A+ World Academy is a boarding school on a tall wooden ship called the Sørlandet (pronounced Sur-lan-det) which is based in Norway. After hosting a successful “Class Afloat” program for 4 years, the Sørlandet Foundation established A+ World Academy in 2015. 60 students in grades 11 and 12 live and work on the Norwegian tall ship while studying Advanced Placement courses and traveling the world.
Director of Admissions: Benjamin Grønvold
Benjamin has been with the school since their first academic year in 2015. Previously, he was working with the ship handling marketing, social media and brand development. From there, Benjamin managed domestic admissions within Norway before becoming Director of Admissions in 2016.
Benjamin is joined in admissions by Associate Director of Admission, Maria Andreina Mora Bello. They hold an office location in Switzerland; however, both Maria and Benjamin are located at the main office in Norway.
Can you tell us a bit about the student life?
From Norway, the ship sets sail in August to start the school year and returns the following June. While the school is running like a typical boarding school, students will experience unique limitations in their daily lives and encounter many opportunities for growth.
Students follow a rigorous academic program that is largely focused on a selection of AP courses. The instruction is traditional and similar to any other school; however, classes take place at sea while moving from one destination to the next. In addition to standard instruction, the students engage in lab work and field studies along the trip to better engage with their surroundings.
Furthermore, the students will get to experience 20 cultural exchanges across 4 continents. We do not want to be a travel school but instead promote students to experience and engage. For example, we connected with a school in Spain and had a soccer tournament where the students got to spend the day with them and experience their culture in the moment.
What are some of the advantages of learning at sea?
I mentioned our schooling and curriculum are more traditional than you may expect; however, our field studies, lab work, and cultural exchanges are a huge aspect that contributes to the advantages of learning at sea.
To provide an example, our students will go through their regular Spanish lessons and then our teacher takes them on the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico to apply what they have learned in a daily environment. Another instance would be when students are learning about the Roman Empire. Our instructor, along with a guide, takes the students to conduct lessons from inside the Colosseum!
Besides curriculum, what do you feel A+ World Academy students get out of this type of learning environment?
Overcoming extremely challenging situations when you travel is another learning advantage of living at sea. High level of responsibility, lots of safety concerns, and lots of physical labor are all factors the students learn to cope with in a given school year. Students learn the value of teamwork and being dependable through their daily duties on the ship. Overcoming these challenges that few kids experience only reaffirms their confidence when they return home.
On a personal level, living with someone else can be tough and our kids share a room with 30 students their own age! They develop a sense of family and then they know they are in a situation where if they have a problem with someone, they have to handle it then and there. You can’t let it pass, you can’t let it evolve. In any other setting, you can choose to just avoid it and ignore the issue, but then you won’t learn.
What do your recruitment efforts look like?
We are fresh in some markets and well known in others, like Norway, so most work goes into reaching the international markets. We take a digital, social and direct approach; putting most of our weight on ‘direct’ marketing which consists of the face-to-face encounters with our families.
There are many ways of doing it. We get some traction from Google searches and referral sites. We also gain traction from social media – especially our Instagram account (@aplusworldacademy).
We travel and meet with partner schools, partner agents and fairs while even sometimes having our own fairs which make up most of our direct contact with families. For us, it is all about meeting and talking to families, so we set aside a lot of time for exactly that. The school is so different, and there are many misconceptions e.g. people thinking the school is a sailing program, that taking the time to answer a family’s question in person or via phone is one of the most important aspects in recruitment.
Do you give tours when your campus is always on the move?
During our time in Norway we will give tours periodically. We will also give tours on the way if a family is located near one of our ports and is available during a time that won’t interfere with the students’ schedules.
We also have open houses. For example, we plan to have families and agents join us in places like Mexico and Miami soon to view the ship and have some interactive fun like pulling ropes and things like that. In general, if a family wants a tour they just need to contact us and we will do what we can to make the best of it
What are some of the objections or concerns parents have when applying for their child?
It depends where in the world we are recruiting. But the main one we constantly hear is safety. People think it is very unsafe to be out at sea but there are two main factors that keep our school inherently safe: 1. Preparation and 2. Expertise
A lot of knowledge goes into making our travel plans for the year. We consider things like weather patterns while avoiding higher risk areas such as pirate waters and refugee crisis areas.
In addition, we have weather systems on the ship that can predict weather several days in advance…giving us the ability to maneuver or prepare for particular situations. When you add this preparation to the expertise of our staff and crew, you plan on not being in difficult situations but also know how to handle anything that may occur.
How is OpenApply helping you handle your admissions process and achieve your admissions goals?
The majority of our students are from Norway but our focus is international. This year, 80% of our students are Norwegian and the rest are international. We are looking to get that down to 60% Norwegian next year and then long term we plan on achieving 20% Norwegian and 80% international. As we grow internationally, OpenApply will help ease the process for families abroad.
For us, OpenApply is really how we collect the applications and documents. It helps us by collecting all the necessary information and maybe, more importantly, communicate with the parents through the email system.