We hope this FAQ answers some of your initial questions about The Outdoor Academy. Feel free to request more information if you have other questions, or to check out our Enrolled Students FAQ for accepted students and families.




Where is OA?

The Outdoor Academy was founded in 1995 and is located in the town of Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. We are a part of the Eagle’s Nest Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by educators that has nearly 100 years of outdoor and environmental education experience. Our campus itself covers more than 180 acres of both developed and forested area. 143 of those acres are protected under a conservation easement in partnership with Conserving Carolina and the North Carolina Clean Water Trust Fund. Check out this map for an overview of OA’s core campus and buildings.

With the town of Brevard and more than 100,000 acres of public lands just 10 minutes from our campus, and Asheville only 30 minutes away, you couldn’t find a better spot for interdisciplinary, experiential classes.

Why is OA a Semester School?

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, we think that the ephemeral nature of OA is exactly what makes it so special. When you only have 16 weeks of an experience, you’re going to make every day count.

More specifically, OA is an ideal complement to a student’s larger high school experience, as well as a key step on their path towards college and successful careers. You can think about it like a study abroad experience in college. The independence, engagement, newfound passions, and powerful mentorships that students gain at OA are only useful once they bring them home and put them into action. Indeed, we’ve received feedback from our alumni over the past 25 years that their semester away was been transformative and has shaped their lives in many ways. The semester experience not only enhanced their preparation for college and careers intellectually, socially, and emotionally, but it has also helped distinguish them in every future application process. 

In 2019, OA participated in a 3-year study by the University of Utah about the impact semester-long experiences have on students. Read more at the Semester Schools Network. The research echoed the anecdotes we’ve heard from our alumni and identified eight significant outcomes from students who had attended semester schools.  Consistently, the studies revealed that students thought their semester away supported their identity development. These significant outcomes included: 

  • Willingness to try new things
  • Appreciation for learning and for diversity
  • Perseverance
  • Communication
  • Decision-making and responsibility
  • Self-confidence
What makes The Outdoor Academy unique?

As a school, we strive to educate the whole student. Your life is interdisciplinary, so your education should be too! We do that by focus in on our four cornerstones: Intellect, Environment, Craft and Community.

At OA, you will receive full academic credit for a set of rigorous, honors-level courses, but you will also engage in experiential learning both on and off of our beautiful, foreste campus. That might look like exploring your creativity in hands-on arts classes, or practicing leadership while navigating your peers up Pilot Mountain.

Our student community is small and never larger than 28 students. That, plus our 3:1 student to faculty ratio, allows for strong bonds to form among peers, mentors, and faculty members. Additionally, disconnecting from the stresses of social media and technology for a semester enables you and your classmates to deepen in-person connections.

Is OA a therapeutic school? (Short answer: No)

The Outdoor Academy is a rigorous, academic school designed for students who are motivated to spend a semester of high school doing something new and different. We are not a therapeutic program.

If a student is receiving therapy of any kind at the time of enrollment, we request that they continue the same level of care while enrolled. With the increased availability of online appointments, it is now easier than ever to continue meeting with your usual healthcare providers while you are here on campus.

We encourage you to contact the Admissions Office if you believe that reasonable accommodations will be necessary for your participation in our program. OA intends this dialogue to be part of an interactive process and a resource tool early on, not as a way to exclude or screen applicants. We look forward to talking with you!

Do I need any wilderness experience or specific technical skills? What if I do have a lot of prior experience?

Many of our students have never spent a night in the backcountry before coming to OA, while those students with more experience are able to dive into leadership roles under the mentorship of our experienced instructors.

Our faculty will teach you everything you need to know about packing for a hike, navigating in the wilderness, setting up camp, rock climbing safely, and maneuvering down whitewater rapids. There is no expectation that you come to OA with these skills, but you will certainly have them when you leave!

It’s also okay if some of these activities seem scary. We have many students at OA who are able to conquer their fear of heights, sleeping outside, or paddling down rapids. All we are looking for in an OA applicant is an eagerness to learn and an excitement for adventure.

