Pollution, over-fishing, rising sea levels, the fate of marine animals — with so much discussion about the oceans these days, it’s no wonder degree programs relating to the study of these topics are more popular than ever. And what better place to study subjects relating to the ocean than an official Sea Grant university?
What is a Sea Grant University? A Sea Grant university is a school with a National Sea Grant College Program. These programs are officially associated with and partly funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Sea Grant College Program was created by the United States Congress in 1966.
Why attend a Sea Grant University? While these colleges and universities don’t have official rights over any body of water, they do receive considerable amounts of money to conduct scientific research, training, educational programs, and extension projects related to the conservation and practical use of America’s coastal regions, the Great Lakes, and other marine areas. Students hoping to prepare themselves for a career relating to the ocean in any way would do well to consider a Sea Grant university.
There are 34 official Sea Grant universities and networks (consisting of multiple universities) in the United States. Below, we’ve highlighted 30 of the best of them based on such factors as relevant degree programs offered, scientific research conducted, research accomplishments, and field opportunities available to students.
Clemson, South Carolina
Clemson University is one of the schools making up the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium. Together with University of South Carolina, College of Charleston, South Carolina State University, and Coastal Carolina University, Clemson spearheads a number of interesting research initiatives, including its current project on hurricane resilience, preparation, and recovery. Interestingly, the Consortium is also responsible for publishing Coastal Heritage Magazine, a quarterly publication featuring the latest in ocean-related research, education, and outreach. Students at Clemson University have a variety of degree program options, including Biological Sciences, Biosystems Engineering, Environmental and Natural Resources, and Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, among others.
College of William & Mary
The College of William & Mary is part of the Virginia Sea Grant College Program, which received Sea Grant status in 2014. Still, William & Mary stands out as the home of the Institute of Marine Science, a 35-acre state-of-the-art facility that offers students a hands-on facility for research and education. The college also offers a number of interesting degree programs as part of its School of Marine Science. These include an undergraduate minor in Marine Science. Undergrads looking to boost their resumes with marine science programs have access to summer internships, Eastern Shore Laboratory summer courses, volunteering opportunities, and the unique chance to receive training in the oyster aquaculture industry, an industry vital to the Virginia economy. Other members of the Virginia Sea Grant College Program include Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and George Mason University.
Ithaca, New York
Cornell University — along with Stony Brook University and SUNY Buffalo — is a member of the New York Sea Grant consortium. Uniquely, Cornell’s research programs cover a large amount of space — from the Northeast to the Great Lakes. This allows students at the inland-based university plenty of opportunity to get their feet wet in subjects relating to the study of the ocean. Courses offered include Introduction to Oceanography, Conservation Oceanography, Fish Ecology Laboratory, and Underwater Research, most of which come with opportunities for hands-on research. Undergraduate students also have the option of pursuing a minor in Marine Biology.
Florida State University
Florida State University is home to the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory. This top-ranked marine lab is well known for “conducting and supporting exceptional research that advances marine ecosystem science and conservation, addressing questions that are local to global in scope, range from the molecular to the ecosystem in scale, and involve the human communities within which the marine laboratory is embedded.” Needless to say, this makes Florida State University a popular choice among students hoping to have a career related to the ocean. As an official Sea Grant university, FSU is able to conduct a number of research projects each year in which both graduate and undergraduate students are often invited to participate. Some current research projects include the conservation and management of reef fish, anthropogenic effects on coral reefs, and macrophyte responses to climate change.
