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Aerial view of a large ship at The Maine Maritime Academy
Courtesy of The Maine Maritime Academy

When you imagine a typical college experience, you might picture dorm life, late-night study sessions in the library, and getting involved in clubs. What probably doesn’t come to mind is regularly spending weeks at sea aboard military ships.

But for four of the schools on Money’s 2022 Best Colleges list — three of which cracked the top 20 — daily life is a blend of the typical and the nautical.

Massachusetts Maritime Academy (No. 4), California State University Maritime Academy (No. 15), Maine Maritime Academy (No. 16) and State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College (No. 64) are career-focused public colleges that train students for careers related to merchant marine operations. This includes programs such as marine and mechanical engineering, international maritime business, and oceanography.

“Maritime industry is huge in the US,” says Capt. Mark Woolley, a retired US Navy captain and current chief of staff at SUNY Maritime College. “The merchant mariner includes anybody driving a small ferry all the way up to large cargo ships.”

Thus, the country needs places to train college students who want to specialize in the industry. Enter: state-run maritime academies.

The appeal of these schools is three-part: admissions requirements that make them accessible, relatively affordable prices and training for high-paying jobs. The last of the three is particularly important in explaining why these specialized schools score so high in Money’s analysis.