Adventure Education Degree Programs

Adventure education programs are an exciting combination of outdoor skill-building, leadership, and education studies. This article provides information about these programs, as well as potential career options in this field.

Overview of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Adventure Education

Degree programs in adventure education blend theoretical knowledge in environmental science and education with practical and technical know-how in outdoor skills. These programs are designed to prepare students for leadership positions teaching or guiding people in an outdoor setting. This degree path might also be the best for you if you are interested in therapeutic recreation or any number of outdoor business opportunities. If you love adventure activities like hiking, rafting or rock climbing, and want to learn how to use these activities as a tool for instruction, keep reading to find out about the admission requirements, typical coursework and career options for a degree in adventure education.

Admission Requirements for Adventure Education Programs

Bachelor's degree programs require students to have completed a high school degree or GED program. Otherwise, adventure education programs often follow the common application procedure of the college or university, requiring motivational essays, standardized test scores and letters of recommendation. However, one unique aspect of these programs is their experiential and heavily hands-on nature. You should therefore be sure you can demonstrate an interest in outdoor activities and outdoor learning when applying. Experience with an adventure activity such as skiing or rock climbing will be helpful, even if it's just a hobby.

Adventure Education Coursework

You can expect to take classroom-based environmental science and education courses, in addition to plenty of practical coursework based outdoors. A few of the courses typical to adventure education programs include:

Environmental Studies

This course provides the scientific knowledge base for a career in outdoor education. It covers land and resource use, ecology, the impact humans have on the natural environment and how that impact can be minimized by responsible practices. Some adventure education programs allow you to concentrate in environmental studies by taking a number of progressively advanced courses in this field. Topics you might delve into include global climate change, natural history, and the geography of different environments like marine areas, canyons, and mountains.

Outdoor Leadership

Every career in adventure education requires leadership skills. Whether you're guiding clients up mountains, teaching at-risk groups about nature or running a course in wilderness survival, you will need to be comfortable in a leadership role. This course teaches group management strategies, assessing risk, trip planning and logistics, and group behavior, all in the context of outdoor learning.

Activity-Based Techniques

Adventure education involves being familiar with the techniques of multiple outdoor activities. Depending where the program is based, these may include fishing, kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking or any number of others. You can expect a large component of any adventure education program to be learning and honing skills in these areas through progressively advanced practical instruction.

Wilderness Survival

To lead a safe and successful outdoor trip, you need to be trained in orienteering and map reading, how to use different types of equipment, and how to survive in all weather conditions. Winter and desert backcountry excursions, for example, each have unique safety and comfort considerations, which may be detailed in this course. Another component of this course is first aid, which teaches you how to address medical concerns using the limited resources available in a wilderness setting.

Outdoor Education Theory and Practice

This course teaches pedagogy in an outdoor environment. The coursework covers how to develop lesson plans, manage group risk and behavior, deliver instruction, and assess students. You can expect to learn various education theories and techniques, and then put them to practice by planning and leading your own group lessons or activities.

How to Choose an Adventure Education Program

The location of an adventure education program is important to consider because of the variety of landscapes and climates throughout the US. If you would like to lead winter alpine expeditions, you should enroll at a college or university located in the mountains, not the desert. You will also develop a specific knowledge and connection to the outdoor environment in which you study, so be sure to research each program's surroundings. Another factor to consider when choosing a program is how much experiential learning is offered. All adventure education programs will include practical training, but some may provide more extensive opportunities for 'real-life' training through backpacking trips, internships, and teaching practice through partner organizations.

Career Options With an Adventure Education Degree

With a bachelor's degree in adventure education, you could become a recreation instructor, working with children or adults. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median salary of $23,870 for these professionals in 2016, and job growth of 10% between 2014 and 2024. Other potential career options include:


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