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Outdoor Education Masters Degree
Graduate Applicant Advice

James Neill
Last updated:
23 Dec 2003

Advice for Intending Graduate Students in Outdoor Education

In my experience, there are 7 main types of interests that characterize intending graduate students in outdoor education:

1. Career Changer / Transformer - People who fit into this category are often professionals in another or related field who decide that they want to switch career directions into group leadership and administrative / managerial type work in programs which utilize the outdoors as a medium.  Unfortunately, the Masters degree programs available do not tend to cater particularly well to this kind of person, though some are clearly better than others (e.g., don't even think of getting into the University of New Hampshire program without a minimum of two years full-time work in outdoor education type positions).  If you can't find a good outdoor education Masters program, consider doing a Masters in a related field in which you already have expertise, e.g., education, and using opportunities such as theses work and class assignments to focus your study on outdoor education.  Note that often people in this category need to acquire some basic outdoor leadership skills.  Since these aren't often taught at Masters level (which are more academic), it may be necessary to spend a year or so getting some outdoor skill and leadership courses under your belt, working a summer or two for outdoor education organizations, then applying to an outdoor education graduate program.

2. Experienced (or burnt out) outdoor educators who want a future in outdoor education, but want to be better equipped to advance professionally - These are the most common candidates.  If you've done at least a couple of years in the field and have a bachelor's degree in almost anything, you should be well-equipped to gain from a Masters degree program in outdoor education.

3. Recent graduates in outdoor education & related degree programs - If you're just finishing an undergraduate degree and looking to go straight into a Masters program in outdoor, I'd say why?  Unless you're a unusual case, most would reccommend that you get at least a few seasons, if not many more, under your belt in a variety of roles with outdoor education programs.

4. People who have a strong affinity for nature and working/being in natural environments - This group of potential applicants are often also considering and looking at Masters programs in Environmental Education, but these are even harder to find than outdoor education Masters programs.  When you contact the various universities, ask about the amount of content in the program on your areas of interest, e.g., environment.  It varies widely - e.g., its a big focus at La Trobe University in Australia, but is only small focus at University of New Hampshire.

5. People who are interested in becoming adventure therapists - This group of potential applicants are often also considering and looking at Masters programs in Clinical Psychology or Social Work.  Ideally, these people would like to do a Masters program in which they got trained and registered as psychologist, but be able to study and focus on the use of the adventure medium and wilderness settings as a therapeutic modality.  Since few, if any such programs, exist (Naropa University is the only possibility I know of), this group of people finds themselves tossing up between the value of doing a mainstream clinical course and getting registration or following their passion and interest which is the adventure aspect.  My advice, if it is a line ball decision, is to go conservative and get the registration.  This provides you with a strong professional pathway and you will have greater capacity to strengthen the field of adventure therapy.  However, be realistic and honest - and go for an outdoor education program is that is truly in your heart.

6. Teachers interested in specializing in outdoor education - As long as you have some reasonable background in running outdoor education programs with students and some classroom teaching experience, teachers are generally well placed to enter and succeed in graduate outdoor education programs.  You may benefit from outdoor education programs (such as at UNH) which have strong ties with, or sit within, faculties of education).

7. International applicants - People in this group are often experienced outdoor educators in their own country, if not leaders in outdoor education in their country, who are looking to further their professional development by getting an overseas post-graduate degree, a cross-cultural experience, and the stimulation of perspectives on outdoor education from another country.  Be clear about what kind of program you want and who you want to study with - and take your pick.  International applicants should spend extra time researching the program due to the cross-cultural issues.  Feel free to contact the university and ask questions.  If you don't get good answers, then this is not a good sign about the level of support you can support from the institution and the teachers there.