Guide to Colleges & Universities in North Carolina (NC)

Education in North Carolina

North Carolina is home to a wide range of educational offerings, including four-year colleges and universities, trade and technical schools and career training institutions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are at least 210 institutions of higher education in North Carolina at present. When broken down by the type of institution, the number of degree-granting institutions is as follows:

  • Public 4-year: 16
  • Public 2-year: 60
  • Private 4-year, nonprofit: 50
  • Private 2-year, nonprofit: 6
  • Private 4-year, for-profit: 27

Number of Institutions in North Carolina

In addition to degree-granting institutions, North Carolina also has its share of career training schools, which typically take less than two years to complete. In fact, the NCES lists a total of 45 schools meeting this description in North Carolina. Although these programs vary, many of them teach vocational training and culminate in a certificate of achievement instead of a traditional degree. Schools in this category are often beauty schools, massage schools, barber schools and schools that teach trades or vocational skills.

According to a 2014 report from the NCES, federal financial aid-eligible colleges and universities in North Carolina granted 123,799 degrees and certificates in 2011-12. Among those students, 61 percent earned their degrees at four-year institutions and 37 percent earned two-year degrees. The remaining two percent, a total of 2,895 graduates, earned certificates institutions that offered career training that took less than two years.

Many colleges and universities in North Carolina boast large enrollment numbers, although some campuses are much smaller than one might think. As of spring 2013, the following colleges in North Carolina reported enrollment numbers as follows:

  • Appalachian State University: 17,838
  • East Carolina University: 26,887
  • Fayetteville State University: 6,179
  • North Carolina A&T State University: 10,561
  • North Carolina Central University, 8,093
  • North Carolina State University at Raleigh: 34,009
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: 29,127
  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte: 26,571
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro: 18,074
  • University of North Carolina Wilmington: 13,937
  • Western Carolina University: 10,107

Online education in North Carolina

The rapid expansion of online education has been beneficial to both colleges in North Carolina and their students. The ability to earn a degree online means more options for students who may need to work full-time while they study or care for a family. Further, online graduate degrees have opened the door for many full-time workers who want to learn new skills and increase their job prospects without leaving an already established career. Meanwhile, the addition of online degrees at many schools has created more opportunities for the instructors, professors and school administrators who administer and teach these programs.

A number of North Carolina schools have been recognized on a national level. Here are a few of the well-regarded online degrees offered by colleges and universities in North Carolina, alongside their national rank as calculated by U.S. News and World Report:

Appalachian State University

  • Best Online Bachelor’s Programs (2015): No. 211
  • Best Online Graduate Education Programs (2015): No. 100

East Carolina University

  • Best Online Bachelor’s Programs (2015): No. 207
  • Best Online MBA Programs (2015): No. 69
  • Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs (2015): No. 25
  • Best Online Graduate Education Programs (2015): No. 125
  • Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs (2015): No. 18

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

  • Best Online MBA Programs (2015): No. 1

University of North Carolina – Wilmington

  • Best Online Graduate Education Programs (2015): No. 35

University of North Carolina – Charlotte

  • Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs (2015): No. 29
  • Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs (2015): No. 87

Duke University

  • Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs (2015): No. 6

Western Carolina University

  • Best Online Bachelor’s Programs (2015): No. 90
  • Best Online Graduate Business Programs (Excluding MBA): No. 42

Although this list showcases many of the top online degree options offered by colleges in North Carolina, it’s not all-inclusive. A wide range of North Carolina institutions offer online instruction, many of which use the same curriculum and instructors as the traditional offerings do.

It’s also important to note that many schools have implemented hybrid degree options, and that those options can allow students to complete some of their courses online while also experiencing the perks that only on-campus instruction can offer.

Highlighted jobs and careers in North Carolina

With the high-quality college options available in North Carolina, it’s no wonder that so many careers remain hot in the state. The following table highlights some of the top careers in the state along with information about the qualities desired for each position, degree options available and future potential for growth in each field:

OccupationTop RegionsWhy it’s hotNecessary skillsRelevant degrees
Dental HygienistsRaleigh – Cary, Greensboro-High Point, Charlotte – Gastonia – Rock HillAccording to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for dental hygienists is expected to increase 56 percent in North Carolina from 2012 to 2022.

Since dental hygienists typically only need an Associate’s degree in Dental Hygiene to get started in this career, this career remains a popular option with those who want to enter the workforce quickly.

Compassion, manual dexterity, attention to detail, clerical experience, physical stamina, ability to work with individuals from all walks of lifeCandidates who apply for these positions typically have an Associate’s degree in Dental Hygiene from an accredited school. Some students prefer to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene although it is not nearly as common.
Diagnostic Medical SonographersRaleigh – Cary, Durham – Chapel Hill, Charlotte – Gastonia – Rock HillThe U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment for diagnostic medical sonographers will increase a whopping 50 percent in North Carolina from 2012 to 2022. The new job prospects, coupled with high pay, add to the overall value of this career.Manual dexterity, attention to detail, excellent communication skills, computer and technology skills, hand-eye coordinationAccording to the BLS, many diagnostic medical sonographers earn either an Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree in Sonography. However, some students opt to earn an Associate’s degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

In addition to taking courses in anatomy, physics and mathematics, students in this field should also consider applying for an internship in order to gain hands-on skills and real world experience.

