Field Guide to becoming an Arborist

What to consider when wanting to become an Arborist…

Arborists are trained and certified professional who not only trim trees, prune them and cut branches but also work hard to improve the health of your tree in many ways. They specialize in decorative trimming, all sorts of tree infections and diseases. It is always advised to seek the opinion of an Arborist before hiring anyone for the tree job.

Tasks of an Arborist

Do Arborists only climb trees and care for them? No! The job of an arborist is a lot tougher than what many people think. It is because of them that we don’t see any broken limbs fallen on our power lines or any tree on our roads. They make sure things go smooth in our city. An arborist 1  generally works with a job title of tree trimmer, a ground worker, tree climber, or line clearance foreman. They use a variety of equipment every day such as trucks, tractors, chippers, grinders, sprays, and power saws etc. Apart from simple trimming, grinding of stumps and removing of trees their tasks include,

  1. Pruning trees to reduce the chances of diseases and other infections. 2
  2. Planting trees.
  3. Grinding Stumps as required.
  4. Examining a tree from a health perspective. 3
  5. Examining a tree from a financial perspective.
  6. Maintaining trees, maintaining work for the tree under care. 4
  7. Maintains Shrubs. 5
  8. Haul stumps and limbs, chip brush.
  9. Preparing and analyzing the site, watering, mulching, control nutrient.
  10. Operating heavy machinery, tools, and other equipment.
  11. Consulting on client`s property, doing paperwork, testing samples.
  12. Do Research on tree care.
  13. Identify and remediate hazardous trees and other tree-related problems.
  14. Responding on stormy days and remediate hazardous trees.
  15. Dispose of cutting.

What Degree Options are there to become an arborist?

According to many people, a degree of Arboriculture is must in order to become an arborist. But that is not the case. Situations in which the university doesn’t offer Arboriculture, you can go for a degree in horticulture, forestry or Environmental Sciences. Since Arboriculture is not offered as a hybrid course or an online course hence other degree options should also be considered. Some of the popular degrees which can be achieved in order to become a successful arborist are:

      1. Horticulture
      2. Environmental & Social Sustainability
      3. Environmental Policy and Management
      4. Environmental Science/Studies
      5. BS in Geosciences concentration in Natural Resources & Conservation
      6. BA Anthropology in Environmental Sustainability 6
      7. BS Environmental Science in Natural Resources & Conservation
      8. BS Environmental Science in Geospatial Technologies 7
      9. Doctorate – Management: Environmental & Social Sustainability
      10. Natural Resources & Conservation

Why is Accreditation important?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), arborists who use pesticides usually need to be licensed or certified 8 By achieving accreditation, you promise your costumers to provide them a good quality of work, resolve any of their legal issues with the state, do all the paperwork for them and offer them long-term cost. As mentioned earlier as well, accreditation from a well-known organization gives you a competitive edge over the other professional arborist when applying for a job in the state. The two most common, respectable, and highly reputable organizations to get accreditation from are,

    1. The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) 9
    2. International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) 10

It should be noted that no organization or state provide you with a lifetime membership, you need to get it relicensed or recertified after a period of time.

Obtaining Arborist License

Different states have different rules regarding the arborist license. Commercial and professional arborist state licenses are common in many areas which involve clearing a small written state examination. Some states will test your knowledge and education before they qualify you for work such as public tree service. Some even require you to earn a license if you work near power lines. Knowledge areas of the state examination test include:

  • Pesticide Safety
  • Botanical Diseases
  • Plant Identification
  • Applicable State Laws

However, in some states, there is a choice to substitute the state examination with the national certification from The International Society of Arboriculture.

Certification Process11

The more you gain certifications the more you are recommended as a professional arborist. Certifications give you a competitive advantage over the other arborists when you are applying for a job. They can be achieved from various organizations such as The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or TCIA. To prepare for such an exam, you need to revise a list of topics covered in the test mainly. The test includes multiple-choice questions and the passing percentage is 72. Topics include:

  • Soil Management
  • Tree Biology
  • Pruning
  • Urban Forestry

Note: ISA publishes a booklet that would help you start your preparation.

ISA Certified Arborist

This certification is accredited by the American National Standards Institute, meeting and exceeding ISO 17024. To become certified by ISA Arborist, you are required to have a 3-year experience in the field of arboriculture. 10. However, if you wish to earn a 2-year degree in arboriculture with 1-year experience, or any related field then the experience required to get certified decreases to 2 years’ exposure in the field. A minimum of 72% score is required to pass the test. This kind of certification covers a large number of topics giving a little freedom in the arboriculture profession.

Exam Dates and Locations

A number of tests are carried out every year and the students can choose between a computer based test or a paper based test whichever they find easy. The course covered in the test is mostly related to arboriculture and tree biology.

Computer-Based Test: For a computer based test you have to select a particular test date and location if you choose to test at Pearson VUE testing12 facility. It should be noted that you will be required to submit an application to ISA and receive approval before you contact Pearson VUE for your exam.

Paper-Based Test: For a paper-based test you need to select a date and a location from the ones offered by the organization or by a Chapter you want certification from. The test is conducted on monthly basis and don’t forget to submit an application 13 to ISA and receive approval before you are approved for enrollment. You will find the calendar for a list of exam dates and location scheduled over the comings months on their original website.

