Midshipman Travis Charlton feels like he's getting the best of both worlds — a top-rated, sea-focused education without all the added rigors of attending the Naval Academy.
An enlisted trainee approved for the Navy's Seaman to Admiral Program, Charlton chose the State University of New York Maritime College because it's one of the few that qualifies for his approved nuclear-reactor training pipeline.
"At the end of the day, it just seemed like the perfect fit," says Charlton, who in his third year serves as the student executive officer of the school's 180-strong NROTC battalion.
In many ways, he says, the school has the look and feel of a miniature service academy.
"A lot of people here would describe this as a light version of the Naval Academy," he says. "It's academically rigorous, but we can still have a life, and our weekends are our own."
Founded in 1874, the school sits in the shadow of the Throgs Neck Bridge on a 55-acre spit of land where New York City's East River spills into the Long Island Sound.
The school's 565-foot training ship, Empire State VI, sits pierside when not underway during summer training cruises. The battlements of Fort Schuyler — now the Maritime Museum — still stand watch over the waterway.
The vast majority of students form the school's Regiment of Cadets, a military-style program required for those hoping to earn their Coast Guard licenses needed to serve as officers aboard the big ships of maritime industry.
The school is one of six state-run maritime academies overseen by the Transportation Department and complementing the five federal service academies. But while the school may have a certain Naval Academy vibe, it also commands its own unique identity.
"We definitely like to think of ourselves differently, especially those of us in the NROTC battalion," Charlton says. "It's kind of a ring-knocker versus hard-knocker mentality." Those who wear the rings of service academies, he explains, are perceived as more of a silver-spoon set, "where we are more of a school of hard knocks."