Why you should attend Maine Maritime Academy

As a proud alumnus of Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), I am probably biased. Nonetheless, I believe MMA is the best option for those looking to make significant money, enjoy a lot of vacation time, and earn their living on the oceans of the world. Here are five reasons you, or your child, should head to this small school in Castine, Maine:


MMA is a great deal, especially if you are a state resident. At approximately $25,000 per year, it is substantially less expensive than private schools and on par with other state schools like the University of Maine in Orono. As with any school, a variety of financial aid opportunities exist. Of course, $100,000 for a four-year degree is hardly inexpensive, so why do I say it is a great deal?

[Tweet “90% of our graduates are placed in jobs within their fields within 90 days of graduation”]

Unlike many college kids these days, MMA students graduate with a specific set of skills in a market with above-average salaries. According to the admissions page, “more than 90% of our graduates are placed in jobs within their fields within 90 days of graduation.” Even more impressive, a surprising amount of these jobs come with six-figure salaries.

Due to this high salary-to-debt ratio, MMA has widely become recognized as an excellent value. In this article from The Atlantic, President Brennan states, “The default rate on the loans we issue is around 1.5 percent — as opposed to 12 or 13 percent at most institutions.”

Hands-on education

MMA’s solid reputation for quality alumni is driven primarily by experiential learning. Long recognized for incredible engineering programs, the school has continuously upgraded and maintained a suite of hands-on labs to provide experience alongside theory. A majority of the things taught in class can be replicated or tested during lab hours.


Visiting a local boatbuilder during a field trip


Students can completely disassemble and rebuild engines, build small boats, learn to machine and weld, load a scale barge in a pool, or drive a container ship in the realistic simulator. And for those few things that just can’t be replicated ashore, students spend summers either on the training ship or working vessels all over the world, gaining practical insight into the career they are seeking.

The Waterfront

The MMA waterfront facilities are, by far, my favorite asset. Unlike some other maritime academies, students in Castine actually operate boats on a regular basis. Classes in ship handling, workboat operations, and tug and barge operations can regularly be seen maneuvering in and out of the basin.


A miniature tractor tug alongside the school’s tugboat Pentagoet

With small class sizes, beautifully maintained equipment, and dedicated staff, opportunities to operate boats are seemingly unlimited. And you don’t have to stop when classes end for the day. In fact, during my time at the academy I spent most of my afternoons and weekends practicing my boat handling skills driving the launch for the sailing team, sailing on the Arctic Schooner Bowdoin, or cruising Penobscot Bay as part of the MMA Yacht Club.

Yes, you read that correctly. As a student, you can join the MMA Yacht Club and gain access to several donated sail and power yachts for weekend excursions and afternoon sails. Disguised purely as recreation, these trips are an extension of the learning in class.

For those that truly take advantage of the resources offered at the waterfront, there are endless rewards. I credit my boat handling skills today directly to the hundreds of hours I spent operating the single-screw launch in tight quarters and strong currents.


I touched upon the value of this education above and the excellent salaries many graduates enjoy. Of course, not all job offers will come in above six figures, but they are more common than you would expect. As we all know, money isn’t everything. It is also important to enjoy what you do, particularly in the maritime field.

Unlike regular jobs, mariners don’t go home at night. Often spending between one and three months away from home at a time, this career takes a certain mindset and passion. The weather isn’t always pleasant, there may not be any internet or cell phone service, and unlike the seafarers of yesteryear, there is rarely any time granted ashore in port.

Cadet shipping in the remote Aleutian Islands of Alaska

Cadet shipping in the remote Aleutian Islands of Alaska

While this is still an adventurous career, it is nothing like the swashbuckling stories you have read about. Like any other industry, regulations and paperwork continuously trend upward.  A significant portion of the daily workload has now become secretarial, making the wheelhouse sometimes feel like a cubicle with a view.

Having given that disclaimer, this is a great career. You will spend time outside, meet all sorts of people, experience stunning sunsets on a daily basis, travel to unique places, and work with your hands. Depending on your interests you could find employment on a container ship crossing oceans, a tugboat in New York Harbor, or a small cruise ship in Alaska. Drop a pin on any port in the world, and you will likely find an MMA graduate.

Also, for those that can tackle the time away from loved ones, there is a high reward: vacation time. A majority of mariners work an even-time schedule, meaning that for every day worked they have a day off. In other words, you only work half of the year. This leaves time for relaxation, travel, or any number of projects. A few years ago my wife and I took advantage of this time to complete a multi-month road trip around the country. It was the adventure of a lifetime, made possible by the even-time schedule.


I think that Castine is a part of what makes the academy so unique. You could not ask for a more beautiful location. Yet for decades students have lamented the town for its distance from, well, everything. Are you familiar with the song “Country Roads” by John Denver? Often performed by the a cappella group on campus, the chorus has been altered to craft the song “Castine Road”:

Castine road, take me away

from this place, called MMA

It’s really cold here, in the winter.

Take me away, from MMA

Off-campus, in-town living can be very nice!

Off-campus, in-town living can be very nice!

Admittedly far away from anything resembling a typical college experience, I fell in love with the area. Along the most beautiful part of the Maine coast, you will find hiking, biking, boating, great local food, and a whole lot of space to breathe. Sure, kids do the normal college activities like drink too much and party too loud. Unlike most students around the country, however, Mariners do it around a bonfire along the shore, trucks and snowmobiles in tow, free as could be.

Still don’t think MMA is a great deal? In 2015 it was ranked the #1 best education for your money in the nation!

For more information about the incredibly valuable education at Maine Maritime Academy, check out the admissions page. Follow on Facebook and Instagram for photos of life aboard, both at home on our sailboat, and at work on a tugboat!


Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.