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Colleges in North Carolina

Why go to College in North Carolina?

North Carolina has a long history of educational firsts. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill opened in 1795 as the first public university in the country. Salem College, founded in 1772, is the country’s oldest continually operating educational institution for women. Shaw University was both the first historically black college in the South and the first HBCU to become coeducational. Finally, Guilford College was the first coeducational college in the South. The state boasts 188 public and private colleges, so students should be able to find one that matches their education goals, price point, and desired environment.


North Carolina has a population of over 10 million people. The largest city, Charlotte, has a population of almost 900,000 and is home to a number of colleges and universities. These schools include UNC-Charlotte, which enrolls over 29,000 students, and Central Piedmont Community College, which enrolls 56,000 students across six campuses.


The geography of North Carolina includes the beaches of the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont Plateau, and the Appalachian Mountains, with temperatures varying more than 20 degrees across these elevations. Charlotte, which is in the Piedmont region, has a July average high of 89 degrees, and January average low of 30 degrees.

Number of Higher Learning Institutions

There are 188 public and private colleges in North Carolina that range from trade institutions such as beauty and tractor trailer training schools to research institutions like Wake Forest University and Duke University. For students specifically interested in online colleges in NC, many of these institutions offer online and hybrid programs.

Sporting Events

Professional sports teams include the Carolina Panthers (NFL), Carolina Hurricanes (NHL), and Charlotte Hornets (NBA). There are also minor-league baseball teams like the well-known Durham Bulls, many auto racing tracks, and legendary golf courses like Pinehurst, which features nine different courses. Universities such as Duke and UNC are also well-known for their athletic programs.


The nightlife in the state varies greatly depending on your location. The research triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, with a combined population of over two million, includes North Carolina State University, Duke University, and UNC-Chapel Hill and is teeming with bars, clubs, and live music.

What Options are Available for Colleges in North Carolina?


There are several benefits of an on-campus college experience. Attending classes in person can sometimes help students stay on track with their studies, as it provides more accountability than studying online. Additionally, some students feel that they learn better in a classroom; listening to a lecture and asking questions throughout can be beneficial, as well as seeing the professor face-to-face multiple times per week. Students who want to experience campus life, including extracurricular activities and events, should certainly consider an on-campus program. The ideal student for an on-campus program is someone who can attend classes during the weekdays, as most colleges have limited night and weekend class options, and who likes learning and interacting with peers in a traditional classroom environment.

Online Programs

Online courses can be completed remotely without any requirements to attend classes on campus. Courses are typically offered through an online platform, where students can access coursework and turn in assignments. Many online classes have attendance requirements, which is determined through the time spent logged into the course and participation in online posts and responses to classmates. While on-campus students receive instruction through a lecture, online deliver coursework using the following methods: reading materials, a video or livestream of the professor giving the lecture, or an online presentation.

One of the main benefits of online programs is flexibility. Students usually have the freedom to log in and complete coursework whenever is best for their schedule, instead of having to attend class at a certain time each day. Distance learning also eliminates a student’s commute, leaving them more time for completing coursework or spending time with their family. Students can complete online programs that are offered by schools throughout the country without having to relocate. However, online students must be self-motivated or else they risk falling behind on their coursework.

Hybrid Programs

A hybrid program includes both online and on-campus courses. The ratio of online to on-campus courses varies from program to program. Some universities may allow most classes to be completed online, while others may require that most courses be completed on-campus. Some programs require short on-campus intensives that can be completed in one or two weeks, typically during a summer term.

The theory behind hybrid programs is that some material should be taught in a face-to-face environment, rather than online. For example, students in a medical program may be able to complete lecture and seminar classes online, but will need to come to campus to take lab-focused courses.

Popular Degree Programs in North Carolina

A state’s main industries usually reflect the most popular majors in the state. North Carolina is known for its energy, business and financial services, aerospace and defense, automotive manufacturing, and plastics and chemicals industries. As such, two of the most popular degree programs are nuclear engineering and business management and administration.

