The best beach colleges are in a tricky position. Of course, there are no shortage of students who want to go to an oceanside college – that’s four straight years of partying on the beach, right? And plenty of parents will worry whether their student is going to get the education they need with the siren song of the beach constantly singing. Well, parents need not worry – the best beach colleges in America are also some of the best colleges in America, period, and College Consensus is using our unique method to highlight the best of the best beach colleges, from the combination of published rankings and student reviews.
What Makes the Best Beach Colleges?
What does it take to make a best beach college? Obviously, you need a beach, but that’s just the start. It’s a matter of culture, of values, of attitude – a way of looking at the world and connecting to the more than 70% of the globe that is covered in ocean. Often, that means more than just a beach party scene; many of the best beach colleges are places where sustainability, environmental responsibility, and respect for nature are written into the curriculum and mission. They’re good for students too – a place to connect with nature does wonders for coping with the stress of college.
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Many of the best oceanside colleges are also leaders in community engagement, reaching out and actively improving life for the region where they live. Whether that means volunteers putting in tons of service hours, protecting wildlife and ocean life, supporting small businesses in the area, or any of the other benefits a college can provide a community, the best beach colleges are part of their hometowns – even if their hometown is a metropolis like Miami or Los Angeles. Tourist areas also offer a lot of job opportunities for students who need help paying for college. Beachside parties, surfing, swimming, boating – those are just the bonus students get with living in the best colleges near beaches.
Ranking the Best Beach Colleges
The colleges and universities profiled in the Best Consensus Ranked Beach Colleges are quite diverse. Obviously, California, Florida, and Hawaii dominate the list – how could they not? School for school, no other states have nearly so many colleges in close proximity for beach lovers as the states that are all coastline. But there are also representatives from the Carolinas, New England, and more, proving that the best beach colleges come in all shapes, sizes, and regions (at least, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean regions). Except for the Midwest (sorry, Midwest).
The best beach colleges are not necessarily oceanside colleges – only a few ranking schools are actually on the beach. Some are within a mile or two of the nearest beach; some take a bit of a drive. All have a student life that embraces the beach. Obviously, no list like this is entirely objective. In order to be considered for our list of The Best Consensus Ranked Beach Colleges, schools had to qualify for a College Consensus score, which is a combination of the results of reputable publisher ratings and real student reviews from around the web. From this pool of schools our editors selected those we thought had the best beach life and ordered them by their College Consensus score. The result is a list of highly regarded schools that also have great beaches.
Another member of the world-renowned University of California system, UC San Diego is a prime destination for ocean lovers – whether they want to study the ocean or surf it, San Diego is the place. UC system opened UC San Diego in 1960 with a bold plan to build a world-class research university around the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (founded 1903), and that’s exactly what they did. Today, UCSD is ranked one of the top research universities in the world by the Academic Ranking for World Universities and other publishers, and is especially known for its creative culture, including one of the world’s finest collections of public art.
Mile for mile, there may be no university with more beaches, more easily accessible, than the University of California, San Diego. Within a short bus or car ride from the UCSD campus, students can get to La Jolla Shores, Blacks Beach, Torrey Pines State Preserve, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and several others. San Diego is surfing country, as far south as you can get and still be in California, with warm water and comfortable temperatures year-round. While several of the beaches are difficult to access, with the tall, rugged bluffs of La Jolla, the challenge makes them well worth the effort, especially for surfers searching for the less crowded waves. The city life in San Diego is also a big draw. This is no small beach town, but a thriving city.
Nearest Beaches: Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, many others
One of the top-ranked national universities, and part of the University of California system, UC Irvine is the youngest member of the Association of American Universities and a world-class university just 50 years old. Located in the planned city of Irvine, UCI was founded (along with UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz) when the booming population of Orange County created a crisis in higher education, and even with all of the universities in the Orange County region, UC Irvine still hosts more than 32,000 students. Recognized primarily for health sciences, including medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and biomedical science, UC Irvine is also a perfect location for one of the best beach colleges.
