11 Best Colleges in North Carolina – 2024

May 13, 2024

best colleges in north carolina

Without a doubt, North Carolina boasts some of the nation’s best research universities and liberal arts colleges. But while we can debate UNC Chapel Hill vs. Duke all day long, every resident can agree that the public options within the Tar Heel state are of exceptional quality and value. The following list of the 11 best colleges in North Carolina is meant to give you a sense of the array of wonderful higher education options in the state. The data in each profile card is intended to give a better sense of the academic offerings and outcomes at each institution. If you happen to be a resident, you have public options that will allow you to stay close to home for college without sacrificing a single ounce of quality, while simultaneously maximizing the value of your tuition dollar.

Methodology 

Click here to read our methodology for the Best Colleges in North Carolina. As you’ll see, some schools with spectacular (and deserved) reputations simply do not happen to fare well on metrics such as student-to-faculty ratio or spending per student. We understand that a list based solely on prestige/general reputation would look different than what you will find below.

Best Colleges in North Carolina

Here’s a quick preview of the first 10 North Carolina-based institutions that made our list. Detailed profiles and stats can be found when you scroll below.

1) Duke University

2) Davidson College

3) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

4) Wake Forest University

5) North Carolina State University

6) University of North Carolina at Asheville

7) Elon University

8) Appalachian State University

9) University of North Carolina Wilmington

10) University of North Carolina at Charlotte

All of the schools profiled below have a history of sending graduates to the most desirable employers and graduate schools in the country. College Transitions will provide you with—when available—each school’s:

  • Enrollment
  • Cost of Attendance
  • Acceptance Rate
  • Median SAT
  • Median ACT
  • Retention Rate
  • Graduation Rate

We will also include a longer write-up of each college’s:

  • Academic Highlights – Includes facts like student-to-faculty ratio, average class size, number of majors offered, and most popular majors.
  • Professional Outcomes – Includes info on the rate of positive outcomes, companies employing alumni, and graduate school acceptances.
#1 Best College in North Carolina
Duke University

Duke University

  • Durham, NC

Academic Highlights: The academic offerings at Duke include 53 majors, 52 minors, and 23 interdisciplinary certificates. Class sizes are on the small side—71% are nineteen or fewer, and almost one-quarter are less than ten. A stellar 5:1 student-to-faculty ratio helps keep classes so reasonable even while catering to five figures worth of graduate students. Computer Science is the most popular area of concentration (11%), followed by economics (10%), public policy (9%), biology (8%), and computer engineering (7%).

Professional Outcomes: At graduation, approximately 70% of Duke diploma-earners enter the world of work, 20% continue into graduate schools, and 2% start their own businesses. The industries that attract the largest percentage of Blue Devils are tech (21%), finance (15%), business (15%), healthcare (9%), and science/research (6%). Of the 20% headed into graduate school, a hefty 22% are attending medical school, 18% are in PhD programs, and 12% are entering law school. The med school acceptance rate is 85%, more than twice the national average.

  • Enrollment: 6,640
  • Cost of Attendance: $85,238
  • SAT Range: 1490-1570
  • ACT Range: 34-35
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%
  • Retention Rate: 98%
  • Graduation Rate: 97%

#2 Best College in North Carolina
Davidson College

Davidson College

  • Davidson, NC

Academic Highlights: With its small size, the impressive part of the college is the exceptional quality of its offerings, not the breadth of them, as only 37 majors are available. The student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1, which allows the college to ensure that 62% have fewer than twenty students and 24% have enrollments you can count on two hands. Overall, the average number of students per class is only 18. Top programs at Davidson include psychology, political science, chemistry, and English; biology is also quite popular, accounting for 12% of degrees conferred in 2022.

Professional Outcomes: Looking at the outcomes data for 2022 grads, 70% landed jobs within six months of graduation, 26% were enrolled in a graduate program, and 3% were still seeking employment. Of those who attended grad school, the highest number were in healthcare-related programs (including MDs), law school, and laboratory sciences. Significant numbers of students pursue advanced degrees at other Southern gems including Vanderbilt, Emory, Duke, Wake Forest, and UNC.

  • Enrollment: 1,927
  • Cost of Attendance: $76,450
  • Median SAT: 1430
  • Median ACT: 32
  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • Retention Rate: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 92%

#3 Best College in North Carolina
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Chapel Hill, NC

Academic Highlights: Undergraduates can choose from 74 bachelor’s degree programs in a number of schools and colleges, the largest of which is the College of Arts & Sciences. 44% of classes have a student enrollment under 20. The social sciences (15%), biology (12%), media/journalism (9%), computer science (8%), and business (6%) are the areas in which the most degrees are conferred. The Kenan-Flager Business School is internationally renowned and requires separate admission. Other strong programs include those in chemistry, journalism, psychology, and political science.

