NOLS: An alternative experience

“What’s that?” is a common response I get from most people when I mention NOLS as being part of my future. Many are unaware of what NOLS really is, instead they view it and refer to it as a “camp” or a “travel company,” but the few who actually know about NOLS are very supportive of my choice to attend a spring semester in the Rockies.

There is much more to NOLS than what I am able to explain in a two minute answer to a question such as, “Where are you planning on going to school next year?” or “What are you going to do during your gap year?”

What exactly is NOLS? NOLS is the National Outdoor Leadership School, the most prestigious wilderness school in the world. It was founded in 1965 by renowned mountaineer, Paul Petzoldt. Its headquarters are located in Lander, Wyoming. NOLS has attracted thousands of adventurous people of all ages from all over the world, and has shaped them into real leaders and problem solvers.

Among the many well-known people who have attended NOLS are:  TV personality Anderson Cooper, Netflix founder Marc Randolph, author of The Perfect Storm Sebastian Junger, nearly all NASA astronauts, and many CEOs of the top 500 companies. Famous or not, every single one of the 200,000 NOLS alumni have been positively affected by this outdoor leadership experience.

NOLS’ approach to education is different than the traditional college curriculum. Instead of studying the sciences or humanities in a four walled classroom, you learn wilderness techniques, create vital leadership skills, and build upon your knowledge of environmental ethics, while being exposed to more than white walls and wooden desks.

Your classroom is the outdoors. You are exposed to a different form of education, one that teaches through hands-on skills, experiences, and interactions.  This type of learning will come in handy and can be surely applied to real world situations.

NOLS courses are located in six continents; some locations include Patagonia, India, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest. The location and time spent away, which can range from ten days to up to a whole academic year, is entirely your personal choice. Rock-climbing, mountaineering, and white water rafting are only a select few of the classes you are able to take.

Academic credit can also be earned, so attending NOLS doesn’t mean one will be extremely behind academically. Credits are given for subjects such as biology, leadership techniques, environmental studies, and much more.

This isn’t even half of the information given about NOLS, so if I can’t even fit everything I want to express into a 500 word paper, how am I supposed to explain to someone what NOLS is in a brief conversation about my future?

NOLS is such an intriguing, unique, and distinctive alternative to schooling. I don’t know how my experience at NOLS will truly be until I’m there, living it, but what I am sure about is my overwhelming excitement to have such a grand opportunity ahead of me. Experiencing this dream I’ve had for over three years will be unforgettable.

There are so many more options after high school than we realize.  I hope that in the near future more students will recognize that there are more choices than the ones we are educated about: along with four year, community, or private college, the Armed Forces, and the workforce, there is also NOLS. This is why when I’m asked what I am going to do when I graduate high school, I proudly say: I’m going to attend the National Outdoor Leadership School.


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