George Mason University
Like College of William & Mary, George Mason University is a member of the Virginia Sea Grant College Program. Despite its short existence, the Virginia Sea Grant College Program has achieved a number of successes, including securing a $1.5 million investment for Virginia’s recreational boating community (important for the local economy), conducting the research that allowed for an easement of restrictions on interstate shellfish transfers, and establishing a program to educate student chefs in seafood science. George Mason students may take courses such as Oceanography, Coastal Morphology and Process, Chemical Oceanography, Marine Ecology, and Marine Geology. Bachelor’s of science degrees are offered in Earth Science and Geology, while minors are offered in Earth Science and Ocean and Estuarine Science. Other schools making up the Virginia Sea Grant College Program include Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Louisiana State University received its official status as a Sea Grant university in 1978, so prospective students can be assured that they’d be joining a well established and respected program. The university conducts a variety of interesting research projects. A string of recent initiatives dealt with the safety of seafood for which Louisiana is so well known, while oil spill outreach efforts recently won the team from LSU a national award. When it comes to academics, LSU is home to the College of the Coast & Environment, which is made up of two departments — Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, and Environmental Sciences — offering a variety of applicable degree programs.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The reputation for innovation for which MIT is so well known extends to its Sea Grant College Program. Officially designated a Sea Grant institution in 1976, MIT offers its environmentally minded students a top-ranked research program, myriad outreach programs, and integrated educational projects open to students of varying levels. Some of MIT’s Sea Grant-funded research has included work on the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Lab and the Design Lab for naval architecture and systems. They’ve also researched subjects relating to coastal habitats, fishing communities and policy, water quality, and climate change, among other things.
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
The Atlantic coast along the state of North Carolina is well taken care of thanks to North Carolina State University (NCSU), a top Sea Grant college. According to the university’s website, the long-term goal of the program is to “serve as a leader in addressing the state’s urgent and emerging needs in ocean and coastal resource management, and in the successful transition to ecosystem-based approaches through sound science and educational excellence.” To achieve this vision, NCSU spearheads various outreach and education programs, and conducts research on topics ranging from the restoration of seagrass beds to the varying popularities of different seafoods.
Ohio State University
The Sea Grant Program at Ohio State University (OSU) does much to benefit the Great Lakes, with a special focus placed on Lake Erie. Through research programs, outreach efforts, and valuable partnerships with government agencies, the private sector, and academia, OSU plays an important role in solving the region’s most pressing issues, both environmental and economic. Though the Ohio Sea Grant funds a number of important programs, one especially notable project is its educational program. OSU has developed impressive curriculums for training science teachers and for use in classrooms for grades 5-12.
Oregon State University
Oregon State University became an official Sea Grant institution in 1971. According to its website, Oregon State uses its grant to “address regionally and nationally strategic issues through an integrated program of competitive, rigorously reviewed research, public outreach and engagement, and ocean and coastal education.” Some of the university’s current research projects include improving coastal adaptation and resilience to chronic and acute coastal hazards, probiotic solutions to Pacific Oyster larval growth, and improved delivery of water-soluble nutrients to marine fish. Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences offers three different majors: Environmental Sciences, Earth Sciences, and Geography and Geospatial Science.
Pennsylvania State University
State College, Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Sea Grant at Penn State exists to “promote the sustainability of Pennsylvania’s ecological and economic coastal and watershed resources through science-based research, education, and outreach,” according to the university’s website. Because they deal mostly with the Great Lakes, Penn’s research projects tend to focus on fisheries and aquaculture, environmental literacy, and healthy coastal ecosystems. Interestingly, the program also offers educational programs, internships, and fellowships for students K-12, university students, and interested adults and/or educators.
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton University is part of the large New Jersey Marine Science Consortium, or the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium. The university is home to the Princeton Environmental Institute, an impressive center for environmental research, education, and outreach. Additionally, the Institute hosts a number of events throughout the year, including conferences, a lecture series, and sponsored events. Students interested in working in marine science can pursue degree programs in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Geosciences, or various biology subjects, among other choices.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Like Princeton, Rutgers University is a member of the large New Jersey Marine Science Consortium. As such, the university works to promote the well-being of New Jersey’s coasts and marine resources through outreach, research projects, and education. Some recent projects of which Rutgers has been integral include research into climate resilience planning in Hurricane Sandy-affected communities, habitat restoration along the state’s coast, and ways to prevent sewage discharge in coastal waters.