  • Nuclear Engineering

    With an energy sector in the state that includes both nuclear energy and smart grids, it’s no surprise that nuclear engineering is one of the most popular majors in North Carolina. Nuclear engineering majors study a variety of topics, including radiation, nuclear risk assessment, and thermodynamics. Graduates are prepared to pursue careers in aerospace engineering, energy, and medicine.

  • Business Management and Administration

    This degree is the most common major in North Carolina, which is no surprise given that the state is the third-largest financial center in the country. Business management and administration students enroll in classes on subjects such as accounting, economics, finance, and leadership. Major companies with headquarters in the state include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, AT&T, and Microsoft.

Source: Business Insider


Choosing the right online school in North Carolina can be difficult, especially since there are many institutions in the state that offer distance learning programs. The process of visiting each school’s website, verifying that they offer online programs, and looking into their tuition rates can be very time consuming. This list of the best online colleges in North Carolina can help you find the right fit for your online education needs. Now that we’ve tackled the details on scholarships, cost of living, and different regions, we can explore the best online schools in North Carolina.


University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill, NC

Admissions Rate 31%
Default Rate 2%
Retention Rate 97%
Graduation Rate 90%
Online Enrollment 4%

The University of North Carolina, chartered in 1789, is one of the nation’s oldest public universities and ranks fifth on U.S. News and World Report’s list of top public schools. The school receives over $585 million dollars in federal funding for research. UNC is also dedicated to providing accessible education through the Carolina Covenant program, which helps low-income students pay for college without student loans. UNC's distance education program offers 13 graduate degrees, nine certificates, and courses from 27 departments. More than 60 courses are completely online and self-paced. Individual courses are open to students not affiliated with UNC and those wishing to transfer credits without an application process. The school is one of the best online colleges in North Carolina.


North Carolina State University at RaleighRaleigh, NC

Admissions Rate 50%
Default Rate 4%
Retention Rate 93%
Graduation Rate 75%
Online Enrollment 8%

North Carolina State was founded in 1887. The school is located in Raleigh and is part of the Research Triangle in North Carolina. NC State boasts an innovative public-private research park, Centennial Campus, where faculty and university scientists work alongside corporate, government, and nonprofit researchers. The online and distance learning program makes NC State one of the top online schools in North Carolina. Students at NC State can earn an online undergraduate degree in six different fields, including mechanical engineering and leadership. NC State online also offers 11 graduate degrees, 37 undergraduate and graduate certificates, and four teaching licences. Many distance courses are offered asynchronously. Students who want to take individual courses must apply to the non-degree studies program.


East Carolina UniversityGreenville, NC

Admissions Rate 69%
Default Rate 5%
Retention Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 62%
Online Enrollment 22%

East Carolina University in Greenville serves almost 29,000 students. The university prepares students for careers in growing fields, and 43% of students were working toward degrees in STEM and health-care in 2016. U.S. News and World Report ranks ECU in the top 25% of national colleges for its online graduate programs in nursing, education, and criminal justice. The school's distance education program offers more than 90 online undergraduate and graduate degrees, 23 of which are undergraduate degree completion programs. Students can complete two years of general education at their local community college and then apply to ECU to earn a BS in business, communication, education, health-care management, and industrial technology.


University of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmington, NC

Admissions Rate 61%
Default Rate 6%
Retention Rate 85%
Graduation Rate 71%
Online Enrollment 11%

Since joining the University of North Carolina system in 1969, the school has grown to serve nearly 16,500 students, 83% of which are North Carolina residents. UNCW emphasizes an integrated approach to learning through its experiencing transformative education through applied learning program, which engages students in research, study abroad, and other extra curricular opportunities. As one of the best online schools in North Carolina, UNCW offers completely online bachelor’s degrees in criminology, clinical research, elementary education, and nursing. The school also offers an online master’s in chemistry. Students in the Onslow County area with an associate degree from Coastal Carolina Community College can complete a bachelor’s online at the UNCW Onslow Extension Site.


