Degree for working in the amusement business?

This is sort of a strange question, but I am trying to figure out what I want to do after college. Since I don't plan on being a ride op. for fifty years, but would still like to do something for which I have a passion, I was wondering what kind of undergraduate/graduate degree you guys think most of the bigwigs at theme parks have?

I am considering contacting some, but I just wanted to throw this out while I was thinking about it. I don't really want to do marketing; more managerial or overseeing kind of stuff, choosing attractions, park operations stuff, etc.

I have my life in more order than this topic may sound, and I'd love any input. Thanks for any advice. *** Edited 10/5/2006 1:57:56 AM UTC by Willh51***

Ride of Steel's avatar
Right now I'm a senior in high school in Central NY. I am seriously considering Niagara University's hospitality with a degree in "Tourism and Recreation Management." Although hotels are a major focus of the major, the concepts are quite similar. That background combined with my wide knowledge of the amusement industry, and I am planning on working at CP this summer, I hope I'm on the right track. I actually met with the dean of the college of hospitality management and CLEARLY explained to him that I want to run an amusement park, and he set this program is a great option for me.

Does anyone think that this plan is a bad idea? my ultimate goal is to be the general manager of a park.

Niagara is one of the only acredited hospitality schools in the country and rated one of the top nationwide.

I hope to also minor in business. *** Edited 10/5/2006 2:19:40 AM UTC by Ride of Steel***

It's been said before, and it will be said again...what degree you get doesn't really matter in this industry. "A" degree is what will matter. For instance, at my park:

GM - BS & Masters, Finance

Vice President #1 - BS - Education

Vice President #2 - BS & Masters in Speech Pathology

Director of Ops - BS-Music, Masters, Music Ed.

There are also lots of sucessful folks in the industry with Liberal Arts degrees as well. Go for the degree that you want first, than worry about becomming the GM of Cedar Point one day. *** Edited 10/5/2006 3:11:41 AM UTC by Hanging n' Banging***

Completely agreed. If you're looking to get a degree more tailored for the industry, then look for something in business, marketing, or human resources/management. The degree matters far less than the experience.

People don't generally just get upper-level jobs in this industry. They work their way into them. I know the University of Central Florida has that program in which you essentially study theme park management, but I'm not convinced that has ever helped anyone land a major job.


Ride of Steel's avatar
Guys, I really understand that you have to work your way up. I'm going to college no matter what, I'm just trying to decide what type of program would be best for what I want to do.
I think that question has already been answered.

1) Your choice of degree doesn't matter.

2) If you remain convinced that you must choose a degree based on your desire to become a park manager, then you need to study business, marketing, and/or human resource management.


I wouldn't agree it doesn't matter. There may be stories of people working their way up the ladders at some parks but there are other places in which specific skills are sought out.

Most important is do NOT choose a major in which you do not enjoy the work. You don't know what the future may hold. Pick a major that you would love and then find a way to taylor that into a career in the industry. Those who love their work also excel in it, and that'll help you move ahead.

If you truly want to know what to major in, answer for yourself what kind of work would you like to do no matter what industry you are in. Then once you have that, you can steer it toward the industry you want to be in.

Or you can go with the method of no degree and be sure to let them know the many hours you have played RCT. That for sure impresses them. *** Edited 10/5/2006 5:21:40 AM UTC by Wolfhound***


But acquiring those specific skills through years of experience is incredibly more valuable than anything you learn in school. Things you learn for your degree are theoretical, they work great in the controlled environments of classrooms and academia, but while the basic concepts are similar, NOTHING works like that in the real world.

If I were running a park and I saw a guy with 3 years experience running a small park and a degree from say that UCF program, and candidate B has a degree in basket weaving from up-my-butt-U but has been working in small and large parks in management roles for the last 15 years, guess who I'm pickin? (and no, that's not a plug for up-my-butt-U, although I hear their campus is nice ... )

Brett, Resident Launch Whore Anti-Enthusiast (the undiplomatic one)
I think you best bet is a degree in business. This way if you can't get into the amusement industry you can atleast get a job somewhere else.
That's bloody BRILLIANT!!!! OMG, why go to college at all when we can all be basket weavers and run amusement parks!!!

Is college for everyone? No

Do you gain more experience in college or actually observing or doing a job? Most likely you'll get more from doing the job

But to make your scenario actually fair, compare your two candidates with equal experience and the one with the degree will win every time. I would even hazzard the guess that even if you give Mr. Basket Weaver 4 more years of experience, he'll still lose out once they both have some job experience. Of course too he'll most likely not start is job career managing parks as there are oh so many openings for that for people.

