Born in Caribou, Maine, Collins is a graduate of St. Lawrence University. Beginning her career as a staff assistant for Senator William Cohen in 1975, she later became staff director of the Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee of the Committee on Governmental Affairs (which later became the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) in 1981. She was then appointed Commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation by Governor John R. McKernan Jr. in 1987. In 1992 she was appointed by President George H. W. Bush as director of the Small Business Administration's regional office in Boston, Massachusetts. Collins became a deputy state treasurer in the office of the Treasurer and Receiver-General of Massachusetts in 1993. After moving back to Maine in 1994, Collins became the Republican nominee for Governor of Maine in the 1994 general election. Collins was the first female major-party nominee for the post, finishing third in a four-way race with 23% of the vote. After her bid for governor in 1994, Collins became the founding director of the Center for Family Business at Husson University.