Frequently Asked Questions for the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program

This page answers specific frequently asked questions related to the Wilderness Certification Program. For answers to general questions relating to our weekend, day-long, and week-long courses, visit the FAQ for Short Courses.

General
What is Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)?
Why the name Alderleaf?
Why attend the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?
What is a class day like at the Certification Program?
What are field trips like at the Certification Program?
The course covers a lot of ground. How thoroughly is each topic covered?
Where is the Alderleaf campus located?

Certifications & College Credit
What types of certifications / credentials are awarded to graduates?
What kinds of jobs would I be qualified for after completing the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?
What do most graduates do after completing the program?
Can I receive college credit for participating in the course?

Student Life
Where do students live while attending the Certification Program?
Can I work while participating in the program?
Do I need a vehicle while attending Alderleaf?
Are instructors available for help outside of class time?
How much learning is expected to be completed independently outside of class?

Tuition & Financial Aid
What kind of financial aid is available?
Can I use GI Bill / VA education benefits towards Alderleaf?
Can I use an Americorps education award towards Alderleaf?
Can I use a 529 College Savings Plan to pay for the Alderleaf tuition?
What are your tuition payment plans?
Is Alderleaf a federal Title IV accredited institution?

Applying
Who may apply to the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?
Can international students apply?
What types of people attend the Certification Program?
How do I become a student? What are the steps?

More Information
Why attend the Alderleaf program over a similar program?
Are there options for further study after graduation?
How did you choose which topics to cover in the Wilderness Certification Program versus the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program (second year course)?
May I visit the program to see what its like?
How do I find out more about the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?



GENERAL

What is Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)?
Traditional Ecological Knowledge is the curriculum taught at Alderleaf. It is the term used to describe the skills, wisdom, and understanding of nature that all of our ancestors had when they lived close to the land as indigenous hunter-gatherers. TEK is an extensive system of knowing nature that emphasizes the practical application of skills and knowledge for the sustainable use of renewable resources. It provides a useful understanding of how ecological systems work and interrelate, and how human influences can enhance, regenerate, and revitalize nature. TEK encompasses many fields including wilderness survival, herbal medicine, natural history and ecology, sustainable agriculture, wildlife tracking and conservation, habitat restoration, and much more.

Why the name Alderleaf?
In the Pacific Northwest, the red alder tree (Alnus rubra) is often the first tree to return to a damaged ecosystem. It grows rapidly and helps fertilize the soil through fixing nitrogen and dropping its leaves. It helps prepare the ground for the return of mature old-growth tree species such as western red cedar and western hemlock. In many ways, the red alder is the bridge between an ecosystem out of balance and a healthy old-growth forest. In today’s world we are experiencing an environment far out of balance. With increasing climate change, the rapid depletion of natural resources, and a strong cultural disconnect from nature, much work is needed to restore cultural and biological balance. Alderleaf strives to be like the red alder, providing much needed support to promote healthy, sustainable relationships with the natural world. Thus the name serves us as a powerful metaphor, reminding us of the important work and education needed at this crucial time in history.

Why attend the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?
The Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program is unique in that it provides holistic training in nature skills that bring about a deep, meaningful connection and knowledge of the natural world. This comprehensive course is ideal for those seeking to learn outdoor skills at a depth necessary to become excellent wilderness instructors, naturalists, wildlife trackers, permaculture designers, and environmental field technicians. No other course of its kind offers instruction from as highly qualified and experienced faculty with as well of a developed curriculum that integrates both modern and indigenous knowledge of nature.

What is a class day like at the Certification Program?
Class days are spent learning specific skills from one of the program’s core subjects. Most class days begin at 9:30am and often start with an inspiring presentation relating to the day’s topic. For an example, a day could begin with a slide show presentation about of the uses of stinging nettle (a wild plant) for food, medicine, and cordage, including proper collection and preparation methods. This section of the day usually lasts between one and two hours and is peppered with pertinent stories, practical information, and guidance.

The next portion of the day is spent getting your hands into the skills, often in small groups or teams guided by the faculty. Most class time is spent gaining tangible experience and practice with the skill at hand. As an example, our stinging nettle day would continue with breaking into small groups and going out into the field to identify and collect the usable parts of the plant using ethical harvesting techniques. The plant material would then be brought back to the classroom where the groups would make stinging nettle soup, begin creating a medicinal decoction, and process the stalks into cordage (string for bows and other projects). This section of the day often lasts around four hours. A short lunch break often takes place mid-day while in the field.

