Best Colleges in North Carolina of 2022

There's tons of colleges and universities in North Carolina. Find out the best ones that combine strong academics with affordability.

Best Colleges in North Carolina of 2022
Clay Banks

There are many good colleges and universities in North Carolina for high school students to apply to. Whether you live in the state of North Carolina or not, North Carolina is home to several excellent public and private colleges and universities. Not only that, several colleges and universities in North Carolina also boast great athletic programs that frequently contend in NCAA Division I tournaments.

In this BrokeScholar study, we focused on identifying the best colleges in North Carolina. In order to do this, we analyzed every four-year public and four-year private nonprofit college and university in North Carolina that awards bachelor’s degrees. The methodology for determining the best colleges in North Carolina is based on a combination of factors, including graduation rate, admission rate, number of bachelor’s degrees awarded, the ratio of bachelor’s degrees awarded to undergraduate population (done in order to prevent bigger schools that give out large quantities of degrees from automatically ranking highest), in-state tuition costs, and out-of-state tuition costs. All data was sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), for the academic year 2021-2022.

Read on to find out the best colleges in North Carolina of 2022.

Best Colleges in North Carolina

The top colleges in North Carolina provide a combination of strong academic records and academic programs, along with high graduation rates, as well as competitive rates of admissions. The result of this study is a fairly balanced mix of private nonprofit and public several colleges and universities in North Carolina, which is great for prospective college students because they have a good pool of schools to choose from. Here’s a look at the 10 best colleges in North Carolina:

Rank

College/University

In-state tuition

Out-of-state tuition

Bachelor's Degrees Awarded

Bachelor's Degrees Awarded to Undergrad Ratio

Graduation Rate

Admission Rate

1

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

$9,028

$36,891

4,951

25.5%

91%

20%

2

Duke University

$60,244

$60,244

1854

27.6%

96%

6%

3

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

$9,131

$29,916

6,377

24.4%

84%

47%

4

Davidson College

$55,200

$55,200

500

25.2%

93%

18%

5

Wake Forest University

$59,770

$59,770

1239

22.8%

89%

25%

6

University of North Carolina School of the Arts

$8,941

$26,175

179

19.5%

72%

30%

7

University of North Carolina Wilmington

$7,238

$21,303

3,913

26.7%

74%

68%

8

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

$7,188

$20,622

6,133

25.4%

65%

79%

9

Appalachian State University

$7,410

$23,017

4213

23.3%

73%

85%

10

St. Andrews University

$28,630

$28,630

101

11.7%

33%

12%

1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or simply UNC, is one of the most well-known universities to Americans for its continually competitive sports teams, especially in basketball. But UNC is also academically a very strong school and ranks as the No. 1 best college in North Carolina in our study for a variety for factors. UNC is a four-year public university that boasts the third highest graduation rate in our study, 91%, far superior to the average graduation rate for the colleges in North Carolina in the study as a whole — 52%. UNC is also highly selective when it comes to who it offers admission to. For the 2021-2022 academic year, the admission rate was 20%, the fourth-most selective in the study; of the 61 private and public colleges and universities in North Carolina that were analyzed in the study, the average admission rate was 70%. 

With an undergraduate population of 19,395 in the 2021-2022 academic year, Notre Dame awarded 4,951 bachelor’s degrees that year, for a ratio of 25.5% of bachelor’s degrees conferred to undergraduate population, an excellent rate and better than the 19.4% average for the study as a whole. Another key benefit of UNC is its in-state tuition cost. For college students who are from North Carolina, the average undergraduate tuition for the 2021-2022 academic year was $9,028, far below the in-state tuition average for the whole study of $22,615. 

2. Duke University

Duke University, located in Durham, is easily one of the best colleges in North Carolina, ranking No. 2 behind only UNC. The principal reason Duke University didn’t rank as the No. 1 best college in North Carolina is its tuition costs, its sole drawback. For the academic year 2021-2022, Duke’s in-state and out-of-state tuition costs were $60,244. Otherwise, the rest of Duke University’s scores in our study were excellent.