Why do students come to OA, and what are you looking for in an applicant?

OA applicants are motivated high schoolers who want their education to reflect real life. Most students are motivated by a combination of:

  • Looking to get outside of the four walls of a traditional classroom, while still preparing for college-level academics.
  • A desire to practice leadership and self-reliance on a wilderness trip, or to learn the technical skills that will allow them to thrive outside.
  • Looking for an intentional school community where everyone belongs and everyone brings something unique to the table.

An OA application should demonstrate two things:

  1. Why are you a good fit for OA? (Think: what will I bring to OA?)
  2. Why is OA a good fit for you? (Think: what will I gain from this experience?)

There is no specific class you need to have taken or specific passion that you need to already have. OA students go on to be high-achieving Ivy League students, environmental educators, award-winning poets and writers, professional artisans and musicians, and so much more. If you are motivated to try something new and challenge yourself to engage deeply with your education, then we want to hear from you!


What will my classes be like at OA?

Classes at OA may not be what you are used to, and we mean that in the best way! All of our courses are taught at the honors level and have an average class size under 10 students. This means that classes are personalized, and you and your teachers can work at a pace that both engages and challenges you.

On a typical day, OA students divide their time between a traditional classroom setting and learning on and around our wooded campus in nature. Science classes, for example, are frequently taught by streams and ponds located on OA’s campus. An Algebra II class might first use trigonometric functions to determine heights of trees on campus and then incorporate their statistics lessons to create a meaningful analysis of the data they collect.

Additionally, cooperative learning activities and small group work are common features of OA courses, as is expecting students to take on teaching and leadership roles before their peers. So, you might spend your morning in one-on-one conversations with your Spanish class after your math teacher walks you through a challenging Precalculus topic. Then, your afternoon might be spent in charge of your US History activities (topic up to you!) before engaging in a Socratic seminar on environmental justice and ecology down by the lake dock.

Discover more about classes on our “Intellect” page

What is the interdisciplinary "Bridge" class all about?

Your life is interdisciplinary. We think your education should be, too!

Once a week our English, Environmental Science, and History classes merge together for an afternoon of hands-on, transdisciplinary investigation off campus in our local communities and ecosystems. During this time our community becomes our classroom, and you’ll get to explore the various ways in which our two academic units – Human Ecology and Storytelling – manifest in our world. These trips are tons of fun, and also allow you to discover what classroom topics look like in the real world.

Our Instagram is a good place to find weekly updates on Bridge trips. Recent trips have included:

  1. An afternoon exploring the history and geology of public lands on the Blue Ridge Parkway
  2. An evening of live storytelling at The Moth in Asheville, NC
  3. A trip to a local farm to study the environmental and economic impacts of small businesses and farms

A final Bridge capstone project serves as both a demonstration of each student’s learning from the semester and a culmination of their academic semester experience at OA. Check out the Intellect page to explore examples of recent student projects.

Are OA academics challenging?

The short answer? Yes. All of our courses are college-preparatory and credited as honors classes.

Although experiential education activities are often more appealing or feel more fun than “traditional” academics, our students agree that OA classes are rigorous.

  • Note: By “rigorous”, we mean that active participation in class discussions is an expectation of everyone, and everyone is expected to maintain a high level of integrity and personal investment in their learning.

In all classes, our faculty attends to the different learning styles and multiple intelligences that exist in any diverse student body. Examples of this include:

  • You’ll often be in charge of choosing topics and directing class discussions
  • During projects, you will focus in on topics that are meaningful to you
  • You’ll demonstrate your learning goals in a myriad of ways, including tests, research projects, written responses, oral presentations, and art projects.
Who are the OA faculty?

The effectiveness of OA and its high academic standards are a testament to our wonderful faculty. Our teachers are some of the most passionate educators you can find. They are not only trained teachers, but also experienced in fields ranging from visual art to marine biology. They are all dedicated professionals who enjoy the outdoors and love working closely with young adults in a variety of settings – from whitewater paddling to whiteboard ideation.

