Semester At Sea: How To Go To College On A Cruise

Published on July 2, 2023 · Updated on July 13, 2023

Semester At Sea: How To Go To College On A Cruise

Published on July 2, 2023 · Updated on July 13, 2023

What Is a Semester at Sea?

For many students heading to college, studying abroad sounds amazing. But for some, spending time in a foreign country has become a must-do, and for good reason. 

According to a survey published by the Institute for the International Education of Students, studying abroad provides multiple benefits, including increased self-confidence and maturity, greater interest in studying, and greater commitment to learning a foreign language. A semester abroad represents a remarkable opportunity to learn about different cultures and to interact with people of all backgrounds and cultures while learning new skills and making lifelong friends.

While spending months in places like Florence, Italy or Dublin, Ireland may offer in-depth exposure to a specific location, a Semester at Sea offers an even deeper and more unique opportunity. You can earn college credits while sailing around the world on a floating campus, visiting countries for days at a time. You’ll live and learn onboard a cruise ship that carries them to a different locale every few days. Not only will you be learning and earning credits, but you’ll also be exposed to new foods, cultures, and languages. 

The ship’s environment is much more than a floating classroom. It combines traditional learning with your typical cruise ship amenities, like cabins and swimming pools. No matter what the area of study or career aspirations, a Semester at Sea represents both a remarkable educational opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.



Study abroad to 10+ countries this Fall 2023!

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How Does Semester at Sea Work?

The Semester at Sea program is exactly what its name suggests: students enroll for a single semester onboard a specially equipped and outfitted cruise ship that serves as a floating campus. Over the course of 100+ days, approximately 500 undergraduate students engage in a global study abroad experience that includes academic classes held at sea, required academic field work courses, and optional experiential in-country learning experiences throughout the trip.

Semester at Sea has a singular focus on global citizenship and attaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of world cultures. Cultural engagement is the theme of every program and onshore activity, with an academic curriculum offered through Colorado State University. Classes represent 20-to-25 majors or fields of study, and each of those offer both lower level and upper level courses, totaling approximately 75 classes to choose from. Many of the classes are offered based on that semester’s travel itinerary. Each student earns 12-15 credits, which can be in their major or in elective classes.

Each Semester at Sea has its own unique itinerary that includes port stops in at least ten countries, spending multiple days in each. When the ship arrives in each country, students are given three options:

  1. Participate in required fieldwork courses associated with an academic curriculum
  2. Take an optional Semester at Sea Field Programs
  3. Plan your own travel experiences

Life on board the ship reflects much of what is found on a college campus, though being on a cruise ship adds a significant twist. Students choose from standard or premier cabins, with the more costly premier option ensuring that no more than two students share a cabin, as well as a window. Meals are taken in the student’s choice of several communal dining rooms found onboard the ship, which also contains a library, an amphitheater, fitness areas, and a pool. Onboard learning takes place in traditional classroom settings, but also takes advantage of the remarkable at-sea environment when possible.

The ship has many private and quiet places where students can study, and in addition to the ship’s crew and the academic staff, Semester at Sea ensures that students have access to counselors. Tuition includes an email account and a WiFi package, as well as travel insurance.

How Long is Semester at Sea?

The exact number of days for each Semester at Sea varies based on that semester’s itinerary, but each is more than 100 days and includes stops at least ten countries.

How Much Does Semester at Sea Cost?

Semester at Sea’s cost depends upon the itinerary and the type of cabin that the student selects. For a premier cabin, which guarantees just two students per cabin and a window as well as a private bathroom, the cost is $34,650 for the semester. A standard cabin comes with a price tag of $31,650. These costs include the following:

  • The semester’s tuition and travel to more than ten countries
  • Cabin, including every-other-day cleaning by onboard staff
  • Meals aboard the ship, even on days in port. A late-night snack is also offered most evenings at sea.
  • Amenities including access to the gym, pool, spa & salon (services not included)
  • Crew gratuities of $2 per day
  • Instructor-led, day-long academic field classes
  • Email account
  • Starter internet package
  • Comprehensive travel health insurance
  • Pre-voyage advisement and on-site residential student services staff
  • Fuel fee (may be adjusted with an additional charge or a refund, with notice given no later than 30 days prior to departure)

Semester at Sea does NOT include these additional expenses that may be incurred:

  • Flights to embarkation and from debarkation
  • Overnight stay prior to embarkation/after debarkation
  • Travel visas and passport costs
  • Textbooks
  • Vaccinations and boosters
  • Between-meal food & beverages while onboard
  • Laundry
  • Personal travel in country
  • Optional SAS Field Programs

Financial aid, scholarships, and grants are available to help pay the costs of attending Semester at Sea. 

In fact, approximately 60% of students attending the program receive some kind of assistance.

Students who do not qualify for typical financial aid can apply for scholarships through the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) and Semester at Sea. These require filing a FAFSA application and submission of the Student Aid Report to the ISE financial aid office, along with tax returns from the most recent tax year. The program also offers an interest-free payment plan and provides a helpful link to outside funding sources.

Who Can Attend Semester at Sea?

