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Wondering what it’s like living and learning at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation?

In some ways, it’s similar to a study abroad experience, where serious academics mix with location, activities, and personal connections to create an experience that’s truly one-of-a-kind.

What sets this experience apart is our campus and network. You’ll get the most out of your time here by completely immersing yourself in our location and our community.

A Typical Day

A National Park Service official holds a turtle in front of a group of students in the woods

Days at SMSC aren’t exactly typical. Our courses have a more flexible schedule than most college programs and often involve field trips to outdoor sites or remote locations.

You’ll receive a daily schedule specific to your course, but here’s what you can generally expect:

  • 9:30 am to 12 – classroom activity or lecture
  • 12 to 1 pm – lunch break
  • 1 to 3 pm – afternoon course block

You might wake up early one morning to survey bird populations in the field, or travel to National Zoo facilities in Washington, DC, and return around dinnertime. Whatever the day’s lesson, you’ll get plenty of hands-on experience with our wildlife and their habitats.

You Never Know Who You’ll Run Into Here

Group of students poses for a photo with Dame Jane Goodall
Internationally renowned conservationist Jane Goodall stopped to talk to students when she was on campus for an event.

Living on campus is an important part of your SMSC experience, making it possible to participate in early morning field trips or late evenings spent on team projects.

You’ll build strong connections that last a lifetime. Alumni send updates about their work, and congratulate each other on life events long after they’ve left our programs!

With lectures, and research going on all around you, you’ll not only meet fellow conservationists in your courses, you’ll also find yourself eating breakfast with some of the most well-known faces in the field.

Conservation is a group effort. The shared experiences you’ll have at SMSC will help you build a network for your future.

Housing & Dining

Three students eat around a table in the Dining Commons
Similar to a college campus, you’ll stay in our residential facility in a shared room with a private bathroom. There are common spaces where you can relax and hang out with friends, and free laundry facilities. The building uses electronic ID card access for security.

Meals are served in our Dining Commons, which offers a buffet with a wide variety of chef-prepared options that change daily.

Our Facilities

There’s Plenty To Do in Your Free Time!

Six students sit on a grassy hill on campus
Play volleyball, go for a run, or walk up Racetrack Hill for the most spectacular sunsets in the Shenandoah Valley. Enjoy campfires complete with s’mores and stunning views, all on our 3,200-acre campus.

The Appalachian Trail runs along the southern border of the property, and Shenandoah National Park is less than 5 minutes from campus, so the camping and hiking are top-notch. And the nearby Shenandoah River is a popular spot for canoers and kayakers.

You can also head into the town of Front Royal for coffee shops, restaurants, and shopping.

You can attend science and research seminars, guest lectures and demonstrations, and events on careers in conservation. You’ll have opportunities to build experience through volunteer fieldwork and networking with guest instructors and conservation practitioners.