The coastline just minutes away from UC Irvine is pretty much miles and miles of beaches running along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. From Bolsa Chica and Huntington State Beach to Long Beach, UC Irvine students just need a car and some free time to check out some of the loveliest beaches in California. Students can also take advantage of many of UC Irvine’s official recreational opportunities, like sailing lessons Marina Park, and hiking through the sandy coastline. It’s one of the most active areas in the nation, and everything from the weather to the easy access conspire to make UC Irvine one of the best oceanside colleges in America.
Nearest Beaches: Corona Del Mar State Beach, Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach
The University of California, Santa Barbara is one of the most popular campuses in the UC system, attracting nearly 25,000 students to one of the most beautiful areas in the world – probably not a challenge. What is a challenge is UCSB’s curriculum, which is recognized nationally and internationally for excellence in areas ranging from computer science and engineering to theater and dance. Of course, UCSB is also a world leader in marine science, and regularly ranked as a Public Ivy – a public research university with the reputation of the Ivy League.
UC Santa Barbara is also notable as one of the few universities in the US with its own beach – certainly a factor in many students’ choice. UCSB is not technically in the city of Santa Barbara, and its miles of coastline, peaceful lagoon, and the rocky peninsula named Goleta Point are all at the disposal of UC Santa Barbara’s students. The university has equipped their campus with numerous hiking and biking trails, and ocean recreation is a central part of student life; student sailing, surfing, and rowing clubs are among the most popular activities on campus. There aren’t many genuine oceanside colleges, but UC Santa Barbara takes its place among the best colleges near beaches.
Nearest Beaches: Campus Point Beach
California Polytechnic State University – better known as Cal Poly – is one of the most prestigious public research institutions in the US, a world-renowned leader in STEM and business and a university with one of the highest return on investment rates in the nation. Cal Poly is also known as one of the best institutions in the US for social mobility and issuing degrees for minorities, while its impact on the local economy is in the billions of dollars. Across the board, from Washington Monthly to Forbes to U.S. News & World Report, Cal Poly SLO is ranked one of the top public universities in the nation.
Cal Poly is also known for its location in San Luis Obispo, one of the most beautiful cities in California. San Luis Obispo (SLO) has been named one of the happiest cities in the US, and it’s no wonder, with perfect weather year-round, a highly diverse population, and some of the best infrastructure for recreation anywhere. Students at Cal Poly are just minutes away from some of the Central Coast’s prime landmarks, like the Hearst Castle and the Oceano Dunes, and from the lovely Avila Beach and Pismo Beach. Cal Poly students make the most of living at one of the best beach colleges in the US, with a reputation for fun running alongside its reputation for excellence.
Nearest Beaches: Avila Beach, Pismo Beach
The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, is one of the six senior military colleges in the US and one of the most famously challenging colleges in the world. The Citadel is extremely selective, and cadets have not only the demands of an intensive curriculum, but the physical challenges and military discipline of service life. Founded in 1842, the Citadel is a central part of Charleston, SC, and has long been recognized as the top-ranked regional college in the South. Whether graduate enter active-duty service or go on to civilian life, the discipline and responsibility of the Citadel provides life-long growth.
With miles of coastline, Charleston, SC, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the South, and a prime spot for beach-loving students. While the intensive training and learning Citadel cadets go through doesn’t leave a ton of free time (it is a senior military college after all), on weekend leave Charleston’s beaches are the place to be. Folly Beach, popularly called the Edge of America, is the nearest and most popular, while Sullivan’s Island is also a short drive away. While undergraduate students may take pride in living up to the challenges of Citadel life, a day at the beach is more than welcome.
Nearest Beaches: Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island
California State University, Long Beach, is one of the most popular and largest universities in the CSU system, for a lot of reasons. Founded in 1949 to provide educational options for returning veterans, CSU Long Beach has boomed right alongside the Los Angeles, CA, metropolitan area, growing to more than 37,000 students. Long Beach is recognized as one of the most diverse colleges in the US, and is ranked one of the top regional universities in the West. The beach life also attracts plenty of students – in fact, in 2018, CSU Long Beach received more than 100,000 applications, making it by default one of the most selective schools in the CSU system.
