How NOLS Can Get You into College

By NOLS Blog

Sep 17, 2015


Learn Leadership and Teamwork at NOLS How have the challenges you overcame helped you develop? Photo by David Anderson


By Cristina Edwards, NOLS Rocky Mountain Fellow Summer 2015

NOLS courses challenge you in ways that very few other experiences can. Many of these skills will serve you well as you move on to new stages of life, including your college education. You may not be using a fry-bake in your college dorm (although that would be pretty fun to see), but you will definitely use the skills you developed with your tentmates to keep the peace with new roommates.

On your course, you undoubtedly had many opportunities to put the “L” in NOLS, whether it was being Leader of the Day, taking off on your independent student expedition, or making it through a particularly trying day with a smile on your face. You’ve proven your problem-solving ability in high-stakes situations, and you’ve set yourself apart by meeting challenges with competence.

It’s hard to summarize everything you learned on your course, especially within the short span of a college essay, so here are some quick tips for writing about your NOLS experience on your applications:


Teamwork and Leadership at NOLS Teamwork and leadership are skills that matter both in the backcountry and the frontcountry. Photo by Brad Christensen.


1. Focus on transference

College may seem pretty different from a horse packing expedition or 30 days of backpacking, but there are plenty of things you learned that will transfer to the frontcountry. Think about the skills from your course that you can bring to college. Tolerance for adversity, mental fortitude, and decision-making are just a few!

2. Highlight social successes

NOLS courses are extremely intense social experiences. You just spent a whole lot of time with the same people, day in, day out, and everyone lived to tell the tale. You probably even made some friends out of it. What skills are you taking away from that challenge? Collaboration, teamwork, expedition behavior, and the four leadership roles are applicable in settings from the backcountry to the blackboard.

3. Reflect on growth

At NOLS, we’re lucky enough to start off with things to learn. No one comes to a NOLS course knowing everything. Instructors and students alike take away new lessons from each day spent in the backcountry. Take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate that growth. It shows admissions officers that you have the self-awareness and perspective to know you are still a work in progress and that you have dreams for your future.

Whether you’re learning your way around your new college town, or trying to write the proof for a tricky calculus problem, the skills you developed in the backcountry will allow you to tackle the upcoming challenges of college life and come up with innovative solutions for them.


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