COVID-19 Updates


Letter from the President

“When NOLS was founded, mountains were its heart and soul. But as the school has grown, so has our understanding of that heart and soul and what it can teach us. In addition to mountains, wilderness is also embodied in gravel coastlines reached only by a few hardy paddlers, or winding desert canyons, or sweltering jungles. Leadership doesn’t only mean attaining a summit in good style; it also means forging relationships across cultures and acting decisively in an emergency.” 

- Molly Herber, in A Worthy Expedition: the History of NOLS

To our NOLS community,

Like much of the world, NOLS is reeling from the impact of COVID-19. As the virus spread picked up speed in our operating areas in mid-March, we did the only responsible and safe thing: we cancelled our field and classroom-based programs and pulled all of our students and instructors from various locations around the world.

As a non-profit organization that relies almost exclusively on tuition revenue,  we knew this would have significant financial impact, but the safety and welfare of our students and staff is our highest priority.

Now that mandated closures, travel restrictions and physical distancing policies are in effect for an extended and unknown period, the expected fiscal impact to our organization will be devastating. We have run through every conceivable option, and we are convinced that drastic measures are the only way we can remain viable and maintain the hope of one day starting to offer a NOLS education again.

As a result, the leadership of NOLS and the Board of Trustees made the decision to dramatically reduce our workforce to maintain the long term viability of the school. Unfortunately, this means that we are forced to let go of many of the valued and valuable members of our community. Full-time employees will be laid off, and hundreds of our faculty will not be offered the work they rely upon. Without revenue coming in, we simply cannot support these positions. 

To our employees and friends that are impacted by this decision, and the members of our NOLS community around the world, we are deeply sorry. In each location we operate, NOLS plays a part in the local economy. We know that this will especially impact Lander, Wyoming, as this vibrant western town is home to our world headquarters, our largest expedition location, and our world-class Wilderness Medicine campus in Red Canyon.  We are committed to being as supportive and helpful as possible to the people affected by these reductions during this difficult time. We have established an online support site where staff impacted by layoffs can ask questions and access community resources. We already have staff asking how they might volunteer and help NOLS and the broader community, and we are hoping to develop these connections and share them here as well.   

Our sincere hope is that once this global pandemic has abated, we will once again come together as a school to lead and serve. If you're reading this, you know how relevant a NOLS education is in this dynamic world. Keep our mission alive by leading in your own life, and being a source of inspiration to your community. And check back here soon...we're not finished yet.

Be safe and well,

Terri Watson

Latest Course Updates as of April 8, 2020

NOLS is committed to providing our community with timely updates during this period of uncertainty and change. Please find the most recent course impacts due to COVID-19 here:

  • Expedition courses, Custom Education field courses, and Alumni trips are cancelled through June 30.
  • Wilderness Medicine, Risk Services, and Custom Education classroom-based courses are suspended June 30.
  • NOLS Scandinavia and NOLS Yukon campuses are closed for the summer and any courses scheduled at these locations have been cancelled.

If you are a student on an impacted course, NOLS is committed to taking care of you. We are providing tuition refunds, opportunities to transfer to future courses, and available staff to support your needs. Please refer to the FAQ section below for more information or contact your Admissions Officer from Monday to Friday, 8:00am-5:00pm MST.


Practicing Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty

NOLS has been actively monitoring and responding to the evolving situation around COVID-19. The school’s leadership has been in close consultation with federal and state public health experts, peer organizations, and our educational partners since January. 

For 55 years, NOLS has helped over 350,000 students learn the lessons of the wilderness: self-reliance, judgment, risk management, and the skills to thrive in a changing world. The current environment of uncertainty speaks directly to the NOLS curriculum and our values as a school. This is truly a time for leadership and judgment, given the unpredictable trajectory of the pandemic. We thank you for your support, patience, and understanding as we navigate the rapidly changing landscape. 

We will continue to assess the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on escalating travel, health, and safety restrictions and proactively communicate any impacts on future courses. Please check this page for the latest updates.


Community Notices


Archived Course Updates

March 25:

  • NOLS Wilderness Medicine, Custom Education, and Risk Services extended the suspension of all classroom courses through May 11.

March 17:

  • NOLS Expedition, Custom Education and Alumni Trips announced the cancellation of all field courses through May 11.

March 16:

  • NOLS Expeditions made the decision to suspend courses in the field and implemented a separation plan to bring students back to campuses and facilitate their return home.

March 12:

  • NOLS Wilderness Medicine, Custom Education and Risk Services announced the suspension of all classroom courses through April 23.
  • NOLS Expedition and Alumni Trips announced the cancellation of international field courses through April 23.

General FAQ

  • What is NOLS’ pandemic plan?

    We have a COVID-19 response plan and use a decision matrix to guide the school’s response to a pandemic or other major event that might affect our programming. This matrix is a tool we have used in the past for natural disasters such as a tsunami, earthquakes, or volcanoes as well as political unrest and other events. The plan includes:

    1. Actively monitoring the situation as it evolves
    2. Following government guidance on on travel risks when making course cancellation decisions
    3. Being prepared to respond to students or staff who show symptoms of flu-like illness
    4. Following government guidance on methods to prevent illness
    5. Planning for possibility of widespread illness and program disruption
  • What resources are you using to make decisions?