Western Carolina UniversityCullowhee, NC

Admissions Rate 40%
Default Rate 8%
Retention Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 57%
Online Enrollment 17%

Located in Cullowhee, Western Carolina University is a research and cultural hub for the western region of the state. WCU traces its history back to 1888, when it began providing education to teachers for local rural communities. Currently, the school has 115 undergraduate and 60 graduate programs. WCU offers a 16:1 student-to-teacher ratio and continues to serve as one of the top online colleges in North Carolina. Its distance learning program boasts eight bachelor’s, 11 graduate, and six certificate programs in education, healthcare, business, and more. Its culturally-based native health program is notable for giving healthcare professionals the training to better serve local southeastern Native American populations. WCU welcomes non-degree seeking students to take its coursework as well.


Piedmont International UniversityWinston-Salem, NC

Admissions Rate 24%
Default Rate 7%
Retention Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 41%
Online Enrollment 72%

Piedmont International University is a Bible-centered institution in Winston-Salem that also hosts Temple Baptist Seminary. PIU began in 1945 as the Piedmont Bible Institute, which served returning war veterans. The school offers degrees in religious studies, the humanities, and education. Students interested in sign language can major in interpreting and minor in American Sign Language. PIU supports students financially, with over 96% of students receiving some form of financial aid. PIU ranks as one of the best online colleges in North Carolina, hosting nearly two-thirds of its programs online. Only two graduate programs are not offered completely online. Students take seven-week courses and can begin during any of six enrollment periods. Some coursework is taught through the flipped classroom method.


Appalachian State UniversityBoone, NC

Admissions Rate 66%
Default Rate 4%
Retention Rate 86%
Graduation Rate 71%
Online Enrollment 5%

Appalachian State University is located in Boone. The university’s quality enhancement plan focuses on global learning, with the goal of helping students explore the world through study abroad and programs like the global connections certificate. ASU also offers language courses online. Through centers in Hickory, Caldwell, and Burke, students in the distance learning program can take face-to-face classes. Appalachian State offers six bachelor's, 11 master’s, and nine certificate programs completely online. Distance programs include management, early childhood education, and nursing. Students can also earn a doctorate in educational leadership through a hybrid program. Online courses are taught through asynchronous and synchronous formats.


University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboro, NC

Admissions Rate 59%
Default Rate 6%
Retention Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 56%
Online Enrollment 12%

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro was a women’s college until 1964. The school serves nearly 20,000 students, and of undergraduates, 65% are female and 27% are African-American. UNCG makes inclusion and collaboration part of its mission statement and partially defines itself as an institution for distance learners. Students can complete coursework off-campus and online. UNCG, one of the best online schools in North Carolina, offers online undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and information technology, education, health, public service, and social sciences and humanities. All 50 states and Puerto Rico have authorized UNCG to offer online degrees to their residents. Courses are taught in synchronous and asynchronous formats, and distance learners pay a discounted tuition rate.


Gardner-Webb UniversityBoiling Springs, NC

Admissions Rate 53%
Default Rate 10%
Retention Rate 73%
Graduation Rate 52%
Online Enrollment 28%

Gardner-Webb University, originally a Boilings Springs Baptist boarding school, is a Christian university that offers religious studies programs and a wide range of liberal arts and health sciences degrees. Students enjoy a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and extensive academic support services, including tutoring and programs tailored to first year students. Gardner-Webb is one of the top online colleges in North Carolina, with online bachelor's degrees in computer information systems and accounting and graduate degrees in business, education, English, and nursing. Students interested in teaching athletics can earn a master of arts in sport education online. Distance learners living in any state, except California, are eligible to earn a degree through Gardner-Webb.


Pfeiffer UniversityMisenheimer, NC

Admissions Rate 47%
Default Rate 8%
Retention Rate 69%
Graduation Rate 43%
Online Enrollment 29%

Pfeiffer University has campuses in Misenheimer, Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The school emphasizes community-building activities, like mission trips and community service. Pfeiffer encourages learning experiences outside of the classroom through internships and externships. The school's online offerings include a selection of undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs. Pfeiffer is among online schools in North Carolina to offer master’s degrees in business administration, health administration, and the science of leadership. Students have the option to earn a joint degree. A master of science in financial fraud investigation is also available. Pfeiffer's RN to BSN program can only be taken online.