Check out some of our faculty bios to learn more about these amazing educators.

Meet the Faculty

What accreditation does The Outdoor Academy have? How will my credits transfer home?

The Outdoor Academy is fully accredited by Cognia, and you will receive an official transcript at the end of your semester.

Since you will be taking a complete half-year of honors courses including English, science, history, and electives, and your school can accept these credits, you are not skipping a semester. Letter/number grades are provided on transcripts alongside a grading scale that sending schools can use to  convert grades to their appropriate markings.

How does it work if my school is on a semester/trimester/block schedule?

Whether you take the same classes all year, switch courses between semesters, or do a bit of both, the OA Admissions Office will help you figure out how to include OA in your academic schedule. We have worked with hundreds of schools over the past 25 years, and we’re here to support you in any way we can.

We also recommend that you meet with your home academic advisor while applying to The Outdoor Academy. School advisors can assist in scheduling your remaining classes, advise you on which semester would be best to study away, help identify how credits will transfer to your transcript, and consider any additional coordination that may be required in order to attend OA. For example, you may find that in order to study away for a semester, you need to rearrange some classes in your Junior or Senior year schedule. You might also earn additional credits at OA that allow you to meet certain graduation requirements earlier than expected.


Where do students live on campus?

Community living is one of the best parts of an OA semester. Students live together with 6-8 others in cozy cabins that are fully heated/electrified/etc. Each student has their own space with a bed and shelves for storage, and there is a communal space in the center of the dorm with couches near the woodstove. The bathrooms are attached to the cabins and are typical dorm bathrooms with private stalls and changing spaces.

Many students find that their cabin group serves as its own close-knit community within the overall OA community. Think: evening hangouts in the dorms and weekly cabin meetings to have fun and support each other. Additionally, residential life faculty members are also always available overnight and on the weekends for any student needs.

What do we do on the weekends?

There’s always something exciting happening on the weekend! In general, it’s a mix of student-directed activities, off campus trips, and free time on campus.

Since a quarter of the semester is spent on outdoor trips (camping, backpacking, canoeing, and rock climbing), some weekends will be spent preparing for trips or adventuring into the field.

When you have a weekend on campus, you’ll have a lot of agency over your experience. For example, recent student-planned events have included:

  • A day hike up Cold Mountain
  • Day trips to Asheville, Hendersonville, and Brevard
  • School Olympics
  • Square Dances and OA Proms
  • Talent shows
  • Lots of cooking and baking projects
What mental health supports are available at OA?

Though we are not a therapeutic school, we know that all of us are working through different life challenges. If you have been seeing a therapist in the year before your semester at OA, we encourage you to continue seeing them via telehealth while at OA, or to work with a local therapist in person here.

The Dean of Students will reach out to families before the semester begins to see how best we can support student’s mental health while away from home. We often find that students experience an increase in positive mental health while at OA because of the lack of technology and social media, the increase of being outside in the fresh air, and the sense of belonging and meaningful connections that are formed within our small, close-knit community.

Can I play sports at OA? How will I stay in shape at OA?

Many OA students are athletes and want to stay in shape for sports. We are moving every day at The Outdoor Academy: walking to classes, hiking up a small hill for Morning Watch, and moving during work crews and outdoor programming classes.

Each student will have a Choice Period during the day, and many students choose to take a run or work out during this time. Students have access to basketball and tennis courts, an athletic field with soccer goals, a punching bag, a hang board, yoga mats, and weights. If you want to bring any special equipment for a sport, let us know in advance so we can help you plan accordingly.

Can I bring phones, laptops, or other electronics?

Music and technology are valued at The Outdoor Academy. However, we do not wish to fill our campus with the frequent distractions of technological entertainment. Learning to be present with intention in our daily life is an important facet of building community at OA, and many students see this as a chance to “unplug” for a semester and get away from the stress of their phones and the internet. Therefore, students do not bring personal electronic devices such as phones, mp3 players, or laptops to OA.

