To identify the Best Colleges in Maine for 2017-2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in Maine anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in Maine
The best colleges and universities in Maine are a diverse, highly innovative and idiosyncratic group, made up of public research and regional institutions, pioneering liberal arts colleges, and highly specialized, experimental and experiential institutions that cause experts to reconsider how higher education should look. Maine’s only public research university, the University of Maine 54 is the flagship of a strong public higher education system that includes a top regional liberal arts college in Farmington 59 , and a unique bilingual French-English institution at Fort Kent 51 , in the Saint John Valley. Another public college, the Maine Maritime Academy 54 , is one of the leading sea and shipping-centered institutions in the world, preparing students for the Merchant Marine, maritime engineering, and careers in shipping and transportation.
Maine, of course, is part of New England, and if New England is known for anything, it’s world-class liberal arts colleges, and Maine is no exception. Institutions like Bowdoin College 80 , Bates College 80 , and Colby College 74 have reputations that place them in the company of the Ivy League, and histories that count them as some of the most pioneering institutions in the nation for women and minorities. The College of the Atlantic 66 and Unity College 63 have also pioneered, representing two of the first colleges in America to focus entirely on sustainability and the environment, and earning a reputation not only for excellence, but ethical responsibility. All together, Maine’s best colleges and universities represent the best of New England’s farthest reaches.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Pine Tree State.
Founded in 1855, Bates College was originally a Free Will Baptist seminary whose founder, Oren Burbank Cheney, was dedicated to racial, gender, and religious equality. As such, Bates was the first college to admit black students before the Emancipation Proclamation, the first coed college in New England, and the first college in New England to graduate a woman. The college even banned sororities and fraternities because they were not inclusive. Today, Bates College is considered one of the most prestigious colleges in America, often named a Little Ivy or Hidden Ivy for its Ivy League-rivaling excellence, and major publishers like U.S. News & World Report, the Princeton Review, and Washington Monthly regularly rank Bates in the top 50 national universities.
Bates is primarily a traditional liberal arts college, with a small undergraduate student body of around 1700 students and a 10:1 student:faculty ratio guaranteeing individualized attention and strong mentorship. All students have a common foundational education in the humanities and sciences, and Honors College students go through a tutorial system based on Oxford and Cambridge, in which students work one-on-one with an advisor to write a thesis to be defended in an oral examination. Bates is well-known for economics, political science, and history, and has been noted for its prestigious alumni in business and government, including Robert F. Kennedy. Founded for inclusivity and accessibility, Bates College has become the definition of academic success.
Bowdoin College is one of the oldest in the United States, founded in 1794 – when Maine was still part of Massachusetts. Long considered one of the most elite colleges in New England, Bowdoin was the alma mater of President Franklin Pierce, as well as literary icons Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the 21st century, Bowdoin followed the lead of the Ivy League and eliminated all student loans, meeting students’ full financial needs with scholarships and grants. Bowdoin has often been called a Hidden Ivy or Little Ivy, and it has the reputation to back up that name, with U.S. News & World Report ranking as a top 3 national liberal arts college, and Forbes’ top 20 ranking among national colleges.
Bowdoin is one of the most selective colleges in the US, accepting only 13% of applicants, with around 85% of students requiring financial aid, all of which is met by the college. In the 21st century, Bowdoin has countered its old reputation as elite and exclusive, welcoming a minority population making up nearly a third of the student body. As a traditional liberal arts college, all Bowdoin undergraduates work through a humanities and sciences foundation, with an incredibly low 9:1 student:faculty ratio giving the 1800 students all the access to faculty that makes the liberal arts college one of the top choices for ambitious students, and Bowdoin one of the best colleges in Maine.
Like Bowdoin, Colby College was founded by the Massachusetts legislature before Maine’s independent statehood. Originally the Maine Literary and Theological Institution in 1813, the college was reaffirmed by the new Maine legislature in 1820, but removed the religious component, closing the theological school within a few years to make the new Waterville College exclusively a liberal arts college. Colby was a leader in the abolition movement, and the first male college in New England to become coed, and its tradition of progressive excellence continues today. Colby is ranked the #12 national liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named a New Ivy by Newsweek.
