College towns are communities where the presence of an educational institution is a part of daily life. The fate of the city is often intertwined with the college’s, as a vibrant downtown will attract top students from around the world. This goes both ways, as the large student population will benefit the economy, diversity, and available recreational activities in the surrounding community.
Due to the youthful, educated, and transient nature of university students, college towns are often less traditional. This leads to a melting pot with active musical, cultural, and dining scenes. The presence of a respected school also attracts startup companies and research which will create jobs and drive economic development.
According to the American Communities Project, college towns scattered around the country are home to 18.6 million people. However, these cities aren’t just for students and faculty. College towns are dynamic and interesting communities that have many benefits for residents.
The cost of living in college towns are often much more manageable than major cities in order to meet the student budget. Along with affordable rent and dining, college towns are typically pedestrian-friendly with good transportation options. In addition, there are plenty of community events, restaurants, and attractions meaning that there’s always something to do.
Maine has its fair share of college towns that draw in people from around the world. Although beautiful mountains and historic towns might be the first thing to come to mind, these college towns in Maine have no shortage of impressive schools or things to do. Students and residents alike can go to jazz festivals, taste cuisines from around the world, visit craft breweries, watch football games, go hiking, and do whatever else they can think of at these ten best college towns in Maine.
Here are 10 of the best college towns in Maine.
Gorham Village or “the Village” encompasses multiple smaller villages, each with its own distinct historical identity. Today, it has grown to a flourishing town that embraces the cultural and intellectual life of the surrounding community.
Gorham’s urban village center is on an upward swing with new housing developments, businesses, and restaurants popping up every day. This growth is supported by the thousands of students from the University of Southern Maine who frequent the coffee shops and galleries in town. For nature-lovers, Gorham has no shortage of hiking, kayaking, or swimming.
The town is also gaining recognition in statewide rankings. Due to factors such as crime rates, public schools, cost of living, job opportunities, and local amenities, Niche ranks Gorham as the #12 best suburb to raise a family in Maine and the #14 best suburb to live in.
Schools in Gorham: University of Southern Maine
Augusta has a population nearing 19,000 and houses UMaine Augusta, the third-largest public university in Maine. UMaine Augusta is notable for its support of the surrounding community, including its programs for veterans and adults returning to the classroom.
As the capital of Maine, Augusta has no shortage of historic sites to visit. This includes Fort Weston, a National Historic Landmark, and the oldest wooden fort in the United States. Outside of sightseeing, downtown Augusta has a variety of museums, theaters, and parks to visit.
To keep up with a thriving population, downtown Water Street is going through a revitalization, with more than a dozen restaurants and bars opening in the past three years. The 107-year old Colonial Theater is being refurbished as a performing arts center which will allow for even more recreational activities for students and residents.
Schools in Augusta: University of Maine at Augusta
Presque Isle, ME
Presque Isle is a popular college town, home to three impressive college campuses that are woven into the community. The city holds the record for the world’s largest three-dimensional scale model of the solar system, with the sun incorporated into a UMaine building and Pluto located over 40 miles away.
Presque Isle is also the home of the first transatlantic balloon crossing. The community comes together every summer to celebrate the Double Eagle II’s historic flight with the Crown of Maine Balloon Festival. Here, residents enjoy balloon rides, plane tours, and fair rides in the summer.
Besides breaking boundaries, visitors in Presque Isle have a wide variety of things to do. They can watch prospective Olympians compete at the Nordic Heritage Center or explore shops and restaurants at the Aroostook Centre Mall.
Schools in Presque Isle: UMaine at Presque Isle, Northern Maine Community College, Husson University Presque Isle
College towns are known for their young and diverse populations that result in a vibrant and inclusive downtown area for all residents. This is especially apparent in Biddeford, the youngest city in Maine with a median age of only 29. Niche ranks the town as the #5 most diverse suburb in Maine, making Biddeford a great choice for an inclusive and enriched community.
Many young residents come for the great education options in Biddeford. The impressive University of New England has the state’s only medical school. In addition, the public middle and high schools are nationally recognized as National Schools of Excellence by the US Department of Education.
Biddeford’s downtown area is home to many theaters, locally-owned shops, restaurants, bars, and microbreweries for locals to enjoy. Residents also can appreciate the growing art community, which is supported by the local non-profit organization Engine.
