How High School Students Can Start Their Career with Wildlife or in Conservation

It’s true that most jobs require experience and education to get started in this field. And because of hazards on the job, employment and volunteer opportunities maybe restricted to those over the age of 18. However, if you have a drive to work outdoors, with animals, and in conservation as a high school student, there are still many opportunities available to you. Here’s how you can start your career now before you even graduate high school.

Volunteer

high school conservation jo

Trial maintenance crew. Photo by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region

Volunteering your time is your first and best option for getting experience. Talk to most anyone working in such a job and you will find they probably starting their career by volunteering, and they probably still put in many hours of volunteer work every year. Some places hire their stand out volunteers rather than looking outside the organization for employees.

You will have to call several places to find ones that will take volunteers younger than 18. Some will have specific volunteer jobs available for those 16 and over. Some will require that a parent volunteer with you, while others have a strict over-18 policy for safety reasons.

Where to Check for High School Volunteer Programs:

  • *Zoos
  • *Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers
  • SPCA and Animal Control – This may not be wildlife or conservation work, but the work will be demanding and teach you valuable skills about animal care and public relations. These are skills necessary to succeed in this career path.
  • City or County Parks and Recreation – Look for habitat clean up opportunities, such as creek clean up week, or trail maintenance volunteering. Some will have counselor-in-training programs for their summer camp programs. Counselor-in-training positions may start as young as 13 or 14.
  • State fish and game department

Internships

With any of the above, also ask about summer internship opportunities. These will require more hours and responsibilities and some may even pay. Other conservation related internships can be found through the Bureau of Land Management, Student Conservation Association, U.S. Geological Survey and other similar organizations. Click here for a complete list of high school student conservation and wildlife internships.

Zoo volunteer cares for tortoises. Photo by Beige Alert, Flickr

Zoo volunteer cares for tortoises. Photo by Beige Alert, Flickr

Employment

Any of the above places may also hire high school students to do entry level work. This may include summer work as an aid in a nature camp for kids, answering phones at the front desk, or cleaning animal cages. If you can volunteer now where you would like to get a job in the summer, then you will have a distinct advantage when the summer jobs are posted.

Take Advantage of Summer: Don’t Procrastinate

Many employers and places that rely on volunteers need more help in the summer and have programs and jobs developed to take advantage of students who are out of school just for the summer months. With nicer weather more work can get done outdoors, such as building and repairing cages, battling invasive plant species in a protected habitat, and providing education programs to the community. Summer is the time to put yourself to work, whether in a paid job or volunteering. But don’t expect to have any positions available to you if you wait until summer to fill out applications. If you want to get experience next summer, then you need to be finding paid and volunteer jobs in late starting now. Many will have their positions filled by May.  In some cases, such as competitive internships, January is too late to get started.




Final Tip

Make the call yourself. Fill out applications yourself. Do not have your parents do it for you. Most any employer will hire the student who makes the call himself and fills out his own application over the one whose parents made the call. This is true whether you are looking for a volunteer or paid position.

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