North Carolina residents have dozens of in-state colleges and universities to consider when choosing where to earn their degree. 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. You can use this information to help you figure out the right education approach for you, whether it's entering a degree program via online colleges or taking the traditional route.
Best 4-Year Colleges in North Carolina
We gathered data on financial aid, distance education, student success rates and more to help sort out which institutions were the best colleges and universities in North Carolina. Click the methodology button below to see just how we calculated the scores, and read on for our list of the ten top North Carolina schools. Though none on this list are fully online colleges, students looking for distance education options aren't at a loss when it comes to top schools in the state. When you're done here, you can check out the top community colleges in North Carolina, too.
The large public campus of North Carolina State University is home to nearly 34,000 students, but that doesn't mean you'll feel overwhelmed by the size of the crowd. The student-faculty ratio here was just 13:1 in 2017, meaning you're likely to have access to individualized time with your professors if you need it.
NC State claims to have more North Carolinians among its student body than any other institution in the state. It also offers one of the largest academic catalogs among North Carolina universities, with more than 250 degree programs and concentrations for students to choose from.
This Raleigh institution may also be one of the top colleges and universities in North Carolina for online learning, should you be interested in online courses. Public sector leadership, science, agricultural business management and a 2+2 hybrid engineering program are just a few of the degrees available in the virtual classroom.
There aren't many North Carolina colleges that can boast a nearly 230-year history. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest campus in the UNC system and was the first public university founded in the country.
Student success is a high priority at UNC-Chapel Hill, as evidenced by extensive advising and counseling programs and a peer mentoring initiative designed to help new students adjust to college life. The student-centered measures here seem to be working, also -- over the years, more than 250 students here have been named Fulbright Scholars.
It's also one of the top schools in North Carolina for research, according to the numbers. Only ten other schools nationwide produce a larger volume of research than UNC-Chapel Hill, and annual research activity here totals over $1 billion.
This institution in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina, another member of the University of North Carolina system, aims to provide a thorough and well-rounded education to every learner on its student rolls. Appalachian State University features civically engaged service-learning programs and "4+1" accelerated study plans that lead to a dual bachelor's/master's degree.
Undergraduates here can choose among close to 90 majors from seven academic colleges. Graduate students have more than 60 study plans available, including certificate programs as well as full-fledged master's degrees.
What's more, if you're passionate about environmentally conscious living and sustainable practices, the mission at App State may have a lot in common with your personal values. The institution's longstanding focus on sustainability is grounded in respect for the majestic environment that surrounds the campus.
East Carolina University is one of the best schools in North Carolina when it comes to diversity of distance education degrees. The selection of online degree programs at ECU, which features more than 90 online degree and certificate programs, is one of the largest such catalogs in the state.
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 students who need a little extra help with their coursework or want to sharpen their study skills can visit the Pirate Academic Success Center, a tutoring resource that's earned the recognition of the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA).
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte started its life as a night school for veterans of the Second World War, but it's grown quite a bit since then. North Carolina's urban research university now supports a student body of nearly 30,000 and a faculty roster that numbers in the thousands.
Being amidst the largest city in North Carolina has made UNC Charlotte acutely aware of its potential community impact. The university's mission emphasizes research and community engagement initiatives that address the cultural, economic, environmental and social needs of the region.
In the 50 years since its inauguration as a campus of the statewide university system, UNC Charlotte has encouraged students to take their educations to the next level. Ninety percent of graduates participate in internship or research opportunities before finishing their degrees.
This medium-sized institution celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2017-18. Founded as Wilmington College in 1948, it took its current moniker when it was admitted to the University of North Carolina System in 1969. Total undergraduate enrollment in 2017 was around 14,500.
UNCW works hard to help students stick with their educations year after year. Retention and graduation rates here are higher than the national average, and a tuition payment plan called TealPay is available for students who would rather take care of their tuition and fees expenses on an installment plan.
Online degrees are available for students at just about every level, as well. Various degrees in education, nursing and business can be earned online, as well as a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in criminology and a Master of Arts (M.A.) in liberal studies.
Its location in the rural mountains makes Western Carolina University an ideal spot for students who can't get enough of the outdoors. The campus is contained within the Nantahala National Forest, and it's just about a 25-mile drive upstate to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Students at WCU have more than 115 undergraduate majors and concentrations to choose from. The catalog focuses on high-demand degrees in subjects like education, healthcare, business, science and the humanities, but students looking for degree programs in disciplines like athletic training and film and television production won't be disappointed.
What's more, while tuition is going up at many schools across the country, this institution is trying something radical. Thanks to a plan called NC Promise, in-state and online students will pay just $500 for an entire semester's tuition at WCU.
This UNC outpost is working to establish itself as one of the best colleges in North Carolina for online degrees. Its list of distance education programs for undergraduates includes some uncommon study plans, such as philosophy, human development and peace and conflict studies, alongside more common subjects like business administration and public health.
Online graduate students have even more variety available at UNCG. Over a dozen online master's degrees are available, as well as 15 graduate and post-graduate certificates.
The city of Greensboro itself is a also draw for prospective students. 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.
The motto at Wake Forest University is Pro Humanitate, a Latin phrase that means "for humanity," and students are encouraged to live out that message in their everyday lives. Whether it's participating in a 12-hour dance marathon for charity or serving sandwiches to the homeless community in downtown Winston-Salem, Wake Forest students work hard to give back.
It may have only been at its current location for 60 years or so, but the history of Wake Forest University goes back to the early 19th century. Undergraduate enrollment was under 5,000 in 2017-18, which helps keep the student-faculty ratio to a comfortably low 10:1.