University of North Carolina at CharlotteCharlotte, NC

Admissions Rate 63%
Default Rate 5%
Retention Rate 83%
Graduation Rate 53%
Online Enrollment 5%

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte provides its nearly 24,000 undergraduate students unique research and leadership opportunities. UNC Charlotte works with the local business community and hosts the annual Charlotte Venture Challenge, a start-up competition that connects area businesses with potential investors. The university's distance learning program has dedicated support and library staff. UNC Charlotte celebrates the diversity that distance learning brings to its student body, and even encourages distance learners to submit photographs of themselves and the school mascot, Norm the 49er. The colleges of education, engineering, and health and human resources offer online undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs. Coursework is taken synchronously and asynchronously.


Salem CollegeWinston-Salem, NC

Admissions Rate 62%
Default Rate 7%
Retention Rate 83%
Graduation Rate 60%
Online Enrollment 4%

Salem College, located in Winston-Salem, offers women the chance to join a sisterhood with a storied history. The college’s founding in 1772 makes it the oldest women’s college in America, and U.S. News and World Report ranks it as the 11th best in the country. Salem College’s online master of education in school counseling prepares distance learners who are working full time to become licensed school counselors. The counseling program lasts 36 months and follows a synchronous format, which includes online classes; weekend, on-campus seminars; and internships. With the first cohort graduating in 2014, this program is a recent addition to the school’s offerings and earns Salem College a spot on the list of the best online schools in North Carolina.


Campbell UniversityBuies Creek, NC

Admissions Rate 73%
Default Rate 5%
Retention Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 53%
Online Enrollment 5%

Campbell University is a private regional institution with five campuses that serve the center regions of North Carolina. The main campus, located in Buies Creek, is in the middle of the Research Triangle. Campbell University takes its name from its founder, J.A. Campbell, a Baptist minister who started the school in 1887 to address the lack of area schools. The university emphasizes volunteer work to its 6,800 students, logging over 80,000 hours of service each year. Campbell University began offering online coursework in 1999 and is one of the best online colleges in North Carolina. Campbell's online arm includes fully online programs at the certificate, associate, and bachelor's levels. Courses are completed in accelerated, eight-week formats. Distance learners interested in security and law enforcement can earn a bachelor of applied science in criminal justice, homeland security, and information technology security.


Fayetteville State UniversityFayetteville, NC

Admissions Rate 60%
Default Rate 16%
Retention Rate 79%
Graduation Rate 32%
Online Enrollment 23%

Fayetteville State University is a mid-sized institution that is proud to serve a diverse student body. The school provides students with a nurturing learning environment through its Center for Personal Development, Freshman Seminar Program, and Student Academic Services Center. Fayetteville offers career-focused degrees in fields like fire and emergency services administration and nursing. The school also offers more traditional programs like sociology and psychology. Fayetteville's bachelor's programs are degree completion programs, meaning students must complete general education requirements through a different school. The university began as a teaching school in 1867 and is a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina.


Mid-Atlantic Christian UniversityElizabeth City, NC

Admissions Rate 42%
Default Rate 14%
Retention Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 38%
Online Enrollment 10%

In 1948, members of the Stone-Campbell movement founded Roanoke Bible College to train ministers, creating the foundation for the Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City. The university teaches arts and sciences along with Bible-focused programs. Mid-Atlantic Christian University’s distance learning program is part of the School of Professional Studies. Students with an associate degree or equivalent can complete a bachelor’s in Christian ministry, business administration, and family studies, all of which include a biblical major or minor program. The academic year for online courses comprises six, eight-week long sessions. Online students complete 40 hours of Christian service hours through service learning courses or independent projects, like teaching a Sunday School class or volunteering at a non-profit organization. Mid-Atlantic is one of the best online schools in North Carolina.


