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10 Popular Colleges in North Carolina
We've compiled a list of all colleges in North Carolina, from small private schools to large public universities. But first, we highlight some of the most popular colleges based on variables such as enrollment size, selectivity, and reputation.
All school data below comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Tuition and fees are from 2022-2023, while acceptance rates, enrollment statistics, net prices, and number of applicants are from 2021.
1. Duke University
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $62,688
- Acceptance Rate: 6%
- Total Student Enrollment: 17,620
Duke is one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., especially when it comes to its business, engineering, and law schools. Duke is also among the most selective schools, with an acceptance rate of just 6%.
Its campus spreads over 16,000 acres, including over 7,000 in one of the country's largest private research forests, Duke Forest. Based in Durham, Duke may be best known for its men's basketball program, often hailed as one of the best programs in college history.
2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $8,989 (in-state) | $37,550 (out-of-state)
- Acceptance Rate: 20%
- Total Student Enrollment: 31,641
UNC-Chapel Hill is North Carolina's only Public Ivy. Founded in 1789, the school is one of the country's oldest public universities and top-ranked research institutions.
Set in the rolling hills of central North Carolina, Chapel Hill is frequently listed among the best college towns. Academically, UNC-Chapel Hill is known for its top-ranked pharmacy school and social sciences research. Its men's basketball team frequently contends for national titles as well.
3. North Carolina State University
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $9,128 (in-state) | $30,869 (out-of-state)
- Acceptance Rate: 47%
- Total Student Enrollment: 36,831
NC State is the state's largest university by enrollment and a top-tier research institution. The school is among an elite group with a rare R1 Carnegie designation, which only about 4% of colleges have.
The Raleigh-based university ranks highly in veterinary medicine, natural resources, and management. It's also among the few universities ranked in the top 15 for both undergraduate and graduate-level entrepreneurship.
4. East Carolina University
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $7,325
- Acceptance Rate: 94%
- Total Student Enrollment: 28,021
ECU is a public research university and the only one in the state with a dental school, medical school, and engineering college. The Greenville-based university graduates the most nurses among all four-year schools in North Carolina.
Other popular majors include management, biology, and marketing. ECU also ranks highly in diversity and social mobility, helping economically disadvantaged students with tuition and graduating into well-paying jobs.
5. Appalachian State University
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $7,450 (in-state) | $23,454 (out-of-state)
- Acceptance Rate: 85%
- Total Student Enrollment: 20,641
Appalachian is one of the biggest — albeit most remote — schools in North Carolina. Located deep in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains in a town called Boone, Appalachian has one of the highest elevations of any school east of the Mississippi River: 3,333 feet above sea level.
The university's setting easily connects students to outdoor activities like snowboarding, hiking, and rafting. Fittingly, sustainability is a big theme on campus: Over 2,000 of App State's courses incorporate sustainability, while 40% of its waste gets diverted from landfills through reduction, recycling and composting.
6. Wake Forest University
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $62,128
- Acceptance Rate: 25%
- Total Student Enrollment: 8,947
Located in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest is a private research university known for its top-tier law school, undergraduate teaching programs, and well-funded medical school.
The liberal arts and Baptist heritage are woven into the institution's identity. Every student must take at least one course in the arts before graduating, such as art history, studio art, or dance.
Wake Forest also has the first university-based divinity school that begins nondenominational.
7. University of North Carolina at Charlotte
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $7,214 (in-state) | $21,338 (out-of-state)
- Acceptance Rate: 79%
- Total Student Enrollment: 30,448
An urban research university in the state's most populous city, UNC Charlotte is known for its public administration program, diverse student body, and generous support for first-generation students.
The university leads the state in Latino/a enrollment among four-year institutions. What's more, about 46% of the student body identifies as a racial or ethnic minority. Thirty-four percent also identify as first-generation students.
8. North Carolina A&T State University
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $6,733 (in-state) | $20,243 (out-of-state)
- Acceptance Rate: 57%
- Total Student Enrollment: 13,322
A&T is not only the largest historically Black college or university (HBCU) in the country, but it's also a top producer of Black graduates in engineering, agriculture, and teaching.
A land-grant doctoral research university in Greensboro, A&T is one of 11 HBCUs with an R2 Carnegie classification for high research activity. What's more, A&T frequently ranks among the country's best public HBCU business schools.
9. University of North Carolina at Pembroke
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $3,495 (in-state) | $7,495 (out-of-state)
- Acceptance Rate: 92%
- Total Student Enrollment: 8,318
Founded in 1887 by the Lumbee tribe, UNCP is the state's designated historically American Indian university, where 14% of students identify as Indigenous American.
