25 Best Colleges in North Carolina

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Are you ready to find your fit?

If you tune into March Madness, then you’re certainly familiar with at least a few of North Carolina’s historic colleges. But there’s much more to the state—and to university life—than basketball.

So if you’re considering coming to North Carolina for college, or if you’re a native of the state, let’s review a little bit of what makes North Carolina great.

Besides college basketball, the state is home to a number of other great attractions for sports fans, including professional franchises in the NFL, NBA, and NHL, not to mention Charlotte Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Culture in the state isn’t confined to sports, of course. Musical icons John Coltrane, Theolonious Monk, and James Taylor all hail from the state. And Southern Living recently named Durham–Chapel Hill the south’s “Tastiest City.”

Clearly, there’s something for everyone, and all different tastes.

But what about college? Well, you’re in luck. From large, public research universities to small, liberal arts colleges to everything in between, North Carolina offers a high-quality education for all different kinds of interests. For more information about the Top Online Colleges in North Carolina, see our ranking. With some luck and some work at networking, when you graduate you might be able to tap into networks in Charlotte, the country’s second-biggest financial center, or the Research Triangle, where some of the world’s most innovative technology is being developed. If any of this sounds attractive, then you should certainly check out our list.

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Top 10 Best Colleges in North Carolina

Rank School Location
1 Duke University Durham, NC
2 Davidson College Davidson, NC
3 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
4 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC
5 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, NC
6 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC
7 Salem College Winston-Salem, NC
8 Campbell University Buies Creek, NC
9 University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington, NC
10 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
Best Colleges in North Carolina Badge

What Are the Best Colleges in North Carolina?

On to the rankings – but first, a word about our methodology. We’ve ranked the best colleges in North Carolina by looking at academic quality, student body diversity, and return on investment. That way, you know not only that you’re getting a great education, but that you’re getting one that will significantly improve your career prospects. Our data takes into account a whole host of data points, including student-to-faculty ratio, opportunity for research, tuition rates, and expected early career salary. All of this data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics and their IPEDS database.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Duke University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Duke University was founded in 1838 by Methodist and Quaker families as a local professional school. In 1924, the college became known as Duke University, named after tobacco and electric power industrialist James Buchanan Duke. Today, Duke’s high standards are shown in their 10 departmental schools, 11% acceptance rate and high scores. Internationally, 6400 undergraduate and 8400 graduate students attend Duke. But there is plenty to see on their roughly 9,000 acres worldwide: The Duke Forest, Marine Lab, Lemur Center, and 2000 comfy seats in 6 distinct libraries. Don’t forget about the 400+ student clubs, Greek life, and 27 NCAA Division I Varsity sports teams.

    Features

    Duke’s mission is Access and Flexibility: Scholarly Pursuit, Influenced Study and Engaged Immersion. This occurs both on its 9,000 amazing acres of property on its local four campuses and internationally. Most popular majors at Duke are:

    • Public Policy Analysis
    • Biology/Biological Sciences
    • Economics
    • Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering
    • Psychology

    Notables

    Located in Durham, NC, the “Heart of North Carolina,” Duke University is in the Top Places to Live (U.S. News and World Report). Forbes calls Durham #6 of America’s smartest Cities. In this city of 200,000 people, you will find an abundance of sports, history, food, and the arts right at your fingertips.

  2. Davidson College
    Location

    Davidson, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Davidson College was founded in 1837 by Presbyterians in Davidson, North Carolina – 19 miles from Charlotte. There are typically just under 2,000 students enrolled at one time hailing from 47 states and 40 countries. Davidson Athletics participate in NCAA Division I. The main campus has 665 acres with an additional 110 lake campus. Student-faculty ration is 10:1 with average class sizes of 15 students. There are over 150 student organizations on campus including Greek Life. Average tuition and fees are just under $50,000.

    Features

    The college does offer 26 majors including preparation programs in education, engineering, law, medicine, ministry and military. However, the college is known for the following coursework:

    • Political Science and Government
    • Biology/Biological Sciences
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Literature

    Notables

    Davidson’s Motto is Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas: “Let Learning Be Cherished Where Liberty Has Arisen.” In addition to their classroom learning and athletics, they are school with deep traditions. Just ask someone about the Freshman Cake race tradition that was started in 1934. Even with deep traditions, this school cares for their students and is willing to create new traditions. In 2007, the Davidson Trust became the first in the nation to offer grants instead of loans in all financial aid packages so that student graduate debt free.