Winston-Salem State UniversityWinston-Salem, NC

Admissions Rate 59%
Default Rate 15%
Retention Rate 76%
Graduation Rate 46%
Online Enrollment 9%

As a historically black constituent institution established in 1982, Winston-Salem State University was the first black institution in the country to award degrees to elementary school teachers. WSSU educates around 5,100 students annually and is one of the best online colleges of North Carolina. The school targets a distance learning population that does not have access to more traditional forms of education. Winston-Salem State offers eight certificate, graduate, and undergraduate online programs, including clinical laboratory science and teaching English as a second language. The school's RN to BSN is an off-campus program that has 18 off-site locations. Starting in fall 2017, the nursing program will only be offered in an online, cohort format.


Montreat CollegeMontreat, NC

Admissions Rate 54%
Default Rate 9%
Retention Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 60%
Online Enrollment 8%

Montreat College is a Presbyterian institution of higher education that is located outside of Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The school began as a retreat for Christian activities and is one of the best online colleges in North Carolina. The School of Adult and Graduate Studies supports an online program that offers five different undergraduate degrees, including a bachelor of science in cybersecurity and a master of science in management and leadership. With an endowment of approximately $6.9 million, Montreat College reports that 99% of its students receive financial aid. The college partners with local businesses through the Corporate Advantage Program, in which employees enrolled in the School of Adult and Graduate studies are eligible for a 10% tuition discount.


Lees-McRae CollegeBanner Elk, NC

Admissions Rate 67%
Default Rate 11%
Retention Rate 63%
Graduation Rate 36%
Online Enrollment 26%

Lees-McRae College has dedicated itself to serving distance learners of the southern Appalachian Mountains since 1900. As one of the best online schools in North Carolina, Lees-McRae is committed to serving the wider community through its online degree-completion programs. Students must complete general education requirements before enrolling. The school offers an online bachelor’s in applied science in criminal justice and human services. The criminal justice program is only four semesters long. The college also offers an online bachelor of science in nursing and elementary education. Lees-McRae partners with Surry Community College to offer an in-person version of the elementary education bachelor’s program.


North Carolina Central UniversityDurham, NC

Admissions Rate 66%
Default Rate 16%
Retention Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 42%
Online Enrollment 8%

North Carolina Central University is located in Durham and was the country’s first public liberal arts school for African Americans. The school was founded in 1909. NCCU was the first UNC school to offer a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies, the second historically black college or university to establish an LGBTA Center, and is the only one to have a School of Library and Information Sciences. NCCU is one of the top online colleges in North Carolina and offers five online bachelor’s degrees, six online master’s degrees, and seven certificates. The university's master of library science requires students to earn 36 credits and has seven different tracks. NCCU partners with Granville Community College and Wake Tech Community College for its hybrid bachelor of science in criminal justice program.


University of North Carolina at PembrokePembroke, NC

Admissions Rate 74%
Default Rate 11%
Retention Rate 67%
Graduation Rate 38%
Online Enrollment 16%

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is located in a rural setting. The school's 6,200 students have 41 undergraduate and 17 graduate programs to choose from and benefit from a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio. UNC Pembroke was founded in 1887 to educate Native American teachers, who currently make up 15% of the school's student body. As one of the best online colleges in North Carolina, UNCP offers eight bachelor’s degrees online. Students may be able to complete some undergraduate, non-major courses online, but the school requires two credit hours of physical education, which is not available online. Among UNCP's five master's programs is a master's in business administration in supply chain management.


University of Mount OliveMount Olive, NC

Admissions Rate 51%
Default Rate 8%
Retention Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 39%
Online Enrollment 10%

The university of Mount Olive, a Christian institution, has eight locations across the state, including Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Mount Olive is a Baptist university with a liberal arts tradition that emphasizes affordable education and innovation, especially in its distance learning programs. Its online master of business administration program is accelerated, taught asynchronously, and has three start dates each year. Other online offerings include a BS in criminal justice and criminology, an AS in general studies, an MS in nursing, and a master of education. This portfolio of flexible online programs makes UMO one of the best online colleges in North Carolina.


