Deciding where to go to college is an immense part of the fun for any high school graduate who’s making the leap to higher education. The world opens up to students, letting them decide the next chapter of their lives.
For students who are avid water sports fans, or who want to go into marine biology, aquaculture, or oceanography, there is one requirement—the school must be near water. A school near the ocean will undoubtedly have resources, programs, and even clubs that combine a love of the water with learning, and so this is where the journey for dedicated students begins.
In America, there is a group of schools that combine marine sciences with outdoor ocean activities, and because of this, they are the schools ocean-loving students must look to first. From large public institutions to smaller private colleges, they are all listed here for a student’s convenience.
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To assist in find which oceanside school is your best fit, we have compiled our annual list of the 50 Top Oceanside Colleges. We have ranked these 50 schools by their Return On Investment, because studying on the beach is no reason not to also get a good education for your money.
Covering 8,000 acres of land, including seven forests and a nature preserve on Horse Island, Yale is a school for nature lovers. The school is a stone’s throw from New York City and is located near the New Haven Harbor overlooking the Long Island Sound, is home to a world-class rowing team and other water sports, ensuring that the changing seasons always bring something exciting to campus residents.
Consistently named one of the top five liberal arts college in the country, Bowdoin College is located in Brunswick, Maine, that sits at the North end of Casco Bay, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. But far from being just a place to study, the school is well known for the Outing Club, which hosts canoeing, rafting, and kayaking trips throughout the year, taking advantage of not only the great scenery but the perfect seasonal weather.
Located on the coast of the San Francisco Bay area, the University of California at Berkeley is the oldest institution that comprises the California university system. For over a decade, it has been named one of the top universities in the world and is renown as a public research university. For incoming students, however, the university is best loved for its Mediterranean climate, the Berkeley Marina, and the surfing spots that make up the coast.
The Citadel, located in Charleston, South Carolina, is one of six senior military colleges in the US. The campus is situated between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and enjoys a subtropical climate. Students enjoy the sailing club, and for cadets who want to enter the Coast Guard, The Citadel offers specialized training.
Located in the Westchester, Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University is a private religious university that is home to the famous Loyola Law School. The campus is just east of the Pacific Ocean and Playa del Rey, where many students take time out from their studies to take paddleboarding classes, visit the Santa Monica boardwalk, and partake in the sunny Southern California weather.
California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo
The 2nd largest land-owning university in the US, this university is most commonly referred to as Cal Poly and covers close to 10,000 acres in San Luis Obispo County. Only 11 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Cal Poly offers students educational opportunities for marine research as well as access to waterfront activities such as sailing and rowing.
Nestled in the Puget Sound, the University of Washington is based in Seattle, Washington and is the oldest university on the West Coast. Students who study here are treated to mild weather all year long and have a variety of activities to help them relax from campus life, such as Seattle’s robust music scene and the kayaking and sailing competitions that occur year-round.
The University of California in Irvine is located in Orange County, California, and is considered a public ivy university with a high research activity rate. Students from all over the world come to study here, not just for the Mediterranean climate and the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, but also for the variety of nature preserves and parks. The university hosts rowing, sailing, and other waterfront activities, as well as providing students with educational opportunities relating to marine biology.
A private, Churches of Christ-affiliated research university, Pepperdine is located in Malibu, California, with courses taught internationally. Overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway, the campus boasts views of Long Beach and Catalina Island, just a few miles down the highway, making for great day trips for students. Not to be outdone, the Pacific Ocean is just beckoning would-be surfers and swimmers to take time away from studies to enjoy the Southern California sunshine.
No university other than the University of California in San Diego can boast a short walk down to one of the West Coast’s best surfing spots, Black Beach. Surfing is such a huge part of the university that it even has its own surf team. When students are done playing on the beach, it’s just a short walk back to the La Jolla campus for a world-class education.
Another university that hosts its own surf team, it’s no wonder that the University of California—Santa Barbara made it onto this list. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean with Goleta beach just a quick walk away from campus residencies, this Public Ivy institution is known for their dedication to the sciences outside of their waterfront club activities.
Located near the Long Island Sound, this liberal humanistic university owns miles of beach right on the sound. In fact, senior students who have permission live in a campus-owned village called Lantern Point, which overlooks the sound. From sailing and rowing to annual Clambakes on the beach, Fairfield hosts seasonal events for students and residents alike.