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas acts as headquarters for the Texas Sea Grant, though program staff also operate at the campuses in Galveston and Corpus Christi. This particular program is associated with dozens of top scientists and local government officials to ensure that the potential of various research opportunities are maximized and that the real-world needs of Texans and Texas waters are fulfilled. Texas A&M’s Department of Marine Biology offers the bachelor of science degree in Marine Fisheries, plus an undergraduate degree, minor, and graduate degree in Marine Biology.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks
As an official Sea Grant institution, University of Alaska Fairbanks’ program consists of three elements: research, education, and the Marine Advisory initiative. Fairbanks’ research focuses on “the sustainable use and conservation of our coastal and marine resources.” Recent projects have included the costs and benefits of whale watching in Alaska and the impact of sea otter recolonization on commercial and subsistence fisheries in the southern part of the state. The program’s educational element provides resources and professional development for K-12 educators in coastal communities, while the Marine Advisory initiative deals with outreach programs that aid Alaskans in effectively using and conserving Alaska’s water resources.
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, California
U.C. San Diego (UCSD) is a member of the large California Sea Grant, a consortium of colleges and universities from across the Golden State. It’s the mission of this top-notch program to “identify emerging marine resource problems and opportunities, conduct applied scientific research, and share findings with stakeholder groups.” Past and recent research has studied the socioeconomic factors affecting fishing and fishing communities, looked into safe and sustainable seafood, and helped to recover endangered salmon, among other things. UC San Diego is also home to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, which offers a variety of internships, research programs, and marine-themed degree programs. These include bachelor’s degrees in Earth Sciences, Marine Biology, and Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, to name but a few.
University of Delaware
University of Delaware has been a Sea Grant college for more than 40 years. The university’s program works to help various communities in Delaware manage, conserve, and wisely use their valuable coastal resources. To do so, the university works to foster sustainable economies, to teach and prepare the next generation of Delaware conservationists, and to help coastal communities develop resilience to various hazards such as hurricanes. The program’s students and staff conduct research in four main areas: healthy coastal ecosystems, resilient communities and economies, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and environmental literacy.
University of Florida
The Sea Grant program at University of Florida conducts research and supports education in order to find the best ways to conserve Florida’s coastal resources and maximize economic opportunities. The program works closely with Florida’s citizens, local governments, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Such relationships contribute to the fantastic opportunities afforded to University of Florida students and staff. Undergraduate students have a variety of complementary degree programs from which to choose, including biology and marine sciences.
University of Georgia
The Sea Grant program at University of Georgia has been instrumental in helping The Peach State solve coastal issues and maximize economic opportunities relating to its marine environments. To achieve these goals, the university conducts research, promotes education and training, and offers outreach opportunities. Approximately 40% of the university’s grant goes straight into research. Recent projects have investigated the black gill parasite infecting local shrimp, studied sea turtle conservation, and assisted coastal communities with preparing for a rise in sea levels.
University of Guam
University of Guam is an excellent choice of college for those who want to achieve hands-on experience in marine issues. The university’s Sea Grant program works within the Mariana Islands Archipelago, a rich coastal environment with diverse habitats; myriad fish, bird, plant, and wildlife species; and fluctuating water levels. As such, there have been dozens of recent research projects in which both students and staff have played a role. The University of Guam is also home to the Marine Laboratory, a unique facility which offers students, staff, and researchers a controlled location to study the conservation and development of various marine resources.
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
If you’re a student looking to study marine life, why not do so from Hawaii? The University of Hawai’i at Manoa is an official Sea Grant college with a program dedicated to promoting “better understanding, conservation, and use of coastal resources.” To achieve these goals, the university works closely with its School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Research is conducted according to five focus areas: coastal ecosystems, hazard resilience for coastal communities, sustainable coastal development, safe seafood, and sustainable coastal tourism.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one-half of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Together with Purdue University, Illinois works to establish educational programs, conduct research, and provide funding for strengthening and preserving the ecosystems of Lake Michigan. Everything the Sea Grant program does is focused on four key areas: sustainable coasts; Great Lakes literacy and workforce development; healthy ecosystems; and sustainable seafood.