North Carolina A & T State UniversityGreensboro, NC

Admissions Rate 60%
Default Rate 16%
Retention Rate 75%
Graduation Rate 44%
Online Enrollment 5%

With nearly 9,700 students, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro is the largest historically black college or university in America. NC A&T is a land-grant university that was created through the Second Morrill Act of 1890. The school focuses on education and research in STEM and operates the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering along with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As one of the top online colleges in North Carolina, NC A&T offers distance learning programs in agriculture, business, education, electronics, environmental health and safety, family and consumer sciences, and more. Online offerings include undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs. The online bachelor of science in geomatics is a unique program that prepares students for careers in surveying and cartography.


Laurel UniversityHigh Point, NC

Admissions Rate 77%
Default Rate 8%
Retention Rate 54%
Graduation Rate 29%
Online Enrollment 35%

Located in High Point, North Carolina, John Wesley is an interdenominational Christian university with a history that dates back to 1903. The university was known as Laurel University from 2011 to 2016. JWU offers education in Christian ministry at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. The university also offers degrees in management and nursing. JWU is among top online colleges in North Carolina. All degrees, except for the doctor of ministry and nursing bachelor's, are available completely online. Students interested in missionary work can earn a bachelor of arts in ministry with an intercultural studies concentration. The master of business administration in organizational leadership is only offered online and has three concentrations: human resource management, management, and nonprofit management. Online student resources include a writing lab.


Barton CollegeWilson, NC

Admissions Rate 42%
Default Rate 10%
Retention Rate 67%
Graduation Rate 40%
Online Enrollment 1%

Barton College is a Christian Church college located in Wilson. The school focuses on providing nursing, social work, and health and sport studies education. Barton continues to improve its online offerings. The college's Professional Studies program includes degrees in education, business, liberal studies, nursing, and social work, all of which require students to complete some coursework on campus. The bachelor of science in social work requires students to complete 100 hours of service learning and an internship of 420 hours. Students in the Professional Studies program pay a discounted tuition rate. Ninety-eight percent of students at Barton receive financial aid, with an average package of over $23,000.


William Peace UniversityRaleigh, NC

Admissions Rate 50% Default Rate 7% Retention Rate 59% Graduation Rate 43%

William Peace University was founded as the Peace Institute in 1857. The university is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and was a women’s college until 2012. William Peace participates in the Cooperating Raleigh Colleges Consortium, which expands student access to resources at five local colleges. WPU’s focus on providing accessible education online through its School of Professional Studies earns its status as one of the top online colleges in North Carolina. Through the Moodle course management system, students can earn bachelor’s degrees in business administration, criminal justice, education, liberal studies, marketing, and psychology. Courses are accelerated, and students can begin their program during one of six yearly start dates.

How We Ranked the Schools

To determine the best programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the best online master’s in management information systems programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.

Education Trends in North Carolina

North Carolina spends more money per full-time student than the average state in the U.S. What’s more, North Carolina has the third-largest percentage of tax revenue allocated to higher education (11%), behind only New Mexico and Wyoming. North Carolina has a slightly higher than average percentage of students with an associate degree, while those with a graduate or professional degree is slightly below the national average. When it comes to students with a bachelor’s degree, North Carolina is in line with the national average.

  North Carolina United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $8,894 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 11% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 9% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 18.4% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 9.9% 11.2%

Paying for College in North Carolina

The cost of your education should always be a consideration when choosing one of the many online schools in NC. This is true whether you plan to be an on-campus student or attend one of North Carolina’s online schools. You will have to weigh the cost of tuition, fees, housing, and books against any potential scholarships or financial aid that you may receive. Public college tuition in North Carolina is below the national average, but you’ll also have to consider cost of living, which includes rent, housing, and food costs.

Tuition Prices

While the in-state tuition for public two-year and four-year institutions in North Carolina is below the national average, there are many other factors to consider when determining the cost of an education. Additional expenses can include books as well as fees for student activities, the gym, or lab classes. Housing expenses can include either on-campus dorms and a meal plan, or rent and grocery costs for off-campus students. Commuters must also consider transportation fees.

