If you love the being ‘at sea’, a program at sea may offer you the opportunity to have first-hand experiences while you earn valuable undergraduate credits. Often dubbed ‘sea mester’ programs, these are school at sea in-person learning experiences and worth exploring whether you love oceanography or nautical science.

Why Consider a Program at Sea?

Not your typical classroom experience, a Sea Semester program involves on-going active learning and is both a ‘study aboard’ and ‘study abroad’ at the same time. Semester at Sea programs often involve sailing between oceans, islands and countries, so your ship is your home, classroom, and research lab. If you have read books about the sea, even been in an IMAX theatre to see an ocean-based movie, a semester at sea program is your chance to actually get wet, learn by doing and participating. You are crew, passenger, student at the same time.

Is a Program at Sea Right for you?

To some extent, to live through a semester at sea program is the only real measure of whether it is for you or not. Obviously if you know for a stone cold fact that traveling by boat doesn’t agree with you (hear sea-sickness), you might consider another study abroad program where you could visit the sea but not have it be a floating classroom. Living in confined spaces is not for everyone either, although some dormitory rooms are arguably tiny, if you don’t like the idea of being on a ship for 10 day stints, again study at sea may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand…

“I may not be as strong as I think, but I know many tricks and I have resolution.”
―Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

If you are looking to step out of your comfort zone, visit countries that are not all westernized, get your feet wet by actually living through different standards, you might be in the right place. Just be prepared that while you may have fun, bond with your boat mates, and enjoy the excursions, study at sea programs are credit-focused and certainly have standards, and ship captains have rules.

Academics: Finding a Semester at Sea Program

There are a variety of Sea Semester programs to choose from, depending on your interests, the term or the country you want to travel to and range from technical to vocational. If you know what you want to study, it is helpful to browse Sea Mester programs by subject. This will yield search results that you might then be able to narrow down by term; some programs may only be available at certain times.

Marine Biology

A study at sea program in marine biology is a lesson is ecology up close. Many sea mester programs have both an interactive lecture and a practical component. You do not always have to be a science-major either. Sometimes the activity component includes diving. You might then conduct research about the reefs or marine life when you get back to the laboratory on your ship. If you have never been to the Caribbean, a semester at sea might help you earn credits while you see and experience islands and ocean.

Nautical Science

If you love boating, aspire to work as a deck officer, handle small boats, or lead a crew, a sea semester that combines theory and practice simultaneously might prove to be the experience of a lifetime. You might learn navigation skills by actually charting a course, understand weather conditions as you forecast and plan your route or ‘learn the ropes’ of propulsion systems and sailing gear.


What better way to learn about oceanic research and study water chemistry and marine ecosystems? You definitely will be studying and submitting assignments but a semester at sea means real-world experience as well; the stuff you cannot read about.

Environmental Studies, Humanities and Cross-Cultural

Some Sea Semester programs are ship to shore; a combination of traveling by sea, exploring historical, cultural and agriculture when the ship anchors. Usually the ship has a research laboratory but you may also stop at a campus when you aren’t moving beyond textbooks. Going from place to place is definitely a participatory way of learning about different religions, cultures, customs – you are seeing them first-hand.

Seamanship, Certifications and stuff

If you are looking for more of a technical program, a school at sea program might offer you a great opportunity to take scuba or sailing certifications, or learn leadership in a skipper and crew-training course.

Country to Country Programs: On Land and By Sea

A Sea Semester doesn’t mean you don’t touch land. Some semester at sea programs are often called ’in country field programs’. They might involve trekking as a way to learn about the geology of the mountains or meeting host nationals. Basically these programs offer a cross-cultural understanding in an interactive delivery method. You might visit historical sites, cultural attractions, engage in a service project, or visit an orphanage. Since programs vary, browse through each to see whether one location stands out to you.

Location Location: Finding a Study At Sea Program

If there is something you want to see while at sea, choosing a destination may be a better bet for you. For instance, if you can’t wait to see a koala, watch whales or scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, look for a sea mester program that goes to Australia and Asia. If swimming with sea lions and diving with octopuses floats your boat, look into the Pacific Ocean. The location setting is often useful to undergraduates who want a Sea Semester and know the term they can get away but are somewhat flexible in terms of what they study.

Term and Timing

You may have to consider whether you choose a Sea Semester Program where you spend a little time in a lot of different countries or a lot of time in a handful of countries.

Take the Next Step

Searching on StudyAbroad.com makes it actually easy to find a program that resonates. The navigation menu is built so that you can look for programs at sea by country, term, or specialty. With your super human mouse clicking skills, open a few different pages in your browser to start narrowing things down.

One of the great things to keep in mind is that you don’t’ necessarily have to be a science major to do a semester at sea. You might not even necessarily think you can ‘rough it’ but are willing to take a leap of faith. Before you dive in though, read reviews about student experiences and check for program accreditation where warranted.  Continued success as you take the next step!

marineinsight.com/careers-2/what-is-the-difference-between-nautical-science-and-marine-engineering/ | www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/69741-the-old-man-and-the-sea |