To identify the Best Colleges in North Carolina for 2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in North Carolina anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Wake Forest University
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Appalachian State University
Western Carolina University
High Point University
University of North Carolina Wilmington
North Carolina State University
University of Mount Olive
Belmont Abbey College
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Queens University of Charlotte
East Carolina University
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
North Carolina Central University
Elizabeth City State University
Atlanta, GA, is usually upheld as the greatest symbol of the New South, but North Carolina would probably beg to differ – residents of the Triangle and Charlotte would certainly point out The Old North State’s contribution to American culture and economic development. Where other Southern states doubled down on trying to maintain the agrarian traditions that were demolished in the Civil War, North Carolina leaned on its substantial resources to usher the state into the 20th century: business, industry, science, and culture. Only Virginia (which had proximity to Washington, DC, for influence) could match North Carolina’s growth.
It was education that made it possible – a substantial foundation of public and private universities, and the wide professional class that was able to attend them. Advances in agricultural science revolutionized North Carolina’s old core, while the growth of three major research universities within a three-county area brought the most current scientific advances to the state. That meant electricity, technology, and one of the first research parks in the world, all helping turn the Tarheel State into one of America’s most successful centers of higher education.
How the Best Colleges in North Carolina Measure Up
North Carolina’s best colleges and universities rank alongside the best colleges and universities in the nation. From the founding of the University of North Carolina – one of the two schools that identify as the first public university in the US – North Carolina has established a public higher education system that few states can rival. That includes some of the best regional institutions in the South: schools like Western Carolina University and Appalachian State University are known not only for educational excellence, but as some of the best mountain colleges in the nation, while the University of North Carolina at Wilmington earns points as one of the best beach colleges. North Carolina is also home to a number of leading public historically black universities, including North Carolina Central University and Elizabeth City State University, but minority students thrive in colleges all over the state. North Carolina’s top-ranked public institutions could easily fill out a top 10 just on their own.
However, North Carolina is also known nationwide for their exceptional private colleges and universities. Not one, but two Southern Ivies call North Carolina home: Duke University and Wake Forest University, both built on the philanthropy of North Carolina’s tobacco magnates and both counted among the greatest private research institutions in the nation. Small liberal arts colleges abound, including Davidson College (one of the top river and lake colleges) and Elon University, providing a link between the traditional, classical humanities and sciences, and the more specialized needs of modern professional education and leadership. In North Carolina, too, students can find some of the best college dorms in the US, and even institutions that students can attend for free.
With a wealth of opportunity, both for education and for professional work, North Carolina has seen major demographic shifts in the last generation. Unlike other Southern states that are combating brain drain as their younger generations leave, people continue to flock to North Carolina from states in the North and Midwest; a third of NC residents were born in another state, and nearly a tenth were born in another country. That growth has made North Carolina an increasingly diverse population, with all of the cultural and economic benefits that go along with diversity (actor and comedian Ken Jeong, one of the highest-educated American stars, was raised and attended medical school in North Carolina, for instance).
North Carolina Colleges – Now and Tomorrow
North Carolina’s exceptional higher education system has made it a 21st century model of economic growth and development, and promises even bigger things in the future. The Research Triangle is now the nation’s largest dedicated technology center, and Charlotte’s growth as a banking and finance hub continues to attract new residents and college students by the thousands. Colleges and universities in North Carolina continue to innovate; take Appalachian State’s pioneering programs in fermentation sciences for instance. With an eye on the future, North Carolina will continue to lead the South in shaping the 21st century.