The idea of venturing away from home after high school is daunting. The idea of venturing before that? Maybe a little terrifying. Yet that’s the idea behind semester schools.
It’s a basic concept: Go to school for one semester. The catch is that the school is outside of your world and probably outside of your comfort zone. Semester schools offer specialized programs that allow high school students — typically during your junior year — to study away from home, getting real-world experiences along the way. You return with a semester’s worth of high school credit and a wealth of brand-new knowledge.
What does a semester school offer?
Just imagine: you could study agriculture and survival skills on a farm at The Mountain School in Vermont. Or learn about coral reefs, sustainability, and marine biology in the Bahamas at The Island School. You could even move to New York City and study literature or history inspired by urban environments at CITYterm . Other programs aren't about living and learning in a specific location, but instead focus on surrounding yourselves with like-minded students with similar interests, like semester schools for the visual arts. There are semester schools abroad and all over the United States.
Semester schools encourage leadership, community building, and confidence, especially in the immersive experience of unfamiliar environments. There are new struggles, like living away from home and learning to take initiative. Semester schools vary in curriculum, with many schools offering coursework outside of the program’s specialization so that students can keep up with those subjects while away from their high school. Some schools offer AP coursework, college counselors, and SAT preparation opportunities.
The semester school experience
On an average day at The Mountain School, you could start your morning by helping out on the farm, followed by an English class where you might read Robert Frost outdoors. Your science coursework might be a short hike to your research site to collect soil samples for an ongoing project. At The Oxbow School, you’d split your time between the art studios and academic spaces, leading up to a final project on a topic of your choosing that integrates multiple disciplines. The School for Ethics and Global Leadership focuses on teaching students about the ambiguities of ethics in business, law, medicine, politics, and international relations while living in Washington, D.C. . Past guest speakers include senators, U.S. representatives, ambassadors, and CEOs. Every day at a semester school introduces new and interesting ideas to challenge your idea of education.
There is a difference between imagining things and feeling them; semester schools aim to prove that, building a bridge between knowledge and experience.
It’s easy to come up with examples of all of the reasons real-world application is an educational benefit, but it is hard to express just how effective it can be. Your school day might have set times for classwork or trips, but so much of your time will also be spent interacting on an almost inactive learning. It could be interactive with your peers, just listening to their stories or dealing with dorm-style living. The value of a place-based learning can be found in the little things that enhance the day-to-day and contribute to a holistic education experience.
Semester schools will give you that real-world practice. Each day is new and likely difficult, but definitely interesting. Semester school programs are for dedicated students that want to direct or inspire their inner drive. If you are willing to put in the effort, you can have an education that you would have never imagined.