Student life at The Beach, as students like to call CSU Long Beach, not surprisingly revolves around the beach, and Long Beach, CA, has more than its fair share. Students are only a few miles from some of the most popular beaches in California, including Alamitos Beach and Junipero Beach; the official Long Beach City Beach, Alamitos is more developed, while Junipero is bordered by Bluff Park. Other options include Belmont Shores and Seal Beach, which includes a fishing pier. Whichever way you choose, CSU Long Beach is one of the world’s best beach colleges.
Nearest Beaches: Alamitos Beach, Junipero Beach
Located in historic Saint Mary’s City – the first colony in Maryland, famous as the birthplace of American religious freedom – St. Mary’s College of Maryland is a public honors college ranked as one of the top public liberal arts colleges in the nation. St. Mary’s College is an independent public institution, not part of the University System of Maryland, and in addition to having one of the highest 4-year graduation rates in the US, St. Mary’s College is also recognized as a best value. The St. Mary’s Way, the principles the college is founded under, emphasize community, responsibility, and ethics.
Saint Mary’s City is not what we might call a party town; a quiet, historical area on the St. Mary’s River, St. Mary’s City and the surrounding area is more laid-back, with marinas and parks as the primary attractions. However, for students who simply love the water, St. Mary’s College offers numerous opportunities, including Point Lookout State Park, with hiking, swimming, kayaking, and more, and Elm’s Beach Park, a low-key, family beachfront park. St. Mary’s students can also relax at the Muldoon River Center, a campus facility with free rentals of kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats.
Nearest Beaches: Elm’s Beach Park, Point Lookout State Park
Regularly ranked among the best private research universities in America, the University of Miami’s history is inseparable from Miami, FL. Founded in 1925, when the first wave of tourism was booming in South Florida, UM looked like a disaster at first – the real estate market busted, and the university struggled. After WWII, though, Miami’s second heyday started, and so did the University of Miami’s; today, UM is recognized as one of the most prestigious institutions in the South, in areas ranging from law and medicine to computer science and oceanography and programs for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. UM is a highly selective private university, and the students who are accepted (more than 16,000) get an experience to last a lifetime.
Not much happens in Miami that isn’t related to the beach, so of course, college life in the sun and surf is foremost in students’ minds when they apply to the University of Miami. An 8-mile trip down the Rickenbacker Causeway takes students out to Virginia Key, where UM has the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and Key Biscayne. Miami Beach is just 12 miles away from UM’s suburban Coral Gables campus, and a multitude of student clubs revolve around beach activities. From fishing to sailing to beach volleyball, UM students find reasons to hit the beach.
Nearest Beaches: Miami Beach, Virginia Key, Key Biscayne
Flagler College is one of the most distinctive and unique colleges in the US, founded in 1968 in the former Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, FL. The college was the vision of Lawrence Lewis, Jr, a distant relative of the hotel’s builder, Henry Morrison Flagler, and Lewis worked to create a small, elite private liberal arts school in the historic space. In the 50 years since its founding, Flagler has built a reputation as one of Florida’s most iconic institutions, and has been ranked the #2 regional college in the South by U.S. News & World Report. Flagler College is a link back to the rich history of St. Augustine, famously called the oldest city in America (founded in 1565 by the Spanish), and to a golden age of tourism that made Florida what it is today.
Of course, Flagler is in Florida, and there’s one thing everyone thinks of when they think of Florida: beaches. With its campus on the grounds of an 1888 hotel, Flagler offers students a bit of old-Florida charm, and access to the beaches of St. Augustine. Nestled between the San Sebastian River and the Matanzas River, Flagler is just a short drive (or a long swim) from Anastasia State Park and St. Augustine Beach, where hiking, swimming, sunbathing, and more can give students a break from their studies and work. A relatively quiet Florida tourist city, St. Augustine makes Flagler College one of the best colleges near beaches, and a destination for sun-loving students.
