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Careers in Parks and Recreation

What type of career opportunities can you expect?

  • Program leader for city parks and recreation
  • Coordinator - community centers
  • Department administrator - county parks and recreation
  • Facility manager - YMCA/YWCA, military, or college campus recreation
  • Recreation coordinator – resorts
  • Camp counselor - camps
  • Program director - camps


  • Be involved with Parks and Recreation Management (PRM) club activities such as meetings, conferences, banquets, newsletters, etc.
  • Choose mini-internships in appropriate sites
  • Choose the main internship(s) in the type of agency where you would like to apply for your first job
  • Join the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)
  • Attend professional meetings and conferences
  • Do summer work in your chosen area
  • Be involved with Last Minute Productions (LMP)
  • Work with Pathways to the Future to become aware of the American Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Apply theories learned in class

Experience counts for a lot in this area, so we encourage you to keep a journal of all the trips, workshops, clinics, etc. that you make to add to your Interview Portfolio. Some agencies such as Outward Bound expect details of your past outdoor experiences.

Outdoor equipment is available to PRM majors. Because of risk management concerns, climbing equipment is unavailable and kayaking equipment is restricted.

Expedition experience is very important as many outdoor agencies operate their programs in this format.  Attending an expedition course can be expensive yet it is a good investment in terms of your future in the industry.  Without it, your employment with expedition-based organizations is limited. These courses are available through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Outward Bound (OB) and The Wilderness Education Association (WEA).  Several of our students have worked with The International Wilderness School (IWLS), which is accredited through WEA.   Plan an expedition style course the summer of your junior year.  During your senior year you will be completing your Capstone Internship.

  • Instructor for youth at risk - Non-profits such as Outward Bound and Project SOAR or state agencies such as Camp Woodson.
  • Instructor of outdoor activities - Private companies such as Nantahala Outdoor Center, Endless River Adventures, International Wilderness Scool (IWLS) and non-profits such as National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Outward Bound (OB), and Wilderness Education Association (WEA); camps; rafting companies; and adventure travel companies.
  • Mountain guide - Mountain guide companies such as Exum Mountain Guides and Fox Mountain Guides.
  • Instructor for people with disabilities - Non-profits such as Wilderness Inquiry II.
  • Instructor for corporate programs - Private outdoor companies such as Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) and Pecos River Ranch.
  • Ski/Snowboard Instructor and ski patrol - ski resorts.
  • Canopy tour guides.
  • Program director and agency director - see above.


  • Get outside certifications such as Wilderness Education Association (WEA), American Canoe Association (ACA), Outdoor Emergency Care, Wilderness First Responder (WFR), etc.
  • Work outdoor summer jobs in camps, at NOC, Last Minute Productions (LMP), Project SOAR, or other agencies. Work with Pathways to the Future.
  • Become involved with rescue organizations. Join WEA, Association of Experiential Education (AEE), or another professional organization.
  • Attend outdoor conferences and workshops. Organize common adventures with peers to gain experience in a variety of activities.
  • Become Outdoor Emergency Care-National Ski Patrol (OEC) certified, then work at ski resorts such as Cataloochee or Sapphire Valley.
  • Apply theories learned in class.

Commercial and resort recreation also is known as “travel and tourism.”

  • Resort recreation program director - resorts and hotels
  • Hotel worker (front desk/accommodations, etc.) - resorts and hotels
  • Private club worker/manager (golf, tennis, etc.) - clubs
  • Conference organizer - convention centers
  • Chamber of Commerce worker/director - Chambers of Commerce
  • Travel guide - travel companies
  • Adventure travel guide - adventure companies
  • Resort manager - resorts and hotels
  • Travel agency worker/manager - travel agency
  • Attractions worker/manager - railroads, caves, mines, theme parks, etc.


  • Choose appropriate mini-internship sites
  • Choose main internship site in the type of agency you wish to work in and try and do summer work at that place in advance
  • Work at the Chamber of Commerce
  • Become familiar with all aspects of resorts—beds, food and beverage operations, front desk, and recreation.
  • Become proficient in another language.
  • Join the Commercial Recreation and Management Association.
  • Complete travel agency management courses at a community college.
  • Apply theories learned in class.


If you are interested in natural resource management, you should choose the recreation resource management concentration, which can lead to your working for the Park Services, the Forest Service, or the Army Corps of Engineers as a ranger.

We tailor this concentration to fit the different land agencies; for example, law enforcement experience is more useful to those working with the Parks Service than to those working with the Forest Service. You can take law enforcement training for Park Rangers at Southwestern Community College and transfer the credit to the concentration in this major, because this coursework puts you ahead of others when applying for park jobs.

If you are interested in wildlife management, consider taking some wildlife management courses at Haywood Technical College. We will count this credit as part of this concentration.

  • Ranger - Park Service
  • Interpreter - Forest Service
  • Naturalist - Army Corps of Engineers
  • Trail crew - Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • Resource management – state parks


  • Complete criminal justice course for Park Rangers at South Western Community College (SCC)
  • Complete wildlife courses at Haywood Tech
  • Do co-ops as early as possible - especially for the engineers. Choose internships in appropriate agencies.
  • Get involved in volunteer rescue work
  • Take rescue courses
  • Plan approved area of study early
  • Join Student Conservation Association (SCA)
  • Take summer seasonal positions
  • Adopt-a-Trail
  • Apply theories learned in class

The professional field of parks and recreation management is actively engaged in promoting health and well-being as an interrelated system between our built environment, access to natural landscapes, and programming options. As recreational professionals focusing on community health and wellness, your career path with help shape opportunities to contribute to physical, mental, and spiritual health, as well as social well-being for the populations you serve.

