Semester at Sea

Has anyone been a part of the Semester at Sea program? Or know anyone who has?

My son, who is currently a sophomore in college, found out about this program and applied and has been accepted, and now he has to decide if he wants to commit. Putting aside Covid, which makes that a trickier decision now by itself, does anyone have an opinion on whether that would be a good idea or a bad idea? Looking at the website, it seems pretty awesome – spend a semester on a ship, going from port to port, taking classes during the voyage and seeing the world – but of course the website isn’t going to be impartial. I’m wondering if anyone has been through this program, or knows anybody that has, and would like to share their opinion on the experience. Any and all comments are welcome.


At least in the past, according to a participant, there was a lot of drinking.

Not surprising, given the amount of drinking in my land based dorm.

I would have loved an experience like this. Still would.

Where would the ship travel to, if he did this? Does he have any particular interests, in terms of a language, architecture or so forth? Has your son considered a conventional study-abroad program instead?

There’s an itinerary on the website if you’re interested: Fall 2022

Basically, they leave from Amsterdam, go through the Mediterranean, through the Suez, around India and Southeast Asia, and end up in Japan, making a bunch of stops along the way.

I wouldn’t say he has a specialized interest in a particular country or a particular field, but he has a broad interest in seeing new places. He has considered a conventional study-abroad program, but I think he’s attracted to this because he’d get to see more places instead of being confined just to one area. So it’s a breadth vs. depth thing, and he’s leaning towards breadth.

My experience with this is not first-hand (or even second-hand, since I don’t personally know any students who took part in the program), but comes from conversations with study-abroad offices and others at colleges where I’ve worked.

From those conversations, I came away with the impression that Semester at Sea can be a fantastic experience that students really enjoy and from which they learn a lot, but that the learning they gain usually does not really fit into any formal academic structure very well. The reputation is that the classes students take at sea aren’t “real” classes, and I have encountered several campuses and departments where they refuse to accept Semester at Sea classes for transfer credit.

That’s not necessarily a major issue (or shouldn’t be), but is something to keep in mind. In some cases it might end up being an “extra” semester at sea, not a semester that will actually count as a full semester towards satisfying the requirements of an undergraduate degree. If your son expects to have the semester count towards his graduation requirements, he should be sure to get that all cleared and guaranteed by his registrar’s office, major department, and study abroad office before he signs anything.

Even if it’s not going to “count” as one of the (nominal) eight semesters towards a degree, it could still be worth doing.

I would say that if a young person is excited about trying it and motivated (because it does take some effort and hardship) to try it, don’t stand in his way!

Thanks for the info! Definitely not trying to stand in his way – I just want to make sure he’s not walking into some kind of Fyre Festival type situation, in which the actual experience is much different than what was promised.

This program goes back over 30 years. Friends of mine who did it in the 80s loved it.

Actually the Wikipedia article mentions that it was started in 1963, so it’s been around for a long time.

I never did a semester at sea, but I did a semester abroad, and it was an incredible experience. Young people should travel every chance they get, IMO.

Right now my sister in law’s nephew, a university student, is crossing the Atlantic on a sailboat and having a great time.

As it happens, I’m working with an author writing a book about the 1926-27 “Floating University,” which went round the world. The yearbook has some interesting stories from the ports of call, including the royal treatment they got from the King of Siam.

MTV did a season of Road Rules during Semester at Sea. While a lot of it is the typical scripted “challenges” and conflicts, you can at least get a sense of what the accommodations are like, and what the classes are like. I believe that most of the season is available on YouTube and it might be worth watching some.

At this one company, this intern we had did Semester at Sea and had a great time. It’s unclear how much of the credit for the classes (and they did have classes) were accepted by his school. But it sounded like a great experience (he did mention some bouts with sea sickness, but apparently he wasn’t the only one), and he got to experience many of the places they visited a bit beyond what you would get from a “tour group”. I would highly recommend it.

A friend of mine did a semester at sea about 20 years ago and thought it was a great experience. I did a semester abroad and consider it one of the most beneficial experiences of my life.