Break Out

Experience what you study

Think you’ve got spring fever? Try focusing when your classroom is the Florida everglades, the mountains of Spain, or the slopes of Singapore. Increasingly, colleges are making learning concrete by plunging students into The Great Outdoors. Instead of classrooms and lecture halls, think wildlife refuges, zoos, the rainforest, or the deep sea. It’s called Adventure Education and, just like it sounds, the overall goal is to make learning an active, adventurous experience rather than a passive process. Unlike study abroad programs, adventure or experiential education programs use the environment and surrounding community to directly immerse students in their course of study. You have to admit, spending a semester surfing the beaches of Costa Rica is a much cooler way to learn Spanish than filling in a workbook.

The idea is to make learning literally come to life as students breathe, eat, work, play, taste, and experience their studies in practice. Students not only get firsthand knowledge of how the world works, but also gain invaluable community connections and real-world career-building skills for, gasp, life after college. Why just read about Native American culture when you can actually go to a reservation and attend a traditional pow-wow—that’s exactly what Native American Studies majors at the Northland College (Ashton, Wisconsin) do. The depth and rigor of adventure ed activities is wholly dependent on school and curricula. Programs range from classroom-based learning with a spattering of short field trips to semester-long courses based entirely in the woods. How adventurous you get is up to you. and will give you an in-depth look at what exactly adventure ed entails, and each provides a list of college outdoor education programs, summer projects, and ongoing experiential ventures. For information on what programs are available in your area, contact your school’s admissions department and ask about field opportunities.


This article was written by Christina Couch

Christina Couch is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia, and Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of Virginia Colleges 101: The Ultimate Guide for Students of All Ages (Palari Publishing, 2008). Her byline can also be found on,, and, and in Wired Magazine.

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