The Sterling Model

The Sterling College educational model of study, work, and community represents a challenging and overlapping set of theory-based and applied learning experiences. The individual components of our educational model are often formally recognized as our curriculum or program, but  the program is understood to also include the informal co-curricular and integrative learning experiences of students who participate in a broad range of daily activities that contribute to their education.

A Sterling education is fundamentally experiential and place-based in character, with the world as the primary classroom, laboratory, and research setting. Whether offered in a room on campus, at the State House, on a mountainside on the other side of the continent, classes foster deep inquiry and close relationships between faculty and students. With shared educational outcomes and experiences across our disciplines, the College uses the liberal arts to strengthen our understanding of the natural world (Ecology), interpret the human experience with the natural world (Environmental Humanities), understand human adaptation of the natural world (Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems), and prepare ourselves and others for experience in and with the natural world (Outdoor Education).

Among the most valued elements of a Sterling College education is the 50-year tradition of Expedition and Bounder, including a four-day and night winter wilderness trek. Sterling also links academic growth and skill building to daily work responsibilities, encouraging reflection on the relationship of the individual to the community, thereby strengthening the interpersonal skills necessary for effective and shared stewardship of the environment.




A Sterling College education builds the skills, knowledge, and experience of its students to:

  • Live satisfying and productive lives as environmental stewards.
  • Understand the ecology of the natural world.
  • Understand historical and global cultural contexts of social dynamics.
  • Practice both critical and systems thinking.
  • Collect, evaluate, and use information.
  • Apply theories and concepts to practical situations.
  • Communicate accurately and effectively in writing and in speech.
  • Work effectively independently and in collaboration with others.
  • Demonstrate resilience when facing challenges
  • Practice leadership and participate intentionally in communities.
  • Develop and appreciate creativity in expression, work, and problem-solving.
  • Cultivate curiosity and actively pursue life-long learning.



The academic curriculum is based on a combination of core courses and elective choices. All students follow an interdisciplinary path toward a Bachelor of Arts degree through which they develop an increasingly focused concentration that culminates in an individually designed research project. Students may select from the majors offered by the College or, as is often the case, develop a self-designed major in conjunction with the faculty.


Among the most powerful examples of experiential learning is living in community. Together we care for our campus and provide for the College’s needs with the understanding that by working collectively we sustain our community and provide a compelling learning experience. The shared commitment to environmental stewardship among students, faculty, and staff engenders a sense of belonging from the start. This bond also provides a sense of daily purpose in our studies and work, as well as in how individuals relate.


Sterling is one of only seven federally recognized Work Colleges in the United States and also one of a small number of liberal arts colleges that require students to complete an off-campus internship. Regardless of financial need all students participate in the Work Program on-campus and also support nearby communities with service.

Through work experiences, students gain insight into group dynamics, the needs of a community, and the use of finite resources. At Sterling, the community depends on the work of students, and the campus is a laboratory for gaining insight into the role of the individual in the health and welfare of the community.