Experiential education is not a new concept, but it has gained traction in recent years for its ability to help students better understand themselves and how they relate to their communities. Among the various options for a student after high school, experiential-based colleges and universities are a path worth exploring.

At an experiential-based school, you have the opportunity through classes and other programs to actively engage in your learning and challenge your personal growth. From adventure education programs to experiential learning campuses, you’ll find plenty of ways to gain a unique education that will change both your outlook and your life.

Read more: 5 Things to Look for in an Adventure Education Program

Environment

In experiential learning programs, the environment is vitally important to the overall value. However, this is not to say that you need to be in a rural or wilderness-like setting to gain from the experience. In fact, experiential learning can occur in a variety of settings both in and out of the classroom.

At Prescott College, for example, all degrees are completely personalized and include experiential components. You could travel as far as Kenya or the Sea of Cortez or as close as a local Arizona ranch or newspaper office.

Then you have Brevard College, with its Wilderness Leadership & Experiential Education (WLEE) program. This program is highly wilderness-based, and it features everything from a 21-day wilderness expedition to very small (think 10 students) classrooms that focus on how to be an outdoor leader. You’ll spend countless hours gaining hands-on experience in places such as Pisgah National Forest and Gorges State Park.

Curriculum

As much as you’d love the opportunity to remain outdoors in nearly any type of weather, you’ll need to focus on learning the theory as well. Yet, theoretical learning at an experiential-based school is not all that different from outdoor learning: Classroom theory is designed for student discussion and student involvement, not instructor-run lectures that fail to engage the mind or fuel the heart. With access to a strong curriculum, internships, field trips, independent study and student-led discussions, you’ll learn what it takes to be a considerate, engaged and socially conscious member of the community.

experiential learning curriculumThe curriculum of an experiential-based school is highly adaptable and uniquely individual, which makes no two programs identical. Sometimes, the curriculum for two students in the same general field, and at the same institution, might have more differences than similarities.

To understand curriculum specifics, let’s take a look at Sterling College. Here, you can work toward any number of environmental majors, such as Sustainable Food Systems, Environmental Humanities or Place-Based Ecology. An ecology education might include courses like Field Ornithology, Nature Writing and Marine Natural History of the North Atlantic. Or, you might choose the “Design Your Own Major” option, where you combine courses from all majors and submit your “Self-Designed Major Proposal.”

Internships are integral to the experience, as is the included Global Studies Field program that lets you study abroad. Experiential learning is part and parcel of a Sterling College education, and it shows up in all courses and in all aspects of the campus and the community.

Skills Taught

In an experiential-based college or university, you will gain skills in both the classroom and out-of-classroom settings. The common classroom approach is lecture or instructor-led discussion, essentially a strict transfer of information. With the experiential approach the student is an active participant posing questions, experimenting, assuming responsibility, solving problems and constructing meaning.

Let’s say you’re taking a woodworking course for your fine arts major. The traditional approach would have you design and construct a chair after watching the instructor do so. While you do engage in hands-on learning, you won’t necessarily learn all there is to learn. With experiential learning, you’re given the ability to experiment and solve problems. You’ll think about what it is you’re doing, and you’ll construct deeper meaning by asking questions like, “What works? What doesn’t? What do I want to achieve?” By sitting down to develop new approaches and find the true value, you’re taking your woodworking skills to a higher level.

When you engage in experiential learning, you retain more skills and can readily take those skills into the workforce. Now you just need to get out there and prove that you have what it takes to succeed.

Faculty

Experiential education can never be fully effective without the guidance of exceptional educators. You’ll want to look for instructors who demonstrate a commitment to effective experiential education, such as an educational degree or other professional training. It could even be participation in professional organizations, such as the Association for Experiential Education or the National Society of Experiential Education. While the student will be an active learner, it is the educator who is responsible for setting the stage for an exceptional educational experience.

Location

Ever heard the saying: “location, location, location”? Well, sometimes, the ideal location could be right in your own backyard. You’ll find plenty of experiential education opportunities within your own state, or even your current city, which will let you gain the theoretical and hands-on knowledge you seek without traveling far. If you’re itching for a change, however, you’ll certainly find a plethora of programs at colleges and universities nationwide. The location you choose is just as crucial as the environment, and together, they work to give you a one-of-a-kind experiential education.

Experiential learning is becoming increasingly present in the higher education experience. Where once only a select few decided to venture, now students across a variety of majors and fields of study are stepping out and experiencing education.

Come explore our programs page to learn more!