Maine Colleges: More than the “Big 3”

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a weeklong counselor tour of most of the colleges in the state of Maine.

Tours for private college admissions counselors are different from the usual family tours. While we do get to see the major buildings and dorms, educational consultants also visit the offices for diversity, support services, healthcare, and career advising. We generally have the advantage of taking part in student, administrative and faculty panels where we can get information about the darker side of college life – safety, alcohol poisonings, sexual assaults etc. Moreover, we make fantastic connections with members of the admissions staffs, making it easier to pick up the phone to ask specific questions on behalf of our clients.

And we hear about great perks like the State of Maine’s tax credit of up to $375 per month toward educational loan payments for students who went to college in Maine and stay there to work after graduation. To learn more, visit

When people people think of Maine colleges, usually the “Big 3” come to mind – Bowdoin, Bates and Colby.

Bowdoin, Bates and Colby are part of a group of colleges called the “Little Ivys” and certainly, they are the crème de la crème of the Maine colleges with highly selective admissions processes. Their accessible faculties, vast undergraduate research opportunities, exceptional graduate school entrance rates and terrific facilities make them top choices for many high-achieving students. However, there are so many other great schools in this beautiful state that cannot be overlooked, especially for those who have GPAs in the B and C range.

The University of Maine at Orono is one of the better public colleges in the United States. It now offers merit scholarships to academically qualified out-of-state students such that they would pay the same in-state tuition as if they attended their own state’s flagship university.

Another fantastic public option is the University of Maine at Farmington, one of the nation’s few public liberal arts colleges with an enrollment of only 1800 undergraduates. This hidden gem located in an historic town full of eateries, funky stores and theaters, UMaine at Farmington offers an outstanding education at an affordable price in a spectacular natural setting. With an average class size of 17 and no teaching assistants, Farmington’s professors offer experiential classes with lots of individual attention.

For those boys who need a post-grad year in order to beef up their grades or further enhance their chances of being recruited to play a Division I NCAA sport, Bridgton Academy might be the answer.

For those interested in studying the environment especially marine sciences, there’s no better place than the University of New England. With a variety of environmental majors (everything from Oceanography to Climate Change Studies to Aquarium Sciences), a top-notch research program for undergraduates, and lots of new construction, UNE is the place to be. They are also known for their health sciences and many of their graduates go on to attend UNE’s medical, dental, and pharmacy schools. Their own private beach is an added plus.

And for the student who seeks a trade-focused education but still wants the traditional college experience, Southern Maine Community College is a fabulous option! This is a RESIDENTIAL community college located directly on the Atlantic Ocean in Portland, Maine’s largest city. The facilities, dorms and curriculum are outstanding with associate’s degrees offered in majors like Fire Science, Precision Machining, and Hospitality Management as well as a host of medical-related fields like Nursing, Cardiovascular Technology and Emergency Medical Services.

Of all the campuses I visited, St. Joseph’s College really stood out in my mind.

With an idyllic 474-acre campus on the shores of Sebago Lake overlooking the mountains (just 2 hours from Boston), St. Joseph’s College students, faculty and staff truly live out their values of hospitality, courtesy, inclusive relationships, and collaboration. It’s a paradise for hikers, kayakers, skaters and skiers; in fact, Shawnee Peak offers students free skiing on Mondays and many take full advantage. St. Joe’s even has its own farm that provides much of the food in the dining hall, and students told us that they like to play with the sheep or chop some wood when they are feeling stressed during exams. But if outdoor sports isn’t your thing, the Activities Office sponsors concerts, comedians, hypnotists and other events EVERY NIGHT and the pub on campus serves alcohol to those over 21. Plus, there are free shuttles to Portland just 18 miles away.

Although informed by the spirit of the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy (about 50% of the students identify as Catholic), this is a college where men and women of all faiths or no faith will be enveloped in a robust sense of community spirit and friendly camaraderie (nearly everyone was wearing shirts with a St. Joe’s logo and we were told that athletic events are jam-packed). The small student body (currently only about 1000 undergrads with plans to increase to about 2000) receives a great education with particularly strong programs in business, nursing and exercise science/sports management. But don’t let the small size make you think St. Joe’s has limited offerings. In fact, they offer over 40 majors and five degrees BS, BSN, BA, BSBA and BFA degrees. In addition, a $2000 “Connections” stipend is given to juniors and seniors that can be used for internships, research projects, international study or service trips, and the career office works hard to connect students with potential employers. They even print personalized business cards for each student from day 1!  Financial aid and merit scholarships are generous, and if high schoolers visit St. Joe’s before February 15 of their junior year, they get a $1000 enrollment bonus. So why not plan a trip to St. Joseph’s College?  It might be the perfect place for your college adventure!