top of page

An Overview of Cal Maritime Academy

The view of the bay from Cal Maritime.
The view of the bay from Cal Maritime.

Cal Maritime, a public college officially known as California State University Maritime Academy, is unique in many ways. Founded in 1929, it is the only maritime academy on the West Coast and one of only seven across the U.S. With only around 900 undergraduates - 75% of whom are men - it has the smallest student body (by far) of all 23 California State University campuses. I visited Cal Maritime on a beautiful February morning and had the pleasure of having one of my former students show me around.


Cal Maritime is located in Vallejo, California, an ethnically diverse city with a population of approximately 125,000 people on the north end of the San Francisco Bay. The 92-acre campus sits right on the waterfront, offering scenic views of the bay. It is about 30 miles from San Francisco, 60 miles from Sacramento, and within a one-and-a-quarter hour drive from four major airports: Oakland International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, San José Mineta International Airport, and Sacramento International Airport.

Cal Maritime Academy's boat house
The boathouse


This highly specialized institution of higher learning's mission is to prepare students for the merchant marine and national maritime industries. The four key elements of its mission are intellectual learning, applied technology, leadership development, and global awareness.

Bridge simulator at Cal Maritime
Bridge Simulator


Cal Maritime offers the following seven majors:

  • Marine Transportation (the most popular major)

  • Marine #EngineeringTechnology

  • Facilities Engineering Technology

  • Mechanical #Engineering (with new concentrations in Energy Design and in Mechanical Design beginning in fall 2023)

  • Oceanography

  • Global Studies and Maritime Affairs

  • #Business Administration

Students can minor in Marine Science, Naval Science, Global Studies and Maritime Affairs, Business Administration, Law, and Math. There is also a master's degree in Transportation and Engineering Management (with three concentration options). All students, regardless of major, must complete 48 units of general education requirements to graduate.

Cal Maritime has an average class size of only 20 students and the lowest student-to-faculty ratio (13:1) of all CSU campuses. Moreover, the education students receive there is very hands-on, with much of it happening outside a traditional classroom setting. Though students are required to take several typical courses sitting at a desk, a considerable amount of the learning takes place in simulators and labs - such as Welding Lab, Marine Survival Lab, Steam Plant Simulator, and Bridge Simulator - in which students learn to operate the equipment.

Rather than taking the typical four to five three-credit courses per semester, students take around ten classes and labs of one to four credits each. Their summer schedules are also unique. Most students go on a 60-day summer training cruise on the academy's own training ship, the Golden Bear. Depending on their major, some are required to go on two additional cruises, participate in study abroad programs, or complete co-op programs on land.

Machine shop at Cal Maritime
Machine Shop

Student Life

Cal Maritime is a residential college, and students are required to live on campus for all four years. It offers 14 #NAIA varsity sports teams and a handful of club and intramural sports. There are no fraternities or sororities on campus, but student-run clubs and organizations put on events and activities for students. Still, students need to put some effort into entertaining themselves on the weekends. Vallejo is not a college town and has little to offer college students. However, students who venture further off campus have several options: they can reach Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in 15 minutes, UC Berkeley in half an hour, and San Francisco in 45 minutes (by car).

This is not a place for students looking for a typical college experience. All students at Cal Maritime are in the Corps of Cadets. Students wear uniforms during the day (though according to the student who showed me around campus, the uniform standards are currently lax), have formation three mornings a week, and are taught leadership skills. Students are not obligated to serve in the #military but have opportunities to do so during and after college. Upon passing the U.S. Coast Guard licensing examination, Marine Transportation and Marine Engineering Technology graduates receive a Third Mate and Third Assistant Engineer license, respectively, issued by the Coast Guard and have the option to be commissioned as Ensigns in the Naval Reserve. In addition, students can participate in Navy or Air Force #ROTC (both hosted at U.C. Berkeley), the Strategic Sealift Officer Program (which commissions Naval Reserve officers), or one of several Coast Guard officer programs (which prepares students for both reserve and active service).

A student in his uniform in front of the Golden Bear training ship at Cal Maritime
A student in his uniform in front of the Golden Bear training ship.


Tuition, fees, room, and board are estimated to be $21,746 for the 2023-24 academic year for California residents. Out-of state students pay an additional $14,855 a year. However, students who are residents of Western Undergraduate Exchange (#WUE) member states automatically receive the WUE discount. All students should keep in mind that uniform expenses are approximately $2400 for entering students and that they will need to pay an additional $5800 to $6500 for their summer training experiences. In addition, while Cal Maritime has the second-highest four-year graduation rate of all the CSU colleges - behind only Cal Poly - the four-year graduation rate is only 51%, so students are wise to budget for the possibility of spending more than four years on their degree. On a positive note, Cal Maritime has the highest employment rate in the CSU system (94% within three months of graduation), the highest 30 and 40-year return on investment (ROI) rates of any public college in the country, and one of the highest ROIs of any college (source).

Cal Maritime has the highest 30 and 40-year return on investment rates of any public college in the country and one of the highest ROIs of any college.

Financial aid is available to students who demonstrate need via the FAFSA, but is limited to federal and state aid. A few merit #scholarships are available, including a $6000 a year presidential scholarship awarded to seven students - who must be California residents and submit a scholarship application - a year.

Since Cal Maritime is a public college, the Post-9/11 #GIBill (Chapter 33) will cover the entire cost of tuition for those who qualify for the maximum benefit. Some dependents of veterans may be eligible for a tuition fee waiver via the #CalVet College Fee Waiver for Veteran Dependents program. Navy and Air Force #ROTC programs and scholarships are available at UC Berkeley. However, participating in ROTC may not be possible for students pursuing several majors due to conflicts with summer training and classes during the academic year.

The view from the eastern side of campus.


Students apply via the Cal State Apply application, which opens on October 1. Students who apply by October 31 will receive an admissions decision by December 15. Those who apply between November 1 and December 15 receive a decision by February 15. Applications submitted after December 15 are reviewed on a rolling basis.

As with all other Cal States, Cal Maritime does not use SAT/ACT scores, essays, recommendation letters, or interviews as part of its review process. To be eligible for admission, students are required to fulfill A-G requirements (learn more about those here) and have a GPA of at least 2.50 (with exceptions) for California applicants and 3.0 for those out of state. Out-of-state students should familiarize themselves with the A-G requirements, specifically the one in regard to visual and performing art, which is not common outside of California. Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Technology programs have additional requirements for admission. Overall, 87% of applicants are admitted to Cal Maritime, and the average GPA is 3.12- 3.86 (Fall 2020), but both of these numbers will vary by students' intended major.

Student dorms in the background. In the foreground are the student center on the left and the bookstore on the right.

Have you visited or attended Cal Maritime Academy? If so, leave a comment and share your experience.


bottom of page