University of Maine
The Sea Grant program at University of Maine operates with the motto, “Marine Science for Maine People.” Thus, the main mission of the program is to “support the responsible use and conservation of coastal and marine resources in order to create thriving coastal communities and ecosystems.” The program is currently conducting dozens of different research projects. These include investigating Maine’s changing water cycle, conducting population surveys on Bagaduce Estuary fish, comparing the growth and physiology of American lobsters and green crabs, and understanding climate impacts on Maine’s marine environments, to name but a few.
University of Maryland, College Park
College Park, Maryland
The core mission of the Sea Grant program at University of Maryland, College Park is to foster innovative scientific inquiry and research relating to the Chesapeake Bay. To do this, the program funds research projects throughout the state of Maryland. Recent projects have included studying the abundance and variety of microplastics in surface waters, sediments, and oysters; assessing the effectiveness of the Anacostia River Tunnel in reduction of eutrophication; and characterizing genomic diversity of wild and planted oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland’s program also publishes a quarterly scientific journal called Chesapeake Quarterly.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of Michigan is one-half of the Michigan Sea Grant, a collaborative program which also includes Michigan State University. This particular program emphasizes the Great Lakes. Research projects usually focus on the fluctuating water levels of the lakes and the dynamic ecosystem which includes myriad species of birds, plants, fish, and other wildlife. Students may choose to minor in Oceanography, or major in Earth and Environmental Sciences; Ecology, Evolutionary, and Biodiversity; and Plant Biology; among other choices.
University of Minnesota
It makes perfect sense that the top university in the “Land of 1,000 Lakes” — 12,000 lakes, to be exact — would be a Sea Grant university. University of Minnesota is dedicated to enhancing the state’s coastal environment and economy through public education programs and scientific research. To do this, the program works with a two-fold strategy. First, communicate the needs of communities, management agencies, and industries to scientists associated with the university. Second, promote the most current science to Lake Superior and other lake users, managers, and policymakers.
University of Mississippi
University of Mississippi is one member of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. As such, they work towards providing “integrated university- and college-based research, communications, education, extension, and legal problems to coastal communities that lead to the responsible use of ocean and coastal resources in Alabama, Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico through informed personal, policy, and management decisions.” In short, the Sea Grant program at Mississippi identifies coastal issues and provides the scientific research to solve those issues. Other universities in the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium include Auburn University, Jackson State University, and University of Alabama, among others.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California (USC) has been conducting marine science research for more than 100 years, the last 40 of which have been as part of the Sea Grant program. The university is set up well for research. It boasts a branch of the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on both the main campus and nearby Catalina Island. Through the Institute, plus the funding and resources provided by the grant, USC is a power player when it comes to solving issues relating to commerce, recreation, and life in coastal regions of Southern California.
University of Virginia
University of Virginia is the third member of the Virginia Sea Grant College Program to make our list of the best Sea Grant universities. The university participates in many of the same research programs described in the profiles for George Mason University and the College of William & Mary. Virginia students interested in marine science careers can major in Biology, the department of which offers a number of courses relating to the ocean. Virginia also offers a Marine Biology/Coral Reef Ecology course that takes place each May in the Bahamas. Besides University of Virginia, the Virginia Sea Grant College Program consortium consists of College of William & Mary, Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, and George Mason University.
University of Washington
The mission of the Sea Grant program at University of Washington is to “help people and marine life thrive by supplying research, technical expertise, and educational activities that support the responsible use and conservation of ocean and coastal ecosystems.” To achieve this mission, the program at UW works closely with local, tribal, and federal government agencies; businesses, academics, and scientists to come up with issues and solutions to benefit the local coastal environments. Research is usually focused on one of four areas: coastal and marine communities, shellfish and aquaculture, ecosystem health, and fish and fisheries.