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School Rankings

The 10 Best and Most Prestigious Universities in North Carolina

Esther Kisuke - March 02, 2022


The best universities in North Carolina are scattered across this southeastern state. Our picks for the top 10 universities in North Carolina deliver quality programs and excellent value to their students. Attending any of these North Carolina institutions is a great step toward starting your career.

We ranked the most prestigious universities in North Carolina based on a wide variety of factors. So what are the best universities in North Carolina? This article has the answers for you.

How We Defined North Carolina University Rankings

Our rankings are based on many factors, including profession to student ratios, student body demographics, campus life, graduation rates, and policies on tuition and financial aid. Our top picks have low student-faculty ratios, high graduation rates, a diverse campus community, and a wide selection of both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

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North Carolina Universities Ranked: Top 10 Universities in North Carolina

  1. Duke University
  2. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  3. Wake Forest University
  4. North Carolina State University
  5. Elon University
  6. East Carolina University
  7. Campbell University
  8. Gardner-Webb University
  9. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
  10. Davidson College

The Best Colleges and Universities in North Carolina, Explained

Shelves of books in a library row. Best Universities In North Carolina
Whether you want to attend a private college or public institution, you should take into account the student population, class sizes, student organizations, and the satisfaction of current students.

We will explore North Carolina’s top universities in more detail below. This information was compiled from U.S. News & World Report rankings, as well as from each university’s website. For more information on a specific university, check out its official website.

1. Duke University

  • US News National Ranking: #9
  • Campus Location(s): Durham
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,542
  • Graduation Rate: 90%

Duke University is the most prestigious university in North Carolina and is globally renowned. This private university offers undergraduate, graduate, and part-time programs. Duke University is also known for its competitive admissions, admitting less than 10 percent of applicants, annually. These high standards in selection translate to an impressive graduation rate of 90 percent.

2. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

  • US News National Ranking: #28 (tied with Wake Forest University)
  • Campus Location(s): Chapel Hill
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 19,743
  • Graduation Rate: 86%

The University of North Carolina (UNC) – Chapel Hill, a member of North Carolina’s public university system, is one of the oldest public universities in the US. UNC-Chapel Hill is one of the most diverse student bodies among US universities. Its most popular majors are social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, and communication and journalism.

3. Wake Forest University

  • US News National Ranking: #28 (tied with University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)
  • Campus Location(s): Winston-Salem
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,441
  • Graduation Rate: 86%

Wake Forest University is a private, co-ed university offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1, Wake Forest University has ranked #24 in US News & World Report’s best value schools. This school will meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial aid for its students.

4. North Carolina State University

  • US News National Ranking: #79
  • Campus Location(s): Raleigh
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 26,150
  • Graduation Rate: 68%

North Carolina State University (NCSU) is a public research university and the largest four-year college in North Carolina. It offers both undergraduate and graduate programs, with more than 100 academic programs for students to choose from. Money Magazine’s poll of North Carolina universities ranked NCSU as the best public college for your money in the state.

5. Elon University

  • US News National Ranking: #83
  • Campus Location(s): Elon
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,302
  • Graduation Rate: 78%

Elon University offers both graduate and undergraduate programs and is ranked among the nation’s most affordable private universities . This university is focused on student success with a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1. Students take advantage of ample opportunities as 87 percent of students participate in internships, 88 percent join volunteer services, and 80 percent study abroad.

6. East Carolina University

  • US News National Ranking: #213
  • Campus Location(s): Greenville
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 23,056
  • Graduation Rate: 42%

East Carolina University (ECU) is a public university offering a variety of undergraduate majors, graduate and professional programs, online learning, and certificate programs. The most popular undergraduate major is nursing. ECU is accessible and affordable with an acceptance rate of 88 percent and 80 percent of full-time freshmen receiving some kind of financial aid.

7. Campbell University

  • US News National Ranking: #277
  • Campus Location(s): Buies Creek, Raleigh, Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,720
  • Graduation Rate: 41%

Campbell University is a private university with a Baptist affiliation. This institution offers more than 150 undergraduate majors and minors at four campus locations with additional adult and online learning options. At the on-base campuses at Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, Campbell University offers education options to active military personnel, veterans, and civilians.

8. Gardner-Webb University

  • US News National Ranking: #277
  • Campus Location(s): Boiling Springs
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,071
  • Graduation Rate: 45%

Gardner-Webb University began as Gardner-Webb College in 1942 and became the private Baptist university it is today in 1993. Gardner-Webb offers 80 undergraduate and graduate majors under its 14 academic departments. Located in rural North Carolina, this college offers students a small, college-town environment.

9. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

  • US News National Ranking: #277
  • Campus Location(s): Greensboro
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 10,401
  • Graduation Rate: 35%

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) is one of North Carolina’s top research campuses, with 41 patents based on the research conducted there. NC A&T has a rich cultural heritage and is the largest historically black university (HBCU) in the country. NC A&T is well-known for preparing its students for STEM careers.

10. Davidson College

  • US News Ranking: #13 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Campus Location(s): Davidson
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,973
  • Graduation Rate: 89%

Davidson College is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. It offers 37 undergraduate majors or you can create your own, and students are encouraged to participate in research. The college provides need-based financial aid, offering grants and employment covered by the Davidson Trust.

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Is a University in North Carolina Right for You?

A university in North Carolina could be right for you. As a prospective student, you have a wide selection of academic programs, athletic programs, diverse student bodies, low student-to-faculty ratios that allow you to maximize your learning, and affordable tuition and financial aid available to you. If you aren’t ready to commit to a four-year college program, you might want to consider an affordable university-backed bootcamp .

Best Universities in North Carolina FAQ

What is the difference between a college and a university?

Colleges are smaller institutions that focus on undergraduate programs, associate degrees , and pre-professional programs. Universities tend to be much larger than colleges and offer both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Universities typically do more investigative research, with many professors at universities conducting their own research, in addition to teaching.

Which University of North Carolina campus is the best?

UNC – Chapel Hill ranks in second place according to U.S. News & World Report college rankings.

Are there Ivy League universities in North Carolina?

Yes, Duke University is an Ivy League school in North Carolina, but you should consider North Carolina’s other public and private universities, as well.

What if I cannot attend college at the moment?

The reality is that not everyone has the time or money to attend a four-year college. You should check to see if a school you are interested in has a part-time program, or talk with the financial aid office to see if you’ve missed some scholarship opportunities. There are also alternatives that are faster and more affordable, such as bootcamps and certificate programs.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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Esther Kisuke

About the author: Esther is a career content writer with over 10 years of experience writing and supporting others in the field. She has pursued a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern College and also has a mediation certification from the Mediation Training Institute of Kenya.

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