- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 2, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed March 2, 2016, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- School pages, accessed April 27-28, 2017: About NC State, North Carolina State University, https://www.ncsu.edu/about/; Programs List, North Carolina State University Online, https://online-distance.ncsu.edu/programs/list/?level=undergraduate-degrees; Why Choose App?, Appalachian State University, http://www.appstate.edu/choose/; Undergraduate Degrees, Appalachian State University, https://distance.appstate.edu/programs/undergraduate/; About ECU, East Carolina University, http://www.ecu.edu/about; Undergraduate Degree Completion Programs, East Carolina University, http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/options/undergraduate-degrees.cfm; Our History, Elizabeth City State University, http://www.ecsu.edu/about/history/index.html; Distance Education for Students, Elizabeth City State University, http://www.ecsu.edu/academics/offices/distance-education/students/index.html; Undergraduate Degrees, University of North Carolina Greensboro, http://online.uncg.edu/undergraduate-programs/; Explore Greensboro, University of North Carolina Greensboro, https://admissions.uncg.edu/visit-explore.php; Online Education, Fayetteville State University, http://www.uncfsu.edu/onlineeducation; Fast Facts, Piedmont International University, http://www.piedmontu.edu/2016-website/fast-facts; Online Programs Information Page, Piedmont International University, http://www.piedmontu.edu/online-programs-information-page; "TealPay" Tuition Payment Plan, University of North Carolina Wilmington, http://www.uncw.edu/StudentAccounts/TuitionPaymentPlan.html;
- University of North Carolina System, accessed April 27, 2017: 220 Years of History, https://www.northcarolina.edu/about-our-system/220-years-history; NC Community College Transfer, https://www.northcarolina.edu/Transfer-Student-Success/NC-Community-College-Transfer;
- Forbes, accessed April 27, 2017: The Easiest And Hardest Cities For Finding A Job Right Now, Kathryn Dill, November 30, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathryndill/2015/11/30/the-easiest-and-hardest-cities-for-finding-a-job-right-now-2/#11da87a71032; America's Hottest Spots for Tech Jobs, Niall McCarthy, August 24, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/08/24/americas-hottest-spots-for-tech-jobs-infographics/#324abe3b612b; America's 20 Best Cities For Young Professionals In 2016, Erin Carlyle, March 28, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/erincarlyle/2016/03/28/americas-20-best-cities-for-young-professionals-in-2016/#5e1a6f51666a;
- All Grant and Scholarship Programs, College Foundation of North Carolina, accessed April 28, 2017, https://www.cfnc.org/Gateway?command=SearchBasedPrograms¬e=no&type=13
- Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.
North Carolina residents have dozens of in-state colleges and universities to consider when choosing where to earn their degree, and it can be helpful to have as much information as possible when making such an important decision. It may also be useful to know that community college students hoping to transfer to a university to complete a bachelor's program may have pathways that make transferring easier. (Potential transfer students should sure to check with an advisor or admissions reps at the destination school to find out whether a specific degree plan qualifies.)
We considered all of the post-secondary schools in the state and hit the data mines to help you sort out which institutions could rightly be called the best traditional and online colleges in North Carolina. Most of our data came from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard. In our analysis, we treated the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system that grant four-year bachelor's degrees as individual schools.
Best 4-Year Colleges in North Carolina
Here's a quick rundown of the top ten schools in North Carolina based on our extensive ranking methodology — something that covers 13 important quantitative points about affordability, student success and ease of access to essential coursework.
As the oldest campus in the UNC system, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been educating students since 1795. In the more than two centuries since it first opened its doors, it's grown into one of the top universities anywhere in the world.
UNC Chapel Hill took the No. 1 spot among schools on our list for both its freshman retention rate and its graduation rate. Its proportion of non-repay financial aid awarded to students ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 5 out of the 1,600+ schools we surveyed nationwide. Students at UNC Chapel Hill graduated with an average college loan balance right around $16,000 — good for the top spot on our list in that category — and no other school in our top 10 reported a higher percentage of alumni who paid off their student debt within three years of graduation.
North Carolina State University came in just behind our No. 1 school in the national rankings. Both landed in the top ten overall out of the hundreds and hundreds of schools in our analysis. NC State had the largest academic catalog of any school in North Carolina, offering students 265 individual degree plans as of 2015-16, and it had the No. 2 graduation rate in the state.
The accredited NC State was also a top destination for students seeking an online undergraduate degree in North Carolina. It ranked No. 2 statewide for its array of programs available in the virtual classroom, which includes public sector leadership, science, agricultural business management and a 2+2 hybrid engineering program. Graduates of the Raleigh school also have access to a job market that's booming for educated workers, according to recent reports by Forbes.
This institution in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina ranked No. 3 statewide for the manageability of its graduates' post-college debt and had the fourth-highest graduation rate among schools on our list. Appalachian State University was also one of the few schools in the state that offered credit exams for life experience alongside remedial services and academic and career counseling for non-traditional students.
Only three other schools charged students less for books and essential supplies than Appalachian State. In terms of online programs, prospective students had a wide array of online degree programs to choose from. Its online catalog was the fifth-largest in the state and includes an online degree in education, business administration, health care and communications.
The Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina scored well across the affordability metrics of our analysis, placing third among schools on our list for its low cost of tuition and fees and ranking at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, for the average net price it charged to low-income and middle-income students. It also offered a higher percentage of institutional grant aid than all other schools in the state but one.
UNC Charlotte offered the state's sixth-largest degree catalog, and students who need flexible schedules in their on-campus programs can find study plans that only require weekend and evening courses. It also placed fifth among schools on our list for its proportion of alumni who paid off their student loans within three years of graduation.