Situated in St. Augustine, Florida, Flagler College is a private liberal arts establishment that focuses on an exceptional education. Thanks in part to the humid subtropical climate and the college’s close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean via the Matanzas River continues to give students the opportunity to take part in yacht clubs and watersports, including rowing and kayaking. When students have had their fill of the ocean, they can visit any number of museums scattered along the coastline, or duck into Ripley’s Believe or Not! Museum.
Seattle, Washington is a mecca for schools, and Seattle University is no different. Originally founded as a law school, SU is the largest Catholic university in the Northwest. Making its home on Capitol Hill, students are surrounded by Lake Union, Lake Washington, famous attractions like Pikes Place Market, Puget Sound, and the Seattle Aquarium, giving them access to no end of waterfront activities like rowing or sailing.
Founded in 1831 as a private research university, New York University always makes the top 25 schools to attend in the US. Located in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, the university sits just mere miles from the Atlantic Ocean, between the Hudson and East Rivers. The university is perfect for those students who love city life as much as beach life, and although the beach is miles north, students can still partake in the crew club and sailing competitions held every year, due to the city’s subtropical climate.
Best known for its marine science department and the accomplished Division I beach volleyball team, the University of North Carolina - Wilmington, just a few miles from Wrightsville Beach, may still surprise some students. Despite making the list of 100 best colleges to study in the US, this university is better known for its competitive surfing club that takes advantage of the mild weather to compete with other universities along the Atlantic coast.
A sea-grant and space-grant public university in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina, The College of Charleston is the oldest college in the state and is known for its liberal arts education programs. For avid sailing students, the college has something special—because of the humid subtropical climate, the school offers year-round sailing through the J. Stewart Sailing Complex. The school’s location on the Charleston Harbor also makes it a great place for those who love to indulge in crew club sports. And for days students want to spend near the water, the city of Charleston boasts charming seaside attractions, including horse and carriage rides.
The University of Miami, located in Coral Gables, Florida, is a private research university known for its medical and law schools, as well as a school dedicated to the focus of oceanic studies. And because the campus sits close to Biscayne Bay that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, students are welcome to participate in a variety of ocean sports, including scuba diving, fishing, and kayaking. When students are done playing in the ocean, they can explore Miracle Mile and the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden before heading back to their studies.
A public research university that is acknowledged for its strong student political activism, the University of California—Santa Cruz, located on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, is consistently on the top 100 lists of colleges in the US. But aside from campus studies, this university is a hotspot for any student who wants to enjoy subtropical climates year round. Campus residents have access to year-round surfing and swimming, and can take a break from the beach to walk the Santa Cruz Boardwalk before settling into their studies.
A gorgeous university located in Queen Anne’s Hill in Seattle, Washington, Seattle Pacific University was founded in 1891 as a private university is known for a focus on undergraduate studies. But while the school, located near the famous art neighborhood Fremont, is known for its educational aspects, students can also partake in the outdoor activities provided by Puget Sound, which makes use of the temperate climate all year long. Also, a stone’s throw from the university is Discovery Park, which boasts views of the Sound as well as beaches perfect for friendly gatherings.
Located in downtown New Orleans, students at Tulane University can experience the thriving, historic of New Orleans and enjoy its close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. Tulane is home to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI), a student and teacher research program that engages research projects to investigate the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico and affected Gulf Coast States and its associated environmental stresses and public health implications.
A private college located in Bar Harbor, Maine, the College of the Atlantic has a focus on human ecology, making it one of the most specialized schools on the list. Its commitment to sustainability is well known and is the first college to be declared carbon neutral. The campus sits on Frenchman Bay, allowing students to divide their time between classes and waterfront activities such as fishing or diving. Because the climate is temperate, sailing and rowing are also year-round activities.
Located in Bellingham, Washington, Western Washington University is a public university that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees. The university is close to the San Juan Islands and the North Cascades, both of which feature great opportunities for students to indulge in sailing, waterskiing, and camping out on the shore. The mild weather of Bellingham also allows for day trips to nearby Lummi Island, giving students time to relax while surrounded by nature.
Known by students as “The Beach,” California State University - Long Beach is known for its elasmobranch research department, focusing on the study of sharks. But while students can get their fill of the ocean in class, club sports also incorporate the surroundings—Junipero Beach, Belmont Shores, and Seal Beach are all home to university club sports such as wakeboarding and surfing.
A small Christian liberal arts college that prides itself on combining academics with faith and community service, Point Loma Nazarene University is located on Point Loma, overlooking the San Diego’s view of the Pacific Ocean. While the university itself is a close-knit community, its close location to Sunset Hills Natural Park and the ocean has brought out some daredevil students who not only take up surfing but cliff diving as a fun way to relax between classes.
