The college application process can be one of the most daunting but also exciting times in the life of a young adult. I remember vividly the stress of filling out my Common App on time, wondering if I had done it correctly and how I could make the best impression possible. My biggest fear was being rejected from a school I really loved. I wasn’t afraid of leaving home, or taking charge of my education, or sticking with my values. By the time I was thinking about college, I had already had these experiences during my time at The Outdoor Academy. 

Flash forward four years later. Not only did I end up getting into every school I applied to, I also have a degree from one of the premier Experiential Education programs in the country at Brevard College. Now, only about six months after graduation, I am back at OA working in the Admissions Office. 

As I’ve started communicating more with prospective students and parents, one question comes up often: How will OA affect my chances of getting into the college I want? 

Trust me, we hear you. It’s a valid question, and we love to see students and parents who are invested not only in their current education, but also in their future. 

The Outdoor Academy is first and foremost a school. We pride ourselves in honors-level classes that are engaging and provide a chance to truly connect with your education. Because of this, OA is not slowing down academics for any student who attends. In fact, for most students it will be the most rigorous and rewarding time in their academic career. Yes, OA students will spend a quarter of their semester backpacking, rock climbing, and paddling through the beautiful Pisgah National Forest. These experiences though can be so formative that they are just as academic as a classroom. At OA, we really find that, much like college, lessons happen naturally in and out of the classroom. 

The Outdoor Academy is proud to be a founding member of the Semester School Network. This is an elite group of semester schools working together to make each semester a success. Recently, the University of Utah did a study on the benefits of sending your student to a semester school. In 2021, our former Admissions Director, Julie Holt wrote a blog post on just this, check it out here.

As I began thinking about how best to answer the college questions for OA prospects, I decided to reach out to a few of our alumni and hear about their experiences. Read on to see what these four graduates from Semester 10 (2000) all the way through Semester 51 (2020) had to say. 

Lydia Burnet (Semester 48), who now goes to Hobart and William Smith College, told me that “my time at OA was a brief blip in my education, but it has generated ripples that impacted the rest of my life. The semester provides a time for students to savor special moments and prepare for big transitions ahead such as college! While attending the Outdoor Academy I formed close and enduring relationships with my teachers. These mentors have been through college already and offer valuable insights into the college selection process. They are also the perfect people to write you a recommendation letter!” 

I found that I had a similar experience when choosing my college. I was able to get a wonderful recommendation from our former Head of School, Roger Herbert, and it meant a lot to have someone who knew me so well recommend me. Additionally, my essay questions were thoroughly inspired by OA. I wrote my essay about my adventures on OA’s 36 hour solo experience. By doing so, I was able to show colleges that I had been able to persevere at a young age, and also that I was able to accurately demonstrate what experiences had meant to me. 

I also talked to Elle Morris-Benedict (Semester 51) who is now attending UC Berkeley. She also was able to write a college essay about OA. 

I was nervous about [how OA would affect college],” Elle said, “But I ended up writing about my relationship with crafts from my semester at OA in one of my personal essays, and ended up being accepted into my dream school at UC Berkeley! My time away from home actually prepared me more for college than being able to take a couple extra AP’s my junior year.”

AP’s are a question we get a lot. Many prospective students are concerned that taking a break from AP’s will hurt their chances at top colleges. On the contrary, we find that students who attend semester schools stand out more than students who have taken as many AP’s as possible. Most colleges are looking for a student who is well rounded, and OA ensures that this is true for any of our alumni. We’re proud to have seen our most recent alumni end up at top schools around the world such as Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Oberlin, St. Andrews, and UNC Chapel Hill. 

Most importantly however, we are proud to see our alumni end up at schools that they truly want to attend. Take it from Libba Cooper (Semester 28).

OA really impacted my college decision,” Libba says. “I think I was originally thinking of bigger schools with large classes. After OA, I decided I needed to be at a college where I have small class sizes and where I can get to know my professors and have deep connections with them. I ended up looking at small liberal arts colleges and had a really great college experience because of it.” 

To me, the biggest thing that students walk away from OA with is a sense of the possibilities for their own education. They have a chance at a young age to take control over what they’re getting out of school. Whether it’s continuing on into the Ivy Leagues, or diving deep into the world of Experiential Education, or becoming climate advocates, lawyers, doctors, artists and engineers, OA lets students glimpse ahead into the life and education they want to have. 

Another alum, Margaret Esposito (Semester 10), who attended Sarah Lawrence College, mentioned that “OA has influenced my view of what education can and should be…. To my parents, it was clear that when I went away I got a full academic education but also so, so much more. At OA, we recognized that an ‘alternative’ approach to education doesn’t mean ‘less than’, but instead amplifies what you could be learning.

With each new semester, The Outdoor Academy becomes invested in the education of every student who leaves our campus. To us, the end of four months is the start of a lifetime and we can’t wait to see what every one of our alumni do with theirs.


Sophie Pippin

OA Admissions Counselor & Semester 42 Alum