I went to Great Lakes, graduated in 2015 Engineering program. I’ve remained gainfully employed since then, so I’d recommend it.
First, it’s small. You’ll start with 60 cadets, around 20 Engineering Students and 40 Deck Students. Over the course of the study, I’d say about 1/3 drop out. I wouldn’t say this is due to difficulty, but rather due to the younger students not really being sure what they want out of life, and getting cold feet about the maritime industry in general.
The Engineering Progam is very small, I graduated with less than 20 other people. My entire engineering curriculum was taught by two professors. Kind of a negative, not getting a breadth of experience, however I think the pros out weigh the cons. After 3-4 years with the same people/professors, you get pretty close. Plus the curriculum itself can flow more smoothly. Most of engineering has principals that can be applied acrossed multiple fields. So it became helpful when our professor taught a refrigeration course and could say “Remember when I taught you about superheat back in Steam Engineering…”
As for which program to choose, that’s up to you. I was a deck cadet for one week then made the change. It seemed that the deck program was more about learning rules and regulations (memorization) where as the engineering program was about learning scientific principals and then applying those principals into actual hands on tasks. That said, the deck side ship handling classes looked like they were having a blast; and to this day I’ve never seen a deck officer prespire from actual work, whereas I cannot remember a work day that I haven’t sweat through a shirt.
They’ll tell you at the academy that engineering students have much more options working shoreside, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Many deck cadets get shoreside jobs, I know many that work in auditing, insurance, bunkering, and even ship building. I think engineers have better options if they get an actually engineering degree (ie ABET certified). GLMA does not grant ABET certified degrees, some of the other Academies do have that option.
I’ve talked to other graduates from other schools about which one was the best, and I think we’ve developed a theory called the Cost/Bullshit Ratio. Kings Pointer’s have to put up with alot of military reg bullshit, but their education is virtually free. If I’d known about KP when I was 18-19 I would’ve applied there rather than enlisting in the Navy. So Kings Point has a low monetary cost, but a high bullshit cost. Great Lakes and California Maritime have a high dollar cost, but it’s pretty relaxed as far as military regs go. The people I always felt bad for were the Texas A&M and SUNY guys, it seemed they had a very bullshit experience and took out large loans to pay for it.
The worst part about GLMA is probably the location. Traverse City, MI is a great wonderful place, tourists flock there… in the summer when you most likely will be cadet shipping. For about 6 months out of the year it’s basically Siberia, and everything that caters to the tourists shuts down. All in all though, it’s actually a pretty great town, and with the right group of people you can always make your own fun.
As far as getting a job in the maritime industry, I’d say overall it’s not bad. In years past it was booming (high oil prices) and things were easier. Nowadays, I’ll say if a person wants to work (as a licensed officer) they’ll find work. The classmates of mine that had trouble getting work when I graduated were the picky ones. They couldn’t get on this ship or that ship because “I have a wedding I’m in” or “I really wanted to be home for Christmas this year”. When you first start off you get the bad schedules and the lower pay jobs, that’s just a fact of life. When you start learning how the game is played, you can position yourself for better schedules and better pay, but at the end of the day someone has to be on watch on Christmas Day on the low paying ship, just a cold hard fact.
Lastly, it sounds like you may have a little wanderlust in your blood judging from your post. I’ll say this job has taken me all across the Middle East, SE Asian, and Northern Asian, and i’ve only been doing it for 3 years. When I’m off the ship I’m a vagabond, traveling to Thailand, Dominican, Mexico and Europe. The lifestyle suits me for now, and you might like it too. Only a few professions can allow you to travel like this one does, while also mantaining a decent salary. On the flip side though, I’ve had classmates who were the complete opposite. After 6 months at sea all they wanted to do was be back home and drink beer on the porch. Well this job supports that lifestyle too.