Nearest Beaches: St. Augustine Beach, Anastasia State Park
Founded in 1965, alongside UC San Diego and UC Irvine, the University of California, Santa Cruz was intended as a sort of experiment. By decentralizing the different colleges of the university, and focusing on innovative teaching, UCSC was designed to combine the best aspects of small liberal arts colleges with the resources of the UC system. Today, UC Santa Cruz is a major research university with more than 18,000 students, regularly ranked among the top national public universities and one of the best universities in the world – and one of the best beach colleges.
Located on the world-famous Monterey Bay, UC Santa Cruz is easily one of the best oceanside colleges in America. The area around Monterey Bay is dotted with state parks and gorgeous beaches, but the nearest beaches to the UCSC campus are just a short 4-5 mile drive south. The Natural Bridges State Beach is known for its extensive tide pools and a eucalyptus stand that attracts millions of monarch butterflies every year, while Lighthouse Field State Beach is made for surfing – and seal-watching. The famed Santa Cruz Boardwalk Beach is a classic tourist hot spot, and the farther down the coast, the more beaches there are.
Nearest Beaches: Natural Bridges State Beach, Lighthouse Field State Beach, Boardwalk Beach
*photo sourced from UCSC Surf Club/Lenstank
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Just a couple of miles from The Citadel, the College of Charleston is a public liberal arts college that stands as one of the oldest universities in the US. Founded in 1770, College of Charleston counts Founding Fathers among its own founders, and in 1837, it became the nation’s first municipal college when the city of Charleston took ownership. Today, part of the University of South Carolina System, CC is one of the top-ranked regional institutions in the South, and a deeply involved part of life in Charleston, one of the world’s most-loved small cities.
College of Charleston is also one of the nation’s best oceanside colleges, and beach-going is one of the main recreational activities for CC students. Folly Beach tends to be the most popular destination for students, with a relaxed beach-town vibe and plenty of opportunities for surfing, dolphin-spying, and chilling on the sand. Other nearby options include Sullivan’s Island, the Isle of Palms, and Bull Island, an untouched nature preserve full of hiking trails and native birds. For a break from the educational rigors of one of the nation’s oldest colleges, College of Charleston students have no end of options from one of the best beach colleges in the world.
Nearest Beaches: Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island
Point Loma – the rugged peninsula that forms the western opening of the San Diego Bay – is home to nearly 50,000 San Diegans and Point Loma Nazarene University, a respected Christian liberal arts college. Founded in 1902 as a small bible college, PLNU is one of the eight Nazarene colleges serving the American territories of the church. Its student body of nearly 3500 benefit from one of the strongest liberal arts educations in the region (regularly ranked a U.S. News & World Report top regional college), with a 15:1 student:faculty ratio; more than 90% of pre-med students are accepted into medical school, and nearly all graduates pass their California state board exams on the first try.
Of course, San Diego is one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations for beaches, with miles and miles of picturesque coastline. With its location on the Point Loma peninsula, PLNU students have both beaches and bay at their disposal, just a short bus ride or drive away. The Point Loma Tide Pools, at the very tip of the peninsula, are particularly popular, as is Coronado Beach, right across the bay (but a farther drive, thanks to geography). Shelter Island, Harbor Island, and more offer amenities on the bay, but for surfers, Ocean Beach and Mission Beach are the cream. All of this access makes Point Loma Nazarene one of the best beach colleges in the US.
Nearest Beaches: Point Loma Tide Pools, Coronado Beach, many others
The University of South Florida is a huge, public research university in Tampa, FL, with well over 40,000 students on three campuses. Founded in 1956, USF is notable as the first major public university established from scratch entirely in the 20th century – the farthest public university to the south, until Florida International University. Today, USF is primarily known for its health science programs, public health, criminology, and is a national leader in the study of urban transportation.
Tampa Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Florida, and beaches and state parks line the Florida Gulf Coast. The University of South Florida campus is a tad inland, but a short drive west brings USF students to some of the world’s loveliest beaches, including Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach, two of the busiest, most active beaches. That means bars, nightlife, and parties. On the other hand, the quieter state parks of Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island are perfect for those who want to enjoy a more natural beach experience, with hiking, bird watching, and fishing. Whether students want excitement or relaxation, USF is still a best beach college.
