North Carolina’s Best Colleges and Universities of 2021

Here are the best colleges and universities in North Carolina. Our list will help you find the right kind of school for you.

North Carolina’s Best Colleges and Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in North Carolina

From its coastal beaches to its lush forests, it’s no wonder the Wright Brothers dreamed of taking flight over North Carolina. This state is rich with history, scenic views, and famous people who once called it home, like John Coltrane and Nicholas Sparks. Students hoping to earn their associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree also have the option of choosing from over 100 schools in the Tar Heel State.

Among these schools are over 60 public colleges and universities, including the state’s largest school, North Carolina State University, which serves almost 30,000 students. Tuition costs average about $9,000, just below the national average, and students also have the option to enroll in over 1,000 online courses. Another notable public school is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is one of the country’s oldest universities. The 25,000 students who attend this school will walk the same halls as Francis Collins, Thomas Wolfe, and former president James K. Polk. North Carolina’s private schools have also made a name for themselves, including the well-known Duke University located in Durham. Here, students can earn degrees in some of the top programs, like nursing, political science, and business. Additionally, students can attend one of the many small schools which serve less than 5,000 students, like Campbell University in Buies Creek, or a religiously affiliated school, like Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City.

Whether you prefer ocean views or wooded forests, North Carolina has something for everyone. Discover more about the state’s higher learning options.

Related: Differences between research universities and teaching colleges

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How do we determine North Carolina's best colleges and universities?

The best colleges pound for pound!

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call Concentrated Influence. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

Find out more about our ranking methodology here.

Every fall, more than 2 million high-school graduates will enroll in colleges and universities across the United States. Finding the best college for your educational, personal, and professional goals may be challenging. The purpose of this ranking is to help you manage this challenge with an accurate, objective, and up-to-date ranking of the best colleges and universities in North Carolina for earning a bachelor’s degree.

We’ve identified a total of 49 colleges and universities in North Carolina, 25 of which meet our criteria. The list below of the best schools in the state focuses on those that offer four-year undergraduate degrees, includes both public and private colleges and universities, and also meet the following two conditions:

  1. It must be fully accredited.
  2. It must have a graduation rate of greater than 50%.

25 Best Colleges & Universities in North Carolina

  1. Duke University
    #1

    Duke University

    #31 institution's overall influence
    #12 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1510/34

    Durham, NC

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    What is Duke University known for?

    Duke University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Nursing
    • Earth Sciences
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Law
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    #2

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    #75 institution's overall influence
    #38 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    23%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1375/31

    Chapel Hill, NC

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    What is University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill known for?

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • History
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Communications
    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry
    • Nursing
    • Religious Studies
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. Wake Forest University
    #3

    Wake Forest University

    #474 institution's overall influence
    #48 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    29%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    7K

    Winston-Salem, NC

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    What is Wake Forest University known for?

    Wake Forest University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Business
    • Law
    • History
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Education
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. Davidson College
    #4

    Davidson College

    #865 institution's overall influence
    #36 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $51K

    Acceptance

    19%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1370/31

    Davidson, NC

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    What is Davidson College known for?

    Davidson College's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Political Science
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Anthropology
    • Economics
    • Biology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. North Carolina State University
    #5

    North Carolina State University

    #196 institution's overall influence
    #176 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    47%

    Graduation

    78%

    Student body

    30K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1320/29

    Raleigh, NC

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    What is North Carolina State University known for?

    North Carolina State University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • History
    • Economics
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. Guilford College
    #6

    Guilford College

    #1302 institution's overall influence
    #343 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $37K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    61%

    Student body

    2K

    Greensboro, NC

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    What is Guilford College known for?

    Guilford College's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Mathematics
    • Religious Studies
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. Warren Wilson College
    #7

    Warren Wilson College

    #2649 institution's overall influence
    #374 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $36K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1212/24

    Swannanoa, NC

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    What is Warren Wilson College known for?

    Warren Wilson College's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Social Work

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. Queens University of Charlotte
    #8

    Queens University of Charlotte

    #2308 institution's overall influence
    #431 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/23

    Charlotte, NC

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    What is Queens University of Charlotte known for?

    Queens University of Charlotte's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Religious Studies
    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Philosophy
    • Nursing
    • Biology
    • History
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. Appalachian State University
    #9

    Appalachian State University

    #769 institution's overall influence
    #1467 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    19K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1185/25

    Boone, NC

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    What is Appalachian State University known for?