Depending upon your goals, you can choose to focus on the following tracks: (1) Fitness model (personal training, national certifications, fitness center programming): These students could select classes from HPE, PE, ND, and SM, with internships at the Campus Recreation Center, Jackson County Recreation Department, YMCA’s, and private fitness centers. (2) Health promotion and wellness model (wellness or health promotion director, health policy advocate): These students could select from classes in ENVH, ND, PSC, HPE, and PE, with internships at the Campus Recreation Center, Jackson County Recreation Department, YMCA’s, private fitness centers, health departments, non-profit health promotion agencies, and the CDC.

Possible career opportunities

  • Physical Activity Coordinator
  • Personal Trainer/Group Exercise Instructor
  • Campus Recreation Director
  • Aquatics Director
  • Health-Wellness Program Coordinator
  • Fitness-Wellness related non profit management


  • Choose appropriate mini-internship sites.
  • Choose the main internship(s) in the type of agency where you would like to apply for your first job.
  • Take elective classes in Sport Management, Health & Physical Education, Political Science, Environmental Health, Nutrition, and Business.
  • Obtain certifications required for future jobs: First Aid/CPR, Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach, Group Exercise Instructor, etc.
  • Write a grant focused on an aspect of community health and wellness as part of a class project.
  • Attend professional meetings and conferences related to your career interests.
  • Volunteer to work after school or recreation department based physical activity programs.
  • Get involved with local wellness and physical activity initiatives such as Greenway Projects, Farm to School, Action for Healthy Kids, or Active Routes to Schools.

Study Abroad

You may be able to study abroad for around the same cost as studying at Western. We have a special agreement with the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland and have had international exchanges for a few years now. Studying in Ireland would require a year commitment and is best done early. Study abroad is a great experience! Ask for further details.

PRM Club

The PRM Club is part of SGA at WCU and receives funding to help with club expenses. Being a member of the club enables you to get to know other PRM students who, besides helping you to make friends on campus, broaden your network of professional contacts for when you have graduated. 
Read more about the PRM Club.

Useful Organizations

Landmark Learning is a leading resource in education and training for the outdoor community, advancing national standards through a network of professional educators, researchers and certification specialists. Landmark Learning is the first school of it's kind in the United States to become nationally accredited and recognized by the United States Department of Education as a school of higher education. Landmark's wilderness campus sits approximately four miles from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. Serving over 2400 students each year in the United States and abroad, Landmark Learning faculty are seasoned outdoor professionals and educators that focus on student outcomes. Western Carolina University and Landmark Learning are in partnership to provide college credit for select coursework. Please visit Landmark Learning online, the WCU-Landmark Learning course credit chart and talk to your academic advisor to further understand how Landmark Learning can be part of your education at WCU.

Wilderness Education Association (WEA). Currently we offer wilderness expedition courses each May or Summer session which qualify students to receive the WEA’s Outdoor Leader Certificate. The focus of the expedition course includes leadership, judgment and decision making within the context of a small group experience. Courses may include backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing or canoeing. The PRM program regularly rotates course locations and modes of travel to offer a variety of training experiences for students. Completing an expedition is highly recommended – either with the PRM program, another WEA accredited institution, the National Outdoor Leadership School or Outward Bound.

The PRM Program also is accredited through the National Ski Patrol. Completing the NSP’s Outdoor Emergency Care Certificate through PRM 356 will qualify you to train with the Ski Patrol at Cataloochee or Sapphire Valley Ski Resorts. This qualification also is regarded as being the equivalent of a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), the First Aid qualification currently regarded as the standard in the outdoor profession for outdoor leaders. The certification can be maintained by attending the annual updates provided by the National Ski Patrol throughout the country. Courses also are offered in professional rescuer CPR each year for students wishing to become involved with the ski patrol.

NCRPA is a nonprofit education and advocacy organization, dedicated to the advancement of the park, recreation and leisure profession in the state of North Carolina. PRM majors are eligible for a student membership, which provides access to workshops, seminars, conferences, publications, networking and a job listing service.

The NRPA is the leading advocacy organization dedicated to the advancement of public parks and recreation opportunities. PRM majors are eligible for a student membership. The NRPA organizes conferences and workshops each year where students can learn about the latest developments in the recreation field and network with industry professionals.

The RCRA is an international non-profit organization, which is made up of professionals, educators, and students in resort and commercial related industries. PRM majors may become student members of the organization and attend their annual conferences and workshops. The organization also provides a job search service.

Students interested in careers as outdoor leaders are strongly encouraged to participate in an expedition style course offered by one of these organizations: Outward Bound (, National Outdoor Leadership School ( and the International Wilderness Leadership School (

Students who are interested in working within the snowsport industry as instructors are encouraged to become certified through Professional Ski Instructors of American (PSIA) and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) ( Internship and job opportunities are available at our local area, Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley, NC.

The ACA provides instructor certification for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, adaptive paddling, stand up paddling and safety and rescue. WCU’s close proximity to a variety of summer camps and whitewater rafting outfitters, provides many opportunities for internships and job opportunities for those students interested in working in the paddling industry.

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