Why Would Adventurers Want To Consider College?


Ally Petrilla rides her 11-speed Trek Emonda bike into and around a hairpin turn in the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range in Mallorca, Spain, muddy water spraying her legs. Ancient farm remnants are speckled throughout the craggy mountains on one side, and the crystalline blue sea flanks her on the other.

As Petrilla navigates the route along the northern coast of the island, the group she is leading enjoys gorgeous old villages, white sand beaches, and towering mountains. Petrilla chose a career as a luxury bicycle tour guide for Trek Adventures because she is a seeker and an outdoors enthusiast, but the route that led her to Mallorca and other exotic locales, was paved by two college degrees.

But why would a free-spirited adventurer want to spend precious life sitting in a classroom or obligated to a university program? Petrilla, 29, says both her bachelors and a master’s degrees in public health pushed her into new territories and actually prepared her for her dream job. Employers are not looking for only one particular skill set, she says, especially in outdoor adventure fields.

“You have to know how to pitch a tent and do first aid, sure, but you also have to know how to interact with people and be knowledgeable in a wide array of topics. You have to be able to think on your toes and be resourceful,” she adds. “College and grad school gave me a wealth of knowledge and experience that is really valuable in my field, and it ultimately made me look better on paper to those folks in charge of picking candidates for the most awesome job in the world.

“As a bicycle guide, I am the main host of these vacations on the ground and I take care of everything from hotels, meals, and activities to bike maintenance, safety, and route planning. My days are long but they are always fun and my job keeps me on my toes, as no group of guests and no week of riding is ever the same!”

Rosanna Neophytou, a marketing official for Tucan Travel, a company that offers customers more than 400 adventure tour options around the globe, says the Tucan is constantly searching for great adventure tour leaders in Central and South America, Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia, and overland truck drivers in places like South America and Africa. Neophytou notes that a college degree can definitely be very helpful in landing a job with an enterprise like Tucan Travel, which has offices based in London, Sydney, Cuzco and Bangkok.

“Our main requirements that we look for are travel experience and a passion for adventure travel,” she says. “A degree isn’t strictly necessary but one in travel and tourism would help at a minimum. Excellent verbal and written communication is important too, for roles across the board.”

Indeed, in addition to confidence and excellent communication skills, Tucan asks that potential adventure tour guides be knowledgeable of a country’s history, culture, politics and economy. Tucan also calls for good management and client liason skills, all of which can be bolstered through a college education.

When Petrilla first got to college, she wanted to practice medicine like her parents. Her interest peaked and found direction after she attended a lecture from a public health professor who was helping eradicate the guinea worm in Africa. That lecture spawned a path into public health, and during her college career she learned two foreign languages and journeyed the world educating people about diseases.

“Traveling and working abroad, in turn, taught me to love and appreciate being on the road and learning how to be comfortable in new places,” she says. “When I finally decided I wanted to continue traveling and find a way to marry my active outdoor lifestyle to that goal, I found that I had a huge advantage in the ‘life experience’ realm from all my work experience from college and grad school.”

A pioneering spirit, outdoor acumen and need for adrenaline that steers a person to be a bungee jump instructor in Ireland, a canyoneering leader in the Moab desert, or a Nile River guide, may be enough motivation to make some people choose to bypass college, but there are a myriad reasons why a college education may be an excellent option for even the best outdoor explorers.

Here are some other points to consider if you are a potential career adventurer who is considering college. A college education can:

— Teach you multiple languages that will open international doors and exotic experiences.

— Provide study abroad and networking opportunities.

— Help you learn about other cultures, which will make employment easier to find and travel experiences richer.

— Provide expertise in biology, ecology, physiology and nutrition, which is not only valuable but sometimes vital in a wide range of adventuresome and challenging situations.

— Help you find a good-paying or flexible job that will help support and supplement the adventure lifestyle.

An adventurer may also want a degree for career transitions later in life, if an injury forces a lifestyle change, or if that job running zip lines in Costa Rica just doesn’t pan out.

“It is a good feeling to know that if or when I may decide to return to a more traditional career, I have a couple nice degrees in my back pocket to fall back on,” Petrilla says. “As I moved away from public health and tried to figure out what else to do to pay the bills, I fell back on some other college studies in exercise and physiology and earned a certification from the American College of Sports Medicine to work as a personal trainer and cycling coach.” For about 10 years, training and coaching have been a steady source of income for her no matter what she was pursuing.

“My path to this career was super windy!” Petrilla explains. “I never thought I would be a bicycle guide in a million years. But the interests I got to explore in college let me hone in on what I really wanted personally and I know I would not be who I am today without the knowledge, friendships, connections, and experiences I had in college and grad school.”

There are colleges that are stronger options in preparing students for an adventure-related career and there also colleges that seem so unique the schools are adventures in themselves. Many higher learning institutions offer great outdoor education opportunities through biodiversity, outdoor clubs, local natural resources, adventure sports, and, of course, prime weather — be it sunny for surfers or wintry for skiers.

Here are 11 of the top colleges for outdoor adventurers:

College of the Atlantic is a rare learning institution less than five minutes from Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. Students design their own curriculum based on a human ecology major, which entails the many forms of interaction between humans and the environment. Students can also take a whitewater rafting class or study at one of the colleges two research stations, one a 12-acre site of Great Duck Island, the other a treeless island known as Mount Desert Rock. But if College of the Atlantic sounds appealing apply quickly, because the school only allows 350 students, which administrators say enhances the feeling of community.

