How to Become an Arborist? [Make Your Career as an Arborist]

Patrick McMann

Knowledge Based

Pursuing arboriculture as a career is great, but you must be a certified arborist recognized by ISA to work professionally. Also, there are specific minimum requirements you’ll need to fulfill to obtain these certifications.

Therefore, this guide is just what you need to grasp the fundamental aspects of pursuing this field. In this guide, I’ll share what an arborist’s job entails and the minimum requirements you need to fulfill to obtain the certifications. 

But that’s not all! I’ll also discuss the job opportunities and the salary offers you can get as an arborist. So, let’s get right into it!

guide on becoming an arborist

To become an arborist, you need a high school diploma or GED, practical experience, and ISA certification. The process typically takes around four years, including education, work experience, and passing the Certified Arborist exam.

How to Become an Arborist?

To become an arborist, you’ll need to complete your formal education and apply for a state license. Next, gain practical experience and obtain certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). With these qualifications, you can work independently or start your own arborist business.

Steps for Becoming a Certified Arborist

Now if I’ve cleared your confusion about a forester and an arborist, let’s get on with how to become a certified arborist:

Step 1: Adhere to Minimum Education Requirements

The minimum education requirement for becoming an arborist is to have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Degree (GED). However, having a college degree can enhance your prospects of landing well-paying positions, even as a beginner. 

If you have a bachelor’s degree in horticulture or forestry, it’s easy to become an arborist. An associate degree in environmental science will also help. 

Step 2: Obtain an Arborist License

It is necessary to obtain an arborist license to operate independently or establish a business in your state. The licensing requirements of each state differ, with some requiring arborists to obtain a license while others don’t have this requirement. 

Also, local licensing requirements may vary depending on the specific arboricultural services you offer. So, it’s crucial to check with the relevant state authorities and apply for the appropriate license to ensure compliance with legal regulations. 

Furthermore, if your specialization involves operating tractors or trucks, having a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is crucial.

Step 3: Gain Practical Experience

Even with degrees and licenses, securing an immediate arborist job is impossible. You’ll need to gain hands-on experience. Consider starting with an entry-level position or internship at a tree care company. This allows you to gain valuable experience under the guidance of seasoned professionals, which will facilitate your career.

Another option is enrolling in an arboriculture academy and acquiring the necessary tree care skills to excel under expert guidance. Through hands-on training, you will develop a keen eye for diagnosing tree issues which will enhance your expertise in the field.

Step 4: Learn Safety Protocols

When aspiring to become an arborist, you must know that you’ll encounter various hazardous situations during your work. Therefore, you must learn safety measures, risk-free working strategies, and first aid to handle any unforeseen circumstances on the job effectively.

You must learn safety protocols for handling fertilizers, operating machinery, and climbing tall trees near power lines. Always utilize appropriate protective gear, study poisonous plants, and become familiar with wild insects. 

This is essential because, as an arborist, you’ll have to work in natural environments, which comes with various risks. If you’re aware of and better prepared to tackle those potential hazards, it will enhance your safety and effectiveness in the field.

Step 5: Obtain ISA Certification

To kickstart your professional career as an arborist and stand out among potential employers, you’ll need certification. You can pursue specialized certifications offered by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). 

These certifications demonstrate your expertise in specific areas of arboriculture and encompass various specializations. You can apply for an ISA certification such as:

  • Arborist Municipal Specialist.
  • Arborist Utility Specialist.
  • Tree Worker Climber Specialist.
  • Tree Worker Aerial Lift Specialist.
  • ISA Board Certification for Master Arborist.
  • Tree Risk Assessment Qualified Individual.

Step 6: Start Working as an Arborist

Once you’ve fulfilled the minimum requirements to become an arborist, you have two options to pursue your career. You can either look for a job with a well-paying organization or establish your own arborist business.

If you start your own business as a certified arborist, you can provide your arboricultural services for residential and commercial projects. You can also hire skilled employees to help you undertake projects of various scales. But make sure to assemble a team of the best professionals in the field. 