This public liberal arts college, located in Sarasota, Florida, is known for being a college that allows its students to design their own curriculum. The school, which sits on Sarasota Bay, invites students to study along the shoreline and recreational time can be spent scouring Sarasota antique shops for great finds. Also available are snorkeling and fishing activities.
Brigham Young University, a private religious university in Laie, Hawaii, is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Ko’olau Mountains, just over a mile away from Laie Point and its beaches. For students who love to play on the beaches, Laie Beach Park offers ample space for volleyball tournaments and horseback riding. For the sports-focused student, Hawaii offers some of the best surfing to be found in the US.
A private university with over 200 undergraduate majors located in Tampa, Florida, UT is close to all of Florida’s most famous attractions—Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, and more. With the placement of the university less than five miles from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, students have the option to pursue their oceanic studies on one of the school’s research vessels or partake in competitive sailing, rowing, kayaking, and surfing. And because the climate is subtropical, the miles of beachfront pavilions and waterfront activities are available all year long.
A Catholic, private university located in Newport, Rhode Island, Salve Regina University offers sea-loving students the best surfing spot in New England, due to the temperate climate. It is also known as the sailing capital of the world, combining sailing clubs with a first-class education.
A historically black private university that’s based in Daytona Beach, Florida, Bethune-Cookman University, also known as B-CC, was formed as a college in 1941. Because of its location in the same city that is home to NASCAR, most students who attended have a unique opportunity—the Daytona Beach has sand packed enough to race cars on, blending the love of motorsports and the love of the ocean into one activity. But the fun doesn’t stop there—the miles of beach coupled with the subtropical climate makes surfing another worthwhile pastime.
The most cinematic school on the list, University of San Diego is located on a hill in San Diego, providing views of San Diego Harbor, the Coronado Islands, La Jolla, and the Pacific Ocean. This small private school is a close-knit community that tends to tie community service to the city, allowing students to partake in water conservation efforts as well as activism. And for downtime, students head to Old Town San Diego before hitting the beach for bonfires or paddleboarding lessons.
Founded in 1855 as a private Catholic university, the University of San Francisco—also known as The Hilltop—is nestled between the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate park in San Francisco, California. Based on its close location to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, students from this university enjoy multiple outdoor activities, including sailing, sea kayaking, and more. For the adventurous student, surfing is also an option.
Monmouth University is a private institution located in West Long Branch, New Jersey, offering a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a campus that is just a mile away from the Jersey Shore and the Atlantic Ocean, this small campus is still relatively close to the bustle of New York City and Philadelphia, both a train ride away. In addition to its cultural attractions, Monmouth is home to a rowing and kayaking crew for student athletes.
This public research university is the oldest university in the San Diego County and has been named as one of the top 100 schools engaging in research activity. Owing to the Pacific Ocean being mere miles away, it will come as no surprise that the major sport on campus continues to be rowing, although it rarely competes. Outside of the rowing club activities, students spend a lot of time on the beaches of San Diego, playing beach volleyball or just basking in the subtropical climate of the area.
Headquartered in Stockton, California, this private school is the oldest chartered university in the US. University of the Pacific is known for their men’s and women’s swimming and water polo teams, owing to the school’s proximity to the San Joaquin River and the short drive to the Pacific Ocean. Students can often be seen enjoying Stockton’s waterfront shops and restaurants, or indulging the Mediterranean climate with day trips to the ocean to surf or go fishing.
Located in West Palm Beach, FL, this faith-based university overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Best known for its tropical climate and culture scene, Palm Beach Atlantic University is home to students who love to scuba dive, fish, water ski and more. For most students, their downtime is spent on the ocean, or near the promenades the cover the beaches.
Eckerd College is a private liberal arts college located in St. Petersburg, Florida, sits right on the edge of the Boca Ciega Bay, adding to the warm waters of the Gulf Coast. With the humid subtropical climate making outdoor activities a breeze, students can incorporate the ocean into their everyday lives. The college owns South Beach, and students are able to buy and rent water-sports and fishing equipment on the weekends. The school itself offers trips and lessons for their sea-loving student body as well.
Coastal Carolina University, located in Conway, South Carolina, has married oceanic study into its core public educational offering. The university is actually a sea-grant institution that focuses research and study on the wetlands and Waties Island, a barrier island it owns, to further marine biology studies. The university sits close to the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean, providing ample opportunities for students to partake in wake-sports, surfing, fishing, and saltwater anglers club sports.