Towards the end of the class day, the groups re-convene to share and discuss the day’s learning activities. This provides a great opportunity for students to share stories, learn from each other’s experiences, gain valuable feedback from the staff, and celebrate the day’s accomplishments. As an example, at the end of the day spent on stinging nettle, the smaller groups would join back together as one class to share different foods made from the nettle, and to test the completed stinging nettle cordage for use with a bow drill fire-making kit. On most days, class wraps up at 3:30pm.

You can also read ongoing updates on the current classes at our blog,

Notes from the Alderleaf Campus.

What are field trips like at the Certification Program?
There are six exciting overnight field trips to different locations in the Pacific Northwest that take place over the course of the school year, including a tracking expedition to the Oregon Dunes, several trips to the sagebrush deserts of central Washington, and a survival trip in the Cascade Mountains. During these trips the whole program, instructors and students, are camping and living outdoors. These trips are considered intensives, as teaching and experiential activities are often scheduled throughout the entire trip. Staff and students alike look forward to these adventure-filled immersion experiences.

The course covers a lot of ground. How thoroughly is each topic covered?
We very carefully select which skills we feel that students should develop a deep proficiency and which skills students should be exposed to and not required to develop deep proficiency. For example, we want all students to develop mastery of fire-making skills, so we spend many class days building and practicing those skills in different ways with different techniques in different environments, throughout the year and on field trips. On other end of the scale we spend just one day on coiled pine needle containers/baskets - this is enough time to learn the technique, which can be applied to many different materials for a variety of survival projects, though we don't spend many days making coiled containers, as the objective of the course is not to create master basket-makers. We teach all topics with quality while we achieve thoroughness where appropriate and exposure where appropriate.

Where is the Alderleaf campus located? How do I get there?
Alderleaf is located at 18715 299th Ave SE, Monroe, WA 98272. You can navigate the Google Map below to view our location and determine driving directions. You can also visit our web page about the Alderleaf campus.


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CERTIFICATIONS & COLLEGE CREDIT

What type of certification / credential is awarded to graduates?
Graduates receive four different certifications as part of the program. The primary certification is our Certificate in Wilderness Skills Education & Ecology. This is the vocational state-licensed certificate for the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program. The course trains students to be survival instructors, naturalists, trackers, environmental educators, permaculture designers and field researchers with a specialization in Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The Certificate is signed by the core faculty, and is a physical representation of the hard work, study, and experience that has been completed.

In addition to the Alderleaf Certificate, graduates also receive a Permaculture Design Certificate. This international certificate qualifies graduates as permaculture designer / sustainability consultants.

Students also participate in an official Track & Sign Evaluation (the international standard for testing wildlife trackers) administered by CyberTracker Conservation International. Through the evaluation, students have the opportunity to become certified wildlife trackers. Over 95% of students pass this rigorous field test.

Finally, students in the Certification Program also complete a standard, three-day Wilderness First Aid training and receive a certificate upon completion.

What kinds of jobs would I be qualified for after completing the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?
The course prepares students to be excellent naturalists, wilderness skills instructors, permaculture designers, wildlife trackers, and environmental field technicians. Many graduates go on to work in the environmental field in positions such as outdoor educators, park naturalists, and field researchers. Many find work at wilderness schools around the country. See our alumni page for examples! To learn more about the variety of possible jobs available, visit our webpage on outdoor careers.

What do most graduates do after completing the program?
Roughly a third of our graduates go straight into working in the fields of outdoor education, environmental research, and sustainability after graduating; while another third continue their education in these fields (either at Alderleaf or at other institutions); and another third complete this course for personal enrichment (instead of career purposes), and thus return back to work and/or education paths in other fields.

Some examples of graduates going to work after completing the course include teaching at a wilderness school in Austin; working for a permaculture designer in Seattle; teaching youth programs at a wilderness school in Washington; working as a ranger for the forest service; assisting with wolverine research with a Seattle conservation group; teaching nature-based art at a public school in Wisconsin; working for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife doing cougar research; and managing a permaculture farm.

See what many of our amazing graduates are doing with their Alderleaf education on our alumni page.

Can I receive college credit for participating in the course?
Yes. Students participating in the Certification Program have the option to receive 18 college credits through Western State Colorado University. The credits are transferable and consist of 9 credits in Environmental Studies, 3 in Biology, and 6 in Recreation & Outdoor Education. The credits can be used towards completing a bachelor's degree. To receive the optional credits, students must submit special forms and a credit fee to Western State Colorado University before the program begins. Download the college credit packet to learn more.