Financial Aid

Financial aid for college can include need or merit-based scholarships, grants, work study opportunities, and student loans. All students entering college should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA must be completed to determine a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid, with some colleges also requiring the FAFSA to qualify for need-based institutional scholarships.

Financial aid from the government can include grants, loans, and work study opportunities. Federal student loans must be paid back with interest, although they offer deferred payment plans and much lower interest rates than private loans. Grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid, so try to take advantage of these first. A work study provides a student with a part-time job, which allows them to earn money to help pay education expenses. Students should also look for private scholarships, which may vary based on future degree and college of choice or personal circumstances.

Cost for Online Programs in North Carolina

Financial aid is also available to students who plan to attend online schools in North Carolina. Prospective online students should always complete the FAFSA to become eligible for federal aid. Many online universities offer merit- and need-based scholarships to distance learners, just as they do for on-campus students. Online programs also eliminate costs associated with transportation, fees for on-campus services, and some textbook costs, though this varies for program to program.

Tuition for online programs is often the same or lower than for on-campus programs, particularly at private colleges. Students from other states considering online colleges in North Carolina should be aware that only some public colleges allow online students to take advantage of in-state tuition rates, while others will charge the out-of-state tuition.

Cost of Living by Region

College expenses and the cost of living can vary greatly depending on where you choose to study. Cost of living includes all housing, food, transportation, and entertainment expenses. If your expenses are high, then it may be wise to take out a loan to fund your education. The table below compares the housing costs in two popular North Carolina cities with those in three other major cities around the U.S. that have a similar quantity of colleges.

Scholarships for North Carolina College Students

Aubrey Lee Brooks Scholarship

Up to $12,000; resident and high school student in Alamance, Bertie, Caswell, Durham, Forsyth, Granville, Guilford, Orange, Person, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, Swain, or Warren Counties who plans to enroll full-time at N.C. State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, or UNC-Greensboro. Applicants must fill out an application and demonstrate financial need.

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North Carolina 4-H Development Fund Scholarships

$500–$2,000; open to those enrolling as an undergraduate in a four-year college in North Carolina with an exceptional record of 4-H Club participation and achievement.

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NC Community College Grant Program

$100–$1,500; North Carolina resident enrolled in at least six credits per semester at a North Carolina community college.

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Florence Kidder Memorial Scholarship

$1,000 or $3,000; high school student planning to attend a North Carolina college or university.

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GSK Opportunity Scholarship

Maximum $20,000; must demonstrate potential despite adversity, have resided in Durham, Orange, or Wake counties for at least one year, planning to attend a public college in North Carolina.

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Benjamin F. Ward Scholarship

$10,000; high school senior in Wake, Durham, Orange, or Chatham counties enrolling in a four-year college in North Carolina with a minimum GPA of 2.5.

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Citrix Scholarship

Up to $20,000; future or current STEM or computer science major at NC Central University, Shaw University, or St. Augustine’s University.

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North Carolina American Indian Fund Scholarship

$1,000; resident of North Carolina enrolled in a state- or federally-recognized tribe planning to enroll full-time at a state college.

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Shelton National Leadership Scholarship

$10,000; student leader planning to attend NC State.

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Jagannathan Scholarships

Varies; resident of North Carolina planning to enroll full-time at any University of North Carolina system college.

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Richard E. Whitted Scholarship

$1,000; graduate of Cedar Ridge High School, Orange High School, Carrboro High School, Chapel Hill High School, or East Chapel Hill High School planning to enroll full-time at a four-year college.

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Achievement Scholarship for Refugees and Immigrants of Wake County

$1,000–$4,000; open to first-generation U.S. citizens, refugees, or immigrants who are residents of Wake County and have completed at least one year of high school in the county and plan on attending a NC college as a full-time student. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.5 to be considered.

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Alpha Phi Alpha African-American Male Scholarship

$1,000; African-American male graduating from a Durham or Orange County high school.