Truly for the nature-loving student, Humboldt State University is a public institution, located in Arcata, CA, on Humboldt Bay. It is best known for “The Coral Sea,” an outdoor classroom on a sea vessel for oceanic research. Because of the diversity of the university’s environment and the fact that it overlooks the Pacific Ocean, students will often find themselves kayaking and studying in equal measure.
A young university, California State University—Monterey Bay is located in Seaside, California, overlooking Monterey Bay. With a student body of over 6,000 and a dedication to pursuing oceanic studies, it's no wonder that the university makes use of its close location to the sea by giving students access to a variety of oceanfront activities. There’s kayaking, surfing, sailing, and fishing for sea-loving students. For those who want to go on a day trip, Carmel—another seaside town—is ten miles to the South while San Francisco is located just a few hours north.
Located in Melbourne, Florida, this private research university focuses on STEM subjects, aviation, and marine sciences, making it a perfect fit for students who want to attend a tier-one school in Florida. Students studying marine biology or aquaculture will benefit from The Vero Beach Marine Laboratory, located on the oceanfront for better access for experiments. But aside from all the studying, Melbourne is located right on the Atlantic ocean—with its subtropical climate and well-known surfing spots, this university is a dream for any ocean-loving student.
Located in Kingston, RI, the University of Rhode Island is a land- and sea-grant public institution. It’ll come as no surprise, then, that the school is nationally ranked for its oceanography program. But that’s not all it offers—the best of New England is available for students. With the Atlantic Ocean a mile away, students can take part in beachcombing, clam bakes, fishing and sailing as part of recreational activities. And when students need a break from the ocean, there are boardwalks and parks to explore.
A public research university located in Tampa, Florida, the University of South Florida is known for offering degrees at all levels of higher education and is a top-tier research facility. But rather than just being all work and no play, this school is known for its women’s sailing team and for sponsoring beach and water sports activities at the nearby Tampa Bay beach area. When students get their fill of Tampa Bay, they can take a short drive north to great surfing spots in the greater Gulf of Mexico area.
One of the youngest universities on the list, CSUSM was founded in 1989 and boasts a large medical and sciences department for undergraduates. But when students need a break from lab work, they can drive 11 miles to the South Carlsbad State Beach for surfing lessons or visit the Legoland California park to bring back some childhood memories. For students who enjoy the Mediterranean climate enough to spend more time outdoors, Leucadia Oaks Park and Encinitas Viewpoint Park provide great places to study while gazing out over the Pacific Ocean.
University of Hawaii at Manoa has some of the top rated courses in marine biology available in the US. But aside from being a mecca for marine-focused students, the university’s location in Manoa gives students access to not just Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, but also the famous North Shore and the Banzai Pipeline, where surfing takes the top spot in activities.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful campuses on this list, Endicott College is located in Beverly, Massachusetts right on the Atlantic Coast. Students have the luxury of having three private beaches to themselves, Patch Beach to the West and Mingo and Endicott Beaches to the East. After studying, many campus residents spent time sailing or swimming, letting off some steam from a day hitting the books.
A sister school to the University of South Florida, this public school is the only institution offering bachelor and graduate degrees in the area of St. Petersburg, Florida. It is also home to the USF sailing team for both men and women and are recognized as one of the top 10 Collegiate Sailing teams in the US. The school, which sits right on Tampa Bay, also offers recreational activity opportunities for their students, such as deep sea fishing, surfing. The humid subtropical climate makes it possible for students to enjoy the water year-round, making for a great break from studies.
Fort Myers is home to pristine wetlands, making it a go-to university for those who want to study marine biology and other water-related studies. But the Florida Gulf Coast University doesn’t stop there—some campus residents are lucky enough to walk ten feet to Lakefront Beach, home to the waterfront activities hosted by the university. For students who want to relax and enjoy the tropical climate, there are pavilions and common areas great for studying for finals or relaxing with friends.
Hawaii Pacific University is a private liberal arts college located in Honolulu, Hawaii, which offers over 50 majors, many of them focusing on marine biology and environmental studies. The university is under 2 miles away from Waikiki Beach and close to Hanauma Bay, giving students the ability to take an afternoon off and go swimming with dolphins or snorkeling. For avid sports students, Hawaii’s hot semi-arid climate provides parasailing, surfing, and kayaking competitions all year long.
Uniquely set between Oso Bay and Corpus Christi Bay in the Gulf of Mexico, Texas A&M—Corpus Christi is the only university that sits on its own island. This public university sits close to the Port of Corpus Christi and gives students access to the beaches right from the highway. Popular activities include windsurfing, surfing, and fishing. And if you were to ask students, they could most likely tell you of some beautiful secluded surfing spots.
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