    Appalachian State University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • Economics
    • Criminal Justice
    • Anthropology
    • History
    • Earth Sciences
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. Catawba College
    #10

    Catawba College

    #3021 institution's overall influence
    #893 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    52%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1025/21

    Salisbury, NC

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    What is Catawba College known for?

    Catawba College's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Sociology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Religious Studies
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Communications
    • Education
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. Johnson C. Smith University
    #11

    Johnson C. Smith University

    #2219 institution's overall influence
    #570 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $18K

    Acceptance

    46%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    895/16

    Charlotte, NC

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    What is Johnson C. Smith University known for?

    Johnson C. Smith University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Social Work
    • Mathematics
    • Sociology
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    #12

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte

    #818 institution's overall influence
    #1385 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/24

    Charlotte, NC

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    What is University of North Carolina at Charlotte known for?

    University of North Carolina at Charlotte's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Anthropology
    • Religious Studies
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. Elon University
    #13

    Elon University

    #1815 institution's overall influence
    #1234 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1240/27

    Elon, NC

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    What is Elon University known for?

    Elon University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Communications
    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Law
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. East Carolina University
    #14

    East Carolina University

    #765 institution's overall influence
    #1186 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    82%

    Graduation

    61%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1115/22

    Greenville, NC

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    What is East Carolina University known for?

    East Carolina University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Medical
    • Social Work
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    #15

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro

    #712 institution's overall influence
    #1364 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    18K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1075/22

    Greensboro, NC

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    What is University of North Carolina at Greensboro known for?

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Literature
    • Sociology
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. Campbell University
    #16

    Campbell University

    #1825 institution's overall influence
    #486 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $33K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/22

    Buies Creek, NC

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    What is Campbell University known for?

    Campbell University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Law
    • History
    • Economics
    • Engineering
    • Political Science
    • Sociology
    • Social Work
    • Medical
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. Salem College
    #17

    Salem College

    #2756 institution's overall influence
    #989 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $29K

    Acceptance

    39%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1155/24

    Winston-Salem, NC

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    What is Salem College known for?

    Salem College's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Communications
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. High Point University
    #18

    High Point University

    #2103 institution's overall influence
    #312 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    64%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/24

    High Point, NC

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    What is High Point University known for?

    High Point University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Anthropology
    • Political Science
    • Economics
    • History
    • Criminal Justice
    • Business
    • Education
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. University of North Carolina at Asheville
    #19

    University of North Carolina at Asheville

    #2929 institution's overall influence
    #555 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    62%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1155/24

    Asheville, NC

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    What is University of North Carolina at Asheville known for?

    University of North Carolina at Asheville's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Engineering
    • Anthropology
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. Meredith College
    #20

    Meredith College

    #2967 institution's overall influence
    #1109 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $37K

    Acceptance

    63%

    Graduation

    61%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1100/22

    Raleigh, NC

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    What is Meredith College known for?

    Meredith College's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Sociology
    • Mathematics
    • Social Work
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. Western Carolina University
    #21

    Western Carolina University

    #2077 institution's overall influence
    #632 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $4K

    Acceptance

    40%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/22

    Cullowhee, NC

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    What is Western Carolina University known for?

    Western Carolina University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Anthropology
    • Literature
    • History
    • Social Work
    • Medical
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education
    • Business
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. University of North Carolina Wilmington
    #22

    University of North Carolina Wilmington

    #2329 institution's overall influence
    #1260 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1255/25

    Wilmington, NC

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    What is University of North Carolina Wilmington known for?

    University of North Carolina Wilmington's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Social Work
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Anthropology
    • Communications
    • Literature
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. Barton College
    #23

    Barton College

    #2904 institution's overall influence
    #1425 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    40%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1020/20

    Wilson, NC

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    What is Barton College known for?

    Barton College's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Chemistry
    • Medical
    • History
    • Communications
    • Social Work
    • Education
    • Criminal Justice
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. Wingate University
    #24

    Wingate University

    #7478 institution's overall influence
    #1100 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $33K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1075/21

    Wingate, NC

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    What is Wingate University known for?

    Wingate University's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Social Work
    • Criminal Justice
    • Nursing
    • Education
    • Communications
    • History
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  25. University of Mount Olive
    #25

    University of Mount Olive

    #8555 institution's overall influence
    #1147 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $21K

    Acceptance

    53%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1017/19

    Mount Olive, NC

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    What is University of Mount Olive known for?

    University of Mount Olive's faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Mathematics
    • Criminal Justice
    • History
    • Education
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

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