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Charles Harrison Smith, III Scholarship

$6,500; Apex High School graduate who plans on majoring in engineering, business, or math at a competitive institution.

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Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship

Up to $80,000; immigrant or first-generation student who has attended a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district high school.

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Can All Scholarships Be Used for Online Programs?

Most scholarships can be used for both on-campus programs and online schools in NC. However, some private scholarships might have stipulations that students have to meet, such as attending full-time, maintaining a certain GPA, or completing a specific major. In all cases, whether the scholarship is from a university or an outside source, make sure to read the details to ensure that you are applying for scholarships that fit your educational goals.

Employment Outlook in North Carolina

The employment outlook in North Carolina is similar to the rest of the U.S., though the unemployment rate and annual median wage are slightly lower. The state’s top industries are finance, insurance, real estate, government, and professional and business services. North Carolina is a business-friendly state that has a low corporate income tax, which has led to many businesses and financial institutions choosing it for their headquarters. The state government is the largest employer, which is not surprising given the large number of state universities and hospitals. Other popular employment areas in North Carolina include biotechnology, automotive, aerospace, furniture, and information technology.

Top Employers and Industries in North Carolina

Top Industries in North Carolina

  • Finance, Insurance, Real Estate, Rental, and Leasing: In 2016, this industry accounted for 19.2% of the GDP in North Carolina. Many financial companies, such as Bank of America, have headquarters in the state as North Carolina because it has the lowest corporate income tax rate in the region.
  • Government: This industry, which includes federal, state, and local government, accounted for 13.3% of North Carolina’s GDP in 2016. The state government is the state’s largest employer, employing people at agencies, branches, and various universities.
  • Professional & Business Services: Over the past three years, this industry has accounted for more than one in four new jobs in the state. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this supersector consists of professional, scientific, and technical services, management of companies and enterprises, and administrative support and waste management services.

Bureau of Economic Analysis

Top Employers in North Carolina

Accreditation for Colleges in North Carolina

Online colleges in NC may be either regionally or nationally accredited. Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious than national accreditation. The regional accreditation body for the state is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. This accrediting body is responsible for determining if a college has met certain academic standards and whether or not they deserve accreditation. There are also national accrediting agencies for colleges in this state. Nationally recognized accrediting agencies are generally focused on a specific trade or career path, so they accredit colleges across the country, not just in a certain region. One national accreditor is the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, which specifically focuses on online colleges.

Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious than national accreditation.

There are several reasons why it is important to study at an accredited school. Studying at a regionally accredited institution will allow you to transfer your credits to another school. There are also many graduate programs that require students to have earned a bachelor’s degree from a regionally-accredited college to be considered. Finally, colleges that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education can receive federal financial aid.

Resources for Students in North Carolina

  • North Carolina Services and Information: Education: This website provides information regarding financial aid, grants, and education assistance for veterans. There are also various college resources such as a search feature that helps students find their local community college out of the 58 located across the state.
  • College Foundation of North Carolina: CFNC provides students, parents, adult learners, and military members with information on SAT/ACT prep help, FAFSA completion assistance, and applying to colleges in North Carolina.
  • North Carolina Public Schools, Career & College Promise: The CCP is a dual enrollment program for high school students that allows them to enroll in community colleges and universities in North Carolina through their high school in order to earn college credit.
  • University of North Carolina: State Residence: If you’re confused about whether you qualify as a North Carolina resident for tuition purposes, check out this section of the UNC system’s website. It features both a state residence classification manual and a link to a residency determination system.
  • eLearningNC: Students interested in attending online colleges in North Carolina should check out this resource, which provides information about eLearning in the state for all stages of education. Specific information includes preparation and payment resources for eLearning programs.
  • NCCCS Virtual Learning Community: The VLC allows students to search online and hybrid courses offered through the 58 institutions that comprise the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS). Students can also request assistance regarding their distance learning opportunities.
  • NCCCS Disability Resource Guide: This PDF provides information regarding both college and student responsibilities, as well as a list of disabilities and the recommended accommodations, and documentation guidelines divided by disability. There is also a section on the transition from high school to college.
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