Outside University: The Top 25 Colleges for Outside Readers

We know what our readers look for in any kind of experience: adventure, grit, sweat, a worthy struggle, tested endurance, goosebump-inducing views, wide-open skies, maybe some roiling water. So why should college be any different? The correct answer is: It shouldn’t.

University of California, Berkeley.   


We developed a scoring key designed to capture all aspects of an institution's ability to cater to your adrenaline cravings.

We set out to examine which schools are best suited for those of you who aren’t willing to let opportunities for adventure sail on by. For those of you who, to paraphrase Angelou, tend to grab life by the lapel and tell it that you’re with it, kid. For those of you who can only get rebooted with a shock to the system of air so fresh that it cuts to the core of you, and hauls so long that a blister ripping open signifies satisfaction well had.

But this process wasn’t about gut feeling. We needed to be methodical, so we developed a scoring key designed to capture all possible aspects of an institution’s ability to cater to your adrenaline-rush cravings.

We learned a few things First, that California dominates. Once all the numbers shook out, it was clear that the academies of the Golden State (public or private, it didn’t matter) would most deeply satisfy the yearnings of a soul that needs to be outside. As you’ll see, California schools occupy our top four spots, and are peppered heartily throughout the rest of the list, a testament not only to the state’s embarrassment-of-riches geography but also to the college administrators who’ve made it a point to hold a door open into the wilderness.

We also learned that affordability matters. College kids are notoriously cash-strapped, but that should be the last thing to stop someone from getting out there—and even from getting out there well-equipped. Gear, lessons, certifications—these things all cost money in the “real world.” So if administrators can roll those expenses into the cost of tuition instead of charging adventure-seekers extra, so much the better.

And finally, it became obvious that this is something students really want. High school graduates don’t come to college hoping to stay stuck in lecture halls and libraries. They come to absorb ideas, yes, but also to meet likeminded peers and mentors, to be surrounded by as much natural beauty as possible, and to graduate feeling like they milked every possible adventure.

Go to one of these 25 schools, and you can be assured that you’ll have access to of all of that. Whether you take advantage of it once you’re there will be up to you.

01. University of California, Berkeley
02. University of California, Los Angeles
03. Stanford University
04. University of California, San Diego
05. Cornell University
06. University of Arizona
07. Warren Wilson College
08. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
09. University of Vermont
10. University of Georgia
11. University of Wisconsin, Madison
12. University of California, Santa Cruz
13. Bowdoin College
14. California State University, Humboldt
15. University of Wyoming
16. Alaska Pacific University
17. Reed College
18. University of Oregon
19. University of Iowa
20. University of Hawaii, Manoa
21. University of Arkansas
22. Green Mountain College
23. University of Nevada, Reno
24. University of Alaska, Fairbanks
25. University of Idaho

Nicholas McCarvel contributed reporting.

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