Duke has the most selective admissions of the 61 colleges and universities in North Carolina analyzed in this study: In fall 2021, Duke University’s admission rate was a mere 6%. At the same time, it also boasts the highest graduation rate in the study at 96%, way better than the study’s average of 52%. Out of a large undergraduate population of 6,717, Duke awarded 1,854 bachelor’s degrees, for a ratio of 27.6% of bachelor’s degrees conferred to undergraduate student population, much better than the study’s overall average of 19.4% for that category. U.S. News ranked Duke University as No. 9 in its National Universities category, No. 13 in its Best Undergraduate Teaching category, and No. 16 in its Most Innovative Schools category.

3. Davidson College

Davidson College is a small and excellent liberal arts college and among the best colleges in North Carolina. Davidson has a stellar graduation rate of 93%, second only to Duke University’s 96%. Davidson College’s admission rate of 18% makes it one of the most selective colleges and universities in North Carolina, and very selective on the national level too. With a small undergraduate population of 1,983, Davidson conferred 500 bachelor’s degrees, which works out to a ratio of 25.2% of bachelor’s degrees awarded to undergraduate students, which is superior to the study’s overall average of 19.4%. Davidson College’s tuition costs are its only main drawback: In the 2021-2022 academic year, both in-state and out-of-state tuition cost $55,200, well above both averages for the study as a whole. According to U.S. News, Davidson College was ranked as No. 13 in its National Liberal Arts Colleges category, No. 8 in its Best Value Schools category, and No. 10 in its Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects category.

4. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Commonly known as NC State University, North Carolina State University at Raleigh is one of the top colleges in North Carolina. On the level of national universities, U.S. News ranked NC State University No. 32 in its Top Public Schools category, not to mention No. 36  in its Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs category. With 47% of applicants being granted admission in the academic year 2021-2022. NC State’s admission rate is more selective than the study’s overall average of 70%. Meanwhile, its graduation rate for the 2021-2022 academic year of 84% is far better than the 52% average graduation rate for the study as a whole. It has an undergraduate population on the larger side (26,150), and it awarded 6,377 bachelor's degrees, making for an excellent ratio of degrees to undergraduate population of 24.4%, better than the study’s overall average of 19.4%. Another reason for NC State ranking as one of the best universities in North Carolina is its affordable in-state tuition. For college students from North Carolina, the average in-state tuition cost was $9,131 in fall 2021, one of the cheaper tuition rates in the study. 

5. Wake Forest University

Located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University ranks highly in our study of the best colleges in North Carolina. First off, the admission rate at Wake Forest is quite selective, with an admission rate of 25% in the 2021-2022 academic year, it’s more selective than the average for the study overall of 70%. What’s more, Wake Forest’s graduation rate is excellent, 89%, and far better than the study’s overall graduation rate of 52%. According to U.S. News, Wake Forest University ranks as the No. 28 best school in its National Universities category, No. 24 in its Best Value Schools category, and No. 29 for Best Undergraduate Teaching. The only drawback holding Wake Forest University from ranking higher in our study of the best colleges in North Carolina is its expensive tuition rates. In the 2021-2022 academic year, both the in-state and out-of-state tuition cost was $59,770, which is far above the average tuition costs for the 61 colleges and universities in North Carolina analyzed in this study.

6. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Also located in Winston-Salem, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), boasts some impressive scores in our study of the best colleges in North Carolina. The school is quite competitive in terms of admissions, with an admission rate of only 30% in fall 2021, which is much more selective than the 70% average for the study overall. UNCSA’s graduation rate is also a strong point, which at 72%, is 20 percentage points higher than the 52% average graduation rate for the 61 colleges and universities in North Carolina analyzed in the study. Another positive point of UNCSA is its comparative affordability. For college students who are from North Carolina, the school’s in-state tuition costs $8,941, much cheaper than the study’s overall in-state average of $22,615. And even its out-of-state tuition of $26,175 is slightly cheaper than the study’s overall out-of-state average of $26,193.