Nearest Beaches: Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island
Built on the bluffs above Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey, Loyola Marymount University proudly calls itself the University of Silicon Beach, the only major research institution on the Western Los Angeles coast. As the area has become known for start-ups and tech giants, with more than 500 companies concentrated in the region, LMU has grown in national stature, especially for its entrepreneurship and innovation. Named one of the best colleges for Hispanic students, and one of the most cutting-edge campuses in the nation, Loyola Marymount brings Catholic educational excellence into the modern age.
Of course, for many students, the “Beach” part of Silicon Beach raises the most interest, and Loyola Marymount is, without a doubt, one of the best beach colleges in the nation. Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey, of course, are two of the swankiest beach communities in California, but for the kind of fun a college student needs to unwind on the weekend, Venice Beach is just minutes away. From the legendary boardwalk, with its performers and weirdos, to Muscle Beach and the toughest street basketball courts in the world, LMU students can check it all out. With year-round sun and a solid mid-70s Fahrenheit, students get challenged in the nicest possible location.
Nearest Beaches: Venice Beach
Founded in 1969, the College of the Atlantic is one of the most unique and fascinating colleges in America. Originally conceived by the residents of Bar Harbor, ME, as a way to sustain the local economy, College of the Atlantic’s curriculum is focused entirely on human ecology, an interdisciplinary field incorporating humanities, sciences, and professions. Because of its unique focus, COA is known for its commitment to service and sustainability, being the first college to be powered fully by renewable energy, and to reduce its carbon footprint to zero. It’s also one of the nation’s best oceanside colleges.
College of the Atlantic students aren’t doing much surfing or swimming – summer water temperature is in the 50s, and most of the year it’s much colder than that. But Mt. Desert Island is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in America. Much of the area around Bar Harbor, ME is taken up by the Acadia National Park, a pristine 47,000 acres of forests, rocky beaches, and wildlife. At low tide, a land bridge allows tourists to walk across the Mt. Desert Narrows to Bar Island (just don’t get stuck at high tide), where kayakers and shell collectors do their thing. It’s about as Maine as you can get, and one of the best beach colleges in New England.
Nearest Beaches: Bar Island
A Catholic college founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1934, Salve Regina University is an unusual institution. Its 80-acre campus, perched alongside Newport, RI’s famous Cliff Walk, is made up of a string of Gilded Age mansions, which provide both academic buildings and student housing. As such, the entire campus is recognized as a historic site. Originally women-only, the university has been coed since 1973, though more than two-thirds of the student body remains women. Salve Regina is known as one of the top regional colleges in the North, but also has a solid reputation as one of the best beach colleges in the US.
Newport, RI, is one of the state’s primary tourist areas, with many private and public beaches, Cliff Walk, and several ponds. Salve Regina students have the easiest access to Easton’s Beach (called 1st Beach by locals) to the east and Gooseberry Beach to the south, but small beaches all along the Cliff Walk and around bends offer privacy. Bailey’s Beach, a private beach known as one of the most exclusive in the US, is not accessible unless you know the right people, but the stretch quaintly called Reject’s Beach, at the edge of the Cliff Walk, lets the more daring see Bailey’s across a barrier. Newport has also earned a reputation for the best surfing in New England, giving Salve Regina University one more edge as a best oceanside college.
Nearest Beaches: Easton’s Beach, Gooseberry Beach
Beginning in 1850, when the king of Hawaii offered religious tolerance to all faiths, members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints began moving to Hawaii to escape persecution in the US. By the time Brigham Young University-Hawaii was founded in 1955, Laie, HI (formerly a traditional Hawaiian city of refuge) had become one of the largest LDS communities in the world. Today, BYU-Hawaii is ranked as a top regional university for the West, and also as a best value. With its predominantly Mormon student body (as high as 97%), BYU-Hawaii also has one of the highest proportions of international students of any American college, due to Mormon students from around the world flocking to Laie.