    While there are many sources for coronavirus information, our primary resources include:


    We are also monitoring updates from:

    • The U.S. State Department including travel and other information
    • U.S. Embassies in our operational countries
    • Specific country government health websites (i.e. NZ Ministry of Health)
  • What factors is NOLS considering when making operational decisions?

    NOLS courses will resume when travel restrictions, social (physical) distancing recommendations and orders, and community stay-in-place or quarantine orders are no longer in effect. We are also assessing the ability of local jurisdictions where we operate and their ability to support our students and classroom needs such as available medical care and emergency response. These are the primary factors as the school analyzes the evolving COVID-19 environment and the potential for resuming courses.

  • What is NOLS doing to limit the spread of COVID-19 on courses?

    NOLS has always placed a strong emphasis on personal hygiene and illness prevention. In our current world situation this is just as important now as it has always been. We follow guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for preventing the spread of illness. 

    These practices will be emphasized on courses and include:

    • Frequent handwashing with soap and water and when that is not available, using alcohol-based sanitizer with greater than 60% alcohol.. 
    • Using the crook of your arm (inner elbow) to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
    • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Carry disinfectant wipes to wipe surfaces before touching.
    • Cleaning and disinfecting  surfaces in classrooms and buildings.
  • What will NOLS do if someone on a course has COVID-19 symptoms?

    NOLS staff and instructors are on alert monitoring flu-like symptoms and administering responsible self-care practices with students and following best practices as identified by the CDC.

    NOLS is also actively monitoring staff at our campuses. Anyone with reason to believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 will be isolated from others and health care providers will be contacted.

Student FAQ

  • Why did NOLS cancel expedition field courses through June 30?

    NOLS has been actively monitoring the environment around COVID-19 in close consultation with federal and state public health experts, peer organizations, and our educational partners since January. This has been an evolving situation and through this process, the school sees continued uncertainty around domestic and international travel with the potential of new restrictions. We also see indications that the school would be unable to offer routine or emergency support to our courses while they are in the field or on campuses. Lastly, the school is committed to supporting CDC recommendations, state-level orders for stay-at-home, and local health advisories. For these reasons, NOLS made the difficult decision to cancel Expedition courses, Custom Education field courses, and Alumni trips through the end of June. The school will continue to monitor the situation and update our community proactively of any changes.

  • I’m enrolled on an Expedition course or alumni trip after July 1. Will my course run as scheduled?

    At this time, NOLS is planning to run scheduled summer field courses with start dates after July 1. Please keep in mind that right now we are monitoring COVID-19 impacts closely and although we are hopeful that the school will resume summer expeditions, this schedule may change if external indicators, the CDC, and governing authorities provide guidance that would not allow NOLS to operate. We appreciate your understanding, patience, and flexibility.

    If you would like enrolled student support, we encourage you to contact your Admissions Officer. We can provide options for deadline extensions and answer additional questions that you may have given the fluidity of the current environment. Thank you for your support, and we look forward to seeing you on your course later this summer.

  • My upcoming course was cancelled due to COVID-19, what is the school doing to support me?

    NOLS is working with enrolled students whose course was cancelled individually to provide a 100% tuition refund, opportunities to transfer to a future course, and support with other aspects of your enrollment. This impacts students with course start dates between March 13 and May 11. Please contact your Admissions Officer (contact info available in your student dashboard) to facilitate these changes.

  • My NOLS Expedition course was suspended. The school communicated that I would be getting a refund or credit. How does this work?

    For students whose Expedition field course ended early, NOLS is working with you individually to provide a choice of tuition refund or tuition credit towards a future course. Please connect with your Admissions Officer (contact info available in your student dashboard) to facilitate these changes.

  • How is NOLS Wilderness Medicine helping people whose certification has been impacted by the temporary suspension of courses?

    NOLS Wilderness Medicine offers a two year certification with a one year re-entry period. We have taken the following measure to support students who may be affected by our temporary suspension of courses.

    If your certification expires between 9/13/2020 and 3/12/2022, there is no change in your certification period or re-entry year.

    If your certification expired/expires between 3/13/2019 and 9/12/2020 we are automatically adding 9 months to your certification length. Your twelve month re-entry period begins at the end of your new expiration date.

    This applies to all NOLS Wilderness Medicine certifications including wilderness medicine, CPR, and epinephrine auto-injector. If your certification was issued by another training provider, please contact them directly. It is our understanding that other programs are considering a similar plan.

    We are beginning work on a process to make these changes in our data system and to reissue new certification cards.  This will take some time and we ask for your patience while we work with our database programmers to institute this change.

  • Should I enroll on a summer or fall NOLS course?

    We encourage you to do so and will provide flexibility so that you can have the time and information you need to complete your application. In the event your course cancels, we are providing full tuition refunds, opportunities to transfer to a future course, and other student support. 

    At this time, you can apply for all classroom courses with start dates after May 11 and for Expedition field courses and Alumni trips with start dates after July 1. Please keep in mind that right now we are monitoring COVID-19 impacts closely and although we are hopeful that the school will resume all course types, if external indicators, the CDC and governing authorities are providing guidance that would not allow NOLS to operate, this schedule may change. Please check this page often for updates. We invite you to view courses online.