How to Become a Certified Arborist: Certification and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a certified arborist. Research education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in tree care.

Should I Become a Certified Arborist?

Arborists prune trees and shrubs for decoration and safety. In addition, they are skilled in diagnosing and treating diseased trees. Golf courses, parks, universities and utility companies employ arborists, as do landscape companies catering to homeowners. The work is physically demanding and includes the use of potentially dangerous machinery. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), grounds maintenance workers, including arborists, have a higher rate of illnesses and injuries than the average occupation.

Career Requirements

Degree LevelHigh school diploma required, employers may prefer a degree
Degree FieldArboriculture, forestry, horticulture or related field
Licensure and CertificationLicensure necessary for arborists who apply pesticides, certification not required, but preferred by employers
ExperienceNone for entry-level positions, some employers want at least three years of experience
Key SkillsStrong communication skills, knowledge of chippers, chainsaws, stump grinders, and safety procedures
Salary (2015)$44,239 per year (Median salary)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Various job listings (September 2012),

Step 1: Earn a Degree

While it's not always required, some employers prefer arborists have a degree. Associates programs in arboriculture include courses in soil fertility, plant pathology and community forestry. Students may also receive instruction in turfgrass management. Bachelor's programs in forestry or urban forestry cover similar topics, such as botany, soil science and forest ecology. A minor in arboriculture may be available as part of a horticulture or forestry bachelor's program.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Some postsecondary programs offer internships that allow students to gain hands-on experience. Internships give students the chance to hone their skills and prepare for full time work.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Arborists can receive on-the-job training from tree care companies, landscaping companies, nurseries, municipalities and utilities. They are required to interact with clients, identify trees, and clear debris by pruning trees and shrubs. Entry-level arborists learn how to use tree maintenance tools. Commercial, municipal and utility ground workers start in entry-level positions.

Success Tip:

  • Build leadership skills. Employers are looking for someone who can manage a crew. Build your leadership ability by communicating effectively with peers, management and clients.

Step 3: Get Certified for Career Advancement

In some cases, employers prefer arborists that are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). To qualify for the ISA's Certified Arborist credentialing exam, candidates need at least three years of experience. However, those who hold an associates degree only need two years of experience. One year of experience is required for applicants who have a bachelor's degree. Additional areas of certification are available for utility specialists, municipal specialists, tree worker climber specialists and tree worker aerial-lift specialists. The ISA offers a Master Arborist designation as well.

Success Tip:

  • Earn continuing education units. The Certified Arborist credential must be renewed every three years. To qualify for re-certification, individuals must obtain 30 continuing education units and pay a fee.

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