But hey, if you think that its good to tell someone going into a very limited field that college doesn't matter and he shouldn't be concerned about getting a degree in a FIELD he loves just in case he doesn't manage to pass all the other people wanting to do the same, its a free country with a steadily declining IQ.


Thanks for the insight everyone. I'm actually an undergrad in college right major limbo. I have several ones I've been fulfilling perspectives for, but I have to choose pretty soon. I am, of course, going to do something I want to do for a while, but it's good to know that what I choose will be okay later.

When I think about what I want to do...that's the one that comes to mind. I've mulled over a lot of stuff, and since this is a limited field I'll have other possibilities.

Jeff's avatar
I disagree that it doesn't matter. I don't know if Dick Kinzel has any degree at all, but he's so far from a typical situation. I'm pretty sure Jack Falfas has an MBA, and you're crazy if you don't think that's partially the reason he's #2.

MBA's are a dime a dozen anymore, but the good ones have a much better foundation to run a business than those who don't. Degrees don't make for automatic success, or make your personality best suited for a job, but they're certainly a component that matters. I might agree that your undergrad degree matters less, but if you know what you want to do, it would certainly give you a head start going into grad school. That, and the life experience you get from undergrad is very visible in your personality, assuming you get the hell out of your parents' basement and live there. Don't play the commuting game. That's not college.

The industry reminds me a lot of my radio days. It's a lifestyle industry, and the turnover isn't that high. A friend of mine high up in one company says that you have to get in early, even if it's crappy seasonal work, and then watch carefully as people move around or retire.

Just keep in mind that anyone can get that on the job experience, but getting a degree, or graduate degree, can help you stand out. In fact, if you have to wait around in seasonal mode, going back for an MBA or other graduate program makes a whole lot of sense while you're "waiting" for things to open up.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Unless I missed it, I don't think anyone is arguing that it doesn't matter whether you have a degree or not. What I (and others) have said is that it matters more that you actually HAVE a degree than what that degree actually is.

Everything Jeff said is true. Experience is crucial in this industry. Education is probably equally important. I think you should get all the education you certainly can't hurt. But there is no degree for "amusement park GM". There are several paths you could take to become a general manager. For instance, you could study marketing, become a park's director of marketing, and move into a general manager position that way. Or you could start out as a seasonal worker, work up in the operations department, and eventually get into the GM role.

Yes, it's important to have a degree. No, your choice of degree probably isn't going to make or break your success in this industry. Just get one...and get one that you're actually interested in. You're far more likely to succeed if you're doing what you like.

And that advice about moving away from your parents and getting the actual college experience? Do not underestimate the importance of that.


rollergator's avatar

coasterdude318 said:What I (and others) have said is that it matters more that you actually HAVE a degree than what that degree actually is.

And that extends WAY outside the domain of the amusement industry... ;)

I contacted Paula from Holiday World several months ago, explaining that I had an interest in working in a PR position of an amusement park. I believe I explained that I was likely going to major in business at college. She responded, saying that she majored in journalism and had never taken a business class (paraphrased).

I think, whatever degree you choose, you definitely need to take some business courses. The amusement industry is unique in many ways, but it's still a business. The main focus of most, if not all, amusement parks is to make money.

My business professor said just yesterday that he was far more interested in teaching us the logic behind busienss and how you can go about utilizing that logic to make the best decisions. He also said that many of the concepts he teaches us will be obsolete in a couple of years, because business is changing rapidly. He said that it was more important that we know where to go and how to find information.

Actually...I double-majored in telecommunications and French at I.U. and have never taken a PR class.

Will Koch started out (at Notre Dame) as a business major and switched over to electrical engineering. He felt the stuff being taught in the business classes did not follow the practical experience he'd had growing up in the industry.

Don't forget to get involved in organizations where you can develop leadership and "people" skills. You can "ace" business exams, but if you're no good with people, what's the use?

Class dismissed!


Paula Werne
Holiday World

rollergator's avatar

Raven Maven said:You can "ace" business exams, but if you're no good with people, what's the use?

I believe that's where RRC comes in... ;) :~P

coasterqueenTRN's avatar
Adding to what Paula said, there is nothing quite like "real world" experience.

Plus, people skills can't really be "taught." It's either part of your personality or not.

Oh, my bad! Sorry about that, Paula. I knew I should have checked the email to make sure I was correct.

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