Professional Outcomes: Six months after leaving Chapel Hill, 97% of 2022 grads had entered employment, military service, or graduate school. Among the for-profit companies that hire the most graduates are Wells Fargo, IBM, Cisco, Deloitte, EY, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, McKinsey & Company, and Goldman Sachs. In the nonprofit sector, a large number of alumni are employed by AmeriCorps, NIH, Teach for America, and the Peace Corps. The average starting salary is $70,619. 18% of 2022 grads enrolled directly in graduate/professional school.

  • Enrollment: 20,210 (undergraduate); 11,739 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $27,036 (in-state); $60,040 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1450
  • Median ACT: 32
  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • Retention Rate: 96%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%

#4 Best College in North Carolina
Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University

  • Winston-Salem, NC

Academic Highlights: All freshmen enter the Undergraduate College, which offers 45 majors and 60 minors. Sporting a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1, classes are kept on the small side with 59% of sections enrolling fewer than 20 students. 60% of students engage in hands-on research for academic credit. Wake Forest is strong across myriad disciplines, most notably chemistry, communication, accounting, finance, and international affairs. The most frequently conferred degrees are in business (22%), the social sciences (20%), journalism (8%), and biology (8%).

Professional Outcomes: Within six months of graduation, 97% of the Class of 2022 had found their next destination, with 71% starting their first professional job and 26% matriculating into a graduate program. Management/consulting, investment banking, and healthcare were the top three industries. Employers landing the highest numbers of alumni included national and multinational corporations IBM, Siemens, Volvo, Goldman Sachs, Disney, Deloitte, Dell, Gucci, PepsiCo, EY, and Nike. By the start of mid-career, Wake Forest alumni earn the second-highest median salary of any school in North Carolina.

  • Enrollment: 5,447 (undergraduate); 3,516 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $87,622
  • Median SAT: 1450
  • Median ACT: 33
  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • Retention Rate: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 90%

#5 Best College in North Carolina
North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University

  • Raleigh, NC

Academic Highlights: NC State offers more than 100 majors and 120 minors. 64% of sections enroll 29 or fewer students. Engineering is the most popular area of concentration as 24% of Class of 2022 graduates earned a degree in that field. Business/marketing comes in second at 17% followed by biology (10%) and agriculture (7%). NC State has an exceptional regional reputation and an expanding national one with the College of Engineering near the top of many rankings. Programs in design, architecture, and animal science are also very strong.

Professional Outcomes: 54% of students graduating in 2022 had already accepted full-time jobs before exiting; 27% were heading to graduate/professional school. Members of that class reported an average starting salary of $62,024 (with a slightly higher median). Including all graduating years, the companies employing the largest number of alumni are Cisco, Red Hat, SAS, IBM, Lenovo, Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, Google, Deloitte, Facebook, and Salesforce. Many recent grads also work for the university itself and for the Wake County Public School System.

  • Enrollment: 26,254 (undergraduate); 10,446 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $27,451 (in-state); $51,662 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1340
  • Median ACT: 28
  • Acceptance Rate: 47%
  • Retention Rate: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 86%

#6 Best College in North Carolina
University of North Carolina Asheville

University of North Carolina Asheville

  • Asheville, NC

Academic Highlights: Of the 30+ bachelor’s degree programs, a standout Art & Art History Department attracts scores of talented young painters, sculptors, and photographers. As such, it conferred the greatest percentage of degrees in 2022 (16%), followed by psychology (14%), the social sciences (10%), and business (9%). Engineering and computer science degrees accounted for a combined 19%. 97% of courses enroll 29 or fewer students (the average class size is just 14), and 65% of students complete original research in their field of study.

Professional Outcomes: Asheville rates well when it comes to generating a high degree of social mobility. Employers snagging the greatest number of Bulldog alumni include Mission Health, Wells Fargo, Lowe’s, Bank of America, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and a number of local school districts. A fair number of grads also find employment at Duke Energy Company, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Apple, EY, PwC, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Many alumni pursue graduate schools at other public universities within North Carolina.

  • Enrollment: 2,907 (undergraduate); 18 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $24,856 (in-state); $43,304 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1240
  • Median ACT: 26
  • Acceptance Rate: 94%
  • Retention Rate: 73%
  • Graduation Rate: 56%

#7 Best College in North Carolina
Elon University

Elon University

  • Elon, NC

Academic Highlights: Students choose from 70 majors and can add a number of interesting minors like adventure-based learning, coaching, and multimedia authoring. Elon’s 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio leads to an average class size of 20 students; 51% of sections contain fewer than 20 students. The areas in which the greatest number of degrees are conferred are business (29%), journalism/communication (20%), social sciences (8%), the visual and performing arts (6%), and psychology (6%).

Professional Outcomes: Results of a survey administered nine months after graduation found that 96% of the Class of 2022 had found employment, a graduate school, or an internship. Top employers of recent Elon graduates include Bloomberg, Deloitte, EY, Google, Goldman Sachs, Red Ventures, and Wells Fargo. Recent business grads enjoyed a median salary of $61k while communications majors earned $47k. Just under one-quarter of recent grads gained acceptance into graduate/professional school and many remain at Elon.

