Service Academies with sailing programs include Army, Coast Guard, the Merchant Marine Academies, and Navy. These colleges are either fully or partially funded by tax payer dollars. This means that the student does not have to pay for tuition or room & board. The payback is that upon graduation, service academy grads are obligated to serve in that service for usually about five years – compensated with salary and benefits. Since no financial scholarships are allowed in the college sailing organization (ICSA), this is clearly a difference between the service academies and a college sailing campus.
Disclaimer – This author is certainly biased as I graduated from the Naval Academy, served in the Navy, and came back to the Academy as a civilian to coach the team – who better to share a service academy experience?
First, lets consider the different levels of college sailing programs. There are three levels of institution support. The least is a campus that has a few racers who go to school and have organized themselves to earn the right to compete in college racing, with little or no support from the institution. The second level of program is the ‘Club Sport’. When a college institution designates its team as ‘Club Sport’ they typically provide limited resources, boats, and possible athletic facilities and may have a coach. The third level is when the college designates the team as ‘Varsity Sport’. As a varsity sport, the college dedicates a budget to funding travel, equipment, and coaching staff. No surprise, there are differences in Varsity support. I call the programs with dedicated coaching staff, fleets of boats, and travel budgets ‘Full Service’ programs. Most of the colleges ranked in ICSA’s top 20 are Full Service programs. The service academies fall under my definition of Full Service programs.
So you can get a Full Service sailing college at little or no cost and have not have to endure the challenges of student loans. I would caution that sailing cannot be your only reason for attending a service academy. I have found that the service academy experience will challenge any individual, not matter how smart or athletically inclined. The experience is structured and sometimes overwhelmingly demanding. That said, if you want to pursue a full service sailing experience, want to challenge yourself physically and mentally, and you enjoy leadership experiences, a service academy may be right for you. In the next few paragraphs, I speak to the education, experience and reward of the service academy education.
The education at most of the service academies is technical in nature. At the Naval academy, there are about 18 majors and everyone graduates with a minor in Engineering.
You will graduate in four years – it is a requirement. The education couples book theory with hands on laboratories to best understand the science. The faculty is mixed between civilian and military to ensure a well rounded mix of military and academic experiences complement the education
The experience is certainly structured. There is an indoctrination/training period upon entering each institution. The ‘Indoc’ is usually physically as well as mentally demanding. Throughout the four years, students at service academies will live on campus and wear uniforms. This means you don’t have to worry about what to wear each day! The daily schedule includes academic classes, military training, and physical activity (varsity or intramural sport)… You will not be bored at a service academy. Because the days are jammed with activity, laundry and meal services are provided to all.
Most students would tell you that they have very little free time. As a result, when they do have free time, they probably tend to enjoy it more than the average college student.
While I was at the Naval Academy, I certainly developed a work hard and play hard mentality, and rarely mixed the two.
Did I mention that you have a guaranteed job when you graduate? From the military academies, you are commissioned as a junior officer and are compensated very well compared to your peers graduating from college. Graduating from a merchant marine academy helps you to earn a Coast Guard license that entitles you to work in tightly connected industry operating in a global maritime market. Both merchants and military have a minimum commitment of several years to work in that industry. Both military and merchant marine academies deliver a mix of academic theory and hands on training, but the careers in each differ. For example, an engineer in the merchant marine operates in a smaller work force and spends most of his/her time doing hands on repair and maintenance. By contrast, a naval officer spends more time managing a large team to conduct maintenance and ensure readiness. Both military and merchant paths are challenging and the skills are transferable to the business world. Perhaps this is the most significant point; by earning a service academy education, you are setting yourself up for the rest of your life. Your experiences at the academies and real life experiences managing people’s lives and very expensive equipment after graduation are highly valued by the civilian business world. Whether you choose to make a career of military, merchant marine, or enter the business world, your experiences starting with education will be recognized and compensated.
To find out more about college sailing programs, contact the coach or team point of contact at the ICSA website:
Written by Gavin O’Hare, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1992