HMI Semester Frequently Asked Questions

Students attend HMI for just one semester of their junior or senior year and then return to to their home high school. 100% of students live on-campus during the four-month HMI Semester.

HMI is not a wilderness therapy program. Our school has no therapeutic focus or program components to help students deal with addiction, mental health issues, or unresolved traumas. See below for information about mental health support at HMI.

Yes. HMI is accredited by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools, an approved accrediting body of the National Association of Independent Schools. As such, our credits will transfer to any public or private school and are accepted by colleges and universities.

Students apply to the HMI Semester as high school sophomores or juniors in order to attend HMI the following year. Our youngest juniors arrive for the fall semester at age 15 and our oldest seniors arrive for the spring semester at age 18.

HMI has about thirty Essential Eligibility Criteria (EEC). Below are a few highlighted criteria: 

All participants must:

  • Come with an open mind and positive attitude.
  • Display tolerance, respect and compassion towards all.
  • Participate fully in stressful and emotionally intense wilderness, residential life and academic experiences, including changes in diet, group living and a daily routine that is likely much different than your routine at home.
  • Perform necessary self-care independently or with the assistance of a companion on campus or in a remote and outdoor setting, including personal hygiene and toileting needs, adequate hydration and dressing appropriately for weather conditions.
  • Withstand repetitive and sustained use of one’s body including, for example, hiking or skiing 3-9 miles a day for multiple days, and carrying a pack weighing 35-45% of one’s body weight.
  • Learn skills and engage in tasks to support yourself and the group. This includes, but is not limited to: cooking in the wilderness or in a commercial kitchen for self and others, setting up and taking down a camp, washing dishes, caring for group gear and camp site or cabin care, including clean-up.

For a full list and more information about HMI’s EEC click here

We have approximately 50 students each semester. 

You may view our current dates and tuition on our Tuition & Affordability page. 

No. Many of our students have never backpacked, hiked, or skied before. We teach all our students what they need to know to survive and thrive in the wilderness. All necessary outdoor gear can be rented at HMI and financial aid awards include reduced-price or free gear rental.

For a detailed overview of who should and should not participate in HMI programming, view our Essential Eligibility Criteria

At the High Mountain Institute, we are proud of the quality of our programs, our safety record, and our risk management practices. The High Mountain Institute is fully accredited by the Association for Colorado Independent Schools and our field faculty and staff have first aid training. We strive to develop creative and challenging programming and endeavor to responsibly manage risks, knowing we cannot eliminate those risks. 

Students and their parents must understand that the High Mountain Institute does not offer “safe” programs and cannot guarantee students’ safety. Why not? Because a “safe program” would mean not exposing ourselves to any risk. Traveling in a wilderness environment or engaging in activities on or around campus, includes inherent and other risks, hazards and dangers that can cause or lead to injury, property damage or even death. For example, High Mountain Institute students are exposed to risks by skiing in avalanche terrain, climbing mountains, driving on snowy roads, and splitting firewood. High Mountain Institute activities, including those associated with wilderness travel and campus life, have inherent and other risks and are part of our programs.

While severe environmental risks like lightning strikes, animal attacks, and drownings in flash floods are all possible, most risk management issues at HMI stem from athletic injuries and mental health concerns.

For more information, visit our Risk Management page. 

There are no formal extracurriculars at HMI apart from our wilderness expeditions. There are informal opportunities for students to participate in music and team sports (such as during morning exercise). Students are encouraged to bring portable musical instruments with them to HMI; all students have access to a piano in the main hall.

Usually not. Almost all of the independent schools we work with regularly remit most or all of the home semester tuition when a student studies away at HMI. We encourage you to reach out to your sending school for more information about tuition remission.

The HMI student experience is strengthened by our technology policy that encourages face-to-face interaction and minimizes screen time. Each student turns in their cell phone upon arrival at HMI, and refrains from using their phone for the entirety of the semester. Students do not bring their own laptops or other internet-connected devices. Every student is issued a Chromebook laptop which they use for completing coursework and communicating with friends and family back home. Technology use is limited to free periods and evening study hall; meals, cabin time, and backpacking expeditions are completely tech-free. 

We can easily accommodate vegetarians and students with mild dietary restrictions and food allergies. Students with severe food allergy or dietary restriction should know that, while we do our best to use clean kitchen utensils and cookware to prepare food, we cannot guarantee zero cross-contamination. Our gluten-free options are made and cooked in the same facility and ovens as our regular, gluten-containing food items. We cannot guarantee (without fundamentally changing the nature of our program) that food items prepared at HMI are 100% free of gluten (or other allergens) as there is always a possibility of trace amounts crossing over from other kitchen areas. Before applying, please be in touch with the HMI Admissions office to discuss any severe allergies or dietary restrictions.

HMI supports students with learning differences, such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. We are a small school with a high faculty-to-student ratio (4:1) allowing us to provide differentiated instruction and individualized attention to our students. Our classes are active and student-centered; they rely heavily on reading, writing, and group projects rather than tests and exams. This type of academic environment tends to privilege a variety of learners. We also offer extra time on in-class assignments for students who need it. We do not, however, have a Learning Support Specialist on our staff. The students who are most successful at HMI are those who have learned to manage their learning differences with a high degree of independence, as students are expected to be relatively self-sufficient in completing their workload. Students with an individualized education plan (IEP) or documented learning difference are asked to share related documentation with HMI during the enrollment process. Additionally, families are asked to contact us regarding any special test-taking requirements and, if applicable, submit a letter from The College Board so we may provide proper accommodations during the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams administered at HMI, or at a nearby testing site.

Students facing mental health challenges at HMI can turn to their advisor, our dean of students, and our part-time licensed therapist. Additionally, some students continue sessions with a mental health professional at home through video chat. While on backpacking expeditions, students have limited-to-no access to outside mental health professionals. Our rural location means mental health supports beyond those listed above is very limited. 

While some students with mental health challenges have thrived at HMI, others–particularly those with moderate to severe mental health issues–have struggled significantly on our wilderness expeditions and on campus because of the intensity of living in remote areas, exposure to situations outside of our control (such as weather), and the lack of private time and space. Many students who struggle in similar situations at home have not found intensive wilderness and residential settings easier to navigate. For these reasons, we do not recommend HMI for a student who has recently completed a residential behavioral therapy program. 

Please contact us to talk about how we could best serve your student. In addition, we are happy to share our knowledge of the many excellent wilderness therapy programs in the United States.

HMI has a zero-tolerance policy around drug and alcohol use. Students enjoy significant independence on our campus but are expected to make all decisions with community safety and trust in mind. The presence or use of illegal substances on our campus represents a breakdown of this trust and and we cannot support students who engage in such behaviors.

Yes. Covid-19 vaccination is required for all students as well as the vaccinations mandated for Colorado K-12 students. Colorado law allows for medical and religious vaccine exemptions to this requirement, but these are the only exemptions we will accept.

Are you a high school administrator/teacher interested in building a partnership with HMI? Visit our become an HMI sending school page. 

Yes. HMI is partnered with eight other semester schools in the Semester School Network

HMI Semester Informational Webinar

Watch the recording or join an upcoming webinar! Below: HMI Director of Admissions Ray McGaughey, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lupe Bobadilla, and Advancement Associate Louisa McBride are joined by two recent HMI Semester alumni and their families for this webinar. After the webinar, there is a brief overview of HMI financial aid policies and practices. Recorded November 18th, 2021.

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