Maritime Colleges: A Valuable Road Less Traveled

The life you've been waiting for may be out to sea! Learn more about maritime colleges and see if one of these specialized schools could be right for you.

The coffee we drink; the televisions we watch; the cars we drive. These are just some of the goods carried by ships to destinations near and far. However, how these items get to us is rarely thought about. The grounding of the Ever Given—one of the world’s largest ships carrying containers filled with cargo—in the Suez Canal this spring brought to light the importance of the maritime industry. How important? Over 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea on tankers, bulk carriers, and containerships.

As a result, the Maritime Administration (MARAD), a US Department of Transportation agency that manages the country’s waterborne transportation system, has established a mission “to foster, promote, and develop the maritime industry of the United States to meet the nation’s economic and security needs. This means MARAD is responsible for training and educating the next generation of mariners to carry out and improve the quality of US maritime operations at sea and ashore, everything from shipbuilding to port operations to cybersecurity.” The agency further states that “studying merchant marine operations at the university level is a core component of MARAD’s education strategy.” But to do that, students need to know more about maritime colleges.

What are maritime colleges?

There are several colleges that have been established with the purpose of educating and training students for careers in the global marine transportation industry. Students at these schools take courses in marine engineering and marine transportation as well as other areas in the business of shipping. Spread out across the country, the list of maritime colleges includes:

Although each of these schools has a maritime industry focus, they’re separate institutions with different requirements and academic offerings. As a result, students should take a careful look at each school to ensure they find the college that’s the best fit for them.

Connect with SUNY Maritime! 

A unique college experience

The US Merchant Marine Academy is one of five federal service academies. Located in Kings Point, New York, on the Long Island Sound, MARAD’s flagship Merchant Marine Academy was established to provide an ongoing supply of highly trained merchant mariners. Midshipmen can choose from one of five highly demanding majors: Marine Transportation, Maritime Logistics & Security, Marine Engineering, Marine Engineering Systems, and Marine Engineering & Shipyard Management. Kings Point requires a congressional nomination before students can apply for admission. Interested students should reach out to their congressman or senator early in their junior year of high school to enquire about specific deadlines to be considered for a nomination.

A unique element to this college experience is the Academy’s “Sea Year,” in which midshipmen spend several months during their sophomore and junior years on a variety of US flagged merchant vessels, visiting an average of 18 countries. Applying their academic learnings on a ship—a floating internship—provides students with the hands-on experience they’ll need as merchant mariners. In return for a service obligation, midshipmen receive tuition, room and board, textbooks, and uniforms at no cost. A small personal services fee is charged for items such as a computer, transportation costs, and other miscellaneous expenses. Graduation from Kings Point results in a Bachelor of Science degree, a US Coast Guard license as a merchant marine officer, and an officer’s commission in the US Armed Forces.

Related: List: Military Colleges

State maritime academies

Students may prefer to attend state maritime academies when considering four-year undergraduate programs. These schools operate within state universities and don’t require a congressional endorsement for admission. SUNY Maritime College—located in historic Fort Schuyler with views of New York City—provides the option of obtaining one of 10 undergraduate degrees, including International Transportation & Trade, Engineering, and Naval Architecture. In addition to their degree, students can also choose a program that allows them to pursue a US Coast Guard deck or engine license. According to the school, “students pursuing a license must be part of the Regiment of Cadets” and take part in summer sea terms on the Empire State VI training ship. SUNY Maritime graduates don’t have a military obligation unless they participate in a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.

At Cal Maritime, students are required to wear uniforms, but it isn’t a “military” academy. The school does stress “similar values as the military academies such as leadership and accountability,” but students aren’t required to join the military after graduation. A part of the 23-campus California State University system, Cal Maritime sits on a picturesque waterfront campus, serving about 1,000 students. The school has a 500-foot vessel, the Training Ship Golden Bear, that’s used for its annual training cruise. “She serves as a floating classroom/laboratory where classroom concepts in marine transportation, engineering, and technology are practiced and applied,” according to the school. Cal Maritime boasts a 94% employment rate within three months of graduation.

Across the country at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Rear Admiral Francis X. McDonald, the school’s President, states that “the Academy is known for specialized STEM and Business academic programs and majors that are in high demand.” Mass Maritime has seven undergraduate degree programs, including International Maritime Business; Marine Science, Safety & Environmental Protection; and Emergency Management. Experiential learning is a focus with on-campus simulators and labs, internships, co-ops, and sea terms. Students can even spend a six-week, hands-on voyage aboard the Academy’s Training Ship Kennedy.

Related: A Quick Guide to ROTC: How to Know if It's Right for You

An outstanding value

With education costs and student loan debt at all-time highs, it’s important for students and their families to identify colleges and degrees that provide potential for career success. The maritime academies are consistently included among the top schools on PayScale’s “Best Value Colleges” list. USMMA is ranked third, just behind the highly selective Harvey Mudd College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. SUNY Maritime College is ranked sixth overall, while Cal Maritime and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy are in the top 25. These college options are a great return on investment for a unique experience and a high potential for a rewarding career.

Start exploring maritime colleges using our College Search tool to see if one could be a great fit for you.

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