A few days into her weeklong backpacking trip as an incoming freshman, Palmer had such painful blisters from her new hiking boots that she had to leave the group for two nights to recover at a hotel. While Palmer recommends programs such as Princeton's for the opportunities they provide to meet other students, she wishes she had selected Princeton's community service option instead of the hiking trip.
"I should have known that camping wasn't my thing," she says.
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At some schools, outdoor programs aren't voluntary. Wyoming Catholic College has a mandatory, three week "wilderness expedition," and Colby College in Waterville, Maine, runs a required program called COOT—Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips.
Though Colby offers flexible orientation options such as yoga, organic cooking, and painting, Julian Patterson, who graduated from Colby in 2010, says COOT isn't for everyone.
But Patterson says students applying to Colby who aren't excited about the program shouldn't weigh a trip that only lasts a few days nearly as heavily as academics when making their final college decisions.
"COOT is there to help you grow and flourish as a student at Colby. It isn't there to intimidate and alienate you from the rest of the freshman population," he says. "And if you are bright enough to apply to Colby, I would hope you're bright enough to realize this."
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