Please note: The credits are optional. Many students choose to attend without receiving credit.

Alternatively, students already working on a degree at another college or university are often able to receive credit directly from that institution. Administrative staff at Alderleaf are available to help students coordinate credit options with an outside institution, by providing course syllabi, transcripts, credit hour conversions, and speaking with advisers and professors.

Our catalog contains additional information regarding credit. You can request a Certification Program Catalog or contact us for more information about college credit.


STUDENT LIFE

Where do students live while attending the Certification Program?
Many students rent homes together in the Sultan or Monroe areas while attending the Certification Program. Most students enjoy the added benefit of living together with fellow classmates who share a passion for nature, wilderness skills, sustainability, and community.

Students often work together to secure housing arrangements. Alderleaf hosts an email group for incoming students that allows students to coordinate with each other before the program begins. Our office also sends out housing leads through the email group. We recommend traveling to the area at least several weeks before the program begins to find and secure housing.

There is also limited dormitory-style student housing available at several nearby properties through Tualco Housing LLC, a separate entity (not Alderleaf Wilderness College). Their properties are supervised by a resident assistant/property manager. Tualco Housing LLC strongly encourages and welcomes Alderleaf students to apply. Since space is limited and fills early, we recommend contacting Tualco Housing LLC as early as possible if you wish to apply to live at one of these nearby properties. *Important Note from Tualco Housing LLC: Prior to applying for housing please carefully read the housing descriptions, sample housing agreement, and sample house rules to determine whether or not this dormitory-style living situation would be a good fit for you. Housing prices ranges from $400 to $750 a month depending on the room size and if it is shared. To apply or learn more, contact Sarah, the property manager for Tualco Housing LLC, by phone: 808-651-3260 or email: tualcohousingllc@gmail.com.

Can I work while participating in the program? What kinds of jobs are available in the area?
During regular class weeks, the program meets 9:30am to 3:30pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. This allows ample time for students to pick up part time work while attending the course.

Jobs can be found in Monroe and the surrounding towns and cities. Past students have found work in coffee shops, plant nurseries, landscaping, farms, child care, in the restaurant business, and a variety of other positions. There are also environmental education organizations that work with children in the region that may have contract work available for those with experience.

Please note: Finding work often requires being proactive - such as putting together a strong resume, meeting in person with managers, etc... It can also help to have a backup plan in case it takes longer than expected to find a job.

Do I need a vehicle while attending Alderleaf? What kind of transportation is available in the area?
Though not required, we highly recommend having a vehicle while attending Alderleaf, especially if you plan on working while attending the program. Biking to downtown Sultan and Monroe is an option, though doing so during our wet season requires good equipment and planning. There is also a bus system that runs through downtown Monroe and Sultan that can be used to travel to Snohomish, Everett, Seattle, and beyond. To learn more about the local bus systems, visit Community Transit and Metro Transit.

Are instructors available for help outside of class time?
Yes. We have an open-door policy in our office. Students can schedule time to connect with staff during work hours outside of class. On most days, instructors are either teaching or in the office from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Students receive a lot of attention both inside and outside of class. We also have informal potlucks every month that many staff and students attend. There are also teaching assistants (grads from the previous year) who often spend a lot of time with students outside of class through extracurricular clubs.

How much learning is expected to be completed independently outside of class?
Roughly six hours of homework are assigned each week, to be completed outside of the eighteen hours of weekly class time. The homework adds a lot of depth and value, though it is complimentary to the core curriculum learned in classes. We expect students to complete the homework assignments - it helps the material sink in further and become your own. The homework is a follow-up to the material covered in class.

The class time is the core of the program. For students unable to complete any work outside of class (oftentimes due to having significant family commitments and/or full time work in addition to school), we offer the option to audit the course. Though many auditing students wish they had the time for homework, they still feel they receive a tremendous education & experience through the classes and trips alone.

Additional extra-curricular events are optional. Oftentimes there are apprentice/student led extracurricular clubs/groups/activities (such as hikes, survival guild, tracking club, craft nights, etc…). Students get out the program what they put in, so if one has time to do extra curricular activities outside of class, even more can be gained.


