Gap Semester Curriculum

A Journey of Metamorphosis

The Thoreau College Metamorphosis Gap Semester is an opportunity for young adults to deepen their understanding of themselves, our world, and our times, as well as to challenge themselves across all dimensions of their humanity. As summer transforms into winter, we explore themes of meaning, purpose, place, and community through the Five Pillars of the Thoreau College Curriculum – academics, labor, community, nature, and art. Together with a cohort of up to 14 fellow students, Gap Semester participants embark on an immersive four-month long journey of discovery and growth through the seasons in the context of an intimate and supportive self-governing community of peers and mentors, located in a beautiful and culturally vibrant rural area.  The Semester is intended to serve as an alchemical path of initiation and transformation. Students should expect that their perspectives on many things to be quite different at the end of this adventure.

Five Pillars


As members of an intimate cohort of up to 14 participants living, working, and studying together in Viroqua, Wisconsin for periods of 4-5 months, gap semester students engage in a broad program organized around five curricular pillars:

1. Academics:  Through reading and discussions of key texts and ideas drawn from world literature and philosophy, contemporary thinkers, and ancient wisdom traditions from many cultures, as well as experiential studies of plants, animals, landscapes, and natural phenomena, students explore key questions about the relationships between human beings and the natural world, between the individual and the community, and spirituality and science.  These academic courses are led by Thoreau College core faculty, as well as guest instructors and are dedicated to profound, respectful, and open conversations about truth, beauty, and goodness and about our role as human seekers in a cosmos of other human and non-human beings.

2. Labor: During the course of each week, students learn and practice a wide variety of practical skills related to living a meaningful and self-sufficient life in the context of our small community.  Labor activities include cooking and food preservation, gardening, livestock husbandry, greenhouse work, building maintenance, cleaning, carpentry, service work in the wider community, as well as administrative tasks supporting the life of the college.

3. Community: Thoreau College is not simply an academic institution – it is also a self-governing and mutually supportive multi-generational learning community.  From the beginning of the year, all students participate in weekly governance meeting of the student body and all students serve alongside staff and other community members on a number of governance circles managing all aspects of the organization, including curriculum and program design, fundraising and promotion, recruitment and admissions, development of Thoreau College enterprises, and the daily logistics of food, facilities, transportation, and scheduling.  Thoreau College students are also deeply integrated into many aspects of local cultural life in the town of Viroqua and the surrounding Driftless Region.

4. Art: Throughout the semester, students participate in a wide variety of fine arts workshops such as creative writing, singing, theater, and speech, visual arts, and folk arts such as carving, fiber arts, basketry, and more.  In addition to core arts activities, students have the option of participating in community workshops offered by the Driftless Folk School, our community education branch, in folk arts, homesteading skills, and wilderness skills.

5. Nature: Individual and group immersions in nature are a core part of each semester program and include week-long group wilderness expeditions across the changing seasons, as well as solo experiences ranging from 24 hours to 5 days.  Skills in canoeing, hiking, shelter building, fire building, teamwork, wilderness safety and survival are all cultivated through these profoundly transformative expeditionary learning activities.