7. University of North Carolina Wilmington

Commonly called UNCW, the University of North Carolina Wilmington ranks No. 7 in our study of the top colleges in North Carolina. UNCW has a graduation rate of 74%, beating the study’s overall average of 52% in this regard. Also, its admission rate of 68% is more selective than the average admission rate for the study as a whole. Out of an undergraduate population of 14,650, the university awarded 3,913 bachelor’s degrees, for a ratio of 26.7% of bachelor’s degrees conferred to undergraduate students, which is one of the highest rates in the study and far better than the study’s overall average of 19.4% in this category. What’s more, according to U.S. News, among all national universities, UNCW ranks No. 96 in its Top Public Schools category, no small achievement.

8. University of North Carolina at Charlotte

UNC Charlotte ranked as the No. 8 best school in our list of the best colleges in North Carolina. Firstly, U.S. News ranked UNC Charlotte as the No. 70 Most Innovative School in the nation, and No. 47 in its Top Performers on Social Mobility category, which measures colleges that are more successful than others at advancing social mobility by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students awarded with Pell Grants. UNC Charlotte’s graduation rate of 65% is better than the 52% average graduation rate for the study as a whole. Plus, out of a large undergraduate population of 24,175, it awarded 6,133 bachelor’s degrees, for a ratio of 25.4% of bachelor’s degrees conferred to undergraduate students, a far better rate than the study’s overall average of 19.4%. UNC Charlotte is also affordable, with an in-state tuition cost of $7,188 (versus the study’s overall in-state average of $22,615) and an out-of-state tuition cost of $20,622 (versus the study’s overall out-of-state average of $26,193).

9. Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University is one of the top colleges in North Carolina, with U.S. News ranking it as the No. 1 Most Innovative School in the U.S. South region; it was also ranked as the No. 6 best school in its Regional Universities South category. It sports a graduation rate of 73%, well in excess of the 52% average graduation rate for the study overall. Its admission rate of 85%, however, makes it less selective than the average for the whole study, which had an average admission rate of 70% for the 61 colleges and universities in North Carolina analyzed. With an undergraduate population of 18,061 in the 2021-2022 academic year, Appalachian State awarded 4,213 bachelor’s degrees, for a ratio of 23.3% of bachelor's degrees to undergraduate students, better than the study’s overall average for that category of 19.4%. 

10. Elon University

Though Elon University is a four-year private nonprofit university, it has a sizeable undergraduate population of 6,291. Against that undergraduate population, 1,395 bachelor's degrees were awarded, for a ratio of 22.2% of degrees conferred to undergraduate students, beating the study’s overall average of 19.4%. Graduation rates at Elon University are very solid, with a graduation rate of 83% in 2021, besting the study’s overall average graduation rate of 52%. Perhaps the coolest accolade for Elon University is that U.S. News ranked it as the No. 1 school with the Best Undergraduate Teaching among all national universities. It also ranked as the No. 9 Most Innovative School on the national level. Hence the reason why Elon University rounds out our list of the best colleges in North Carolina.

The Bottom Line on the Best Colleges in North Carolina

These 10 best colleges in North Carolina offer combinations of affordability, solid academic records, higher-than-average graduation rates, more selective admission rates, and high proportions of bachelor’s degrees awarded per academic year. Of course, some North Carolina colleges and universities that made this top-10 list are more expensive than others. Duke University stands out the most in this regard, with an average tuition in excess of $60,000 per academic year, but it also offers one of the best academic experiences in all of North Carolina and in the US overall. 

Tuition costs are something that every potential and current college student and their parents have to balance with academics. Going to a school that's expensive and popular, but doesn't offer the kind of education path you want is not the way to choose the right college for you. Because money is such a critical part of attending college, be sure to check out the student discounts offered by BrokeScholar to help reduce the cost of purchases you might make when attending one of these schools in North Carolina. What’s more, take time to investigate the vast library of scholarships compiled on BrokeScholar that can help you save even more money