Colby College is a traditional liberal arts undergraduate college; while it was briefly named Colby University, when benefactor Gardner Colby made a large donation in 1865, Colby returned to the more-accurate College name. Around 1800 students benefit from a 10:1 student:faculty ratio and a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, incorporating students at all levels in the scholarly work of the faculty. More than two-thirds of Colby students study abroad, and the 4-1-4 schedule – two traditional semesters with a short January term in between called the Jan Plan – gives students the opportunity to take on internships, research projects, and intensive courses in Maine’s coldest month. All of its advantages make Colby College one of the top colleges in Maine.
College of the Atlantic
Bar Harbor, ME
Founded in 1969, the College of the Atlantic was a bold and peculiar idea from the start; founder Father James Gower, and businessman Les Brewer, started the college to give the small Mountain Desert Island an economic base less dependent on tourism. The College of the Atlantic began with the School of Human Ecology, and was designed to be experimental and interdisciplinary, with all of its courses and curriculum rooted in the concept of human ecology – the interaction of human beings and environment. Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top 100 liberal arts college, COA is also recognized as one of the best values in the nation.
College of the Atlantic is not a traditional college, and its curriculum is far from typical; there is no common liberal arts curriculum, and all professors, no matter their specialization, have a background in human ecology. With just over 300 students, COA gives its student body unprecedented access to faculty members, who act as mentors and advisors on a close basis. All students complete a mandatory internship, and to graduate all students must complete a self-determined, long-term research project and essay. With its emphasis on human ecology, COA is noted for its commitment to environmentalism, with the first carbon neutral plan, and has led the movement in higher education to remove endowment investments from all fossil fuels, making COA not only one of Maine’s best colleges, but one of its most responsible.
Named for the tiny village that built it, Unity College was founded in 1965 as the first 4-year college designed around sustainability science. Unity has much in common with the College of the Atlantic – both were founded to protect the economic well-being of their hometown, and both were built on environmental sustainability and academic exploration. Unity College calls itself America’s Environmental College, and it has made significant impacts on understanding of Maine’s ecology, especially around the area of Lake Winnecook. Unity is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 20 regional colleges in the North, and has been commended for its value.
With around 700 students, Unity College is small, and offers 17 majors, all with an emphasis in environmental science, sustainability, or ecology; that includes Maine-appropriate areas like Marine Biology, but also careers such as Conservation Law Enforcement and Adventure-Based Environmental Education. A 15:1 student:faculty ratio means students work alongside professors, and nearly 75% of students graduate with internships, co-op experience, or an intensive research project under their belt. With a highly interdisciplinary curriculum, and an emphasis on experiential learning, Unity is one of the best there is at what it does, and is easily one of the best colleges in Maine.
University of Maine at Farmington
Founded in 1864 as Maine’s first normal school, the University of Maine at Farmington has played a central role in education for the state ever since. While the normal school format originally trained schoolteachers in a 2-year program of experiential learning in a working school, UMF was one of the first the incorporate a liberal arts foundation in addition to the skills training of the normal school, making it a model of the 4-year teacher’s college. Part of the University of Maine System, UMF is one of Maine’s most trusted public institutions, and has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 10 regional universities in the North.
The University of Maine at Farmington maintains a small student body of around 1600, in keeping with its designation as Maine’s public liberal arts college; the student:faculty ratio is 13:1, comparable to the best liberal arts colleges, and UMF’s undergraduate curriculum focuses on leadership and service. Teaching is still one of UMF’s main programs, with strong development of human services and health sciences in recent years, including pre-chiropractic and pre-health science programs. With one of the highest graduation rates in Maine, the University of Maine at Farmington demonstrates what public higher education should be.