So, what can you bring? Laptop computers are available for students requiring academic accommodations or independent studies, and all students bring a playlist of music that can be listened to in our beautiful music room, during meal cleanups, etc. Students are encouraged to bring cameras and/or Go-Pros to document all their amazing adventures. Students may also always call home or chat with friends during their free time (see below).

How will I stay in touch with my family and friends during my semester?

We know that four months would be a long time to not be in touch with people back home. You will have access to phones and are encouraged to call friends and family back home whenever you have free time.  Families visit campus at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester, and students schedule video calls to talk with family at other times in the semester. Some OA semesters also get really into sending postcards and letters back and forth with friends and relatives. It’s a lot of fun!

Of course, should an emergency arise, or if you need a private space to make a phone call, we’ll always make it happen. Our Director and Dean of Students are consistently in touch with families to make sure you stay connected and get the information you need.

How is the food? What if I am vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions/allergies?

In one word: delicious! OA food is always fresh, healthy, and made with the needs of active teenagers in mind. Additionally, we welcome student input in meals. Isa (our chef and an OA alum herself!) is always looking to add new recipes to the menu, and she is open to suggestions and requests. So, if you have a favorite birthday meal or a family recipe you want to share with your semester mates, be sure to bring it with you!

As for dietary restrictions, they’re not a problem. We often have students who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten/dairy-free, or have other dietary restrictions or allergies. If you have questions about your specific dietary needs, don’t hesitate to email us.

What will I need to bring to OA?

Never fear! We will make sure you have everything you need to have a successful semester here. We practice Simple Living as one of our seven key principles at The Outdoor Academy (along with Gratitude, Integrity, Work Ethic, Self-Reliance, Curiosity, and Stewardship). Thus, we ask you to bring only what is necessary for your semester. This means that you will have less to take care of here at OA and more time to focus on what really matters: getting the best possible experience from your academics, community, and wilderness adventures.

You can find the full packing lists on the page for enrolled students.

If you do not already have clothing that works well for outdoor expeditions, we will help you find those items, or you can borrow them from our Gear Lending Library. If finding what you need for OA is ever a financial or logical hardship, be assured that we’ll work with you to get you what you need. 


Outdoor Programming
What outdoor trips will I go on during a semester? Are Fall and Spring offerings the same?

Around 30 days of the semester is spent off campus on wilderness adventures of different lengths. Each semester includes two or three different backpacking trips, multiple weekends whitewater canoeing or rock climbing, a week of interdisciplinary “Classes in the Field“, and a weekend learning bushcraft skills. By the end of the semester, you will have all the skills needed to plan your own backpacking trip from start to finish, with your instructors just along for the ride (and for safety, of course.)

Students in the Fall and Spring semesters experience the same outdoor activities, although the overall semester schedule often reflects the difference in weather between seasons. For example, we tend to keep water-based adventures to the warmer months.

Why is "Environment" one of OA's four Cornerstones?

The Environment Cornerstone encapsulates both academic environmental studies and outdoor/wilderness skills. Our expeditions into the backcountry combine seamlessly with students’ on-campus academics, and also provide an unparalleled setting to develop leadership skills, self-reliance, and independence. Guided reflections, trek journals, and community conversations carry the learnings from the field back into our lives on campus. Similarly, lessons from CIRCLE class, science readings, and dinner conversations bring context to our experiences in the field.

Students tell us again and again that they are missing a connection to the natural world in their daily lives. After OA, students leave having renewed this vital connection to their environment and with the skills to continue it at whatever level they desire.

Where will I be hiking/paddling/climbing/camping?

We take full advantage of the 100,000+ acres of public lands in our surrounding counties. Backpacking trips might explore Pisgah National Forest and the Shining Rock Wilderness, even navigating sections of the famous Appalachian or Art Loeb Trails. Paddling and climbing trips disperse across Western NC from the French Broad River to Looking Glass, from the Green River to Cedar Rock. And, if we’re looking for a convenient day trip, Dupont State Forest and Holmes Educational Forest are just 10 minutes from OA.