TUITION & FINANCIAL AID

What kind of financial aid is available?
Alderleaf Wilderness College believes that financial ability should not limit access to a quality education. Therefore, scholarships and financing plans are available for the Wilderness Certification Program. Listed below are financial aid options:

Work-Trade Scholarships are available for Wilderness Certification Program participants. Alderleaf Wilderness College awards several work-trade scholarships based on financial need, academic achievement, and prior work experience. Awards range from $500 to $2000. The scholarship is a work-trade scholarship and the work entails helping implement projects on the farm & campus on Friday project days, led by our farm manager and land steward, in trade for the tuition reduction. The project days run on Fridays only, 9:30am to 4:30pm with a half hour lunch break. For example, a $1000 scholarship entails helping for 65 hours (approximately 10 project days), $2000 scholarship = 130 hours (approximately 20 project days), etc... Examples of project day tasks include garden bed creation/maintenance, trail-building, planting trees/shrubs, firewood processing, various natural building projects (past projects have included making an earth-bag root cellar, building a cedar shake outhouse, woodshed, etc...). Click here to download the scholarship application.

Personal loans and/or lines of credit from your bank can be a great option for many students. Most local and national banks offer competitive rates and terms. Speaking with your local branch manager is a good place to start.

Financing plans are also available. You can apply to finance up to $11,000 of your tuition over a five year period with monthly payments. Click here to download detailed information about the financing plan. To apply for financing, download the credit application , fill out two copies (one for yourself and one for your co-signer), and mail them to Alderleaf Wilderness College.

Credit cards can also play a role in financing your education, while also helping build good credit. Student credit cards are designed for people investing in their education. Learn about the Discover Student Credit Card.

Please contact us to discuss financial aid. Our staff can help you navigate the variety of financial aid options!

Can I use GI Bill / VA education benefits towards the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?
Yes. The Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program is approved by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board’s State Approving Agency (WTECB/SAA) for enrollment of those eligible to receive benefits under Title 38 and Title 10, USC. The program is currently approved for Chapters 30, 32, 33, 35, 1606, and 1607. To utilize GI Bill / VA benefits it is recommended that you apply for benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs website at the same time as applying to Alderleaf. Once you are registered, Alderleaf will provide verification of your enrollment to the VA.

Can I use an Americorps education award towards Alderleaf?
Though Alderleaf cannot accept Americorps education awards directly, you can utilize your Americorps award towards the college credit option with Western State Colorado University and have the remaining balance applied towards Alderleaf tuition. To do so, you would complete the college credit packet and mail it to Western State Colorado University along with your Americorps voucher. Western State College deducts the credit fee and can forward the remaining balance to Alderleaf.

Can I use a 529 College Savings Plan to pay for the Alderleaf tuition?
Thanks to our partnership with the Extended Studies Department of Western State Colorado University (WSCU), you may use a 529 College Savings Plan by registering for the WSCU credit option. WSCU will accept a payment from the 529 plan that covers both the cost of the WSCU credits and the Alderleaf tuition. Anyone can register and you do not need to be a current WSCU student.

To do so, first apply to Alderleaf and then complete the WSCU college credit packet and mail it to WSCU. Please notify both Alderleaf and WSCU of your intent to use a 529 plan. Once you have been accepted and registered you can then have your 529 funds sent to WSCU. WSCU will retain the cost for the college credits and forward the remaining funds to Alderleaf.

What are your tuition payment plans?
We offer two different tuition payment options:
1. Balance paid in two equal payments (due in August & January)
2. Monthly payment financing plan (requires approved credit applications)

Is Alderleaf a federal Title IV accredited institution?
Alderleaf is a licensed vocational program / career training school, though we are not a federal Title IV accredited institution. The vocational license is more appropriate for our school since we offer certifications rather than multi-year degrees. Unfortunately, this means we are not eligible for federal forms of financial aid (FAFSA), though financing plans and scholarships are available (see financial aid questions/answers above).


APPLYING

Who may apply to the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program? Are there any prerequisites?
Alderleaf welcomes applications from anyone interested in attending and completing the course. Adults at least eighteen years of age with a minimum of a high school diploma, GED or equivalent may apply to the program. It is also a prerequisite that applicants speak English and be in good physical health for outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping. Applicants should inform us of any conditions that may affect their ability, or require special adaptation, to complete the course so that we may work together toward program completion.

You can apply online or download our mail-in application form. You can also request that an application be mailed to your address using our info request / contact form.

Can international students apply?
Yes. Alderleaf Wilderness College is authorized under Federal law to enroll nonimmigrant alien students (international students / non-US citizens). Once you have applied we will contact you to begin the student visa process.

