Updated: Mar 15
Picking a college is no easy task. Since starting this blog I have received so many messages asking my advice and recommendations on how to get involved in marine science. One of the questions I get most frequently is “where should I go to college?”. It is nearly impossible for me to answer this question. This guide to picking a college for the marine sciences will help you!
I only went to one school, so I can really only speak to how much I enjoyed my own experience. However, not everyone will find my school to be there perfect fit. I wanted to create this step by step guide to picking a college to help you find your perfect university.
This guide to picking a college is based on the United States, however there are still useful tips for international students. Do some research of your own to find options near you in substitute for step 1.
Step 1: List of Colleges
Access the whole list of colleges within the United States that offer a marine-related degree.
This list is a great starting point to figure out what all your options are. It is organized by state for easy browsing. Each college on the list is followed by the exact majors offered.
Step 2: Region
Consider the area of the US that you may want to study in. You may want to think about if region, climate, and/or proximity to home matter to you when looking at colleges.
When I was considering picking a college I thought I wanted to get as far away from my home as possible. I ended up only going to college about an hour or so away. Ultimately, this turned out to be great for me and I was happy to be close to home.
“I didn’t think it would matter to me. Now that I’m in school it would’ve been nice [to be close to home].”
– KENDRA NELSON (@HARPSEAL111)
CONSIDER YOUR INTERESTS
Another thing to consider when choosing possible locations to look at schools is the ecosystem you want to study. No matter what marine science program you end up being a part of you will learn all the same basic information. However, depending on where you are in the country you may have access to different ecosystems for field studies and independent research. I spent hours learning all the species and ecosystem specifics in Florida. Now I work in Hawaii and am still learning all the species in this different ecosystem. If you know for sure there is a certain ecosystem you are interested in, it would be useful to try and go to college with access to that system.
Step 3: Financials
Consider what you can financially afford. Depending on your financial situation some colleges might be a little more out of reach than others. However, don’t get discouraged! Make sure to do research on scholarship opportunities to help you get to your dream school!
Keep an eye out on what states are considered “in-state” for the schools you are interested in. TIP: Sometimes colleges consider multiple states “in-state”.
Think out of the box when it comes to scholarships! There is a scholarship for almost anything and everything nowadays. Do some research online to find all of your options.
Do not avoid applying to schools simply because they are out of your budget. Sometimes schools will offer scholarship money upon application. I was lucky and was offered scholarships to some of the schools I applied for without previously applying.
Step 4: Program
Once you’ve narrowed down your schools based on the steps above start looking into each school’s marine science program. There are a few things to consider when looking at the degree program.
SIZE OF SCHOOL
Size of school has a huge influence on both your campus life and academic experience. Typically the larger the school, the larger your class sizes. This is especially true for intro courses and general education requirements.
I went to a smaller school and loved it. I knew all my professors personally and they knew me. This meant if I was slacking off they knew and weren’t afraid to call me on it. I was also able to get involved in independent research in the first year on campus. Not always, but most larger universities have more competition for students wanting to do independent research. This means you’re less likely to get involved in those opportunities until your later years of schooling.
GETTING INTO YOUR MAJOR
Keep in mind how soon you will be able to start taking courses relating to your major. Any degree program will require you to take gen. ed. courses or “elective” courses that may not be specifically in your major. These courses can be great opportunities to discover your other passions and talents! However, after spending years in high school, most likely not studying marine science I imagine you are ready to get started.
The course program I was involved in offered at least an intro marine science course my first semester. I didn’t want to wait until my junior year to start studying within my major. This isn’t a deal breaker for everyone but you may want to consider it.
Looking into professors that teach at a university is a deep dive into this process. I didn’t research my professors ahead of time. I got lucky that I connected with a professor researching sharks. Had I looked ahead of time I would’ve known how cool all my professors would’ve been.
This step is really for those of you that already have a good idea of what you want to study and research once out of school. Let’s say you want to study seahorses. It might be worth looking into a college’s professors to see if any of them work with seahorses.
This isn’t a necessity but can be interesting to look into if you’re having a hard time choosing between schools.
The most important part…
Choose a school that you think would be the best fit for you. Obviously there is more to college than just the academic side of things. However, there are some things in this list that may help you reach a final decision.
Feel free to fall in love with multiple colleges for different reasons. Ultimately, you’re probably going to love wherever you end up. Be open to all the possibilities!
I hope this guide to picking a college will help you narrow down all the great options for marine science. A HUGE thank you to my friend Kendra Nelson (@intertidalkendy) for helping me brainstorm and cowriting this blog!
Read a full list of possible jobs and fields in marine science here.
Photo credit @brianadamsphoto
If you need advice on taking the first steps to getting involved read my advice to aspiring marine biologists. This blog is great whether you are pre-college, in college, about to graduate, or are just wanting to get involved because you love the ocean.