Biomedical EngineersRaleigh – Cary, Durham – Chapel HillU.S. Department of Labor figures show that biomedical engineers in North Carolina face a future that is ripe with possibilities. Specifically, the numbers show that employment for biomedical engineers is expected to increase 47 percent in the state from 2012 to 2022.Analytical skills, expertise and knowledge in advanced math, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, ability to communicate professionallyBiomedical engineers get started in their careers by earning a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from an accredited school.

Students interested in this field can get started by taking courses in biology, chemistry and physics, in addition to advanced math. Courses in engineering design may also be helpful. Those considering these programs should also know that many biomedical engineering programs include internships as a requirement.

ActuariesGreensboro – High Point, Charlotte – Gastonia – Rock Hill, Raleigh – CaryActuaries are expected to see excellent job prospects in the state of North Carolina in the coming years. In fact, U.S. Department of Labor figures show that employment in this field could surge as much as 41 percent from 2012 to 2022.Analytical skills, advanced math, computer and technology knowledge and skill, problem-solving skills, the ability to communicate carefully and effectivelyThe BLS reports that candidates in this field typically need a bachelor’s degree although degree options vary in this field. Some of the most popular Bachelor’s degrees for actuaries include Mathematics, Actuarial Science and Statistics.

A broad base of knowledge in business is also helpful for those who choose to enter this field.

Information Security AnalystsCharlotte – Gastonia – Rock Hill, Raleigh – CaryStatistics show that employment for information security analysts could surge by as much as 40 percent in North Carolina during the decade leading up to 2022.

Excellent job prospects and high wages continue to make this career a popular option for students interested in computers, computer science, or any technology-related field.

Knowledge of computers and computer systems, attention to detail, excellent communication skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, ability to think independently, interpersonal skillsAccording to the BLS, the vast majority of information security analysts get their start by earning a Bachelor’s degree in any computer-related field. Popular options include Computer Science, Computer Programming, or Information Security.

Students who hope to get a start in this field can start by learning as much as they can about computers and how they work, as well as taking courses in computer programming, software engineering and other computer-related courses.

Many information security analysts also begin their career with experience in a related field such as network administration or information technology.

While earning a degree in any one of these fields is never a guarantee, research shows postsecondary education can improve one’s job prospects dramatically. Further, many careers actually require postsecondary education, a degree, or specific credentials to get started. Fortunately, colleges and universities in North Carolina allow students to earn the degrees they need to get started in any one of these careers.

Financial aid in North Carolina

College costs are undeniably on the rise. A wide range of factors, however, can lead to either lower or higher college costs, and the total cost of higher education depends heavily on the decisions a student makes.

Students who want to learn more about the potential costs of higher education should start by learning more about the average costs of a college degree in North Carolina. Fortunately, a 2014 report published by the College Board makes those costs easy to analyze while also offering data on the costs of college just a decade ago.

The following information provides a glimpse into the average cost of college for past and present students at colleges in North Carolina in today’s dollars:

  • Public 2-year in-state
    • 2004-05: $1,195
    • 2013-14: $2,305
  • Public 4-year in-state
    • 2004-05: $3,566
    • 2013-14: $6,677
  • Private 4-year nonprofit
    • 2004-05: $18,365
    • 2013-14: $30,291

North Carolina Tuition and Fee Costs

Although the cost of college can be imposing, it’s important to note that many resources are available to students who cannot afford school. One of the first things students at colleges in North Carolina are asked to do is fill out a Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Doing so helps everyone involved determine what level of federal aid may be available to students, as well as how much. In addition, state aid is often determined using a FAFSA form as well.

The College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) offers additional information and resources to students who may be considering colleges and universities in North Carolina for their higher education needs. In addition to offering general information about federal and state aid, they also provide information on grants and loans specific to North Carolina. Some of those options include:

  • North Carolina Education Lottery Scholarship
  • North Carolina Community College Grant
  • UNC Need-Based Grant
  • North Carolina Need-Based Scholarship.

Students who want to learn more should contact the CFNC and request information. In addition to these financial aid options, more opportunities for aid in the form of loans, scholarships and grants may be available. Students can learn about school-specific aid opportunities by contacting their school of choice and inquiring about financial aid.

To find out more about some of the schools and programs available in North Carolina, be sure to check out the ones featured in our school listings below.

Article Sources


  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition: “Actuaries,”, “Biomedical Engineers,”, “Dental Hygienists,”, “Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists,”, “Information Security Analysts,”’
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: “Actuaries,”, “Biomedical Engineers,”, “Dental Hygienists,”, “Diagnostic Medical Sonographers,”, “Information Security Analysts,”
  3. U.S. News and World Report, Online Programs, 2014: “University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill,”, “University of North Carolina — Charlotte,”, “University of North Carolina — Wilmington,”, “Western Carolina University,”, “Duke University,”, “East Carolina University,”, “Appalachian State University,”
  4. “CareerOneStop,” U.S. Department of Labor, Top 50 Fastest-Growing Occupations,
  5. “North Carolina,” College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics,
  6. “North Carolina,” May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  7. “Postsecondary Completers and Completions: 2011-12, Web Tables,” U.S. Department of Education, March 2014,
  8. “Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time,” College Board,

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