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NOLS Information for Parents

As the parent of a student about to embark on a NOLS course you probably have a number of questions. We understand—and relate to how challenging it can be to imagine sending your child into the backcountry for 10 days, a semester, or even a school year.

We hope you find this page useful, but if you have any lingering questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to call us at (800) 710-6657.

A Parent's Perspective
Happy memories: Bruce Palmer, NOLS director of admission and marketing, looks at photos from his son Clay's NOLS course on their front porch in Lander, Wyoming.

Our director of Admission and Marketing, Bruce Palmer, is a NOLS parent. He has gone through the process of discussing NOLS as a possibility and watching his son embark on a course in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. He wrote this personal essay about the parent experience of NOLS while his son was on his course.

We have compiled answers to some commonly asked questions here. But the first thing to look for is interest and commitment on the part of your child. NOLS attracts highly motivated students who want to learn to lead and develop wilderness skills.

"I sometimes worry that parents of prospective NOLS students confuse NOLS with some kind of 'punishment camp.' On the contrary, we consider NOLS to be the Ivy League of outdoor programs."
-Sue Lovelace

Risk Management
Our hands on, learn-by-doing approach means that our graduates get the skills they need to be competent, responsible wilderness travelers long after their course is over.
Photo: Tony Jewel
The health and the well being of our students and staff are of the highest priority at NOLS. However, it is important to recognize that there is, and always will be, a certain degree of risk in the very nature of a NOLS course. Our students and staff travel deep into the wilderness on extended expeditions, where they may be hours or even days from advanced medical care. We feel that the risks are manageable and that no organization is better equipped to manage them than NOLS. Find out more about risk management at NOLS here (pdf).

“This is the best part of the story. Through her Patagonia course, Denali became Wilderness First Responder certified and decided to focus on the emergency medical field. After NOLS, she enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician program, then became a firefighter, got a job on an ambulance, and became a paramedic.”
-Morgan Murri

Selecting A Course
Environmental education comes to life when you’re smack in the middle of it. Wind River Range, Wyoming
Photo: Abe Goodale
Once you and your child are agreed on NOLS as a great fit, it’s time to begin the exciting process of selecting a course. Any one of our courses is going to be an once-in-a-lifetime, highly educational experience.

When you and your son or daughter set out to choose a course, consider the following questions:

What time of year can your son or daughter enroll?

Most of our locations are not open year-round. Identifying the best time of year for your child to take a course will help narrow your choices.

How long can your son or daughter be on a course?

NOLS offers courses ranging from two weeks to a full academic year. In the summer most students will opt for a month-long course while in the fall and spring most students pursue a semester or year-long course as part of a Gap Year or semester away from the college classroom while still earning college credit.

Semesters include a number of sections in various skills (as an example, a semester in Alaska includes backpacking, sea kayaking, glacier mountaineering, and wilderness medicine), while month long courses focus on just one, and in a few instances, two areas of expertise.

In addition to outdoor skills every NOLS course has a strong focus on leadership and environmental ethics.

What skill set is your child particularly interested in?

Though most courses include a range of backcountry skills, we can’t cover everything in every course. Go to to browse courses by skill, such as mountaineering, rock climbing, river skills, sea kayaking, sailing, rafting, horsepacking, skiing/snowboarding, backpacking, and wilderness medicine.

What part of the world would your child like to explore?

NOLS operates in some of the most incredible locations on Earth. See which of these piques your child’s interest, and go from there! Alaska, Australia, East Africa, India (Himalaya), Baja Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia (Chile), Rocky Mountains, Scandinavia, Wind River Range (Wyoming), Southwest, Teton Valley, Yukon.

How old is your son or daughter?

Most of our courses have some sort of age restriction that may dictate which courses your child chooses from (though we don’t have any maximum age, if you’re interested in taking a course, yourself!). Our youngest students are 14 years old. We offer courses just for students 14-15 (Adventure courses), just for students 16-17, 16 and older, 17 and older, 18 and older, and 23 and older.

Patagonia Mountaineering
Patagonia Mountaineering- Instructor Andy Tyson teaches a class on glaciology.
Photo: Traverse Zink


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