Today, more than ever, college students have incredible options for field-based education. The benefits of experiential learning are becoming more widely recognized and sought after as a critical component of a liberal arts education. The programs available to college students these days offer a wide variety of experiences, emphases, and opportunities. WRFI is a unique program with the potential to provide a life changing experience. Please take a moment to review the following ways in which WRFI is different from other programs to get a better sense of whether WRFI is the right program for you!
There are no “office hours” to contend with on a WRFI course! In order to facilitate personalized and in-depth learning, a high level of academic rigor, and to manage risk in backcountry settings, WRFI offers a low student to instructor ratio. There is at least one instructor for every five to six students, and never more than twelve students on a course. The relationships students and instructors build on field courses are unique; not only are they enriching while you’re on your course, but after your course ends as well. When it comes time to apply for your dream job or your preferred graduate program, you’ll need exemplary letters of recommendation. Due to the nature of field courses, your instructors can provide observations to potential employers and academic advisors about not only your scholastic strengths and potential, but also your character, communication and interpersonal skills, as well as how you function as a group member. Despite your professor’s best efforts on campus, it’s hard to establish the same level of rapport in classrooms and during office hours than it is on a field course.
The fact that WRFI is your most affordable option for a high-quality field program is not a coincidence! WRFI is a nonprofit organization and we believe strongly that experiential, field-based education should be accessible to as many students who are interested in a field course as possible. Through personalized financial counseling, a variety of scholarships, assistance with the process of transferring Federal Financial Aid, and tuition discounts, WRFI works hard to provide affordable field courses. Please contact our office for a personalized financial analysis to compare the cost of a WRFI course with what you currently pay at your home institution. Many students are surprised to learn that WRFI is comparable or even less than what they’re currently paying at their school!
The best preparation for a WRFI course is a sense of adventure, an open mind, and a keen sense of curiosity. WRFI does not require academic pre-requisites for our courses. Due to our low student to instructor ratio, we are able to offer a personalized academic experience that meets each student where they’re at when they begin their course. Similarly, you do not need prior backcountry experience to come on a WRFI course! Whether you grew up backpacking or have never been camping, WRFI has a comprehensive orientation program and a critical part your education is honing your self-sufficiency in a backcountry setting.
Tuition for a WRFI course covers all of the dinners you’ll eat while you’re on course as well as a significant amount of the gear and equipment required for the field. Compared with “Room and Board” on campus, on a WRFI course, your “Room” is a tent that we provide and your “Board” will be cooked over a camp stove every night! Upon acceptance, students will receive an equipment list detailing the gear that WRFI provides (tents, cooking equipment, first aid kits, maps, etc.) as well as advice for packing breakfasts and lunches. Students will need to bring personal gear with them: backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothing, etc. Please contact the WRFI office for a detailed list of equipment and gear that we provide as well as more information about food planning.
Between sections of a WRFI course that are not taking place in a backcountry setting, WRFI groups visit rural communities adjacent to the wildlands they travel through. Meetings with guest speakers take place at a variety of interesting and relevant sites and represent a critical component of the WRFI experience. WRFI’s guest speakers are stakeholders, tribal members, experts in their fields, and many of them have been meeting with WRFI groups for years (decades in some cases!). They bring diverse voices and perspectives to WRFI’s curriculum and course content as well as profound and lasting impressions to our students. Through meetings with guest speakers, students are empowered with an empirical sense of how to direct their passions, contribute to their communities, and take advantage of their education; they understand and address their pre-conceived notions and broaden their perspectives. The people we meet with serve as primary sources for the most up-to-date information and expertise, lending authenticity to WRFI’s academic content. Our time spent with the people who live, work, and care about the places we visit bring WRFI’s curriculum to life and take important academic topics out of the realm of abstraction and ground them in tangible examples. Student often report that meetings with guest speakers were the most enriching element of their WRFI experience!
Students come to WRFI from majors across campus and need a variety of credits! Students can earn anywhere from 3 to 15 semester credits, or- if you’re at a quarter system school- 4.5 to 22.5 quarter system credits. Currently, WRFI offers courses in Environmental Studies, Natural Resource and Science Management, Geography, and Philosophy. Our courses attract students studying Anthropology, Geosciences, Conservation Biology, Restoration Ecology, Native American Studies, Engineering, English, Education, and Political Science, just to name a few. We are happy to help you work with your advisors and faculty to figure out how to transfer credits from a WRFI course back to your school and which of our courses is the best fit for you!
WRFI does not operate out of a field station or base camp! On a WRFI course, you will sleep under the stars every night and depending on which course you choose, you will spend anywhere from 50-75% of your time in a backcountry setting; our shortest stints in the backcountry are five days and our longest are twelve. When you’re not in the backcountry, you’ll still be camping in a “front-country” setting at an established campground, a State or National Park, or maybe in the backyard of one of our guest speakers.
With the exception of a few weeks spent in the Canadian Rockies, all WRFI courses are taught in the United States. We feel strongly that there is a lot to learn about our backyards! The United States is comprised of vastly diverse landscapes and cultures. WRFI courses take place in the American West; a region as unique and interesting as any place in the world. Our students express a keen interest in developing a sense of place and understanding the communities and societies they inhabit. In addition, as American citizens, the logistics and expense associated with domestic travel is typically much less arduous than traveling abroad.