FOMO is real. I know from personal experience that it can be hard to imagine leaving family, friends, and the familiar high school routine. When I was applying for my own semester at OA, I often wondered whether I was ready to “miss out” on a whole four months of my normal life. When I talk to students now, they have some of the same questions I had — “What will I miss?” Their parents, meanwhile, are asking “Is a semester in the woods really going to help them get ready for life after high school?” 

The short answer to that last question? YES!

My OA semester was the best kind of college-prep course I could have taken. That is not hyperbole. The independence and confidence I gained both on campus and on the trail were invaluable. Additionally, the academic coursework was not only challenging, it was also rewarding and relevant to my life outside of OA.

As for the question of “missing out”, I quickly discovered that my friends, family, swim team, and school play would all be waiting for me upon my return. The OA experience, however, could not have been gotten anywhere else.

So, today I’d like to share with you my list of five ways OA is just like a traditional school experience — and how it’s also so much more.


1. What You’ll Learn

Like most “traditional” high schools, you’ll study math, science, literature, and other core subjects taught by experienced teachers in honors-level classes.

However, unlike the traditional school experience, you’ll have the opportunity to learn entirely new skills and discover talents and interests you’ve never explored. Classes will be interdisciplinary, hands-on, and often student-directed.

Also, where else can you learn needlework, woodworking, paddling techniques, and rock climbing skills alongside natural history, geology, creative writing, and philosophy?

2. The Power of Community

In high school, the friendships I made and the communities I participated in defined my experience. Similarly, your friends might also be your teammates or club co-leaders. You might be in class with a student you’ve known since kindergarten, which can help you feel safe and secure.

Sometimes, though, it can make you feel stuck.

During a semester at The Outdoor Academy, you’ll encounter people from all over the country, with diverse life experiences and perspectives. Despite those differences, you’ll build relationships based on the challenges and experiences you share.

The OA community is small and closely knit, with no more than 28 students per semester. In fact, the curriculum is designed around this cornerstone of Community. You’ll learn — both in theory and in practice — about leadership, identity, communication, and what it means to contribute to your society. Read about our Social-Emotional Learning course in our Curriculum Guide.

3. You Will Be Tested, and You Will Feel Lost

What would high school be without the quizzes, tests, and final exams? Material is presented in class, practiced through homework, and your understanding is assessed through tests, whether pop quizzes and essays or standardized, state examinations.

At OA, you’ll certainly be tested! And have no fear — you’ll be more than ready for the SAT and the college admission process. But in addition to a few traditional assessments, OA classes test you through experience. You might be asked to propose solutions to a local environmental problem in Science, and you’ll be given tools that will help you examine that problem, strategize solutions, and solve it in real time. Or, you might experience the process of failing and starting over time and again in Ceramics as you work to perfect your skill.

Will you be lost sometimes? Yes – and maybe even literally while you are practicing your map reading skills! But the experience of finding your way will teach more lessons than lectures inside a classroom alone ever could.

4. You Have Teachers to Guide You

High school teachers know their subjects and are devoted to their students’ success. They know the well-worn ropes of the traditional high school experience, and they are well equipped to guide you through this phase of your academic journey.

Like your high school teachers, OA faculty and staff are experts in their field, have diverse academic backgrounds, and have earned degrees from outstanding colleges and universities.

But they, like you, have chosen a different path.

My OA teachers were some of the most valuable mentors I have had at any point in my life. Our teachers’ passion and commitment to meaningful, hands-on education have led them to an immersive outdoor school where lessons transcend textbooks. At OA, we teach students, not subjects. In this small, community-based setting, your teachers will know you both in and out of the classroom. They’ll be teachers and mentors, and they’ll support you through the challenges that are part of the experience.

5. You’re Preparing for the Future

Like traditional high school, a semester at The Outdoor Academy brings you a step closer to college and the future. You’ll be well-prepared academically, and you’ll stay on track to graduate on time with honors, if that’s your path.

The OA experience, however, prepares you in ways that regular high school can’t. You’ll grow in independence, self-reliance, and as a member of a community. Plus, you’ll have unique and powerful experiences to share in your college essays and interviews that will help you stand out from your peers.

These stories will illustrate the maturity, leadership, and resilience you developed during this unforgettable, transformative semester in the North Carolina mountains.


Katie Rowlett, Semester 28

OA Admissions Director