Located on the island of O’ahu, Laie provides all kinds of exceptional amenities that make BYU-Hawaii one of the best beach colleges in the world. Several world-class beaches are just miles away; the Malaekahana State Recreation Area offers surfing, swimming, and overnight camping in a clean, well-maintained state park, while Hukilau Beach, just south of the state park, is perfect for fishing. Pounder’s Beach gets its name from the massive waves that pound the shore. All of Laie’s beaches are too rough to swim in the winter, but surfing is a year-round activity, making BYU-Hawaii a perfect oceanside college.
Nearest Beaches: Malaekahana State Recreation Area, Hukilau Beach, Pounder’s Beach
Palm Beach, FL, is a definitive seaside Florida resort city, and for good reason – it is the definitive Florida seaside resort city, from the time resort mogul Henry Morrison Flagler completed his scheme to bring the railroad all the way down the East Coast. West Palm Beach, across the Intercoastal Waterway, is the home of Palm Beach Atlantic University, an interdenominational Christian institution (not to be confused with the public Florida Atlantic University). Known for its highly-ranked business, nursing, pharmacy programs, Palm Beach Atlantic has also earned national recognition for their popular marine biology program, as one of just a few Christian colleges offering a marine biology concentration. Naturally, with its location on the Southern Florida coast, PBAU is also one of the nation’s best beach colleges.
Just a quick drive (less than a mile) over the Royal Park Bridge across the Intercoastal Waterway and PBAU students are in Palm Beach, one of the world’s prime tourist cities. Palm Beach is lined with miles of beaches, many on private resorts, but there are still a number of public beaches for PBAU students to enjoy. Midtown Beach and Phipps Ocean Park are both on the island of Palm Beach, proper, and offer public facilities perfect for families. South of Palm Beach, Lake Worth Municipal Beach also has a fishing pier and restaurants, while West Palm Beach has the MacArthur Beach State Park, a nature preserve the proudly maintains natural Florida. With so many options, there aren’t many oceanside colleges like Palm Beach Atlantic.
Nearest Beaches: Palm Beach, Lake Worth
Coastal Carolina University, a mid-sized public liberal arts institution in Conway, SC, began in 1954 as a community college extension of the College of Charleston. In the mid-20th century, South Carolina’s coastal area was growing as a tourist destination, and increased demand meant that the 2-year college became a 4-year college within two decades. Today, Coastal Carolina provides more than 10,000 students a strong foundation in the traditional liberal arts to create the basis for top-notch professional education, and is ranked by U.S. News as one of the top regional colleges in the South.
Conway, SC, is also part of the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area, so for CCU students, fun in the sun is just a few miles away, making Coastal Carolina University a best beach college. In all, the region known as the Grand Strand is made up of more than 60 straight miles of beaches, with amenities ranging from state parks and nature preserves to amusement parks, nightlife, and restaurants. CCU also owns Watties Island, a small, undeveloped barrier island that the university uses as a natural laboratory, preserving South Carolina’s native coastal wildlife and plants. It’s not a tourist destination, but it is an invaluable chance to see South Carolina as it was in ages past.
Nearest Beaches: Myrtle Beach
The University of Tampa, founded in 1931, brought higher education to the growing resort town, occupying one of the city’s most iconic buildings from Florida’s first tourism boom, the former Tampa Bay Hotel. Ranked as a top regional college by U.S. News and Forbes, the University of Tampa is especially well known for business, marketing, and entrepreneurship – staples of Florida education – but also in nursing, criminology, and, in recent years, cybersecurity. With more than 10,000 students, UT’s reputation and student body has been growing quickly in the 21st century.
Of course, with Tampa representing one of the premiere destinations on the west Florida Gulf Coast, University of Tampa students, more often than not, are beach people. Otherwise, why be in Tampa? There are truly dozens of ocean, river, and bay parks and beaches to enjoy in close proximity, but for the full beach experience, UT students are most likely to head to Clearwater Beach (where New Student Orientation has been held in the past). Other nearby beaches include Davis Beach and Sand Key Park, but those are only the straight shots – a little more driving, and tons more upen up, making the University of Tampa a serious contender for best beach college.