TCIA Accreditation

TCIA stands for “The Tree Care Industry Association” and helps ensure the safety and training of the arborists and other tree workers. TCIA accreditation has a number of advantages i.e. it educates the consumers about the proper care of trees, safe work practices, advances professionalism in the tree care industry, tries to improve the business practices in the tree service industry and educates the policy makers on regulatory and legislative affairs. Apart from all these, there are a number of membership benefits that you can avail 14.

For a company to get certification from TCIA, it much has appropriate insurance, has a suitable number of arborist for the job, must gain a good reputation and customer satisfaction.

Popular Academic Institutions

Some popular reputable universities that offer degrees in Arboriculture or any other related degree are mentioned below for your knowledge.

  1. Kaplan University (online programs available) 15
  2. Ashford University (online programs available) 16
  3. Southern New Hampshire University (online programs available) 17
  4. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (online programs available) 18
  5. Colorado Technical University (online programs available) 19
  6. Johns Hopkins University (online programs available) 20
  7. Penn Foster Career School (online programs available) 21
  8. Penn Foster High School (online programs available) 22
  9. Harvard University 23
  10. Columbia Southern University (online programs available) 24
  1. Online Degrees and certifications

Unfortunately, a degree in urban forestry and arboriculture are not available online, whereas a degree in horticulture can be achieved easily. It is also useful for becoming an arborist. Since arborists study and work with trees, students studying horticulture study everything related to forms of plant life, plant reproduction, and plant hybridization.  But it should be noted that in order to become an arborist, a degree is not sufficient. One has to get certified by TCIA or ISA. Common areas of study in bachelor’s in horticulture 25 online/hybrid would be,

  • Pest management
  • Soil usage
  • Plant nutrients
  • Plant biology
  • Horticulture techniques


How to prepare for Tests?

Though the sound of ISA or TCIA exam test is terrifying, but it is not that difficult once you prepare for it from every possible source available. A common way is to learn thing using flashcards, guides, previous papers etc. Here are some of the sites that provide tips, good sample questions and tests for you to prepare from.

Mometrix Test Preparation: Is a free resource from which you can prepare for the exam. 26

QUIA: Arborists Certification Sample Test – This site requires you to just enter your name/credentials(optional) and start preparing. 27

Arborist Test Prep Review: They provide you simple multiple choice questions, test practice questions, test flashcards and study guides. 28

ISA Texas Certified Arborist Test Preparation Course: 29 This course is being conducted to help the students clear the ISA certified Arborist examination. It costs around $250 and also provide you with the Arborist Certification Study Guide (a $115 value). It is usually a one-month training program. Here is their registration link 30


This is an organization dedicated to revolutionizing the tree care, arboricultural, & disaster relief industry. Certified arborist training school provides you with the proper training you need to succeed in the career. It is a 12-week training session in which you will cover ever thing you need to know regarding arboriculture. Is starts in June 2016 so don’t forget to apply beforehand. 31


Becoming an arborist is not difficult as it sounds. In short simple words, to become an arborist you need to first acquire a degree in arboriculture or any related degree, obtain the state license if you want to practice skills in your state, or gain 3 years’ experience in the field and then get certification from ISA or TCIA to known as a professional arborist. Remember, certifications are just an add-on which polish your skills, train you professionally, and give you a strong competitive advantage.


References For Further Research Here:

  1. What is an Arborist – All about Arboriculture 
  2. Prune Your TreesPrune early, prune often, prune for safety
  3. Safeguarding Plant Health A UK Perspective
  4. Tree care guide – A simple handbook for nurturing young trees
  5. The Only Shrubs You Need to Grow
  6. What is an Anthropologist? – What Does an Anthropologist Do?
  7. Geospatial Technology: An Introduction and Overview
  8. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  9. Tree Care Industry Association
  10. International Society of Arboriculture
  11. How Do I Become a Certified Arborist?
  12. Pearson VUE
  13. ISA Application Link
  14. What Is a Degree in Horticulture Studies?
  15. Kaplan University Campus and Online Degree Programs
  16. Ashford University Online Degrees
  17. Southern New Hampshire University Programs
  18. Saint Mary`s University of Minnesota Academics
  19. Degree Programs from Colorado Technical University
  20. Johns Hopkins University Academics
  21. Penn Foster Online Degree and Diploma Programs
  22. Penn Foster High School Diploma Online 
  23. Harvard University
  24. Columbia Southern University ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAMS
  25. Important Facts About a Degree in Horticultural Studies
  26. Mometrix Certified Arborist Practice Test
  27. QUIA – online preparation test
  28. Arborist Exam Review
  29. Certified Arborist Test Preparation Course
  30. Certified Arborist Test Preparation Course Application link
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Taylor Bishop
5 years ago

It’s really interesting all of the work and certifications that need to be earned to become an arborist. I think it’s interesting that some states require an arborist to have a license if they work near power lines, but I understand why this is the case. After all, it’s best to practice safely and keep damage to a minimum. Seems like it could be worth the time to research what regulations your state has, to make sure that you are adequately prepared for the job.

Justin Smith
5 years ago

Great article. Most people do not realize how much an arborist really does and how knowledgeable they must be. Unfortunately, there are so many people out there doing tree work who are not arborists, who are actually doing more harm than good.

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