When it comes to high school, there are two options. You can do what everyone else is doing, or you can make it your own. For those that choose to take them, there are an infinite number of paths to make this second option possible. Maybe you decide to try out for the lead in the school musical, or start your school’s first kazoo club. 

Or, maybe you decide to spend a semester away.

Spending a semester away from your high school can be a rewarding and challenging experience. It can provide you with an opportunity to gain a new perspective on your education, the world around you, and yourself. It can also give you the chance to explore your interests, develop new skills, and create meaningful connections with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Sounds pretty cool, right?

One way to do this is studying abroad. Studying abroad in high school is an exciting and educational opportunity for you to learn in a different culture and gain valuable life experience. It can be beneficial to explore your interests, build confidence, and challenge yourself. Some programs offer study abroad options all over the world. 

Something many people don’t realize however, is that aside from traditional study abroad opportunities, there are multiple other schools across the US that offer immersive, meaningful ways to expand on your high school experience. These schools are called Semester Schools.

There are nine recognized Semester Schools around the United States that comprise the Semester Schools Network. These schools are semester-long boarding schools for high schoolers. Each one allows credits to transfer right back over to your sending school, and many Semester Schools have specific focuses such as the outdoors or art.

Nestled in Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains is our school, The Outdoor Academy. Founded in 1995, OA was one of the first Semester Schools and a founding member of the SSN. Students at The Outdoor Academy spend roughly a quarter of their semester in the beautiful Pisgah National Forest on backpacking, paddling, and rock climbing trips. 

Now that you know a little bit about both domestic study away options and studying abroad, let’s break down the similarities and differences a little more:

First: both excel in experiential education. While the outdoor aspects of OA are enticing, like studying abroad, we offer a full academic course load of individualized, discussion-based academics. Classes at OA go beyond a typical classroom and often take place on the dock, in the garden, or in our meadow. We believe that the best way to learn is by being fully immersed in the environment you’re living in, whether that’s Beijing or the Blue Ridge Mountains. By making each class a true journey through your environment, these methods of place-based education teach you as much about yourself as they do the content. 

Second, your credits will transfer back home with you. A semester at OA will provide you with the opportunity to gain a new perspective on your education, the world around you, and yourself. Most schools are able to work with students and make attending a semester school like The Outdoor Academy even easier than studying abroad. Your credits will transfer and the schools will always work closely together to ensure your success.

What about the differences? 

As a high schooler, it can be hard to wrap your head around being in another country for an entire semester, not to mention the logistics of it all. If that’s something you’re up for, that’s awesome! If you’re feeling like something closer to home may be more your speed, maybe a semester school like OA could be a good choice. 

Lastly, studying abroad can give you the opportunity to meet countless new people and creates all kinds of new experiences. At OA, we have one tight knit community that you get to be a part of for the whole semester. 

Here at The Outdoor Academy, we believe that taking a semester of high school to do something truly special will be an experience you will never forget, and one that will prepare you for life after high school. The skills, perspectives, and relationships gained during this time is invaluable and will shape your future. 

So, if you’re looking to take that second option and make high school your own, we’re looking for you. We’d love to see you apply for the semester of a lifetime.