How To Become an Arborist: Guide To Arborist License, Training, Certification

Man under a tree wonders about how to become an arborist and if there is a guide to getting a certified arborist license, arborist training, and how long does it take to become an arborist when getting an arborist degree.

If you are someone who enjoys nature working outdoors, and promoting a greener, healthier environment, there are a number of career options available to you, and you may be wondering how to become an arborist.

An arborist provides an important role in making sure forests (and neighborhoods) are safe, and working in the outdoors is a great job for many people.

But, if you’re unsure about how to get started, this complete guide explains everything you need to know about learning how to become an arborist and if the job is right for you.

How To Become an Arborist: Do You Need an Arborist Degree?

There are a variety of jobs you can perform as an arborist and many of them do not require any formal education.

Many companies and licensing authorities, however, will require at least a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Graphics that shows how to become an arborist and how long does it take to become a certified arborist through training, apprenticeship, licensing, and certification.

It is possible some employers will require you to take certain individual classes upon being hired to increase your knowledge and skill set.

To pursue certain opportunities in the field–such as management positions– and receive more advanced certifications, some formal education will usually be necessary, whether a 2-year associate’s degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in subjects such as arboriculture, environmental science, horticulture, botany, and forestry.

This is because some careers in the field will require you to have advanced knowledge of certain subjects such as tree biology, tree anatomy, soil biology, and fertilizer composition.

How Long Does it Take To Become a Certified Arborist? Arborist Training for the Job

Training will come on the job, and you will typically get your start with an entry-level position in a tree care company or other entity that requires the services of an arborist, like a county parks department.

Your employer may have you take certain classes that will help you perform your job properly, such as how to operate equipment safely.

Some companies may also offer internships.

Arborist Apprenticeship

Some schools and organizations offer arborist apprenticeship programs that allow you to work with participating tree care employers while completing coursework in relevant subject matter.2

If you are planning to pursue a career in a field that requires more advanced knowledge and education, this could be a good option.

You start getting paid from day one, and as your skills and knowledge increase, you will open the door to higher pay and increased professional opportunities.

Do You Need an Arborist License?

In the vast majority of states, you do not need a license to be an arborist, and authorities there rely on the employer to provide its employees with sufficient on-the-job training.

But if you plan on working in any of these seven states, you will need a license:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Rhode Island

Requirements for licensing vary by state. In Louisiana for example, you do not need to have any specific education or work experience.

You simply need to pass the exam, pay the required license fee, and obtain a certificate of liability insurance. There is a separate licensing test for people looking to obtain work with utility companies cutting away trees from power lines.

And then you have a state like Maryland which has more stringent requirements that include at least 3 years working under a licensed tree expert, plus two years of college education.3 If you work in a state that does not require licensing, it is possible you may need a local-level license in some areas depending on the specific services you are performing.

If you will be working with pesticides, you will likely need a license to do so in most states.

How To Become an Arborist: What Is an Arborist and What Do They Do?

Arborists sometimes referred to as ‘tree doctors,’ specialize in the care of all manner of trees, as well as shrubs, perennial plants, and vines.

Their services are utilized in a variety of ways, and they may work for tree care companies, parks departments, arborist schools, golf courses, or utility companies.

Graphics with text that shows what does a certified arborist do.

Many go into this field with the goal of running their own tree care company someday. Arborists may be hired as consultants on private or public projects to determine how tree growth will affect the surrounding property, provide advice on what sorts of plants to put in an area, or beautify the current landscape.

It is an interesting industry in that there are so many ways you can utilize the required skills.

Some of the most common tasks include:

  • Planting trees
  • Determining proper treatment and care of trees
  • Treating disease and insect infestations
  • Pruning trees for health or aesthetic purposes
  • Improving the appearance of trees and other plants
  • Tree trimming service and pruning trees so they don’t interfere with power lines, roads, and sidewalks
  • Beautification of decorative species and shaping ornamental shrubs and trees
  • Provide landscaping plans
  • Inspect soil conditions
  • Track maintenance of specific trees and shrubs
  • Preparing planting sites
  • Transplanting saplings and seedlings
  • Prepare the site, backfilling, staking, watering, and mulching
  • Hauling chip brush, stumps, and limbs
  • Provide structural support for breaking branches and weak trees
  • Remove tree grind stumps
  • Control nutrient and water supply consumption
  • Determine the financial value of a tree
  • Respond to emergencies during storms, etc.
  • Process and test samples
  • Research tree and plant care

What Sort of Hours Do Arborists Work?

This is not a typical 9 to 5 job. You may find yourself working longer hours during peak summer months.

Hours can be longer and unpredictable during the storm season in your region. Ultimately the type of hours you work will depend on what sort of job you do within the industry.

Required Skills

Performing the duties of an arborist requires you to have certain skills and capabilities. They use a variety of equipment on a daily basis, such as tractors, trucks, power saws, sprayers, and chippers.

You need strength and stamina to cut away large branches, and depending on the particular circumstance, climb the tree yourself with ropes and harnesses, to perform this task and others, such as inspecting the tree for disease. Many people think arborists and foresters are the same thing, but they are not.

Foresters manage the trees in an entire forest, while arborists deal with individual trees. While there is some overlap in the required knowledge and skill set to perform these two jobs, they are very different in many ways.

Salary and Job Outlook

As more urban areas work to increase green spaces and plant more trees, the demand for arborists will increase, particularly in warmer regions requiring year-round landscaping.

From 2020 to 2030, the demand is expected to increase 7%.

Photo of an arborist working.

(Image: anoldent6)

Income potential for an arborist or cost of arborist will depend on a number of factors such as the exact nature of the job and whether you have any formal education.1

Someone with an associate’s degree in environmental scienctre just entering the field with an entry-level position may be offered higher pay than someone without such formal education.

