Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

Preparing for a Major in…Marine Science

Your teen has always been interested in the ocean. What guidance can you offer to help her prepare for a future college major and career related to the marine environment? This is the first post of a series about preparation for a college major. 

“Listen for the spark, then fan the flame.” I am laying out a blueprint for clarifying exactly what your student’s interest is and where it may be leading; then how to further explore it, research it, and find a college and career in which it can be nurtured, expressed, and grown into a way to contribute to the world.

1. Clarify the interest. Is your student’s interest related to animals or plants that live in the ocean, the underwater geological landscape, sailing and navigation, naval architecture, or environmental concerns? Pose these questions subtly at well-chosen moments, when your teen seems likely in the mood to share. Responses to these questions might lead your student to vastly different marine-related college majors or career paths.

2. Evaluate the skill set. Does your teen thrive in science and math? Is she an artist or photographer? Does she love interacting with and training animals? Does she enjoy swimming, diving, or sailing? Does she have a passion for social activism? Responses to these questions could create widely disparate education and career trajectories. For example, an ocean lover with no knack for science will probably not become a marine biologist, but could well become an underwater photojournalist, a large mammal trainer, or an environmental lawyer. It’s a matter of matching the content area with the skill set.

3. Create opportunities to explore a wide spectrum of marine-related interest areas. Adventure travel programs such as Broadreach & Academic Treks and SailCaribbean offer teens superb opportunities to learn SCUBA diving and sailing; explore marine biology topics ranging from coral reefs to marine mammal and sea turtle research; and participate in environmental conservation efforts. They can even earn community service hours and college credit.

Kids can enjoy marine-themed day and residential camps throughout North America. To name a few: Florida’s Dolphin Research Center, Dolphins Plus, Seacamp, or American Pro Diving Manatee Camp; Maine’s Arcadia Institute of Oceanography; Whale Camp in the Bay of Fundy; Texas A&M Galveston’s Sea Camp; California’s SEA Lab or Seacamp San Diego;  Hawaii’s Teen Seacamp; and Seaworld Camps in Orlando, San Diego or San Antonio.

Your teen can also learn more about marine biology, coastal waterways, and conservation by volunteering for public organizations such as the National Park Service or U.S. State Parks; or nonprofits such as New Jersey’s Wetlands Institute. A great book for finding nature and environmental volunteer opportunities is Sheryl Kane’s Volunteer Vacations across America.

4. Research colleges and universities offering marine science programs. Marine science programs are not offered at every school, like English or history. News flash, there usually has to be a huge body of water nearby! This is why your high school student can’t just apply to any college she likes undecided, keeping the vague possibility of a marine-related major in the back of her mind.

A superlative resource for finding programs is Steven Antonoff’s The College Finder and its partner website, InsideCollege.com. Look under Colleges with Great Course Offerings in Marine Science, Sea Grant Colleges , and Colleges Where You Can Study Environmental Science. Your teen will need to thoroughly research school-specific websites; marine science majors can be interdisciplinary, or they may appear as concentrations under biology, geology, or earth and atmospheric science.

Several schools that belong on the radar screen: U Maine (School of Marine Sciences), Boston U (BUMP), Northeastern (Three Seas), William & Mary (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), College of Charleston, U Miami (Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science), Florida State U (Coastal & Marine Lab), Texas A&M Galveston, and UC San Diego (Scripps Institute of Oceanography). There are many more, but start with these!

A student with interest in marine science can also take the approach of getting a strong undergraduate foundation in science (biology, earth science, or environmental science) with some exploratory coursework in marine applications, at the student’s home college or another institution. Then the student can choose to specialize in an advanced level of marine science at the graduate level.

There are numerous guest undergraduate student and internship programs to supplement basic sciences: Sea Semester; Duke U Marine Lab; Wlliams-Mystic; Three Seas; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Marine Science Consortium; Virginia Institute of Marine Science Internship.

5. Encourage your student to explore long term career trajectories. Your teen can learn about marine careers through websites such as: MarineCareers.Net, Careers in Oceanography, Marine Science & Marine Biology, and OceanLink.Info. Books include: Opportunities in Marine Science and Maritime Careers, Revised Edition by William Ray Heitzman; Starting Your Career as a Marine Mammal Trainer by Terry S. Samansky; Great Jobs for Biology Majors, Great Jobs for Geology Majors by Blythe Camenson; and Saving the Earth as a Career by Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr.

Suggest informational interviewing with family friends who work in the field. What are the long term rewards and frustrations of a marine-related career? Related posts: Finding the Best College for Your Major. From my careerblog: What Is Informational Interviewing?