  • Enrollment: 6,337
  • Cost of Attendance: $66,657
  • Median SAT: 1260
  • Median ACT: 28
  • Acceptance Rate: 78%
  • Retention Rate: 90%
  • Graduation Rate: 83%

#8 Best College in North Carolina
Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University

  • Boone, NC

Academic Highlights: Students can select from 150 bachelor’s degrees and 80 graduate programs at App State. A reasonable 16:1 student-to-faculty ratio leads to 39% of all course sections having fewer than 20 students and just 8% enrolling 50 or more. 20% of all 2022 grads earned their degree in business/marketing followed by health professions (10%), education (9%), parks & recreation (9%), journalism (8%), and psychology (7%).

Professional Outcomes: Within one year of graduating, 86% of those surveyed have arrived at their next destination. Undergrads benefit from nine annual career fairs and the 16,000 employers that are approved to recruit on campus. Further, 99% of students find the Career Development Center to be helpful. Alumni go on to work in large numbers for Wells Fargo, Atrium Health, Novant Health, Bank of America, Red Hat, Cisco, and Duke Energy Corporation.

  • Enrollment: 18,558
  • Cost of Attendance: $20,339 (In-State); $37,335 (Out-of-State)
  • Median SAT: 1180
  • Median ACT: 24
  • Acceptance Rate: 83%
  • Retention Rate: 83%
  • Graduation Rate: 75%

#9 Best College in North Carolina
University of North Carolina Wilmington

University of North Carolina Wilmington

  • Wilmington, NC

Academic Highlights: Nearly 90 undergraduate programs are available across five different colleges: the Cameron School of Business, the College of Health and Human Services, the College of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts, the College of Science and Engineering, and the Watson College of Education. Nursing is the most popular major, accounting for 20% of degrees conferred, followed by business (18%), speech communication and rhetoric (6%), and psychology (6%). The average class size is 22, and 40% of classes enroll under 20 students.

Professional Outcomes: Nursing grads—UNCW’s most popular major—make an average starting salary of $67k. Business majors—the second-most popular discipline—have a post-grad employment rate of 45%. 15% of newly minted business alums immediately pursue a graduate or professional program. During their undergrad years, 58% of business students ultimately complete an internship, and they enjoy an average starting salary of $55k.

  • Enrollment: 14,294 (undergraduate); 3,549 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $27,030 (in-state); $42,603 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1300
  • Median ACT: 26
  • Acceptance Rate: 69%
  • Retention Rate: 83%
  • Graduation Rate: 74%

#10 Best College in North Carolina
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

  • Charlotte, NC

Academic Highlights: UNC Charlotte offers over 90 bachelor’s degree programs across seven different colleges, including the William States Lee College of Engineering, which is one of the top in the state. Business, computer science, nursing, and psychology are also strong. Popularity-wise, the most degrees are conferred in business (19%), computer science (11%), health professions (10%), engineering (8%), biology (8%), psychology (7%), and social sciences (7%). The student-to-faculty ratio is 20:1, and 28% of classes enroll fewer than 20 students.

Professional Outcomes: Within six months of exiting, 68% of 2022 grads were employed full-time. The average starting salary was $65k. Top employers included Bank of America, Atrium Health, Wells Fargo, Amazon, Novant Health, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, TIAA, UNC Charlotte, Deloitte, and Fidelity Investments. Of the 28% who opted to continue their education, the most commonly pursued degree was a master’s and UNC Charlotte was the most popular destination, followed by UNC Wilmington, NC State, Liberty University, and UNC Chapel Hill.

  • Enrollment: 23,981 (undergraduate); 6,317 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $24,672 (in-state); $40,226 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1220
  • Median ACT: 24
  • Acceptance Rate: 80%
  • Retention Rate: 84%
  • Graduation Rate: 68%

#11 Best College in North Carolina
East Carolina University

East Carolina University

  • Greenville, NC

Academic Highlights: East Carolina offers a diverse array of 175+ degrees across eight undergraduate colleges, which includes the College of Education, where a high percentage of NC educators get their start, the highly regarded College of Fine Arts and Communication, and strong programs in nursing, business, engineering, and coastal/marine research. Nearly 40% of ECU students pursue a STEM program; the most degrees are conferred in health professions (19%), business (18%), engineering (8%), biology (8%), and education (7%).

Professional Outcomes: Within six months of graduation, 53% of the Class of 2022 were working full-time while 26% were enrolled in an advanced degree program. Top employers of recent grads included ECU Health, East Carolina University, WakeMed, the US military, UNC Health, Pitt County Schools, and the Duke University Health System. Of those who elected to continue their education, nearly two-thirds did so at East Carolina. Others went on to institutions like Duke, Wake Forest, Appalachian State, UNC Wilmington, and UNC Chapel Hill.

  • Enrollment: 21,688 (undergraduate); 5,463 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $25,558 (in-state); $41,835 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1140
  • Median ACT: 21
  • Acceptance Rate: 92%
  • Retention Rate: 80%
  • Graduation Rate: 65%

We hope you have found our list of the Best Colleges in North Carolina to be useful and informative as you continue your college search process. We also invite you to check out some of our other resources and tools including: