Saint Mary’s College of Maryland

Don’t be fooled by the “saint.”

St. Mary’s is not private or parochial. Located in the historic town of St. Mary’s City, St. Mary’s College of Maryland is “The National Public Honors College.” What does it mean to be a “national public honors college”? It doesn’t mean that it’s harder to get in; in fact, the University of Maryland at College Park has a lower acceptance rate and higher student profile than SMCM, which accepted three-quarters of applicants in 2023.

According to the school, being the national public honors college means that “all undergraduates are held to a higher level of expectation. Students are offered the kinds of academic opportunities, challenges, and results usually reserved exclusively for students in honors programs.” US News ranked the school the #1 non-military public liberal arts college in the nation.

The Maryland legislature gave SMCM the “public honors” designation and allows the liberal arts and sciences school to operate independently of the state university system. St. Mary’s is the smallest in the 12-school state system with 1,600 undergraduates. Flagship UMD at College Park hosts over 28,000. The small size allows students to have close relationships with their professors.

It’s a rigorous, experiential curriculum, rooted in LEAD, or Learning through Experiential and Applied Discovery. Whether you go into the workforce, graduate school, or research, you will be prepared by LEAD’s “all-encompassing, integrative pathway.” Career readiness is front and center, so SMCM incorporates into the curriculum from the first semester four pillars: target goals, relevant experience, networking, and skills.


Career readiness competencies include critical thinking, technology, teamwork, communication, leadership, career & self-development, professionalism, and equity & inclusion. To help Seahawks achieve these competencies, first-year students are matched with alumni mentors. St. Mary’s Honors College Promise guarantees every student the opportunity for internships, faculty-guided research, or study abroad. The faculty-student ratio of 10:1 approaches some of the more selective schools in the country.

The architecture honors the history of St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s colonial capital from 1634-95.

The campus, with architecture that echoes colonial Williamsburg, sits on the St. Mary’s River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The little historic town’s history weaves itself into the campus, and the college shares its facilities with nonprofit Historic St. Mary’s, a win-win for both.

The Museum Studies Lab

A museum studies lab contains equipment like that graduate students use. It’s one of the facilities that Historic St. Mary’s accesses. Dr. Randy Larsen, chemistry professor and associate dean of faculty, told counselors that undergraduates routinely use the lab for authentic research. When an artifact needs to be identified (as from the archeological dig next door), undergrads do the sleuthing. You can minor in museum studies.

Commemorative to the Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland

There’s a palpable reverence for indigenous people of the land and the enslaved. The Commemorative to the Enslaved Peoples of Southern Maryland names and honors the enslaved people who helped build the colonial town. As SMCM broke ground for a new stadium, they discovered slave quarters on the planned site; they subsequently moved the site of the stadium and preserved the spot with this memorial.

Biology, anthropology, chemistry, and psychology programs are popular, but it’s easy to design your own curriculum. Marine science and business administration were added as majors in 2022. As a testament to SMCM’s commitment to marine ecology, SMCM has received over a million dollars in grants and donations, including $900K from the U.S. Dept. of Ed. to design and build its own marine research vessel.

Entrance to the main dining hall. Niche voted SMCM’s food #1 in Maryland.
Seahawk spirit abounds!

Sports at St. Mary’s are DIII—except for sailing, which is DI and known nationally, attracting sailors from as far as California. The river is part of the campus and the boat house is a short walk from the dorms, townhouses, and classrooms. (I got the t-shirt with the “Life Is Better by the River” graphic.)

The lobby of the new performance hall

Musicians and other performing artists can enjoy the newly opened performing arts center, pictured above, the lobby of which is full of light and great places to study. (I found lots of great places to study throughout campus, such as at the Brew’d Awakening.)

Counselors got a chance to sample the food in the Great Room, the main dining hall, and the food was as good as its reputation. Niche gave SMCM first place for campus food in the state of Maryland. Wastefulness is discouraged and the college commits to serving healthy, ethical food. Princeton Review gave St. Mary’s a nod for environmental responsibility. For some, the pace of life in Southern Maryland, 90 minutes from D.C. or Baltimore, might be too slow, but if you want to immerse yourself in your studies, surrounded by nature and history and attuned to the river, St. Mary’s College can be a wonderful place to spend your undergraduate years. You’ll be well prepared to tackle D.C., Baltimore, or the world.

Public price, private experience