Our No. 5 school offered the largest online degree catalog in the state in 2015-16. ECU was also one of just three schools on our list to offer all of the state's ten most popular bachelor's degree programs.
In terms of attending online school, the accredited East Carolina University placed fourth among schools on our list for the percentage of its students who enroll in at least some of their courses in the virtual classroom. The online bachelor's degrees available at East Carolina University are structured as degree completion programs. Students are expected to complete their first two years of course credit elsewhere, typically at a local community college, before enrolling online at ECU to complete their upper-division work.
ECU also ranked No. 4 on our list for tuition and fees affordability and had the fifth-highest graduation rate in our top ten.
Elizabeth City State University holds a unique distinction, not just among North Carolina schools but on the national stage as well. The average net price for both low- and middle-income students at this Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) institution ranked No. 1 for affordability in both the state and in the U.S., according to 2014-15 data from the NCES.
ECSU students looking for flexibility in their campus-based study plans can choose to take some of their coursework via online programs. In fact, many are evidently taking advantage of the online course options — the Elizabeth City school ranked No. 5 in the state for its rate of distance learning enrollment despite having no full degree programs available online. Weekend and evening degree programs are also available to help students fit their continued education into their work and family schedules.
The fifth-largest academic catalog in the state can be found at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, as well as a list of online degree programs that ranked No. 4 statewide for its size and includes such subjects of study as philosophy, public health, supply chain management and peace and conflict studies. It was also an affordable option for students in tough economic circumstances. Only four other schools in the state featured a more affordable net price for low-income students.
The city of Greensboro itself is a draw for prospective attendees of its namesake UNC campus. The medium-sized city, centrally located in North Carolina, features metropolitan amenities but maintains a small-town feel, which can be an ideal setting for students who want access to shopping and nightlife but also need quiet time to study.
Our No. 8 school was another of the more affordable schools out there, in North Carolina as well as on a national scale. Fayetteville State University's average net price for students across the income spectrum ranked No. 2 in the state and placed among the top 11 schools nationwide for affordability. Its cost of books and supplies placed second among schools on our list and eighth in the U.S., and only one other school in the state featured a lower average cost of tuition and fees.
FSU was also a prime destination for students seeking a public online college in North Carolina. Only two other schools in the state reported a higher proportion of online enrollment than the nearly 51 percent posted by FSU. The selection of online programs at this HBCU institution includes psychology, science, sociology and criminal justice.
Piedmont International University features the third-lowest cost of books and supplies among schools on our list, and that's not the only measure of affordability where this Winston-Salem school shines. The private, faith-based institution also ranked No. 9 in the state for its percentage of graduates able to repay their loans within 36 months after finishing their degree program.
Distance learning is a big part of the mission at PIU, where more than 80 percent of students enrolled in least some online programs in fall 2015. No other school in our top ten reported such a large percentage of online enrollment its student body. PIU also posted a better freshman retention rate than all other schools on our list but one.
Our No. 10 school works hard to help students stick with their educations year after year, if the numbers are any indication. It ranked No. 3 among schools on our list for both first-year student retention rate and graduation rate, and a tuition payment plan called TealPay is available for students who want to split one of the largest bills of their semester into a series of monthly installments.
Tuition and fees at UNC Wilmington ranked No. 5 in affordability among schools in our top ten, and students tended to graduate with a manageable amount of college debt. Just five other schools in North Carolina reported a lower average loan balance for recent alumni.
Most Popular Degree Programs in North Carolina
Business administration is one of the most common college majors in North Carolina, but the rest of the top choices might surprise you. Check out this list of the majors chosen by the most students statewide this past academic year.
In-Demand Careers in North Carolina
Studying a subject that gives you high-value skills on the job market can make it less difficult to transition out of college and into the workforce. Take a look at this breakdown of the hottest jobs in North Carolina and see if any of them line up with your major.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||42.6%||520||$58,150|
|Operations Research Analysts||39.7%||2,300||$75,070|
|Personal Financial Advisors||39.2%||5,500||$113,470|
|Orthotists and Prosthetists||38.5%||440||$72,190|
|Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters||38.2%||1,030||$26,940|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||37.9%||1,360||$60,690|
|Hearing Aid Specialists||35.9%||140||$48,980|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||35.1%||2,550||$58,880|
|Home Health Aides||34.7%||39,320||$20,170|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||33.8%||1,750||$64,630|
|Physical Therapist Aides||33.4%||800||$26,010|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||32.6%||3,080||$30,680|
|Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians||32.2%||1,240||$63,320|
|Occupational Therapy Aides||31.9%||110||$29,080|
|Brickmasons and Blockmasons||30.8%||2,400||$38,050|
|Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers||30.8%||4,570||$57,240|
|Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs||29.6%||3,840||$24,230|
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians||29%||5,300||$39,610|
|Computer Systems Analysts||28.9%||22,940||$91,700|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||28.4%||15,740||$69,080|
|Information Security Analysts||28.1%||3,590||$99,570|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in North Carolina
State-based financial aid programs can help North Carolina students defray some of the cost of their education. Here's a short list:
- The Golden LEAF Foundation offers scholarship awards of up to $3,000 annually for qualifying high school seniors and community college transfer students.
- NC Reach, also known as the Child Welfare Postsecondary Support Program, helps provide college funding for eligible children who were adopted or are in foster care.
- The Florence Kidder Memorial Scholarship awards two one-time, merit-based scholarships of $1,000 and $3,000 to graduating high school seniors.
November 15 (Early Action admissions deadline)
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.25 GPA and full-time status.
- University of North Carolina System
- North Carolina Postsecondary Education Alliance
- North Carolina Community Colleges
- CFNC Grants and Scholarships