The Best North Carolina Colleges and Universities

A map of North Carolina wearing a graduation cap, representing higher learning

Kagenmi / Getty Images

North Carolina is a strong state for higher education. From large research universities to small liberal arts colleges, and from urban to rural campuses, North Carolina offers something for everyone. Duke, Davidson, UNC Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest are among the best schools in the country, as well as the most selective and prestigious. The top North Carolina colleges, listed alphabetically, vary greatly in size and mission, but each has undeniable strengths to consider when choosing your institution for higher education.

01
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Appalachian State University

Inside Appalachian State's Kidd Brewer Stadium set against a mountainous backdrop

allison / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

02
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Davidson College

Davidson College cheerleaders perform a flag routine

North Carolina Digital Heritage Center / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

03
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Duke University

Flowers on the quad at Duke

Konstantin Ryabitsev Follow / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

  • Location: Durham, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 15,735 (6,609 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Private research university
  • Distinctions
    • Considered one of the country's best universities
    • Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa
    • Membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs
    • Member of the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference
    • Part of the "research triangle" with UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University
04
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Elon University

Phi Betta Kappa commons at Elon University

Kevin Oliver / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

  • Location: Elon, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 6,739 (6,008 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Private university
  • Distinctions
    • Strong pre-professional programs
    • High marks for student engagement
    • Attractive campus a designated botanical garden
    • Member of the NCAA Division I Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
  • Elon GPA, SAT, and ACT data
05
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Guilford College

Two students on the brick walkway through Guilford College in the southeastern United States

Parkram412 / Wikipedia / Public Domain

  • Location: Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 1,809 undergraduates
  • Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college with ties to the Quaker Friends
  • Distinctions
    • Featured in Loren Pope's well-regarded "Colleges That Change Lives"
    • 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio
    • Rich history as a station on the Underground Railroad
    • High value placed on community, diversity, and justice
    • Test-optional admissions
  • Guilford GPA, SAT, and ACT data
06
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High Point University

The steepled clocktower of Roberts Hall at High Point University

Exwhysee / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • Location: High Point, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 4,837 (4,546 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college affiliated with the Methodist Church
  • Distinctions
    • 15 to 1 student/faculty ratio
    • Students come from over 40 states and 50 countries
    • $300 million recently dedicated to upgrades and expansion
    • Panthers compete in the NCAA Division I Big South Conference
  • High Point GPA, SAT, and ACT data
07
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Meredith College

Johnson Hall, which greets anyone entering from the Hillsborough Street entrance of Meredith College

-ted / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

  • Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 1,981 (1,685 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college for women
  • Distinctions
    • 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio and average class size of 16
    • Strong experiential learning efforts through internships, co-ops, and other programs
    • Over 90 student clubs and organizations
    • Attractive 225-acre campus
    • Most students receive grant aid
  • Meredith GPA, SAT, and ACT data
08
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North Carolina State University

NC State University Football

Jason Horne / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

  • Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 33,755 (23,827 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Public research university
  • Distinctions
    • Largest university in North Carolina
    • Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa
    • Good value
    • Founding member of the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference
    • 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio
09
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Salem College

The campus at Salem College

bnhsu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

  • Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 1,087 (931 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college for women
  • Distinctions
    • Founded in 1772
    • Oldest educational institution for women in the country
    • 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio
    • High placement rates for law and medical schools
    • Excellent grant aid
  • Salem College GPA, SAT, and ACT data
10
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UNC Asheville

The library and Zeis Hall on campus at UNCA

Shad Marsh / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 

  • Location: Asheville, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 3,821 (3,798 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Public liberal arts college
  • Distinctions
    • One of the top public liberal arts colleges in the country
    • Public university with a strong undergraduate focus
    • Beautiful location in the Blue Ridge Mountains
    • Member of the NCAA Division I Big South Conference
    • Good value
  • UNC Asheville GPA, SAT, and ACT data
11
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UNC Chapel Hill

The neoclassical columns fronting Louis Round Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill

benuski / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

12
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UNC School of the Arts

Entrance Sign at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem

BSPollard / Getty Images

  • Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 1,040 (907 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Public conservatory for the arts
  • Distinctions
    • Part of the UNC system
    • Well-regarded art school
    • Excellent value
    • Focused conservatory curriculum with specializations in dance, design and production, drama, filmmaking, and music
  • UNCSA GPA, SAT, and ACT data
13
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UNC Wilmington

The UNCW Seahawks logo at center court of Trask Coliseum

Lance King / Getty Images

  • Location: Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 15,740 (13,914 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Public university
  • Distinctions
    • Strong professional programs in business, education, communications, and nursing
    • Excellent value
    • Located just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean
    • Member of the NCAA Division I Colonial Athletic Association
  • UNC Wilmington GPA, SAT, and ACT data
14
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Wake Forest University

The steepled clocktower on Wake Forest University Campus

DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

  • Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 7,968 (4,955 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Private university
  • Distinctions
    • One of the more selective universities with test-optional admissions
    • Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa
    • Small classes and low student/faculty ratio
    • Member of the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Wake Forest GPA, SAT, and ACT data
15
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Warren Wilson College

The rustic Warren Wilson College barn

Theaddeus Stewart / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0​

 

  • Location: Asheville, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 716 (650 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college with a required work program
  • Distinctions
    • Campus includes a 300-acre farm and 650 acres of forest
    • Excellent choice for outdoor lovers
    • Strong environmental studies major
    • "Triad" requirements cover the liberal arts and sciences, the college work program, and community service
    • 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio
  • Warren Wilson GPA, SAT, and ACT data