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (May 2022), the median hourly wage is $22.64 and the median annual salary is $47,080.

The median salary indicates that half of people in that field make less than that number and half make more. Jobs with museums, historical institutions, and similar establishments offer the highest salaries, with the mean hourly and yearly wages coming in at $31.96 and $64,880 respectively.

Jobs with all levels of government–federal, state, and local–are the next most lucrative opportunities, followed by utility companies.

States with the highest number of arborists employed include:

Metropolitan Areas with Most Arborists:

  • NY-NJ-PA
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
  • Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario, CA
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC, MD, VA
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA, NJ, DE
  • St. Louis, MO-IL
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugarland, TX
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
  • Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade,CA

How To Become a Certified Arborist

Many states require certification to become an arborist.

For those (and other areas), the process is similar to other professional licensing, which requires training and an exam.

Do Arborists Require Certification?

If you are wondering how to become an arborist, one common question is whether you would be required to obtain any specific certifications. Regardless of the type of work you may do as an arborist, or where you work, you are not required to receive certifications of any kind.

But it may be beneficial to do so depending on your career track.

Who Certifies Arborists?

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) handles certification for arborists.4

They have several objectives for their certification program including:

  • Advancing knowledge and promoting safe work practices in all arboricultural operations.
  • Improve technical competency for people working in the tree care industry.
  • Create incentives to pursue and expand professional development.
  • Offer the government and individuals a means to identify tree care professionals who have achieved a more thorough level of knowledge in their field by passing a professionally developed exam.

Benefits of Certification

While certification is not a necessary component of working as an arborist, depending on the vision you have for how your career as one will unfold over time, not having a certification may put you at a disadvantage.

Photo of an arborist while working on a big tree.

(Image: terski7)

However because it is not a requirement to begin work in this field, and you must have a minimum amount of professional experience before pursuing certification, this is not something you have to decide on right away.

Some benefits of certification include:

  • Demonstrating you have achieved a basic level of knowledge in practice areas such as tree biology, diagnosis, and maintenance.
  • Being more competitive in the job market because you have a higher level of expertise.
  • Displaying dedication to your professional development projects a positive self-image.

How To Become an Arborist: Requirements To Take the Certification Exam

To take the certification exam, you must meet one of three requirements:

  • At least three years of full-time arboriculture experience, with one year equaling 1,795 hours
  • At least two years of full-time experience combined with an associate’s degree that includes at least two courses directly related to arboriculture
  • One year of full-time experience with a bachelor’s degree that includes at least four courses directly related to arboriculture
  • Two years of full-time experience plus an assessment-based certificate program that includes 900 hours of assessed training with at least 90 hours focused on arboriculture
  • One year of full-time experience plus 1,800 hours of assessed training that includes at least 180 hours focused on arboriculture
  • Registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) or any other formal training recognized by federal/national and state government agencies

Required experience includes pruning, fertilization, diagnosis, and treatment of tree problems, installation and establishment, climbing, cabling and bracing, and any other services that directly fall under the umbrella of arboriculture.

Acceptable sources of this experience include but are not limited to:

  • Tree care companies
  • Nurseries
  • Landscape companies
  • Municipalities
  • State forestry agencies
  • Utility companies
  • Academic arboriculture/horticulture departments (for instructors)
  • Horticulture/extension programs (for advisors)
  • Consultancies
  • Pest control providers (for advisors and applicators)

Volunteer work may be counted towards the required experience hours if this work was supervised and you can provide documentation detailing the specific tasks performed and the number of hours you completed.

What Does the Exam Cover?

The ISA formulates the exam questions based on regular job task analysis surveys of arborists from all over the world and continually updates the content based on their findings. The exam is 200 questions and you have 3.5 hours to complete it.

The exam fee is $170 for ISA members and $280 for non-members. As of this writing, these are the 10 areas of knowledge covered, as well as the percentage of questions that pertain to that area.

This current breakdown could change based on a new job task analysis.

  • Tree Biology: 11%
  • Tree Identification and Selection: 9%
  • Soil Management: 7%
  • Installation and Establishment: 9%
  • Pruning: 14%
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: 9%
  • Trees and Construction: 9%
  • Tree Risk: 11%
  • Safe Work Practices: 15%
  • Urban Forestry: 6%

This career is growing in demand over the next several years, so you should have many professional opportunities from which to choose. It is a great option for people who enjoy working outdoors and want to contribute to a healthier, greener environment.

If you’ve been wondering how to become an arborist, know that like many career paths, the steps can be managed and before you know it, you’ll be living your outdoor job with a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Become an Arborist

Is Being an Arborist Dangerous?

Being an arborist can come with some safety risks including pruning unstable trees, working near high-voltage power lines, and using potentially dangerous tools. Proper safety training and educating yourself on best practices is important.5

Do Arborists Work All Year Round?

If you live in a warm climate, you will probably find work all year round. In colder areas, you are less likely to work in the winter, and many arborists in such places find themselves working overtime in the warmer seasons to make up for this slowdown.


1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, April 25). Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. BLS. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from <>

2Front Range Community College. (2023). Arborist Apprenticeship Program. FRONTRANGE. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from <>

3Maryland Department of Natural Resources. (2023). Licensed Tree Expert Information. DNR. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from <>

4International Society of Arboriculture. (2023). ISA Arbor. ISA-ARBOR. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from <>

5California Department of Industrial Relations. (2016, May). Tree Work Safety Guide. DIR. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from <>

6terski. Pixabay. From <>

7Aborists at Work 2. anoldent. CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Resized, Adjusted Color Balance, and Adjusted Brightness and Contrast. From <>