So they can contribute to the success and reputation of your venture. In addition to your arborist skills, acquiring business management skills to run your operations effectively would be helpful. This additional knowledge will give you the acumen to handle the various aspects of your business smoothly and efficiently.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Certified Arborist?

You already know the types of arborist certifications you can get. But it will take you four years to become a certified arborist. But the time can vary depending on individual circumstances and the chosen path for certification. 

The process for this involves several steps, each with its own time commitment:

1. Arborist Education Requirements

Obtaining a degree is not compulsory to become an arborist. However, many employers will prefer you if you’ve got a degree in arboriculture, forestry, or a related field. 

To get an associate’s degree, it will take you around two years. While you’ll need four years to complete a bachelor’s degree. To get the ISA certification with a degree, you’ll need:

  • An associate arborist degree with 2 arboriculture courses + 2 years of work experience. 
  • A bachelor’s degree with 4 arboriculture courses + 1 year of work experience.

According to the ISA, 1 year of experience = 1795 working hours. Therefore, you can determine your eligibility for these certifications by calculating the required working hours.

2. Work Experience 

In addition to education, aspiring arborists need at least 3 years of full-time experience in the tree care industry. You can obtain working experience as a tree consultant, landscaping professional, or plant healthcare expert through an internship, entry-level arborist position, or volunteer work. 

3. Examination

Once the education and experience requirements are met, you can take the Certified Arborist (CA) exam. This comprehensive test is offered twice yearly, lasting approximately four hours, and covers various arboricultural topics. 

If you’re an ISA member, the exam will cost you around $170. For non-members, it will cost about $280. If you decide to take the test on a computer, you’ll have to pay $125 extra. You’ll also get your results immediately for the computer-based exam.

Otherwise, you’ll have to wait up to 5-6 weeks for standard exam results. You also need to get at least a 76% score to pass the test. If you fail, you can retake the test once for free within a year. But after that, each retake will cost you around $75.

What Does an Arborist Do?

Arborists are responsible for maintaining the health of trees through landscaping and scientific practices. Here’s a detailed look at what they do:

Diagnostic and Treatment

Arborists diagnose tree health issues by collecting and testing samples. Then they use pesticides and implement specific arboriculture techniques to treat tree problems, including critical issues.

Tree Maintenance and Pruning

Arborists plan and care for trees, inspect soil conditions, and develop landscaping plans. They remove dead branches and obstructive and low-hanging limbs with the help of a top handle chainsaw or an arborist chainsaw that pose risks to utility lines, sidewalks, or roads. For more information about such tools, you can check out a detailed guide on what is an arborist chainsaw here!

In addition, they trim trees from the top and guide their further growth. They also manage the growth of shrubs and trees, provide maintenance instructions to landscapers, and track tree care routines.

Specializations and Certifications

They specialize in various areas of expertise. In fact, arborists can do multiple specializations to broaden their career opportunities.

Project Execution and Teamwork

They work in teams to handle large-scale projects and inspect how tree growth will impact the surrounding environment. While independent arborists provide trees, shrubs, and plants for residential and public properties.

Trained to Use Various Equipment and Tools

Arborists are trained in using various equipment and tools, such as tractors, trucks, sprayers, and handheld mini saws.

Debris Management

After cutting limbs, arborists dispose of or haul away the debris with the help of equipment.

Difference Between Arborist and Forester

Foresters and arborists have distinct roles when it comes to working with trees. Foresters manage entire forests, focusing on sustainable practices, timber production, and ecosystem management. 

They have a broader scope and often work in outdoor settings. In addition, foresters need a degree in forestry, natural resource management, wildlife biology, or environmental science. 

They also need certifications from the Society of American Foresters or the Forest Stewardship Council. On the other hand, arborists concentrate on individual trees in urban or suburban areas, emphasizing their health, care, and maintenance.

Arborist Salary and Job Opportunities

If you are ready to look for an arborist job, you must know the job opportunities and the salary you can get in various arboricultural fields. In the US, most beginner arborists typically start with a salary of around $25,000 annually. 

