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Dating back to the 1920s, when James Edwin Lough, a psychology professor at New York University, conducted his first around-the-world voyage, “Semester at Sea” (SAS) is now a 100-day study abroad program conducted on a cruise ship and managed by the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE). Professor Lough believed that traditional teaching methods used by the American universities needed important changes, and thus became the leader of this new educational movement. In 1963, a university aboard the MS Seven Seas was established, attracting 275 students, and reaching 22 ports in 16 countries. Until this day, “Semester at Sea” in spring and fall semesters attracts 600 undergraduate students who travel across the Atlantic or the Pacific and visit 11 countries.
Teaching takes place at a unique floating campus. The 590-foot and 7-deck ship is where students live, learn, and travel. The program is accredited by Colorado State University with nationally renowned faculty and fits easily into 4 years of college.
Apart from the required Global Studies course, which gives an interdisciplinary introduction to each of the countries visited during the voyage (including politics, art, religion, and environment), all students register for three additional courses (12 credits in total). Optional courses can be chosen from the list of 45 to 50 modules updated each year. For instance, SAS offers International Relations, Oceanography, Business Ethics, Media, Reading and many other courses.
For undergraduate students, who are enrolled full-time in a degree program in an American university, it is required to have a GPA of at least 2.5, a minimum of 12 credits at the post-secondary level, and a good academic standing. In their application, students must provide transcripts of records from their current universities and write a 300–500-word-long essay explaining and discussing how the SAS voyage will enrich their personal global perspective.
Identical formal admissions requirements are applied to international undergraduate students, who are studying full-time outside the US – it is just the GPA that needs to be convertible to at least 2.5 in the US grading system. In terms of the application process, international students are required to provide English language proficiency examination scores from IELTS Academic (minimum score of 6.5), TOEFL iBT (minimum score of 79), or PTE Academic (minimum score of 53) exams. Apart from that, they need to attach a transcript of records (translated if a university does not issue it in English) and write an essay on the same topic as undergraduate students from the US.
Requirements for international gap and post-graduate students are identical, except for their GPA, which needs to be at least 3 converted on a US scale.
Depending on voyage and cabin type, student program fees usually vary from $26,874 to $32,874 (prices are for spring semester 2023 fees). This fee includes semester’s travel with tuition, meals, housing and amenities, comprehensive travel and health insurance, academic field classes, full-time on-site residential student services staff, and assistance by ISE program administration. However, students should keep in mind that program fees do not include travel visas, textbooks, between-meal food & beverages while on board, laundry, flights to embarkation/from debarkation, overnight stay prior to embarkation, and fuel surcharge.
Various types of financial aid are offered for SAS, which covers partial or full tuition. Funding sources include scholarships offered by both ISE and specific academic institutions, merit-based and need-based grants, university partner awards, Pell Grant Match, and Student Assistant positions.
We have asked our friend Matas Kvizikevičius to answer a few questions about the program and share his experience of traveling around the world while studying on a cruise ship. Matas is a student from Lithuania who magna cum laude graduated from St. Olaf College with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and completed his “Semester at Sea” in the Fall of 2017. Currently, Matas is about to graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) with a master’s degree in European and International Public Policy.
There are two reasons behind my decision. First, for my whole life, I’ve been passionate and involved in water sports; hence, spending a semester on a ship was a no brainer to me. Second, I have always wanted to travel the world while learning and studying. SAS greatly combined those matters, so without putting much thought into it, I applied to the program quite early in my life – just before I finished high school. I was also the only student on the ship to sail on the ship while in my first college semester.
It’s undeniably one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever done. Indeed, being out on the water and visiting twelve foreign countries while learning from top educators is a life experience. Add to that ship experience many excellent features – pools, gyms, snack bars, etc., with endless ocean views, and you get what it was like to study there for a semester. Also, for those who wanted, it was a genuinely academic program as you constantly live and interact with professors travelling with you. For example, while on the ship, I got in good terms with one of my professors, Armin Rosencranz, with whom I co-wrote an article on food waste in Lithuania.
I studied social-ethical-regulatory issues in business, world interdependence – current global issues, global studies, and global environmental politics.
The SAS admissions process is relatively standard and quite straightforward. It typically requires completing a basic application form and writing one long (500 words or so) essay. Apart from that, you need a decent average grade, so if you are in good academic standing, you will certainly get in. I was lucky enough to get a full scholarship, but you might need to spend more time writing essays for various stipends than the application itself.
If you are seriously considering studying at SAS – start early! A ton of things need to be done before you depart. First, although not typical, SAS is a study abroad program that requires your home university’s approval. Second, SAS has many merit- and need-based scholarships that can cover your whole tuition, but they might require additional time and effort. Third, after you get all the approvals, scholarships and similar, you will need to work on your visas. Although a Lithuanian passport is quite powerful in terms of mobility, it took me almost three months to get all the required visas and permits. Lastly, if you want to get the most out of the program, do your homework – choose your courses, field programs and independent trips before the departure. All these things are going to be easily manageable if you start early.
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