If you can afford to go to School for 4 years- then school is the best in the long run. You’re in a much better position if you have your 3rd mates license- and a degree.
But- if you can’t afford to wait- the SIU Paul Hall center in Piney Point Maryland has a program for those starting from scratch. See seafarers.org.
You work and learn at the school- and aboard ships.
They put you through BST.
The downside here is that you have to pay a little money upfront- and make little for the first year- but you graduate with experience, union seniority, and an AB or QMED.
Another good- and free- option is jobcorps. I wish I had known about this when I started. They have a facility in Beautiful Astoria Oregon that trains you to get your AB or QMED. They pay for flights and everything.
Also- PMI (mates.org) has a work/study program (workboat academy) where you get paid while you study. The cost is over $20k- but you make good money while working- and come out with a 3rd mate license in 2 years.
It’s a tough time to try to break into the industry- lots of experienced people are out of work.
If you have your heart set on going straight to work-I recommend you get your mmd, TWIC card, and BST (basic safety training) then go knocking on doors.
Take any job you can get, work hard, volunteer for extra assignments, and always have a can do attitude.