  3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Location

    Chapel Hill, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is locally known as Carolina. Chartered in 1789 and began enrollment in 1795. Thus, it is one of the oldest public universities in America. Carolina offers 78 Bachelors, 112 Masters, 68 Doctorate and 7 professional degrees through 15 different departmental schools. It is the second largest North Carolina University with over 28,000 total students from 50 states, 47 countries with over 550 student organizations and Division I athletics on 729 acres.

    Features

    While this is a large school, they have a reputation of having a 13:1 student-faculty ratio. Over 85% of their classes have less than 50 students. They pride themselves in being a great value public university for students. With Carolina’s focus on research, their popular majors are:

    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Economics

    Notables

    Carolina first in being recognized as being #1 of 100 public colleges and universities to be high quality academics at affordable price. Also, is known for being 8th among research universities for federal funding. The state of North Carolina is a direct recipient of 576 research projects directly impacting the health, education and/or well-being in 2015.

  4. North Carolina State University at Raleigh
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded March 7, 1887. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, known as NC State, was founded. This is one of the 16 universities in the University of North Carolina System. They focus on land, Sea and space research. It is one of three research based schools that work in partnership with Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Like their research partners, they have a large student population (34,000 students) with over 106 bachelors, 104 master and 61 doctoral degrees within 11 departmental schools. They also known for their NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference teams.

    Features

    With such a large campus and large research partners, they decided to focus on research to benefit the community as well. NC State educational programs focuses on

    • Engineering
    • Business/Management
    • Marketing
    • Biological/ Biological sciences
    • Social Sciences

    Notables

    Raleigh, North Carolina has been selected as a Google® fiber expansion city. It has become the second hottest area for technology jobs. According to Forbes, you don’t have to have a technology degree to get a job here, it is the second easiest city to find a job and third best city for young professionals. Plenty of great companies in the area to hire interns, current students, and recent grads.

  5. Wake Forest University
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded 1834 just outside in Raleigh, NC. 1941 medical school moved to Winston-Salem and the rest of the college moved in 1956. Private liberal arts collegiate university. Today, nationally ranked #27. The student-faculty ratio is 11:1. There are over 190 student clubs and orgs. It is a private, independent nonprofit research university. As of 2008, it does not require standard test scores for undergraduate admission. There are over 190 various student organizations, including Greek life and NCAA Division I sports, at their suburban 340 acres. Total number of undergraduates are just under 5,000 students.

    Features

    Wake Forest has four campuses near the Twin Cities of Winston-Salem. They are very proud of their political and research areas of their University. Based on their noted actives, their popular majors are:

    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Hard Sciences: Chemistry, Physics, Biology

    The following graduate programs are nationally ranked:

    • Law
    • Business
    • Medicine

    Notables

    Wake Forest prides themselves on being actively involved in the Medical, Business, Political and Diversity. One of their own future alumnus, Kathryn Webster, 2017, will be the first blind actuarial scientist. They have earned the US highest CPA exam pass rate for the past 12 years. They have hosted two United States Presidential debates. Their own Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Barbee Oakes was named one of the “25 Women Making a Difference” in 2012.

  6. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    Location

    Greensboro, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro, known as UNC Greensboro, is a public liberal arts and research university established in 1891 in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was originally established as a women’s college. Since then, the college has become co-ed and grown to over 100 bachelor, master, and doctoral programs. The urban campus has about 210 acres. With almost 16,000 students in attendance, it is great to point out that the student-faculty ratio is about 18:1 with an average class size of 27.

    Features

    There are 10 various schools within UNCG included medical, business, and education. For the undergraduate, most students will be graduating in the following programs:

    • Business/Management
    • Education
    • Social Sciences
    • Health Professions
    • Visual and Performing Arts

    Notables

    UNC Greensboro is known for their NCAA Southern Division I sports as well as their Visual and Performing Arts programs. But not all students that attend UNC Greensboro are artistic or sports minded. UNC has great programs in the hard sciences and business divisions short. This university is defining the design of research organizations. This is great news for undergraduate students looking to finish their post graduate work. UNC Greensboro has fantastic master and doctoral degrees available.

