Wrightsville Beach Logan Mock-Bunting—Getty Images

10 Best Colleges for Beach Lovers

Nov 03, 2015

The lapping of the waves, the smell of the salt, and the feel of a light sea breeze—Beach Boy Dennis Wilson was on to something when he said you could live in bliss on the beach. But can you live in bliss on the beach while hitting the books?

Pack your bathing suit and sunscreen along with your dorm decorations, because with our help, you can. These 10 colleges exude beachy vibes and academic chops. They're each high-value colleges with comparatively strong graduation rates and career outcomes.

We started by narrowing our Best Colleges ranking to schools in states that border the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, or Gulf of Mexico, and pulled out schools that had easy beach access. In other words, no lake, riverfront, or northern, rocky coastal colleges made the cut. We then limited the list to five schools in a certain state (there are beach lovers outside of California, after all) and only one college per city (Sorry, San Diego).

All of these campuses are within roughly 10 miles of the shoreline.

Read next: The 10 Best Colleges for Serious Skiers

Wrightsville BeachLogan Mock-Bunting—Getty Images

10. University of North Carolina-Wilmington

It’s not just that students can easily dash off to the four-mile long Wrightsville Beach island that helps UNCW snag a spot on this list. The college also has a strong marine science program, Division I beach volleyball team, and competitive surfing club.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 426

Distance to the nearest beach: 7 miles

Graduation rate: 71%

Read more about UNC-Wilmington.

University of Miamicourtesy University of Miami

9. University of Miami

This private Florida university is, perhaps surprisingly, the school on our list that’s farthest from the beach. In fact, students have to drive from the university in Coral Gables, sometimes through notorious traffic, to get to the famous South Beach strip or gorgeous Key Biscayne beaches. But it is Miami, and the campus is only a few miles from Biscayne Bay. Plus, the consistent hot, sunny weather that means students can maintain a bronze glow all year long.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 399

Distance to the nearest beach: 10 miles

Graduation rate: 82%

Read more about the University of Miami.

University of Hawaii at ManoaColin Macdonald

8. University of Hawaii at Manoa

The hardest part of beaching it at UH-Manoa might be choosing which world-famous spot to go to. Ever heard of Lanikai? Waikiki? The North Shore and Banzai Pipeline? All are within a short drive from Hawaii’s flagship university, though we’re sure students can dig up some lesser-known local favorites. You can also combine your studies and love of the beach (and likely get some hands-on learning) with courses in surfing, coral reefs, and other marine topics.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 345

Distance to the nearest beach: 3 miles

Graduation rate: 57%

Read more about the University of Hawaii.

Long Beach, CaliforniaGetty Images—iStockphoto

7. California State University-Long Beach

If "Long Beach" in its official name wasn't a clue that this university would make a best beach schools list, then consider this: Everyone on campus simply calls it "The Beach." Club sports include surfing, wakeboarding, and waterskiing, and the university has a center specializing in elasmobranch research, known as the Shark Lab. Students are within a few miles of Long Beach City Beach (also known as Junipero Beach) as well as the piers at Belmont Shores and Seal Beach.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 121

Distance to the nearest beach: 3 miles

Graduation rate: 60%

Read more about CSU Long Beach.

View of beach and boardwalk, Santa Cruz, CaliforniaCarol M. Highsmith—Getty Images

6. University of California-Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, on the northern side of Monteray Bay, is known for its reliable year-round surfing and laid-back lifestyle. Among the county's 29 miles of beaches are a mix of natural, quiet spots and urban, packed beaches. Natural Bridges State Beach, Lighthouse Beach, and the buzzing Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk are all within 5 miles of campus.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 114

Distance to the nearest beach: 4 miles

Graduation rate: 72%

Read more about UC Santa Cruz.

University of California, Santa Barbaracourtesy University of Californi

5. University of California-Santa Barbara

You can practically watch the sun set over the water from your dorm at UC Santa Barbara, which sits on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Goleta Beach is adjacent to campus, but if you want to venture farther, there are a handful of other options. The college's surf team is one of the country's best, with 14 national titles since 1985 (though it seems they're in a dry spell: The most recent was in 2010).

MONEY Best College rank: 93

Distance to the nearest beach: Less than a mile

Graduation rate: 81%

Read more about UC Santa Barbara.

Incoming Citadel freshman are drilled in military marching for the first time since arriving on campus at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.Richard Ellis—Getty Images

4. Citadel Military College of South Carolina

The strict schedule and order at a military college may not drum up scenes of an easy, breezy beach lifestyle. But the beaches outside Charleston, where The Citadel is located, are classic South Carolina low country, with palmetto trees and miles of sand dunes. Students play intramural beach volleyball in the spring and compete on a club sailing team. The college even owns an oceanfront venue in the resort town of Isle of the Palms.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 67

Distance to the nearest beach: 10 miles

Graduation rate: 70%

Read more about The Citadel.

Fairfield UniversityShoreline Aerial Photography

3. Fairfield University

We know what you’re thinking. Number 3? In Connecticut? But Fairfield County actually has miles of beach on Long Island Sound. The campus is a few miles from the ocean, but seniors who reside off campus (with special permission) generally live in a beachside neighborhood called Lantern Point. One of students' favorite traditions is the annual Clam Jam party at the beach each spring.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 56

Distance to the nearest beach: 3 miles

Graduation rate: 82%

Read more about Fairfield University.

La Jolla BeachChiara Salvadori—Getty Images

2. University of California-San Diego

This one is hardly a surprise, as San Diego routinely wins praise for having the country’s best weather. (You know, 70 degrees and sunny all year round.) The college itself sits on bluffs overlooking Black's Beach, but students can also quickly get to La Jolla Shores and Torrey Pines. For the past eight years, the university’s recreation center has hosted “Meet the Beach” for freshman and transfer students each September, with a day of fun in the sun before classes start. And the college's Mission Bay Aquatic Center offers students lessons and equipment for watersports such as surfing, sailing, and wakeboarding.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 32

Distance to the nearest beach: Less than a mile

Graduation rate: 86%

Read more about UC San Diego.

Laguna Beach, CaliforniaRichard Cummins—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

1. University of California-Irvine

Irvine sometimes gets a bad rap for lacking a “college town” feel. But if you’d rather spend your time on the sand than on Main Street, it’s a tough spot to beat. There's surfing at Huntington Beach, the boardwalk and pier at Newport Beach, peace and quiet at Corona del Mar, and the glamor of Laguna Beach. All of those locales, with iconic California beach vistas, are within 20 minutes of campus, and upperclassmen often live off campus, just a couple-minute walk to the sand.

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 13

Distance to nearest beach: 7 miles

Graduation rate: 86%

Read more about UC Irvine.

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