Maine Maritime Academy
The Maine Maritime Academy was founded in 1941 by the Maine legislature, built on Maine’s long heritage as a leader in sailing and ocean life, and opened just in time for America’s entry into WWII. The war gave the academy an immediate purpose, turning out officers for the Merchant Marine, and growth continued after the end of the war, as the US took place as a global military power. MMA began on the site of a former public normal school, and remains a public institution. Today, the Maine Maritime Academy is a full 4-year college focused on maritime sciences, and has been ranked one of U.S. News & World Report’s top 5 regional colleges.
MMA offers more than 20 undergraduate degree programs, all connected to sea life, such as International Business & Logistics, or Ocean Studies. In particular, MMA’s engineering programs are recognized as some of the nation’s most prestigious. While Maine Maritime is not a military academy, more than 70% of the student body is part of the Regiment of Midshipmen, a required preparation for a US Coast Guard licence to work on the sea. Other students go into land-based careers that are related to maritime industry, such as engineering and business. The curriculum is highly experiential, from internships to research laboratories, and MMA graduates have a vast network of industry connections to help them on the job market, making Maine Maritime Academy one of the top college choices in Maine.
University of Maine
Maine’s flagship public research institution, the University of Maine was founded in 1865 as the state’s land-grant university. As the Morrill Land Grant Act specified, UMaine was originally the Maine State College of Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts, a public institution designed to prepare students in the most current practical knowledge. It was a foundation for excellence in applied sciences and engineering, and today UMaine is one of the few colleges in the US with land, sea, and space grants, as well as the only Carnegie Foundation-classified research university in Maine. It is also Maine’s only U.S. News & World Report top-tier national university.
The University of Maine is central to education and culture in the state, as the only public research institution, and the university has developed a strong reputation for meeting that huge responsibility. UMaine offers the most comprehensive degree programs in the state – more than 100 undergraduate majors, 85 master’s, and 35 doctoral degrees are available. With a student body of just over 11,000, UMaine attracts students from nearly every state and more than 60 countries, with particularly strong programs in the College of Engineering and the College of Business. UMaine was also a pioneer in honors education, and its Honors College one of the first in the nation. Overall, the University of Maine is Maine’s higher education leader.
University of New England
The University of New England is Maine’s largest private university, building from the merger of several institutions over the course of the 20th century. UNE’s first campus, in Biddeford, dates back to 1939, and incorporates the former St. Francis College and the New England Foundation for Osteopathic Medicine, while the Portland campus dates even farther back, to 1831. Today, the University of New England is primarily known as Maine’s leading health sciences university, with the state’s only medical school and only dental school. With its crucial role in Maine’s health care system, UNE is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 Northern regional universities.
The University of New England combines professional training in the health sciences with a strong grounding in the liberal arts; the curriculum is highly interdisciplinary, as UNE considers a well-rounded education to be critical to good service in medicine and health. In addition to its many research centers, including programs studying pain, sensory function, and neuroscience, the University of New England is one of the nation’s leading osteopathic medical schools; more than a quarter of physicians in Maine come from UNE. UNE is noted for its entrepreneurial focus as well, making innovation in healthcare one of its highest priorities.
University of Maine at Fort Kent
Fort Kent, ME
One of the most unusual colleges in New England, the University of Maine at Fort Kent is a public college in the Saint John Valley, a culturally rich region where descendents of French Canadians and Anglo-Americans retain a bilingual society. While the Fort Kent Normal School was supposed to Americanize the French, it instead became a central force in protecting Saint John Valley’s unique culture, from the Fiddlers Jamboree to the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race. UMFK is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a top 50 regional college and one of New England’s top public liberal arts colleges.
The University of Maine at Fort Kent has a significant responsibility in a rather remote, rural area of Maine, providing educational opportunity in many of the areas most important for the welfare of the people, such as nursing and allied health, and for 21st century professions, including management and computer science. UMFK has also begun expanding its online offerings to reach out to as many prospective students as possible, with a dozen fully-online programs in areas like nursing and criminal justice. UMFK is a deeply embedded part of life in Saint John Valley, and one of Maine’s top universities.