  7. Salem College
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Salem College has a long proud history of advocating for women’s rights. The Moravians founded the college originally as a primary school in 1772 for females. Since then, it has become a women-only undergraduate college. Their continuing education program allows individuals over 23 years of age to learn in a co-ed environment. It is the 13th oldest college in the United States that rests on 57 acres. It is also one of the first educational sites to accept non-white students. It currently has just over 1,100 current female undergraduate students. They are a part of the NCAA III athletic conference.

    Features

    This College is well known for its contributions to the American culture and women’s independence. The typical majors at this college are

    • Education
    • Biology/Biological Sciences
    • Business Administration and Management
    • Psychology

    Notables

    This college has a rich history of creating independent women ready for the workplace. When you attend Salem College, you are not just creating memories at a four-year institution. You are preparing for a sisterhood that extends beyond graduation. As part of your graduation requirements, you will be completing a professional internship and networking with alumni groups.

  8. Campbell University
    Location

    Buies Creek, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, was started by a Baptist Minister in 1887 who believed everyone should get an education regardless if they couldn’t pay for it. That first day of classes there were 16 students. Since then, Campbell University has grown in many ways to include over 4,500 students learning in over 150+ programs in 10 academic divisions over 6 campuses focused on one mission.

    Features

    Like their founder, students are involved at this university. They have over 100+ organizations to join. Over 850 acres of places to study, learn and ask questions. But they also do over 80,000 hours of volunteering per year. A student here will not be bored while working towards graduation. Most popular majors are:

    • Business Administration and Management
    • Science Technologies/Technicians
    • Information Technology
    • Psychology
    • General Science/Social Science

    Notables

    For those who want to continue their education, Campbell University is the only North Carolina private university with degrees in Law, Pharmacy and Medicine. The faculty and staff are proud that they have achieved one of the highest accreditations in the state. These accreditations show that their faculty is well educated, continuing to learn in their own fields and very involved with their students.

  9. University of North Carolina Wilmington
    Location

    Wilmington, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of North Carolina Wilmington is also known as UNC Wilmington. It is a public university that enrolls nearly 16,000 students at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels. It was started in 1947 as a junior college offering freshmen-level courses to returning WWII veterans. In 1963, UNC Wilmington began granting bachelor degrees. In 1969, UNC Wilmington became part of the University of North Carolina System. Since then, it has grown exponentially.

    Features

    UNC Wilmington has over 13,000 students at their urban campus offering 54 different degrees. 70% of these student commute to classes. The site has over 661 acres. They are known for their Division I NCAA sports. In terms of classroom capabilities, their student-faculty ratio is 17:1. Most students tend to finish in the following majors:

    • Business/Management
    • Health Professions and Related Programs
    • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
    • Social Sciences
    • Education

    Notables

    Just because this university began as a junior college or community college, there is nothing community about it. Since becoming part of the University of North Carolina system, it has grown to have Bachelor, Masters and Doctoral degrees. This is a University that wants to give its students the best opportunity to make their mark.

  10. Appalachian State University
    Location

    Boone, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1899, Appalachian State University is surrounded by the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains in Boone, NC. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more scenic campus. ASU enrolls around 16,000 undergraduate students and 1500 graduate students – 90% of students are from NC, making this school a local favorite. ASU is a public, co-educational institution and is one of 17 universities that make up the UNC system of higher learning.

    Features

    Given the school’s unique mountainside location, it’s not surprising that the university culture is built around a sustainable environment and global citizenry. Their academic program has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio and a focus on service-learning, which helped ASU earn a “Best Colleges in the Southeast” from Princeton Review.

    There are over 150 majors at Appalachian State University. Some of the most popular:

    • Business Administration & Management
    • Accounting
    • Marketing
    • Finance
    • Elementary Education

    Notables

    If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, Appalachian State University has been named a “Best Value” from Kiplinger’s, Princeton Review, and Washington Monthly. Also, SIERRA magazine named ASU as one of its “Coolest Schools” in 2016. There are over 400 student organizations, including clubs that take advantage of the Blue Ridge setting, like snowboarding, hiking, camping, and rock climbing.

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