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SEA Currents: News

March 12, 2019

Pre-College Programs: the Silver Lining for Gap Year & Spring-Start Students

Doug Karlson,


A student charts her course on last fall's voyage from Woods Hole to Grenada.

Congratulations, the acceptance letters have arrived and you’ve been accepted to your school of choice... with one caveat. They don’t have room for you until the spring.

Before you lose heart and settle for your second choice, remember that this needn’t affect your overall college experience. In fact, it could be a great opportunity. In fact, winter-starts have become a major trend, as reported by the Boston Globe.

And just because your dream college wants you to wait doesn’t mean you have to wait at home! 

Many students take advantage of spring starts to enroll in a pre-college program. Think of it as a mini gap year, a refreshing and alternative experience between four years of hard work in high school and four years of hard work in college.

So what’s the best gap year program for you? There are many to choose from, but if you’re seeking adventure, experiential education, and something totally different, you might consider SEA Semester.

Maddie Hurtgen was a winter admit, or “Jan” as they’re known, at Hamilton College, where’s she’s now enrolled.  She opted to enroll in SEA Semester’s Ocean Exploration program, and sailed aboard our tall ship SSV Corwith Cramer from Woods Hole to Grenada – a blue water voyage of several thousand miles.

In her SEA Currents blog, she describes her Shadow Watch Officer experience, saying her “skills were definitely put to the test. I surprised myself with how much I have learned.”

Maddie is just one of many winter-admit and gap-year students who regularly sail with SEA Semester. Our newest pre-college program, Atlantic Odyssey, takes place next fall and is designed especially for gap year students and winter starts.

Consider the advantages of a study abroad experience for your fall term. It’s a chance to mature as a person, and as a student, and to take a little time off from the pressures of a traditional classroom. It’s also an opportunity to expand your horizons through travel.

If you’re a winter start and looking for the best gap year program for you, SEA Semester has two upcoming programs to consider: Atlantic Odyssey, which is tailored just to gap year and winter starts, or Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems, which offers full college credit.

More about Atlantic Odyssey

Atlantic Odyssey offers gap and winter start students a deeper understanding of the complex marine environment through field-based research, a sailing adventure aboard a tall ship, and innumerable opportunities for skill-building, leadership development, and personal growth both on shore and at sea.

It’s a pre-college program specifically tailored to gap year/winter start students who are looking for an experiential, non-credit bearing learning opportunity. This gap year program explores the conservation and sustainable management of marine environments, and introduces students to the coastal and island communities that depend upon these natural resources.

The mission of Atlantic Odyssey  is to assess the resiliency of coastal communities and ecosystems as they come face-to-face with the impacts of climate change. This gap year program offers opportunities for comparative analyses of coastal and near-shore ecosystems as well as an introduction to and assessment of ocean environmental health.

Students will join an active learning community where they'll develop leadership and teamwork skills while gaining a deeper understanding of what conducting science at sea is all about! They'll explore three climate zones and study numerous ecosystems while participating in cutting edge research, contributing to active citizen science efforts, and lending a hand in multiple service learning projects.

Following a few weeks preparing for the pre-college voyage on the SEA campus in the world-famous ocean research hub of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, students embark aboard the sailing school vessel (SSV) Corwith Cramer in Woods Hole bound for St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s a long blue-water ocean passage you’ll not soon forget, with port stops scheduled for Dominica and  St. John. The shore component in Woods Hole runs from September 23rd to October 10th, and the sea component is from October 11th to November 18th. 

The Woods Hole experience
During the three-week shore component in Woods Hole, students will develop scientific survey skills in local salt marshes, beaches, and harbors in partnership with local research and conservation groups. Working with additional SEA partners from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the New England Aquarium, and Mystic Seaport Museum, students will learn about climate policy and adaptation measures adopted throughout the Southern New England region. When not actively engaged in field experiences, students will receive practical instruction in basic navigation techniques and ship management skills to prepare for their time at sea. In preparation for coral reef survey work in the Caribbean, students will also learn proper snorkeling and reef surveying techniques. Finally, time, materials, and instruction for observational and reflective journaling will be included.

Life at sea
Following the shore component, the personal journey continues on board the SSV Corwith Cramer  for a 39-day voyage from Woods Hole to the Caribbean. This journey traverses the remotest region of the North Atlantic gyre, the Sargasso Sea: home to drifting communities of golden algae and more recently, marine plastic debris. Once on board, students become working members of the crew - one of the hallmarks of all SEA programs.

Commitment to the successful functioning of a team, in a supporting role or as a leader, is an essential element of the sea component as students learn the operations of the vessel on deck — steering by compass and by the stars, setting and striking sails, plotting the ship’s position using modern technology and traditional celestial navigation tools — and in the lab — deploying nets to catch marine plants and animals, sending sensing equipment hundreds of meters below the surface, listening to the underwater soundscape to observe dolphin and whale behavior, and otherwise contributing to ongoing research projects focused on human impacts on marine ecosystems.

The final leg of the voyage brings the shipboard community to the tropical Caribbean where the focus will shift to Dominica, the “Nature Island,” and then to the US Virgin Islands’ protected coral reef habitats. In addition to an introduction to Dominica and its communities, the assessment of climate change impacts on ecosystems continues. From the impact of hurricanes and sea level rise on coastal communities to the issues of warming temperatures and ocean acidification on coral reefs and mangroves, students will learn from local experts and stakeholders about each island's pressing environmental issues.

The gap year program concludes with a showcase of the oceanographic research, odyssey journaling and island environment observations conducted over the six-week voyage and a celebration of the achievements of the shipboard learning community. Depending on individual plans and interests, students may arrange to return home directly from St. Croix or possibly engage with past SEA Semester partners in the USVI on conservation initiatives.

The Winter-Admit Advantage
What can winter-start students expect from this adventure?  They’ll build self-confidence and self-reliance that will prepare them for success in college and beyond. They’ll develop lifelong skills in leadership, teamwork, communication, and critical thinking as an active crewmember aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer.  They’ll conduct environmental research on marine debris, the Sargassum ecosystem, and coral reefs, gathering real-time data that contribute to a global understanding of our oceans. Finally, they’ll experience new cultures while learning about marine conservation efforts in the Caribbean.

Who Should Apply?
Atlantic Odyssey is designed for gap year/winter start students, ages 17 to 22, who have graduated from high school but not yet matriculated at a college or university, and/or who are NOT seeking academic credit for their participation.

Gap year/winter start students who ARE seeking academic credit should consider another SEA Semester Fall 2019 program, Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems.

Categories: News, • Topics: gap year  winter admit  study abroad  sailing  woods hole • (0) Comments
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