2021 Best Colleges in North Carolina

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by Staff Writers
Published on May 19, 2021

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North Carolina offers students some of the best higher education options in the country, with 16 public universities, 58 community colleges, and several top private universities. In addition to the many on-campus choices, students can enroll at various online colleges in North Carolina, including over 400 online degree options from the state's public university system.

To help students find a school that matches their needs, we ranked the best colleges in North Carolina. Readers can learn more about the top schools in the state, including noteworthy degree programs and student resources.

What Are the 2021 Best Colleges in North Carolina? Here Are Our Top 10:

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#1 Duke University Durham, NC
#2 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
#3 Davidson College Davidson, NC
#4 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, NC
#5 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC
#6 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC
#7 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
#8 University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington, NC
#9 Salem College Winston-Salem, NC
#10 University of North Carolina at Charlotte Charlotte, NC

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How We Rank Schools

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Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our Ranking Methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

2021 Best Accredited Colleges in North Carolina

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Duke University View School Profile Durham, NC

A private university located in Durham, Duke originally opened in 1838 as Union Institute Academy. Today, Duke teaches over 15,000 students annually.

One of the best colleges in North Carolina, Duke's most popular undergraduate majors include computer science, economics, public policy, and biology. Notable schools at Duke include the Pratt School of Engineering, the Nicholas School of the Environment, and the Sanford School of Public Policy.

Undergraduate tuition costs $27,940 for the academic year, and additional fees apply. First-year applicants must submit transcripts, two teacher recommendations, and SAT or ACT scores.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill View School Profile Chapel Hill, NC

One of the nation's first public universities, UNC-Chapel Hill also stands out as one of the top colleges in North Carolina, teaching around 30,000 students annually.

UNC-Chapel Hill operates 47 academic departments across more than 10 schools. Notable schools include the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Adams School of Dentistry, and the School of Information & Library Science. UNC-Chapel Hill also offers around 20 graduate degree and certificate programs through its online campus.

Tuition depends on a student's state of residency and enrollment status. First-year applicants must submit a personal essay, a list of extracurricular activities, a letter of recommendation, and transcripts.

Davidson College View School Profile Davidson, NC

A private college located in the town of the same name, Davidson teaches nearly 2,000 students each year. The school also boasts a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Davidson offers 74 academic programs across 50 departments. Notable undergraduate majors include Arab studies, genomics, physics, and religious studies. Students at Davidson can also take advantage of internship, research, and study abroad opportunities.

Undergraduate tuition costs about $55,000 for the academic year. First-year applicants must submit a personal essay, two teacher recommendations, and one peer recommendation. The school is currently using a test-optional admissions process.

Wake Forest University View School Profile Winston-Salem, NC

A private institution founded in 1834 and located in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest teaches approximately 8,000 students annually.

Wake Forest consists of six colleges and schools, including the School of Divinity, the School of Medicine, and the School of Law. The College of Arts and Sciences represents the main undergraduate school at Wake Forest, with 29 academic departments and 16 interdisciplinary programs. Notable majors include applied mathematics, cultural heritage and preservation studies, politics and international affairs, and studio art.

Tuition costs $59,770 for the academic year. First-year applicants must submit transcripts and a teacher recommendation.

North Carolina State University at Raleigh View School Profile Raleigh, NC

A public research university located in Raleigh, NC State teaches over 36,000 students each year.

Thanks to its research-intensive mission, NC State focuses primarily on science, technology, engineering, and math. Notable schools and colleges include the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Natural Resources, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Engineering. NC State also offers non-STEM programs like psychology, sociology, educational leadership, and industrial design. Students can also enroll in over 100 online programs.

Undergraduate tuition starts at $380 per credit for in-state students and $1,246 per credit for out-of-state students. First-year applicants must submit transcripts, although test scores are optional for 2021. Architecture and design majors also need to submit a portfolio.

Western Carolina University View School Profile Cullowhee, NC

Located in Cullowhee, WCU opened in 1889 as a teaching college. Today, the university serves more than 12,000 students annually.

WCU consists of six colleges, including the College of Health and Human Sciences, the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts, and the College of Education and Allied Professionals. Notable undergraduate programs include communication sciences disorders, emergency and disaster management, entertainment design and technology, and recreational therapy. WCU also offers over 15 online programs, including project management, special education, and human resources.

First-year applicants must submit transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Individuals can also submit reference letters and a personal essay.

Appalachian State University View School Profile Boone, NC

Located in Boone, Appalachian operates as one of the University of North Carolina System's 17 campuses and teaches more than 20,000 students annually.

Appalachian offers over 150 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Sample undergraduate majors include apparel design and merchandising, building sciences, fermentation sciences, and recreation management. Appalachian also offers over 40 master's degree programs as well as two doctoral degrees: a doctor of education in educational leadership and a doctor of psychology in clinical psychology.

Undergraduate tuition costs $177 per credit for in-state students and $827 per credit for out-of-state students. Graduate tuition varies, but generally costs $269 per credit for in-state students and $1,103 per credit for out-of-state students.

First-year applicants must submit transcripts. Students can also submit SAT or ACT scores, a list of activities, and an interest statement.

University of North Carolina Wilmington View School Profile Wilmington, NC

A public university that opened in 1946, UNCW teaches nearly 18,000 students each year.

UNCW offers 56 undergraduate majors, 36 master's degrees, and four doctoral degrees. Notable schools and colleges within UNCW include the Cameron School of Business, the Watson College of Education, and the College of Health and Human Services. Undergraduate major options include gerontology, theatre, earth and ocean studies, and respiratory therapy.

Undergraduate tuition costs $4,400 per academic year for in-state students and about $18,500 per academic year for out-of-state students. First-year applicants need to submit transcripts, and some programs may ask for supplemental material.

Salem College View School Profile Winston-Salem, NC

A private institution located in Winston-Salem, Salem College opened in 1772 as a women's college, and it remains a institute of higher education for women to this day.

Salem College consists of 15 academic departments, including the department of nonprofit management and communication leadership, the department of modern languages, and the department of exercise science and wellness. Available majors include race and ethnicity studies, health advocacy, coaching, and studio art.

Salem College educates about 1,000 learners each year, and 100% of students complete an internship. The college accepts the Common Application.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte View School Profile Charlotte, NC

Founded after World War II, UNC Charlotte offers 75 undergraduate majors. Notable undergraduate degree programs include a bachelor of arts in elementary education, a bachelor of arts in German, a bachelor of science in health systems management, and a bachelor of science in systems engineering. Additionally, UNCC offers five undergraduate degrees, two doctoral degrees, and numerous master's degrees as fully online programs.

Tuition starts at $1,365 per semester, but costs depend on a student's enrollment status and state of residency. First-year applicants must submit transcripts and an essay. UNCC also accepts SAT or ACT scores, personal statements, and letters of recommendation.

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