Nearest Beaches: Clearwater Beach, Davis Beach, Sand Key Park
A small, private liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, FL, Eckerd College has been named a College that Changes Lives and one of America’s top colleges for first-year experience. Just 60 years old, Eckerd’s reputation is still on the rise. With just 1800 students, Eckerd excels in student support and mentorship, with students working alongside faculty in research and learning from innovative methods. Located on the one and only Tampa Bay, Eckerd College is also one of the best beach colleges on any coast.
For the beach lover who doesn’t want to leave campus, Eckerd has its own South Beach, a 100-yards of white sand beach set aside just for students. Volleyball, swings, a pavilion, and a full soccer field are just some of the amenities South Beach offers. For the more adventurous, Indian Key – an island state park only accessible by boat or kayak – is a pristine, wild spot for hiking, sunbathing, and swimming, just a short paddle south of campus. And for the big-time tourist experience, a short drive over to St. Pete Beach has all the dive bars, restaurants, and beaches any college student could need.
Nearest Beaches: South Beach, Indian Key, St. Pete Beach
Florida Gulf Coast University is a relatively young institution, founded in 1991, though students did not begin attending until 1997. That makes FGCU just two decades old, and in only that amount of time the university has become one of the strongest up and coming regional colleges in the South, from NCAA Division I athletics to the AACSB-accredited Lutgert College of Business, nationally recognized for its model Resort and Hospitality Management program. And, of course, FGCU has a growing reputation as a best beach college.
FGCU’s campus is not directly on the ocean; it takes a bit of a drive west to enjoy some of the many beaches of the Gulf Coast. The nearest option is Fort Myers Beach, but go a little north or a little south, and students can find themselves in Lovers Key State Park, Big Hickory Island, or Sanibel Island. Of course, students can save themselves the drive and hit the beaches of Lake Cuomo, where the North Lake Village student residence hall stands. There, boating, water skiing, and beach volleyball are literally steps outside of the dorm.
Nearest Beaches: Fort Myers Beach, Estero Island, Lovers Key State Park
Hawaii’s flagship public research university, the University of Hawaii at Manoa is crucial to professional education, research, and the local economy of Honolulu and the island of O’ahu. UH dates back to 1907, when it was founded as an agricultural college for what was still a US territory, but the growth of Hawaii’s population has brought UH far beyond that beginning. UH is known as one of the highest public universities for research expenditures, making major developments in oceanography, marine biology, astronomy, aquaculture, and other Hawaii-centric fields.
Listen, it’s Honolulu. When it comes to the most beautiful beaches in the world, Honolulu, HI, is not just on the list – it’s the standard. Students at the University of Hawaii have convenient access to the kinds of beaches that people all over the world save up their pennies to visit once in a lifetime – Waikiki Beach, Kahanamoku Beach, Magic Island, and more. At UH, the beach isn’t just party central or a distraction from real work – it’s a way of life, as it is throughout Hawaii, and students at UH can call it a best beach college with all the meaning the phrase can have.
Nearest Beaches: Magic Island, Kahanamoku Beach, Waikiki Beach, Ala Moana Beach
Wilmington, NC, was long an important port city and tourist destination, but after WWII, the increase in WWII veterans seeking higher education on the GI Bill led the state of North Carolina to establish a Wilmington campus in 1947. UNC Wilmington quickly grew into a powerful force in the city, growing to become a major contributor to the local economy and attracting students from across the South. Today, UNCW is ranked one of the top regional universities in the South, and serves more than 16,000 students – many of whom come for the beach.
There are three main beaches in close proximity to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and they are loved by students as much as by tourists from around the East Coast. The closest to UNCW campus is Wrightsville Beach, a 4-mile island that is generally considered more for locals than for tourists. Carolina Beach, a few miles farther down the coast, is a more hopping tourist attraction, while Kure Beach has a primarily family reputation, as the home of the NC Aquarium and Fort Fisher historic area. The Dub may have a bit of a reputation as a party school, but with some of North Carolina’s prettiest beaches, it’s definitely one of the best beach colleges in America.
Nearest Beaches: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach
Founded in 1958, the Florida Institute of Technology was started as an engineering school intended to help support Florida’s Space Coast NASA programs. With just under 9000 students, FIT has earned a national reputation for student support, research, and innovation, especially in areas like aeronautics, oceanography, and related subjects like robotics. A U.S. News top-tier national university, Florida Tech has been recognized for its return on investment and impact on social mobility.
Melbourne Beach is a long island of beaches along the immortal A1A (Florida’s Route 66), and all of them are accessible with a quick trip across the Melbourne Causeway, just miles from FIT’s campus. Public parks up and down the island, with romantic names like Paradise Beach, Pelican Beach, and Millenium Beach, are easily accessible from FIT, as are the beautiful Indian River Lagoon State Park and Sebastian Inlet State Park. Academics at FIT are serious, and so is the fun students can have at one of the best beach colleges.
Nearest Beaches: Melbourne Beach
*photo sourced from Florida Tech Surf Club
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Do Beach Colleges Have Competitive Admissions?
Some California beach colleges have competitive admissions, while others do not. The Cal State system accepts about 93% of the applicants it receives who are California high school students. However, some colleges near the beach in California are more selective. For example, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and San Diego State only accept about 33% of their California applicants. Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and San Diego State are both California colleges near the beach.
There is some good news for California high school students who don’t do well on standardized tests. You no longer have to take the ACT or SAT to attend colleges in California near the beach. In fact, no public university in California requires either college admission test for consideration.
With public colleges on the coast no longer requiring the ACT or SAT, students must rely on their grades and life experiences to paint an appealing picture for college admissions officers. Many of the best beach colleges rely on academic success in high school to predict likely success in college.
As with any college, when applying to California colleges on the beach, you can improve your chances by highlighting life experiences that make you stand out. This could include volunteer service, special accomplishments, or starting your own business as a teen. If you don’t have anything special to talk about, try to find a volunteer opportunity or other experience to participate in before you graduate.
Are Beach Colleges Just Party Schools?
Although some coastal colleges, such as California State University-Santa Barbara and the University of Southern California, are party schools, not all California coast colleges are. San Diego Christian College and Life Pacific University, for example, are colleges by the beach that are not known for partying. Of course, you wouldn’t expect a Christian college to have a big party scene.
But even among those colleges on the beach that are party schools, that is not all they are. There is more to any given school than just its reputation for partying. For example, although California State University-Santa Barbara is known for its party scene, it also has ten designated national institutes and centers for specialized research. They are particularly well known for natural and health sciences degree programs.
The best colleges by the beach also have impressive programs and research facilities and esteemed faculty members. They are not just about partying and having a good time, although many of the colleges by the beach in California do have lively party scenes.
If you attend a California beach school that has a lot of partying, you may need to exercise some discipline to make sure your school work is done before partying. If you have a big paper due on Monday, try to prioritize that over any parties, regardless of how exciting they may be. But if you have your work done, why not go out and have a little fun?
Why is California the Destination for Beach Colleges?
While California is a popular destination for beach colleges, it is not the only destination. Florida is popular as well, and so are some of the other East Coast states. When choosing between Florida and California beaches, it’s important to consider the temperature, the humidity, the weather, and the waves.
California has great waves for surfing, but those waves can also cause a rip current, which makes California beaches less safe for swimming. Schools on the beach in California are a great choice for surfers and outdoor adventurers. California’s beaches also have a lot of cliffs and rocks, which may interest climbers.
Florida, however, has warmer weather, and as a result, warmer water. If you’re interested in swimming, you might want to consider a Florida beach college instead of a California beach college. The water in California’s beaches tends to be cooler than Florida’s year-round.
However, Florida is humid and more likely to have thunderstorms, which keep swimmers out of the water in the afternoons or evenings. California’s weather is drier, so a trip to the beach is less likely to be interrupted by rain.
For those who want to hike or camp along the beach, California’s drier weather may be ideal. Campers in Florida are more likely to be rained on. The hot, humid Florida weather can also be uncomfortable for those who aren’t planning on cooling off with a swim.
Overall, Florida’s beaches are probably the best choice for families who want to keep their kids safe while swimming, and California’s beaches are probably best for surfers.