Located in a quiet community off Interstate 95, UNC Pembroke prides itself on its 15-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Nearly half of all classes have fewer than 20 students, all taught exclusively by professors, instructors, and other faculty — not graduate assistants.
10. North Carolina Central University
- Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $6,599 (in-state) | $19,635 (out-of-state)
- Acceptance Rate: 76%
- Total Student Enrollment: 7,953
A public HBCU in Durham, NCCU is known for its science, education, and law programs, as well as for its longstanding tradition of service.
The school is a Carnegie Community-Engaged Institution due to its impact on nearby communities. In 2021, over 6,000 NCCU students completed 1,420,232 hours of public service — the equivalent of $4.6 million for the Durham area.
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List of All North Carolina Colleges and Universities
The following table lists all four-year nonprofit colleges in North Carolina. You can find information on enrollment, net cost, acceptance rate, and number of applicants.
|School||Total Student Enrollment||Avg. Annual Net Price||Acceptance Rate||Number of Applicants|
|Appalachian State University||20,641||$12,735||85%||21,120|
|Belmont Abbey College||1,517||$21,821||99%||1,841|
|Cabarrus College of Health Sciences||557||$18,506||46%||50|
|Carolina Christian College||79||$7,738||N/A||N/A|
|Carolina College of Biblical Studies||162||$19,684||N/A||N/A|
|Carolinas College of Health Sciences||473||N/A||61%||18|
|Charlotte Christian College and Theological Seminary||136||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|East Carolina University||28,021||$14,762||94%||21,898|
|Elizabeth City State University||2,054||$4,085||77%||3,373|
|Fayetteville State University||6,748||$6,718||82%||4,135|
|Heritage Bible College||30||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|High Point University||5,860||$40,604||80%||11,150|
|Johnson & Wales University-Charlotte||1,262||$27,462||82%||4,480|
|Johnson C. Smith University||1,166||$14,000||45%||2,634|
|Mars Hill University||1,073||$18,717||80%||1,713|
|Mid-Atlantic Christian University||145||$22,911||48%||250|
|North Carolina A&T State University||13,322||$9,145||57%||21,528|
|North Carolina Central University||7,953||$14,496||76%||8,244|
|North Carolina State University at Raleigh||36,831||$14,328||47%||32,998|
|North Carolina Wesleyan University||1,531||$20,208||28%||2,220|
|Queens University of Charlotte||2,063||$29,810||69%||3,503|
|Saint Augustine's University||1,261||$18,158||75%||5,633|
|Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary||3,048||$16,036||90%||89|
|Southeastern Free Will Baptist Bible College||61||$14,689||N/A||N/A|
|St. Andrews University||911||$19,862||12%||2,164|
|University of Mount Olive||2,288||$16,736||83%||1,676|
|University of North Carolina at Asheville||32,33||$13,838||82%||4,550|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||31,641||$11,508||20%||50,729|
|University of North Carolina at Charlotte||30,448||$15,682||79%||20,366|
|University of North Carolina at Greensboro||19,038||$9,950||91%||10,696|
|University of North Carolina at Pembroke||8,318||$11,022||92%||5,578|
|University of North Carolina School of the Arts||1,119||$12,097||30%||1,321|
|University of North Carolina Wilmington||18,030||$18,792||68%||15,792|
|Wake Forest University||8,947||$24,643||25%||15,156|
|Warren Wilson College||803||$25,611||77%||1,146|
|Watts School of Nursing||144||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Western Carolina University||11,877||$13,082||79%||12,308|
|William Peace University||742||$26,338||52%||1,223|
|Winston-Salem State University||5,226||$12,976||81%||5,419|
Frequently Asked Questions About Colleges in North Carolina
What is the No. 1 college in NC?
Duke University is often considered North Carolina's most prestigious college.
It's also among the hardest to get into in the country. The Durham-based private research university accepted just 6% of 49,703 undergraduate applicants in fall 2021, according to NCES.
Duke is one of the 10 largest research universities in the U.S., spending $1 billion annually on research in areas like neuroscience, cancer, and computer science. Duke's schools of medicine, nursing, and law are especially renowned.
How many colleges are in North Carolina?
North Carolina is home to 68 four-year colleges and universities, according to NCES. This includes both nonprofit and for-profit institutions.
Most undergrads in North Carolina attend public schools. In 2021, almost 192,000 students were enrolled in one of the state's 17 public universities. About 70,000 were enrolled in 51 private nonprofit and for-profit colleges.
What is the oldest college in North Carolina?
Founded in 1772, Salem College is North Carolina's oldest institution. The school is also the oldest women's college in the South and the oldest female education institution that remains a women's college to this day.
Many of North Carolina's colleges can trace their roots to before the Civil War, such as Louisburg College (founded in 1787), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (founded in 1789), and Wake Forest University (founded in 1834).
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