The decision to forego college is an increasingly practical one for many these days, given ever-rising tuitions, and the plethora of employment opportunities available sans degree. And eschewing a four-year university degree (along with the subsequent student loan debt) is even more tempting when the alternative is a job skiing, hiking, or even flying through wild natural landscapes. Here are eight worthwhile outdoor jobs you can do without a degree — because the smell of fresh mountain air is infinitely more appealing than that of stale dorm room pizza.
Living and working at a ski resort is rewarding no matter your job, but when you’re also helping to keep people safe, it’s especially fulfilling. Eligibility for these jobs varies from resort to resort, but a good starting point is to become a member of the NSP (National Ski Patrol). The basic ski patrol skill-set is fairly extensive, and involves CPR proficiency, avalanche management knowledge, and, obviously, the ability to ski or snowboard any and all terrain.
Ranches can be enormous, multi-million dollar operations, that require a tremendous amount of upkeep. It only makes sense that those who are responsible for maintaining these vast estates can do very well for themselves, while working in the open air of gorgeous locales. Having some horticultural and agricultural knowledge is beneficial for work as a ranch hand, along with the ability to generally be handy, but a degree is not necessary.
The list of people who decided to skip college in order to start wildly successful businesses is extensive. If you’re both adventure-, and entrepreneurial-minded, starting an outdoor enterprise is just a matter of having a solid idea, and bringing it to fruition — think Yvon Chouinard starting Patagonia, and making millions, while imbuing his company with socially and environmentally responsible values. The best part of creating your own business is there is absolutely no limit to how much money you can make, and there is absolutely no business degree necessary.
Responsible for overseeing the 150+ National Forests in the United States, the USFS employs over 35,000 people across the country. While several roles necessitate a degree, there are a number of forestry jobs (technicians, law enforcement officers, administrators, etc.) that only require special training. If you have a passion for conservation, you could do worse than putting your skills to use protecting some of our most precious natural resources.
If you spend all of your time and money at REI or backcountry.com, you might want to consider getting paid for your gear obsession. Your “work” will consist of everything from skiing moguls, to sleeping in tents, and running trails, putting all types of gear through the paces, then making useful evaluations for prospective buyers. The most important qualifications for gear testers are writing and photography skills, as you’ll need to be able to descriptively and accurately communicate the benefits, drawbacks, and specs of gear in an engaging way. You’re not likely to make a ton of money, but an obvious perk of gear testing is, once you’re established, you might end up with free snowboards, running shoes, or mountain bikes on your doorstep.
You don’t necessarily have to be of the legendary, have-a-surf-competition-named-after-you, ilk to make it as a beach lifeguard. Aside from a dedication to helping others, the requirements generally include CPR and first aid training, location-specific lifeguard training, and excellent physical fitness. It can be hazardous, but it will provide you with a steady income ($20+/hour for lifeguards in Hawaii), along with the respect and admiration of hardcore surfers and casual beachgoers alike.
FLY FISHING GUIDE
Fly fishing often requires obtaining a specific set of skills, along with expensive gear, and access to rivers and streams that aren’t always publicly available. Enter the fabled fly fishing guide. For the most part, guides simply need to be good with people, and adept at locating and catching fish (and maybe able to make a great sandwich). Given that guided fly fishing trips can easily turn into $5,000+ affairs, being able to put high-powered CEOs onto potential trophies can be a very lucrative job.
Island-hopping around the Caribbean, or landing on dirt runways in Tanzania is a whole different level of “traveling for work.” While these excursions may be romanticized accounts of what a bush pilot actually does, the general idea — bringing people and gear to remote locations — is true to life. A college degree isn’t necessary, but you will need specific certifications, along with a significant amount of time in the air, in order to get paid to fly. If you’re committed, this can be one of the most exciting, and profitable, jobs out there. And you’ll avoid ever having to take a 3-hour seminar on Medieval Bulgarian Literature.