Part I: Standing Out from the Crowd

Dear College Admissions Counselors,

I wish you the best of luck.

3.7 million students will graduate from high schools in the United States this year.
Of those students, over 300,000 will apply to Ivy League Schools, and less than 5% of those students will get into their dream Ivy school.

Parents and teachers alike want to know: how can my student stand out in a crowd of millions, and what will it take for me to help them?

Well, less than 1,000 students graduate from a semester school program each year.

Semester schools have existed in the United States since the early 80s as an alternative to the traditional boarding school model: instead of going away for years of schooling, students study away for a semester and then return to their high school with new leadership skills and knowledge.

The Outdoor Academy is one of twelve schools in The Semester School Network — a group of peer institutions that share the common goal of building strong student leaders who enjoy being a part of a larger shared community.

At The Outdoor Academy, we teach both the hard skills of outdoor leadership and the soft skills of interpersonal community building and conflict mediation. Our students find their voice and the confidence to use it — so college admissions counselors, please take note.

Our alumni have attended over 146 different universities and liberal arts colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Vassar, Vanderbilt, Tufts, Duke, and Brown. (To see the full list of our alumni colleges, click here.) Their success, no doubt, has roots in their semester at The Outdoor Academy — where students become passionate about learning.

Once enrolled at The Outdoor Academy our students look forward to discussion-based classes that will prepare them for college and graduate school. With a 3:1 student-to-faculty ratio, our dedicated teachers use hands-on experiential learning techniques — our students learn to connect their trigonometry or calculus to forestry and solar energy.  Our hands-on learning approach enables our students to grow in otherwise unimaginable ways as leaders in and out of class. And those classes? They are located throughout our 180 acre wooded campus and beyond on the tops of mountains nearby.

Ultimately, semester school programs have the opportunity to expand students’ sense of place within a community. Instead of learning how to hide in a high school class of hundreds, semester school alumni learn to stand out in an average class size of ten. It is no wonder that our students go on to change the world. Although 10th and 11th graders often self-select to attend our environmental science-grounded school — people who attend The Outdoor Academy leave more aware of their place in the world and become inspired to create change in it.

In conclusion, from one admissions office to another, I wish all of the College Admissions Counselors luck. May you be lucky enough to catch one of our recent graduates in the 2019-2020 application cycle. I know they will enrich your community just as they did ours.

“Standing Out from the Crowd” is the first part of a blog series written by OA Admissions Counselor, Jess Kusher. To contact Jess or learn more about the OA admissions process please email her at or call our office at (828)877-4349.