Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is the application process and what's the deadline?

We work on a first come/first serve basis, and accept the first 10 qualified applicants who have sent in deposits. Once we reach 10, any further applicants are put on a waiting list or put on the next course, usually within six weeks to three months before the start date. We recommend signing up at least six weeks in advance, but one can sign up anytime as long as we have an opening.

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2. What size is a COLT class?

We have a maximum of 20 students per session split into two groups and we use a field ratio of one instructor to five students.  

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3. How do I apply for student loans or government grants or training funds?

Before applying for funding, you must apply to be accepted into the COLT program. Send in your COLT application to us without a deposit and advise us that you are seeking financial aid. Once you are accepted into the program you will receive a letter of confirmation and we will ask for a deposit. The acceptance letter is sent with the loan application forms to be processed by the student loans body of whichever province you are applying with.

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4. Do I have to be an uber-athelete to attend COLT? I don't have much outdoor experience, will this be a problem at COLT?

You don’t have to be an athlete to attend COLT, although the fitter a student is, the more easily they will be able to master new activities and there is less chance of injury. We ask that all students be in good health and to arrive at COLT in reasonably good shape. The physically challenging part of the course is not so much any one activity, but the day to day  constant effort required in each part of the course. The mental strain of maintaining a high level of concentration can be more difficult than anything physical we do. We don’t expect all students to have experience in any of the skill components of the course, and because every activity is new for at least some of the course students, we start at the beginning with each one. We do though, expect students to learn quickly and get the basics as soon as possible. Most students should have at least a little experience in some of the course activities such as hiking and camping, as well as experience working in a group.

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5. Do you accept foreign students?

Foreign students are encouraged to attend and we usually have one or two per group. We value the diversity and cultural exchange that comes with having foreign students. A working command of the English language is however, a must.

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6. Can I take just part of COLT?

Unfortunately not. The nature of the course makes it difficult to accommodate varying schedules. However, our First Aid courses are provided by Slipstream and anyone can register to join for that portion of the program.


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7. Summer Vs Fall

The simple answer is, whichever one fits best with your schedule. The difference in skills and experiences are minor. That said, there is more time spent on snow during the summer program and the fall program usually witnesses the Pacific salmon and grey whale migration. Temperature wise, there is little difference: Vancouver Island is typically mild from April until November. However, often the fall course has wet weather in November, and of course, the days are shorter. The summer course has generally drier weather, but the program areas we use see more users. In the fall we rarely see other people in our course areas.

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8. COLT vs College/University Programs

I am often asked about the differences between our COLT program and college programs offering what appears to be the same experience. I honestly feel we do have a better, more focused and tempered program than the college or university programs that I have heard about or observed. As it should be because after 37 plus years of training students to be outdoor leaders we should be the best! This is not to say that other programs are bad, in fact most of them are good and offer value. But our program is unique and completely focused on the student experience, both from a skills improvement stand point and a personal growth objective.  We also offer small classes, excellent student to instructor ratios, spend more time engaged in the actual activities and we’re in the field almost every day.  However, college programs and COLT are very similar in many ways.

Our most important asset is the COLT instructors. As teachers and as skilled practitioners of their field of expertise, there are few better. However the other programs also have good instructors. In fact we often use the same instructors. If a school or program is located in BC – most anywhere in province – it is probably located near a scenic and challenging environment in which to run courses. Group equipment, vans for transportation and access to certification examination programs are on par as well. While most colleges also have strong traditions and are rooted in educational theory and delivery, most outdoor leadership programs are still in the developmental stages. COLT is Canada’s oldest program, started in 1977. We’ve had many years to work out the kinks. Another big difference is the students themselves. Because of our reputation, COLT students are generally very motivated, serious and dedicated. As we are located in a remote setting, with a demanding curriculum, we rarely receive a student who does not know what they are after or what they are getting themselves into. They are also, on average, older and mature students. With our average student age hovering around 25 years old, we do not get many students that are still ‘finding themselves’.  I remember back when I was a college freshman I took many classes with at least a few students not really knowing why they were there, or worse, not wanting to be there. This poor attitude or lack of commitment distracted from some of my classes.

Almost all COLT students have proven to be excellent students with firm goals in mind. I don’t want to sound too ‘new age’, but the COLT program is very much a holistic experience where the student is completely immersed in the subject of outdoor education, both the small ‘e’ and capital ‘E’ educational experience. For one, COLT is based out of Strathcona Park Lodge, which is a large and busy outdoor educational centre offering many types of programs to school groups, individual young adults and families, plus a guide service and wilderness resort. COLT students are a part of this endeavour and get to meet and live with real live outdoor instructors to get a true first hand look at what outdoor leadership is all about.  While our accommodations are simple, it is set up like the accommodations that the Lodge instructors are living in. Our food, when we are at the Lodge, is prepared for us and served buffet style, so after a hard day of paddling or climbing, we return to a delicious and healthy meal waiting for us. Our food is the best! Because we believe that one learns best in a team or group atmosphere, we live, work and play as a group. While this is not always easy, or at times, even fun, it is an incredible experience to be involved as intensely as we are for three incredible months, day after day, after day. This experience allows people to grow and learn in ways that were not only unanticipated, cannot be predicted or, in my opinion, duplicated anywhere else.

A more practical difference is the unique location of our base lodge – Strathcona Park Lodge. Living and working on Vancouver Island is incredible: we are right in the mountains, with rivers, lakes and rock climbing bluffs right on our property, or close by. We have the ocean on our doorstep and we often paddle on both sides of Vancouver Island. Despite the variety of diverse activities that COLT engages in, we do not have to waste much time in driving. We do go to the mainland once to go rock climbing in Squamish for a week, and spend most of a week kayak surfing in Tofino on the west side of the island. Both are three-plus hours away. The rest of the activities require very little driving time. I don’t know anywhere else that has mountaineering, canoe tripping, white water rivers, rock climbing cliffs and the ocean, all in wild, wild places, within a half hour’s drive!

If you are a young person that believes a college or a university degree is in your future, and you are willing to make it a priority, then a college or university outdoor leadership program may be the right choice, even over COLT. After all, a college degree and an outdoor program rolled into one is appealing. But should you go this route, make sure you follow through and get the full four year degree (usually ending up in a physical education or kinesiology, recreation or tourism management degree). Do not stop short and be satisfied with a diploma. A diploma is a one to two year endeavour that does not award an actual degree. If you are not going for the full degree, then you might as well attend COLT because we are more efficient, spend more time outside engaging in the activity (in contrast to discussing theory in a classroom setting) and we are actually cheaper as we include food and accommodation in our course fees. We are also not burdened with the many superfluous stipulations that many colleges force upon their students.

As an accredited post secondary career training institution and school in the province of BC, the student experience has the same protections that a public student has, as well as access to the provincial student loan program, EI training funds, and various grants and bursaries available to select students. Although we are not involved directly with any one college or university, some COLT students have arranged to get college credit by taking COLT. For foreign students and students that already have a Canadian university degree, COLT makes sense as we employ a skills-building curriculum that is very much hands on and we require students to take control of their learning experience right away. There’s not much hand holding going on here at COLT!

Come up and visit with us. Check us out in person and meet me and some of the instructors. I think you will get a ‘feel’ of what I am talking about. I am happy to provide some email addresses of past COLT graduates who don’t mind telling you about what they experienced. Then visit a college program and see how their program ‘feels’ to you. I am convinced you will understand the difference for yourself. Still have questions or concerns? Give me a call or write me. 

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