While Semester at Sea is best known for its undergraduate degree program, the global experience is available to a wide range of learners, including:

Recent high school graduates can earn 10-13 college credits.
Students must be enrolled full time in a degree-granting institution and must have completed at least 12 credits at the post-secondary level.
Though Semester at Sea does not offer graduate-level courses, students currently enrolled in a graduate program are eligible to participate alongside enrolled undergraduate students.
Semester at Sea is also available for adult learners 30 years of age or older

Do I have to be a senior to do a Semester at Sea?

Semester at Sea is available to undergraduate students who have completed at least 12 credits at the post-secondary level. You do not have to be a senior since varying levels of students can sail aboard.

When Is the Next Semester at Sea, And How Do I Apply?

Semester at Sea is offered on the same academic calendar as other colleges: a program is offered every Fall and every Spring. The next voyage departs on September 9, 2023 from Belgium, with an itinerary that includes stops in Greece, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Malta, Morocco, Spain, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. Applications require you to create an account and go through a five step application process.

Where Do You Go During Semester at Sea?

Every Semester at Sea has its own unique itinerary, but each lasts 100+ days and visits at least ten countries across multiple continents. Here are a couple upcoming sample itineraries:

Starts in Antwerp, Belgium and ends in Bangkok, Thailand.
Starts in Bangkok, Thailand and ends in Bremerhaven, Germany.
Starts in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and ends in Bangkok, Thailand.

What Are the Best Parts of Semester at Sea?

Many alumni of the Semester at Sea program refer to their enrollment as the experience of their lives. They praise the academic curriculum and the faculty for having transformed their worldview and opening their eyes to their responsibilities as global citizens. Many find themselves thrilled by the remarkable travel opportunity and experience.

In addition to the classroom academic program, students particularly value the hands-on experiences in the countries that they visit. Semester highlights include the amazing cultural opportunity of meeting one-on-one with citizens of the different countries they visit as well as the lifelong friendships that they made while on board as the ship.

What Are the Worst Parts of Semester at Sea?

Though most aspects of Semester at Sea win high praise, students do note that the costs of enrollment, as well as incremental expenses, can add up quickly. Some object to the high levels of safety precautions that the program imposes for off-ship activities and express a desire for more independence when in the various countries visited. Alumni repeatedly warn against thinking of  Semester at Sea as a vacation – the itinerary is demanding, and many note that they are exhausted by the end of each day.

What Else Should I Know About Semester at Sea?

Semester at Sea is a singular experience that many alumni describe as life-changing.  Those who have participated are eager to discuss the highlights and share insights about the program’s impact.

Megan Arzbaecher attended Semester at Sea in Fall of 2010, and she enjoyed her experience so much that she returned to the program as a staff member nine years later.  Five years later she created her own travel blog and eventually leveraged her experience into a graduate level studies in sustainable tourism management and a career in international travel.

Megan has posted frequently about her experience with the Semester at Sea, offering helpful tips about what she wishes she had known before embarking, what to pack for Semester at Sea, and more. Writing about her experience, she says, 

Semester at Sea was undoubtedly the best study abroad program for me and my interests. Most of the SAS alum that I encounter would say the same thing, but maybe we’re a special breed of people. But for me, the adventure, diverse country list and unique global experience is what won me over and why I decided that Semester at Sea was the right program for me.

Semester at Sea has existed since 1963, and has a well-earned and widespread reputation. Many alumni have learned about the program from friends, siblings, parents, and even grandparents who have attended in years past, or from their home college’s education abroad program. Students who want more information can find useful tips online, and several YouTube videos posted by alumni eager to share what they’ve learned and what they wished they had known before attending.

What Students Say Surprised Them During Semester At Sea

Even with all of the information that has been made available from Semester at Sea itself, campus counselors, online blogs, review sites, and word-of-mouth, students still find themselves by turns challenged or delighted by unexpected events or experiences. 

Here are some of the things that surprised them the most:

  • The physical impact of time zone changes
  • Seasickness
  • Extremely limited days off from the program
  • The rigorousness of the academic curriculum
  • The importance of booking their spot in field programs and field classes in advance

Others noted the positive experiences with unique onboard experiences that have now become a tradition onboard Semester at Sea ships. These include the Neptune Day celebration when the ship crosses the equator, the Sea Olympics day, and the Alumni Ball.

Alumni also note that incoming students should understand that the program is going to show them the world as it is: Sarah Hutton is a Temple University alumni who attended Semester at Sea in the spring of 2009 and who calls it “the best decision I ever made.” But she notes that along with the remarkable experiences of seeing an African sunset in Namibia and canoeing through caves in Thailand, she also saw “some terrible things.” She writes, “I saw African children who had been orphaned due to AIDS. I visited the townships in South Africa. I witnessed the failure of Mauritius to educate all of its students. I went to Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India. I saw prostitution issues in Thailand. It wasn’t all glamour and it certainly wasn’t all “tourism” and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Source: Sarah Hutton Interview

Those who have attended Semester at Sea universally warn potential students against thinking of it as a cruise with a minimal amount of homework or studies required. The curriculum is rigorous, and there are really no days off from learning. Though the ship does have pools, deck chairs, and the benefits of having staff clean student cabins on a regular basis, students are quick to note that the trip is a voyage rather than a vacation.