What types of people attend the Certification Program?
Adults of all ages, experience levels, and walks of life attend the Certification Program, from students straight out of high school to retired adults. Most students are completing the course as part of career preparation and training, though others are primarily interested in the personal value of the education. Most students are in their mid twenties and are pursuing environmental and/or educational careers. Students often share a love for the outdoors, wilderness skills, wildlife, and sustainability.

You can visit our student biographies page to learn about students in their own words, and visit our alumni bios page to see what graduates are doing with their education.

How do I become a student? What are the steps?

To become a student in the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program, first apply with either our online application or mail-in application.

Once we have received your application we will review it and mail out a preliminary acceptance package that includes a registration form and catalog. You can then choose to register for the program by completing the registration form and mailing it in with the tuition deposit.

We will also call you to discuss the program and your needs and determine if we will be a good match. It is also a great time to ask any further questions you may have about the course. We also contact your reference.

You are officially enrolled once we have received your registration/deposit and completed the phone interview. We will then email you a confirmation letter. Enrollment packets, which includes materials for preparing to start school, are mailed out in June.


MORE INFORMATION

Why attend the Alderleaf program over a similar program?
What are the benefits?

There are many benefits to attending Alderleaf. List below are several:

1. Graduates of Alderleaf receive recognized professional certifications.
Students receive a Certificate in Wilderness Skills Education & Ecology, a licensed vocational certificate, which prepares students to work in the fields of nature education and environmental science. Also, as part of the course, students complete the Permaculture Design Certification, which qualifies graduates to work as permaculture designers, helping landowners implement sustainable living practices into their property. Students also participate in an official CyberTracker Track & Sign Evaluation, the international standard for professional trackers, where they have the opportunity to become certified wildlife trackers. A standard Wilderness First Aid Training Certification is also part of the program.

2. Classes are taught by skilled instructors and experienced educators.
All of our staff are skilled instructors and many are recognized leaders in their respective fields. The collective wisdom and experience of our instructors provides our students with an incredibly rich educational experience. Visit our faculty page to learn more about our dynamic instructors.

3. Our campus is a small-scale permaculture farm and sustainably stewarded forest.
Students have the opportunity to be involved with our farm and forest, as part of a community engaged in nature study, wilderness skills, and sustainable living. There is an indoor classroom/library, an outdoor classroom, a large barn/workshop, office, residences, greenhouses, trails, a large creek, ponds, and many gardens on our land. We have a permaculture site plan, regular project parties, community potlucks, and plenty of wilderness to explore. A mix of instructors, apprentices, and students live on site. Students and residents can easily work together on projects outside of class, go on hikes together, and have lots of fun! Visit our campus page to learn more and see a virtual tour.

4. We provide guidance and support for finding employment.
Alderleaf prepares students to work in a wide range of environmental jobs, ranging from outdoor education, to wildlife research, and permaculture. We actively help graduates connect with organizations & employment opportunities, and maintain a web page on environmental job opportunities. We also help graduates connect with wilderness schools around the country that are hiring. See our alumni page.

Are there options for further study after graduation?
Yes. Graduates of the Certification Program may register for the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program or apply to our Wilderness Instructor Apprenticeship.

How did you choose which topics to cover in the Wilderness Certification Program versus the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program (second year course)?
We carefully select which topics go into which year. There is not enough time in one year to cover every single wilderness skill. We cover a lot of ground with both basic and advanced foundational skills in the Wilderness Certification Program. The topics covered in the second year build upon the foundational skills gained in the first.

For example, we feel hide-tanning fits better as a second year topic as it is a not as relevant to short-term or even medium length survival (it is more of a long-term primitive living skill), is a project that takes a lot of time/dedication (many days of hard labor), is better suited to warmer/dryer weather (which in the first year those good weather times are taken up by other activities - such as the dunes field trip at the beginning of the year, and the survival trip at the end of the year, etc...), and can be learned faster once a foundation of other survival crafts has been developed.

May I visit the program to see what its like?
Yes. If you are considering attending Alderleaf, you can schedule a time to visit the program while it is in session. We are more than happy to provide an opportunity to meet students, staff, and see our campus. Please contact us to schedule a visit.

How do I find out more about the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program?
The Certification Program Catalog contains detailed information about the course. You can request a catalog through our info request / contact form. For specific questions you can call our office at (360) 793-8709 or contact us through the web.


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