On average, experienced ones earn around $36,645 per annum, with Redwood City, CA, paying the highest salary, around $55,774 per annum. If you’re wondering, “What type of arborist makes the most money” it’s the arborist that works for the federal government. 

The public sector offers the highest pay to arborists, and that’s because arborists employed by the federal government often possess specialized skills. They have expertise in handling hazardous trees or conducting research on tree diseases.

There are other arborists as well who also earn competitive salaries. These include arborists working for local government agencies, utility companies, and commercial tree care companies—usually, their salary lies between $50,000 and $60,000.

However, the geographical location influences the arborists’ salaries. Arborists in metropolitan areas generally receive higher wages than those in rural areas. This discrepancy is primarily due to the higher cost of living in major urban areas, forcing arborists to demand higher service rates.

It’s also a fact that there are generally more job opportunities available in the private sector compared to the public sector. Private companies have a higher demand for arborists due to the large number of vacancies they offer. 

Many arborists like running their own businesses in tree care, trimming, and landscaping. It’s an excellent way to use their knowledge to make huge profits. Currently, there are 8,257+ arborists employed in the US compared to around 125,065 tree-trimming businesses.

What Is the Job Outlook for Arborists?

If you are looking forward to becoming an arborist, you’ll be happy to know this field will remain in high demand in the upcoming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 5 percent expected growth in arborist employment through 2030. 

This growth is driven by several factors, such as municipalities planting trees in urban areas. As these trees mature, their branches can interfere with power lines, requiring the expertise of arborists to trim them and prevent localized power outages. 

In addition, increasing population growth and the desire to maintain and enhance green spaces contribute to the demand for arborists. The importance of preserving existing trees and planting new ones also plays a role in sustaining the need for skilled arborists.


Do arborists work in the winter?

Arborists either take a break or reduce their working hours in winter as the weather isn’t ideal for tree care. They often switch to part-time during this season, and to compensate for the slower winter period, they put in extra hours during the summer and fall.

Do you need to be an arborist to cut trees?

It depends on your location and specific circumstances. You don’t need an arborist license to cut down trees in some states. While in others, you’ll need an ISA certification to cut them.

Besides, if the tree you’re cutting is diseased, you must be an arborist to assess its health. If you’re not an arborist yourself, you can hire a professional to prune or cut it safely. 

How dangerous is being an arborist?

Being an arborist involves facing pretty dangerous situations. These hazards include handling dangerous power tools, cutting branches near high-voltage power lines, and trimming unstable trees. Due to these risks, it becomes crucial for arborists to prioritize their safety and receive appropriate training to mitigate any potential dangers.

What is the salary range for arborists?

Arborists receive different salaries based on their experience, location, and certification level. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median yearly income for 50% of arborists was around $46,970. The arborist trainee salary may be around $30, 180​ and the top 10% of earners made over $64,210. 

Do arborists climb trees?

Yes, most often, arborists climb trees. In fact, tree climbing is a specialized field in arboriculture. A climbing arborist performs various tree pruning tasks, such as deadwood removal, crown thinning, reduction and raising, and branch weight reduction. 

In addition, they also perform tree removals and specialized tasks like installing lightning protection and implementing bracing systems in tall trees.

Do you need a degree to be an arborist?

No, you don’t necessarily need a degree to be an arborist. However, the minimum education requirement of having a high school diploma or General Equivalency Degree (GED) is compulsory. You’ll also get a high chance of landing a competent job if you hold a college degree in arboriculture.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to become an arborist, you’re on your way to becoming a certified professional. In my post, I’ve covered everything from the tasks arborists handle to the positive job outlook, as the demand for arborists is expected to grow in upcoming years. 

Furthermore, I’ve touched upon minimum education requirements, salary, and job opportunities, which can vary depending on your experience and location. To sum up, being an arborist offers excitement and fulfillment, requiring your dedication, learning from seasoned arborists, and a genuine passion for tree care.

Patrick McMann