Study three-quarters of the world in just one semester… the oceans cover more than 70% of our planet, yet we know more about outer space than we do about our own waters. Spend one semester exploring the global ocean through multiple lenses with students from a variety of academic backgrounds. Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and take your learning out of the classroom and into the field. You’ll never look at the world in the same way again.
SEA Semester: Ocean Exploration
Application Deadline: Applications Closed.
This interdisciplinary study abroad program combines insights from the natural and social sciences in order to deepen students’ awareness of and appreciation for the ocean.
Cruise Track: Woods Hole, MA » Key West, FL
Destinations: Woods Hole › Key West
No anticipated port stops.
When?August 31 – November 18, 2020
Aug. 31 – Oct. 10: On shore in Woods Hole
Oct. 10 – Nov. 18: At sea
- Gain a comprehensive understanding of the world’s oceans
- Take your learning out of the classroom and into the field
- Develop lifelong skills in leadership, teamwork, communication, and critical thinking
- Conduct environmental research on the Gulf Stream while gathering real-time data that contributes to a global understanding of our oceans
- Learn about marine conservation efforts and climate resilience initiatives of coastal cities and towns along the US east coast
Who Should Apply?
This semester at sea is open to undergraduate students of all majors looking for a hands-on learning experience and greater understanding of the ocean environment. This program is also open to gap year/winter start students who have graduated from high school but not yet matriculated at a college or university. This program offers a full semester of college credit.
Understanding the oceans is an essential component of appreciating how the world works and how we relate to it as human beings. The sea is so complex that it is impossible to comprehend from the perspective of a single academic discipline. With that in mind, this interdisciplinary program combines insights from oceanography, the humanities, and the social sciences with practical skills in seamanship, allowing students to deepen their awareness of and appreciation for the ocean through hands-on research and personal experience. In this semester, students will address and answer some of the most pressing global questions related to the ocean environment.
What better place to study than the North Atlantic? We rely on it for warmth, food, work, and recreation, yet it's changing fast. Ocean temperatures are rising, fish stocks are shifting, and hurricanes are getting stronger and more destructive. By joining this program, students will be in the unique position to work on cutting edge topics exploring how climate change is impacting the North Atlantic.
During an initial 6-week shore component in Woods Hole, academic coursework will prepare students for their research voyage from Woods Hole to the Caribbean. With full access to SEA faculty, guest lecturers, and the world-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/Marine Biological Laboratory Library, students will design original research projects which they will later execute at sea. Maritime Studies coursework will complement this research by offering a wider historical and social perspective on the impact of humans on the world’s oceans, and on our society's relationship with the sea. Finally, Nautical Science coursework will introduce practical seamanship skills and the theoretical background necessary to for students safely operate a tall ship at sea.
As full, working members of the scientific team and sailing crew aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, students will then spend the next six weeks at sea managing shipboard operations, navigating by the stars, analyzing oceanographic samples, while making an epic passage of more than 2000 nautical miles. Perhaps most importantly, students will learn to challenge themselves and will develop new skills in leadership, teamwork, and research.
At the beginning of every SEA Semester program, up to 25 students from various institutions across the U.S. — and often the world — come together on SEA’s residential campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on scenic Cape Cod, just down the road from the village of Woods Hole, a world-renowned hub of oceanographic research and discovery.
During this initial shore component, you’ll undertake coursework with SEA faculty that will prepare you personally, academically, and practically for the second part of your experience at sea. You’ll develop an original research project, explore the connections between humans and the ocean, and learn the principles necessary to crew a tall ship. You’ll also have access to some of the world’s foremost scientists and policymakers addressing the leading environmental questions of today.
Living in fully furnished private cottages on our campus, you’ll share all of the responsibilities of community living including grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. From day one, your class will begin building skills in teamwork, communication, and collaboration, all of which will prepare you for the demands of living and working together at sea. Everyone will play a role in meal planning, provisioning (each house gets a pre-paid grocery card on a weekly basis), and meal prep, which is a great opportunity to hone your organizational and budgeting skills – not to mention putting your culinary skills to the test!
Morning and afternoon classes take place a short walk away from the cottages in the main academic building, the Madden Center. This facility also hosts the library, computer lab, science lab, faculty offices, and is home to the SEA administrative offices. A midday break allows time for lunch, a pickup game of frisbee, soccer, or volleyball, or a run along the local beach. Then it’s back to the classroom. The course schedule is intensive, with academic activities scheduled from roughly 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Evenings and weekends are usually free, though sometimes community activities are organized by your faculty or the Head Resident on campus.
The shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester. It prepares you to be effective in your roles as researcher, crewmember, and shipmate at sea, and equips you with the tools to embark upon a successful ocean voyage.
Tuition, room & board for Ocean Exploration is $25,000. Sea Education Association remains committed to making our programs affordable for all qualified and motivated students. A limited number of need-based scholarships are available for our gap year programs.
Travel Costs: Students are responsible for all travel expenses (Home-Woods Hole, Ship-Home). Costs vary by student.
Personal Costs (including local transportation): $250 estimate.
A $750 deposit, payable to "Sea Education Association", is due within two weeks of acceptance to the program. This fee reserves your space in the class and is credited towards the cost of tuition.
Balance of Invoice is due according to the following schedule:
- 90 days prior to start date – 50% of total program cost due (after deposit is paid)
- 60 days prior to start date – final balance due
Students must notify SEA in writing of their intent to withdraw from the program. The following refund policies apply:
- 61 days or more before program start date = 100% refund, less $750 deposit
- 60 – 31 days before program start date = 50% refund, less $750 deposit
- 30 days or less before program start date, or after program start date = no refund
All application fees are non-refundable.
While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA Semester – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.
As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA Semester programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”
The sea component of SEA Semester immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.
Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.
When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.
"Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.” SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major
SEA Semester: Ocean Exploration carries 17 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Relationship between humans and the sea. History, literature and art of our maritime heritage. Ships as agents of contact change. Political and economic challenges of contemporary marine affairs. Destination-specific focus.
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Learn the fundamentals of sailing ship operation, in preparation for direct application at sea. Navigation (piloting, celestial and electronic), weather, engineering systems, safety, and sail theory. Participate as an active member of the ship’s crew on an offshore voyage.
(Previously titled Practical Oceanography I)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Exposure to basic oceanographic sampling methods. Participate in shipboard laboratory operations to gain experience with deployment of modern oceanographic equipment and collection of scientific data at sea. Emphasis on practicing consistent methods and ensuring data fidelity.
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Explore how interconnected ocean characteristics (bathymetry, seawater chemistry, biological diversity) and processes (plate tectonics, surface and deep-water circulation, biological production) shape global patterns across multiple scales. Discuss destination-specific environmental issues and hot topics in marine research.
Directed Oceanographic Research (300-level, 4 credits)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Three lab science courses (one at the 300-level or higher) or consent of instructor.
Design and conduct original oceanographic research. Collect data and analyze samples. Compile results in peer-reviewed manuscript format and share during oral or poster presentation session. Emphasis on development of research skills and written/oral communication abilities.
-- OR --
Practical Oceanographic Research (200-level, 4 credits)
Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Introduction to oceanographic research. Design a collaborative, hypothesis-driven project following the scientific process. Collect original data. Conduct analysis and interpretation, then prepare a written report and oral presentation.
- Maritime Studies
- Nautical Science
- Oceanographic Field Methods
- Directed Oceanographic Research
- Practical Oceanographic Research
These syllabi are examples of the type of work done in each course but not necessarily specific to this instance of Ocean Exploration.
Complete an application form
Submit two writing samples (500-750 words each)
List your full name on each. Use the red button below to upload or submit via email to email@example.com or fax to 857-386-7986.
- Two-part essay (500-750 words): Why have you chosen to apply to a gap year program and what do you expect to gain from your experience? How will this program complement your future educational goals? Be sure to address all questions.
- Academic writing sample of your own choosing (2-4 page excerpt, if longer than 4 pages). This should be a reflection of your best written work from a recent class, and on a topic applicable to the gap year program you are applying for. Please include your name and the context of the sample (class title and brief description of the assignment).
Request and submit transcript
A complete high school transcript is required for all applicants. Transcripts may be submitted directly from your school via email to firstname.lastname@example.org; via fax to 857-386-7986; or via mail to:
SEA Office of Admissions
P.O. Box 6
Woods Hole, MA 02543
Submit two (2) references
One should be from a teacher who has taught you within the past year. The other can be from a teacher, coach, guidance counselor, etc. Download the PDF reference form.
Schedule an interview with your Admissions Counselor
Email email@example.com to schedule your interview.
Interviews may be conducted over the phone or via Skype. Topics of conversation may include life at your school, academic and extracurricular interests, why you’re taking a gap year, your expectations for life aboard our tall ship, and how you learned about our program. The interview is also a great opportunity for you to ask questions about us!
Apply for a Passport: Please note that all gap year students must have a valid passport - NOT a Passport Card - before joining the program.
Apply for Financial Aid: If you plan to apply for need-based financial aid, click here to learn about the requirements for gap year students.