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Explore Your Passions at a Semester School

Semester schools offer a 4-month long educational experience for high school students away from the traditional school environment. You and a small group of like-minded students live and study together, while exploring a new place. While hiking and outdoor-based semesters schools make up the majority of the options, there are other choices out there. With each school, you take the same course curriculum as at your “sending school” and most schools offer the option to attend during your junior or sophomore year, some offering a summer or gap year option. 

I spent the spring semester of my sophomore year at the Alzar School. In addition to academics, the focus at Alzar is on white water kayaking, rafting and hiking. In January 2023, I flew to Patagonia, Chile with 43 new friends to spend two months living in a “refugio” or four-person cabin in Patagonia, Chile. Chile is home to many rivers and some of the best whitewater for beginners and advanced kayakers. On the weekends in Chile, we would venture into the nearby town of Coyhaique for our groceries and the opportunity to practice our Spanish with people in town. In March, we moved to living in yurts in Cascade, Idaho, where we were able to hike or raft down some of Idaho’s 107,000 miles of rivers. After school, we could practice kayaking tricks on nearby rivers or complete service projects on campus and around town. During the semester, we completed two week-long backpacking trips and two river rafting/kayaking trips. During these trips, students took turns as “leader-of-the day”, planning and leading their peers through navigation and decision making.  

I loved the opportunities to learn outdoors and get out of the traditional school structure. Through leading and problem-solving in the backcountry, I became close with many of my classmates incredibly fast. Many of the people I met at Alzar are some of my closest friends. Like Kent Place, Alzar stresses the importance of being a leader through both appointed and informal peer leadership opportunities. At the end of each expedition and the semester, you give and receive feedback on the leadership experiences with your teachers and peers. 

A semester school is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you a more mature, independent and self-reliant student. If that interests you, consider stepping away from Kent Place for a semester and exploring outside of your comfort zone.

Here are some other popular semester school programs: 

Oxbow School: Located in Napa, California, Oxbow offers semesters for juniors and seniors and a 6-week summer program.The Oxbow school mixes academic classes with an art curriculum and culminates in a final portfolio. While being immersed in art, students also have opportunities to explore the outdoors through hiking and beach days. 

Maine Coast semester at Chewonki: Located in Wiscasset, Maine, Chewonki offers semesters for juniors and seniors. Chewonki stresses that the natural world is their laboratory and students learn about sustainability and conservation. Chewonki students will have opportunities to hike, kayak, and camp on the Maine coast. While on campus, students grow food and care for livestock on the farm.

High Mountain Institute: Located in Leadville, Colorado, HMI offers a semester for juniors and seniors, a 5-week summer term, and a gap year program. HMI focuses on environmental experiences and writing. Students backpack, climb, and explore Colorado while attending writing workshops throughout the semester. 

The Island School: Located in Eleuthera, Bahamas, the Island School offers semesters for sophomores and juniors and a 6-week summer term. Students learn about marine ecology and environmental art along with traditional academic classes. Students also get to contribute to local scientific research projects. Students learn to scuba dive and sea kayak, eventually embarking on kayaking and camping expeditions around the island.

The Mountain School: Located in Vershire, Vermont, the Mountain School offers semesters for juniors. The Mountain School focuses on community living skills as students work on and maintain the hilltop farm campus. Students go on weekly afternoon hikes, and learn to solo camp. In the spring, students have the opportunity to learn to cross country ski and snowshoe.

The Traveling School: Based in Montana, the Traveling School offers all-girl semesters in South America and Southern Africa. The traveling school has no campus, instead students spend nights at various campgrounds. When not in class, students experience local cultures, complete service projects, and go on outdoor adventures.

The School for Ethics and Global Leadership: Located in Johannesburg, DC, and London, SEGL offers semesters for juniors and a summer institute. Alongside a core curriculum, students study ethics and leadership using place-based case studies. Students will have opportunities to interact with experts in government, law, business, and more in whichever city they choose.

The Outdoor Academy: Located in North Carolina, the Outdoor Academy offers semesters for sophomores and juniors. Students at the Outdoor academy will learn traditional crafts, such as knitting, carving, and blacksmithing. Throughout the semester, students will explore backpacking, canoeing, and climbing, building specialized skills for the backcountry.

You can see more information and more programs at 


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