Schools in Biddeford: University of New England
Although Bangor is known as the lumber capital of the world, there is no shortage of entertainment. Weekends can be spent exploring the Forest and Logging Museum, dining at restaurants, or visiting the mansion of Stephen King. The town’s location along the Penobscot river means that there is plenty of outdoor recreation.
Students come to Bangor for the high-quality education provided by top schools in the state. Beal is a business college with a strong legacy, whereas Husson is ranked by US News as the lowest-priced private university accredited by NECHE.
The bustling downtown has plenty of events that draw students into the town center. The Bangor Waterfront Pavilion can seat as many as 16,000 guests and hosts big names from KISS to Luke Bryan. It’s also home to the American Folk Festival during the summer.
Schools in Bangor: Husson University, Beal University, Eastern Maine Community College
Due to Orono’s public schools, amenities for families, and nightlife, Niche has ranked it as the #1 best place to live in Penobscot County. In Orono, residents are surrounded by beautiful scenery with plenty of destinations to take it in from the Fay Hyland Arboretum to the Orono Bog Boardwalk.
The University of Maine plays a big part in the community and its 11,000 students are actively engaged through volunteering and internships. Along with being the largest university in Maine, UMaine is also the only Division I school in the state. Residents of Orono can enjoy watching top collegiate athletics and root for their home team.
The flagship campus of the state’s university system brings museums, parks, and other activities to the college community and surrounding area, making Orono a top college town in the state.
Schools in Orono: University of Maine
With a population of over 65,000, Portland is the most populous city in Maine. The residents and students from nearby colleges enjoy the city’s unique blend of art, outdoors, and good food.
As with most college towns, Portland has a convenient and environmentally friendly transport system to get around the different areas. The Arts District in Portland is home to museums, libraries, and galleries while the Old Port district is well-known for its distinctive architecture and nightlife.
Portland was named as the 2018 Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit due to its high number of restaurants per capita. Foodies can enjoy a variety of cuisines along with a high number of bars, clubs, craft breweries, and food and beverage festivals.
Schools in Portland: Maine College of Art, UMaine School of Law, University of New England, University of Southern Maine
Waterville and Colby College are prime examples of how colleges and college towns go hand in hand. Waterville residents raised over $100,000 so Colby could buy their current campus and go on to become one of the most selective liberal arts institutions in the country.
Today, Colby is giving back to their community by investing in the town. This revitalization drives economic development, job opportunities, and making Waterville one of the top college towns in Maine to live in and visit.
On the west bank of the Kennebec River, Waterville has plenty of activities including farmers markets, quarry road trails, and boat launches. The Railroad Square Cinema shines as one of the best art-house cinemas in New England. It is also the home of the Maine International Film Festival, which provides plenty of entertainment for residents.
Schools in Waterville: Colby College, Thomas College
Brunswick is a coastal community that combines both village and city living. In this college town, professional retail businesses coexist with traditional farming, foresting, and fishing. Residents enjoy a variety of amenities including specialty shops, outdoor spaces, and restaurants in the pedestrian-friendly downtown.
Brunswick has been inspiring creatives for decades. Harriet Beecher Stowe famously wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin while she lived in the town and Bowdoin College continues to upkeep her home to this day.
The city also enjoys rich art and culture due to Bowdoin’s museum, theater, and sports activities. Bowdoin has a rich history as the first college in the state of Maine. Today, the school is one of the top liberal arts colleges that emphasized community engagement.
Schools in Brunswick: Bowdoin College, Southern Maine Community College
As a top college town, Lewiston has a significant impact on the diversity, commerce, and economic power of the region. The town has the largest French-speaking population in the US as well as a vibrant Somali community that enriches the town’s culture.
Lewiston is a business and cultural center in the state, attracting many top companies. This historic college town features parks, museums, performing arts centers, multiplex cinemas, and shopping centers.
Lewiston is also home to many popular festivals year-round for the community to enjoy such as the Greek Festival, the Ice Festival, and Emerge Film Festival.
The town’s amenities have attracted students from across the country. At Bates, students are encouraged to give back, with each class performing over 80,000 hours of community-engaged work over the course of their four years in Lewiston.
Schools in Lewiston: Maine College of Health Professions, Bates College, Kaplan University, Central Maine Community College