What's more, despite its deep roots in history, Wake Forest has its eyes turned toward the future. Innovation in biomedical sciences and engineering is a high priority here, as well as cutting-edge training in chemistry and medicine.
Located in Durham, Duke University is the one non-public member of the "Research Triangle" that includes UNC Chapel Hill and NC State. The student population here consists predominately of graduate students -- more than 8,600 of the roughly 15,000 are working on advanced degrees -- making it a solid option for master's degree candidates who want to study amid a legion of like-minded academics.
The history of Duke can be traced back to 1838, to the founding of a small school known initially as Union Institute. Nearly a century after its founding, Durham's Duke family bestowed a massive endowment on the relocated institution and Duke University was born.
Although historically affiliated with the United Methodist Church, education at Duke is largely secular. Public policy is the most popular major here, followed by economics, biology, biomedical engineering and computer science, with online courses available for many.
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. These could help shape your educational path whether you enroll in an online college in North Carolina or stick to campus-based schools in the state.
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|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||37.9%||42,020||$105,060|
|Solar Photovoltaic Installers||37.5%||670||$36,840|
|Information Security Analysts||33.2%||6,020||$101,130|
|Operations Research Analysts||32.6%||2,810||$89,390|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||30.8%||4,290||$29,230|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||30.5%||770||$60,350|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||30.2%||3,600||$34,520|
|Orthotists and Prosthetists||30.2%||350||$72,380|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||29.1%||180||$93,180|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||28.8%||18,430||$71,070|
|Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary||28.1%||11,770||$140,740|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||27.2%||2,330||$69,740|
|Physical Therapist Aides||26.5%||790||$27,580|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||25.5%||2,820||$61,500|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||24.9%||1,390||$64,050|
|Hazardous Materials Removal Workers||24.8%||1,440||$30,900|
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 to note as you get going in online courses or campus-based degree programs at an NC college:
- 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.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must reapply for renewal.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must meet specified requirements, pending money available.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
- University of North Carolina System
- North Carolina Postsecondary Education Alliance
- North Carolina Community Colleges
- CFNC Grants and Scholarships
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,383 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the following data points and the weights specified. In order to be included in the ranking, schools had to report data for each of the following data points:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- The average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students as a percentage of in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered on campus, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Programs of study that can be completed entirely on weekends or in the evening
- Remedial services
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Guaranteed tuition plan
- Tuition payment plan
- Any other alternative tuition plan
Note:Tuition prices are based on data for the 2016-17 academic year reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
All of the National Center for Education Statistics data came from IPEDS:
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2015-16, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- School pages, accessed March 26, 2018: Stats and Strengths, North Carolina State University, https://www.ncsu.edu/about/stats-and-strengths/; Academic Degrees and Programs, North Carolina State University, http://catalog.ncsu.edu/undergraduate/academicdegreesandprograms/; Program Search, The Graduate School, North Carolina State University, https://grad.ncsu.edu/programs/search/?search=&academic_discipline=&entrance_exam=; Programs List, Online and Distance Education, North Carolina State University, https://online-distance.ncsu.edu/programs/list/?level=masters-degrees; History and Traditions, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://www.unc.edu/about/history-and-traditions/; By the Numbers, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://www.unc.edu/about/by-the-numbers/; Academic Enhancements, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://www.unc.edu/academics/academic-enhancements/; UNC Research, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://research.unc.edu/; Facts, Appalachian State University, http://www.appstate.edu/about/facts/; Mission-Vision-Values, Appalachian State University, http://www.appstate.edu/about/mission-values/; Service-Learning, Appalachian State University, https://act.appstate.edu/service-learning; Online Distance Education Options for Adult Learners, East Carolina University, http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/options/; Pirate Academic Success Center, East Carolina University, http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/aa/pirateacademicsuccesscenter/; About Us, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, https://www.uncc.edu/landing/about-us; University History, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, https://news.uncc.edu/information-media-kit/university-history; University Facts, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, https://advancement.uncc.edu/government-relations/university-facts; About UNCW, University of North Carolina Wilmington, https://www.uncw.edu/aboutuncw/facts.html; Points of Pride, University of North Carolina Wilmington, https://www.uncw.edu/aboutuncw/pointsofpride.html; UNCW Student Account - "TealPay" Tuition Program, University of North Carolina Wilmington, https://www.uncw.edu/StudentAccounts/TuitionPaymentPlan.html; Institutional Research and Planning, University of North Carolina Wilmington, https://www.uncw.edu/oira/glance-retention.html; Distance Learning, University of North Carolina Wilmington, https://www.uncw.edu/dl/; Fast Facts, Western Carolina University, https://www.wcu.edu/discover/about/fast-facts.aspx; Academic Degree Programs, Western Carolina University, https://www.wcu.edu/learn/programs/index.aspx; NC Promise Tuition Plan, Western Carolina University, https://www.wcu.edu/apply/undergraduate-admissions/costs-and-aid/ncpromise-faq.aspx; Undergraduate Degrees, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, https://online.uncg.edu/undergraduate-programs/; Graduate Programs, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, https://online.uncg.edu/graduate-programs/; Pro Humanitate, Wake Forest University, https://admissions.wfu.edu/our-philosophy/pro-humanitate/; Quick Facts, Wake Forest University, https://admissions.wfu.edu/facts/; Wake Downtown, Wake Forest University, https://wakedowntown.wfu.edu/; Living in the Triangle, Duke University, https://hr.duke.edu/careers/about-duke-durham/living-triangle; Duke Facts, Duke University, https://facts.duke.edu/; Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Duke University, https://entrepreneurship.duke.edu/;
- World University Rankings 2017, Center for World University Rankings, accessed March 26, 2018, http://cwur.org/2017.php
- 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
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/