Metamorphosis Gap Semester

The Metamorphosis Gap Semester

Viroqua, Wisconsin — August 22 – December 13, 2024

The Metamorphosis Gap Semester is a full time fall program incorporating intellectual work, fine arts and traditional crafts, homesteading skills, participatory self-governance, wilderness expeditions, and engaged community life.  Each fall we explore a unique set of ideas and texts while engaging in activities set by the rhythms of natural and agricultural year and by the Five Pillars of the Thoreau College Curriculum. Together with an intimate cohort of up to 14 fellow students, Gap Semester participants embark on an immersive four-month long journey of discovery and growth through the changing seasons.  

Butterfly Metamorphosis


The overarching themes of the semester are questions of place, community, meaning, spirituality, and, above all, the relationship between human beings and nature.  In short, these are fundamental questions about how we might live authentically and morally with ourselves, with other people, and with the other creatures with whom we share the Earth. Our exploration of these themes includes discussions of readings drawn from a cross-cultural selection of literature, philosophy, social and ecological science, and sacred texts both ancient and modern.  These discussions are enriched by field trips and conversations and collaborations with members of the local community striving to live examined lives of meaning and purpose.  


Sample Texts from Past Semesters:
    • Henry David Thoreau, Walden
    • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
    • Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
    • Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
    • Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red
    • Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America
    • bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place
    • Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances
    • Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
    • The Popol Vuh 
    • The Book of Genesis
    • The Prose Edda 
All School Meeting

Arts, Crafts, and Homesteading Skills

Our explorations are also informed by practical experiences with homemaking –  fall harvest and food preservation skills, working with wood, clay, wool, and and other natural materials, and participation in service work and seasonal celebrations in the context of our vibrant rural community.  Throughout the semester students learn and practice a variety of practical homesteading skills and folk arts, such as spoon carving, basket making, gardening,, foraging for wild foods, canning, pickling, and fermenting, harvesting fruits and vegetables, and, for those who are interested, butchering chickens, pigs, and deer.  

Sample Arts & Crafts:
    • Wooden spoon carving
    • Basket making
    • Figure Drawing
    • Botanical Drawing
    • Community Singing
    • Theater Arts
    • Pottery
    • Bookbinding
    • Puppet Making
    • Storytelling

Sample Labor Activities:

    • Canning and pickling fall produce
    • Making apple cider and grape juice
    • Cooking, baking, and meal planning
    • Household maintenance and winterization
    • Harvesting grapes, apples, potatoes and vegetables
    • Pasture management and care for sheep, pigs, and chickens
    • Fall garden bed preparation, mulching, and planting
    • Garlic planting
    • Equipment repair and maintenance
    • Sheep, chicken, and deer slaughter and butchering (optional)
Sheep Shearing
Pleine Air
Morel Foraging

Solos and Expeditions

The semester also includes two week-long group expeditions and a sequence of solo experiences. The semester begins in late August with a week-long canoeing expedition on the lower Wisconsin River, a beautiful waterway rich with natural, cultural, and historical significance, including a large number of ancient effigy mounds and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin located near its banks.  In late October, students participate in a weeklong hiking expedition across another part of the local region as autumn begins to turn towards winter.  In addition, students will take part in a series of solo forest experiences ranging from 24 to 48 hours in September, November, and December.

Kickapoo Paddle

Program Schedule

Thoreau College strives to cultivate a harmonious balance of activities that engage head, heart, and hands across all programs and all periods of time.  In practice, this means an integration of open discussions of ideas and perspectives with the arts and hands-on physical activities in all courses.  A typical day at Thoreau College begins with a Morning Circle with students and faculty incorporating singing, movement activities, and announcements.  The rest of the day is devoted to 2- or 3-hr long blocks of academic discussion, arts/crafts workshops, or hands-on labor.  Each weekday includes a shared community using seasonal ingredients and on Fridays there is a community-wide meeting over lunch where important questions of shared governance are discussed and decided upon.  Evenings and weekends are generally unscheduled, although students will have opportunities to participate in elective courses offered through the Driftless Folk School or the Thoreau College Community Seminar or Community Arts offerings.

The semester is punctuated with expeditions and solos and there is a weeklong break for the Thanksgiving holiday in late November.  Through the program, we will mark and celebrate the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars, and the festivals of several different cultures and traditions.

Fall 2024 Schedule

 Program Details


The program will begin with orientation activities on Thursday, August 22 and end on Friday, December 13, 2024.  Students should plan to arrive no later than Wednesday, August 21.  


Private or shared rooms will be available in Thoreau College facilities for up to 14 program participants.  Some participants will live at the Thoreau College campus, which is located on six acres of open land on the edge of Viroqua where we will be tending gardens and doing other activities, while others will be living a short walk away in town at one of our residential houses with up to 5 others.  Weekday lunches will be provided during the program, but participants are responsible for their other meals. Students will have access to full kitchen facilities and some early season food from our farm and garden operations. 




Admission to the Metamorphosis Gap Semester is need-blind, meaning that what a student is able to pay has no bearing on admissions decisions and, once a student is admitted, there is no set tuition for attendance.  Instead, after completing the admission process, our staff will meet with you to determine a financial pledge that is appropriate to your situation, while also supporting the work of the college.   

Some numbers to consider:

  • We estimate that the actual cost per student for us to stage this semester program is about $10,500. 
  • The cost of housing, lunches, and instructional supplies alone is about $2,500 for the semester.
  • With fundraising and other sources of income, we estimate that we will be able to meet our expenses if the average student contributes $8,500 for the semester.

These numbers and policies make the Thoreau College Metamorphosis Gap Semester once of the most financially affordable and flexible gap year programs in the country.

This pledge covers tuition, as well as housing, weekday lunches, local transportation, and instructional supplies and tools.  All books, art supplies, tools, and camping equipment are provided for all students participating in the program.  Some students pay their pledge up front, others make monthly contributions, and still others pledge contributions in coming years.  



At this time, Thoreau College does not confer any credit, diploma, credential, or qualification.  If you are currently enrolled in an accredited college or university, we would be happy to work with your institution to secure independent study, internship, or study abroad credits if that is a possibility.

“No method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on the alert. What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.”