Evergreen College in Olympia, Wash., has a cornucopia of adventure opportunities with its beautiful beach area and more than 1,000 acres of forest. Evergreen Beach, which waits a short distance from campus, features more than 3,000 feet of well-preserved coastline on the Puget Sound, where bioluminescent creatures light up the water at night. Suggested activities include kayaking and seal watching. At Evergreen students also design their own curriculum from more than 60 program options, some of which include marine science, ecology and zoology — three areas rife with adventure jobs.

UCLA in sunny Southern California is an outdoor adventure hotspot with an array of natural resources and abundant experiential-learning opportunities. The Outdoor Adventures Unit of UCLA Recreation also offers outdoor equipment rentals, wilderness trips, a rock climbing wall, an aquatic center, and many other opportunities, including an outdoors challenge course. Students can also go surfing at Venice Beach through the Marina Aquatics center. In addition, the university boasts an intensive wilderness first responder course and outdoor leadership training.

The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., has more than 13,000 almost entirely wooded acres on top of the Cumberland Plateau about three hours southeast of Nashville and an hour northeast of Chattanooga, an area that is home to some of the best rock climbing and caving in the country. More than 50 miles of hiking trails adorn the campus, colloquially known as the Domain. With places like Shakerag Hollow, Bridal Veil Falls, and Piney Point, the hiking trails are filled with scenic bluff views, and a plethora of streams and lakes.  In addition, the private liberal arts school has an active outdoors program.

Middlebury College in Vermont lies between the splendid Green Mountains and Adironback Park in Upstate New York, which boasts more than 6 million wild acres full of waterfalls, mountains, and activities like whitewater rafting, snowmobiling and hiking. Middlebury also exposes its students to a multitude of outdoor possibilities and growth  with opportunities for backcountry skiing, university sponsored day-long outdoor excursions and travel expeditions, and rock-climbing and wilderness first responder programs. The liberal arts college also has a stellar reputation in academics and includes such famous alumni as former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is a relatively small school of about 6,500 students at the main campus, where an adventurer can study ocean sciences, natural resources, or a number of other fields. Fairbanks, on the Chena River, is also near the White Mountains and Yukon  and Tanana rivers. Under a canopy of the spectacular Northern Lights from late fall to early spring, Fairbanks offers skiing, mountain biking, and water sports. Anchorage is also a relatively short four-hour drive to Denali National Park, which boasts six million acres of pristine and daunting wilderness and the opportunity to challenge the tallest peak in North America, Denali, which is more than 20,000-feet high.

The University of Colorado Boulder has a stellar outdoor program that focuses on wilderness skills and environmental awareness. Take wilderness medicine courses or delve into an avalanche course and learn about topics snow metamorphism, terrain analysis, and avalanche safety and rescue. While Boulder can be a little new-agey for some, the city is in a gorgeous setting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with hundreds of miles of trails and plenty of rock climbing and bouldering challenges, including those at Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks.

The University of Arizona in Tuscon touts itself as a national leader in sustainable design and planning for arid regions. As students learn about environmental stewardship there in the desert environment, they can also go canoeing in the Colorado River, climb the 9,159 feet at Mt. Lemmon, ride bikes between cacti, or join a road trip to surf at San Onofre Beach in California with the university’s Outdoor Adventures Program. The Outdoors Adventures Program, a jewel at the university, explores the southwest, delving into canyons, rivers and the desert in search of thrills, while teaching valuable skills and promoting environmental responsibility.

The University of Wyoming sits in ruggedly beautiful Laramie and features impressive degree programs and plenty of outdoor challenges. The Outdoor Experience programs at the university are great opportunities for growth as students whitewater raft, backpack in the Medicine Bow Mountain Range, and rock climb at Vedauwoo with its 1.4 billion year old Sherman granite outcroppings. Climbers hail Vedauwoo, which sits between Laramie and Cheyenne, as home to some of North America’s greatest technical climbing opportunities.

The University of Utah is more than a great academic institution and one of the top green energy universities in the country. Students there can also sharpen their rock climbing skills for those future career adventures in South America and beyond. Participate in a bouldering competion or learn to tune and hot wax skis and snowboards through the university’s Recreation Services. Salt Lake City, where the university is located, also offers plenty of chances to use those skis and snowboards, like the Alta Ski Area, which offers backcountry ski adventures. Sure there’s also plenty of backcountry snowshoeing or snowmobiling in the area, but the summer is chocked full of fun with rock climbing, hiking, off-roading, and canoeing in the city bordered by the beautiful Wasatch Mountain Range.

The University of Hawaii System has a bounty of surrounding natural beauty and places for thrilling outdoor challenges, especially hiking and water adventures. The main campus is in Honolulu’s Mānoa valley, which is rich in biodiversity and home to gorgeous hikes, like the more than two hour trek to the 150-foot Mānoa Falls. The University of Hawaii System boasts 10 campuses that are certain to put students within minutes of life-giving and thrilling activities like exploring volcanoes, sailing, snorkeling, surfing and hang gliding.