiential educators. It should be obvious that those seeking employment and advancement must be, in the words of Richard Kimball, "bilingual in two languages." First, staff must understand the unique requirements of safe travel and leadership in the outdoors. This is no longer fully sufficient. Staff must also be able to speak the language of the group they are working with in the field. In the past, organizations brought their own staff on outdoor activities and used the experiential educator only as the guide in this often new environment. Today, there is an increased expectation that the outdoor instructor will possess a fundamental understanding of the unique needs and potentials of the client group. The implication is obvious. One must be both a competent outdoor leader and a competent teacher, therapist corporate trainer, etc. To meet these new expectations, future and continuing staff must approach outdoor leadership as a profession.

Careers at NOLS

The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) has seen an increase in staff of over 30% during the last five years. Our field staff now number 270 per year with about half of them focusing on NOLS as their primary career. Our program has increased in several major areas; all centered on wilderness education. They include:

Educating the Educators

We now have many more students who are involved in education. Federal land agencies (NFS, NPS, and BLM) contract with us to train wilderness rangers and become involved in wilderness management decision making. Our courses for instructors and outdoor educators have also increased and requests to give on-site seminars and workshops to other outdoor programs are more numerous then we can fulfill. These courses have demanded an increase in maturity and professionalism in our staff.

College Semester Programs

Demand for 2-3 month long semester courses has increased a large amount over the last five years. The vast majority of the students receive college credit for their work. This provides year-round work to many of our staff and demands higher expertise in technical skills (whitewater kayaking and sailing for example).

Administrative and Support Staff Opportunities

NOLS has branched out in order to broaden our mission. Beyond running field courses, we are developing our curriculum and libraries, writing more publications, manning a research department (to include areas of research such as minimum impact camping, etc.), and becoming more involved in public policy. Outdoor education staff have increased opportunities to work either in the field or in management. We now have about 100 administrative and support service positions.

International Programs

We have received many requests from foreign countries to establish branches. Many of our own staff are encouraged to explore and propose new international areas. As NOLS increases diversity both within the U.S. (e. g. minorities; international students) and outside the U.S., our staff have needed better training in language and communication skills as well as in planning and management skills. We expect and embrace change and growth at NOLS. Over the next ten years we feel there will be two ongoing trends in staff careers: 1) the degree of professionalism will increase, and 2) the opportunities for growth and a diverse career will increase.