When veterans of WWII returned to their civilian lives, the GI Bill provided means to educate themselves for their new careers; that spurred a nationwide boom in colleges, one that included the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Founded in 1947, UNCW was originally a junior college meant to provide associate’s degrees, or the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, with its student body made up largely of vets. Over the next two decades, demand continued to grow, and the junior college joined the University of North Carolina System as UNC Wilmington. Today, UNCW – often called simply “W” or “The Dub” by locals and alumni – is a large, regional institution, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 15 best colleges in the South and known for their excellence in health sciences, education, and business.
Academic ProgramsUNC Wilmington takes its designation as North Carolina’s coastal university seriously, making support and outreach to the people of the Carolina coast its top priority. Historically, that has meant a dedication to practical, career-centered programs in the areas most crucial to everyday life, from its early years as a junior college, to its contemporary scope. W’s student body is overwhelmingly undergraduate, so bachelor’s education is the center of the university’s mission, with 54 bachelor’s degree programs, but UNCW also offers 29 master’s degrees and 4 doctoral degrees. The Cameron School of Business and the Watson College of Education are two of UNCW’s most popular and acclaimed divisions, both recognized among the best in the region by national publications like the Princeton Review. The College of Health and Human Services is also highly respected, with one of North Carolina’s top nursing schools and one of the best MSW programs in the nation.
In the 21st century, UNCW is also emerging as a strong research institution, especially in coastal and marine science. With its large undergraduate student body, Wilmington has put a growing focus on undergraduate research, with the Center for Support of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CSURF) leading and coordinating efforts to get undergraduates exploring and creating knowledge. UNCW has also become known throughout the region for its programs for adult students, particularly working professionals and career-changing workers; online education has been a priority in recent years. As a Coast Guard City, Wilmington also has a large veteran population, and UNCW has long been named one of the most military-friendly universities in the nation.
Student LifeWith a student body of over 15,000, UNCW is large, but retains a reputation for student support and strong community development. Women make up nearly two-thirds of the student body, and minority students make up around 18%. Student support is high; a freshman retention rate of 85% is far above the national average, and UNCW has one of the highest 4-year graduation rates in the region. While its proximity to the beach has often won UNCW the title of “party school,” the university’s accomplishments have made it a highly respected institution, and its commitment to community engagement has earned UNCW accolades from organizations such as the Peace Corps.
Of course, UNC Wilmington is close to numerous beaches, and coastal life is a central part of student life; surfing, sailing, and swimming are some of the most popular recreational activities for W’s student body. Nearly 300 students-led organizations and clubs, including a large and active Greek Life with more than 30 fraternities and sororities, including historically black and Christian groups. From politics and religion to sports and culture, students can find their place in the community. The Seahawks compete in 18 NCAA Division I varsity sports, including old standbys like basketball and soccer, as well as beach volleyball; they are a rare Division I university without a football team.