30 Best Value Colleges And Universities In North Carolina

North Carolina is a top performer in collegiate circles. Find your NC Best Value School today.

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Best North Carolina Schools

By Iris Stone

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What's not to love about North Carolina? From the temperate weather to the fun beach towns, it's almost surprising this state isn't overrun with residents! North Carolina is also a top performer in collegiate circles, due in no small part to the state's distinguished public school system - particularly its crown jewel, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. And yet UNC has plenty of competition, from Duke University (an academic and athletic powerhouse) to Davidson (a premier liberal arts college) to affordable schools of all shapes, sizes, and affiliations. For our corresponding ranking of online programs, see Best Online Colleges in North Carolina.

With such a wide variety of options, you're practically guaranteed to find something in North Carolina that fits the bill. And if you're indecisive, this top 30 ranking will help you get started. By using a detailed methodology, we've identified the NC schools that strike the best balance in terms of their ability to meld low price with high performance. You'll be able to check off all the items on your college wish list - and breathe a sigh of relief when you write the tuition check!

Our Ranking Methodology:

Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.

Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, "net price" is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.

Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate - the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.

20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.

After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 80 to 176, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in North Carolina.

#1 University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
#2 Duke University Durham, NC
#3 North Carolina Central University Durham, NC
#4 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, NC
#5 Davidson College Davidson, NC
#6 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
#7 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC
#8 North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC
#9 University of North Carolina School of the Arts Winston-Salem, NC
#10 University of North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte, NC

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  1. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

    Chapel Hill, NC



    Securing the #1 spot on this best value ranking is UNC Chapel Hill, a long-time athletic rival of Duke and the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina system. If there's any college in the state that truly "has it all," it's probably UNC. From its extreme selectivity (28% acceptance rate) to high student retention (90% 6-year graduation rate) Chapel Hill has you covered from start to finish. The university also prides itself on its diverse student body and pristine campus, and young learners travel from all over the world for a chance to study under UNC's esteemed professors. And with a 20-year net ROI averaging more than $300,000 -bolstered in part by the school's incredibly low tuition rate - its no wonder UNC Chapel Hill is one of the best affordable colleges in North Carolina.

  2. Duke University

    Durham, NC



    Sports fans may know Duke University for its remarkably competitive athletic program (the school boasts more than 20 NCAA Division I teams and holds 16 national championships) but the Blue Devils have much more to offer than a great jump shot. In fact, the university performs well across every metric, with a slim 11% acceptance rate, near-perfect 95% graduation rate, and $600k+ 20-year ROI. The 9,000-acre campus can be intimidating at times, but students seem to have no trouble getting involved. Programs like DukeEngage will help you find fun activities both around town and overseas - maybe even on Duke's campus in China! A full 75% of students complete some kind of service-learning endeavor before graduating, proving that this college is serious about both intellectual and community engagement.

  3. North Carolina Central University

    Durham, NC



    When North Carolina Central University first opened its doors in the early 1900s, it was little more than a religious training school for local residents. It soon transformed into the first public liberal arts college in the country catering specifically to African Americans, and NCCU's reputation has continued to grow ever since. Many of its academic programs - including the law school and creative arts degrees - have gained national acclaim, and the college is quickly becoming a leader in cutting-edge research. And since NCCU is located in the "Research Triangle," students have unparalleled access to labs, specialized institutes, and collaborations with other top North Carolina Colleges.

  4. Wake Forest University

    Winston-Salem, NC



    There's a reason Wake Forest University consistently ranks among the top 30 universities in the nation. Actually, there are lots of reasons! Combining the traditional educational values of a liberal arts college with the substantial resources of a large state school, Wake Forest seeks to offer a one-of-a-kind experience. The undergraduate college provides a close-knit community of teachers and students who can grow and learn together in a supportive environment. Professors are as much mentors and role models as they are instructors, and they'll help guide you through a uniquely flexible curriculum. All incoming students complete a First-Year Seminar, a specialized course that includes "intense intellectual interchange" and thought-provoking discussions that also helps ease the transition to college life.

  5. Davidson College

    Davidson, NC



    For student-centered learning, Davidson College is the place to go. If you consider yourself compassionate, creative, and intellectually curious, you'll finally find your niche with like-minded students at Davidson. As one of the best universities in North Carolina, this campus supports an ambitious group of individuals who are uniquely involved; nearly 25% of students join one of the NCAA Division I athletic teams, and at least eight out of 10 extend their learning by traveling overseas. Research is also an integral aspect of the undergraduate experience at Davidson College. From semester-long independent projects to targeted research programs abroad, you'll find no shortage of ways to take your degree beyond the basics.

  6. Appalachian State University

    Boone, NC



    Appalachian State University definitely has a reputation for value, thanks to an extremely low tuition rate - especially for in-state students. Although it is one of the most affordable North Carolina colleges, ASU's appeal doesn't stop there. The 18,000 or so students who call themselves Mountaineers enjoy a vibrant campus characterized by constant activity and a strong sense of community - a hallmark of the ASU experience. And it doesn't hurt that the impressive Blue Ridge Mountains loom close by, offering both a spectacular view and exciting off-campus playground for energetic students. With so much to offer, it's no surprise that most Mountaineers stick around for the long haul; 70% graduate within six years.

  7. Western Carolina University

    Cullowhee, NC



    Western Carolina University's humble location in rural Cullowhee (home to a mere 10,000 people) can be misleading. Don't be fooled! This small town may have little name recognition, but WCU's reputation deserves plenty of attention. When it comes to academics, this cheap college in North Carolina brings both quality and quantity. 100+ undergraduate specialties provide practically limitless opportunities - and a few especially tempting options; the school's programs in project management, entrepreneurship, and teacher education are all highly ranked, and its emergency medical care degree is the first of its kind in the entire nation!

  8. North Carolina State University

    Raleigh, NC



    Once upon a time, North Carolina State University was a simple land-grant institution with programs limited to agricultural and mechanical subjects. Although the university has since expanded its offerings - and its accompanying reputation - many times over, it maintains a strong dedication to hands-on education. No matter what course of study you pursue at NC State, your time on campus will no doubt be punctuated by at least one internship, research experience, co-op, study abroad adventure, or volunteer commitment. And by getting out of the classroom and into the lab (or office, or student organization, or airport…) students seem more inclined to stick around; NCSU boasts a graduation rate of 75% - one of the highest in North Carolina!

  9. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

    Winston-Salem, NC



    The UNC School of Arts makes a memorable first impression with one relatively simple guarantee: that students can do what they love. Creative minds and artistic spirits find a home all their own at UNCSA, a distinctive university uniquely suited to the applicants it attracts. All students receive a solid foundational education in the liberal arts - a requirement that UNCSA claims is crucial for the "broader education of the artist." However, classmates quickly categorize themselves based on their ultimate career goals as they shift their focus to one of six artistic areas of study: dance, drama, design/production, visual arts, filmmaking, or music. With a 43% acceptance rate, getting into this top university in North Carolina for artists is no guarantee, so be prepared to nail your audition interview!

  10. University of North Carolina Charlotte

    Charlotte, NC



    If size and location are two of your top considerations for college, the University of North Carolina Charlotte can provide plenty of both. Its urban location in the state's largest city serves as an invaluable resource for students when it comes to both internships and weekend activities. A quick drive can take you either to the ocean or the mountains, but you might not even want to leave campus! With more than 27,000 students and a whopping 1,000 acres, UNC Charlotte is a constant hub of activity. Between regular theatre performances at the Robinson Hall for Performing Arts and nearly daily campus events - including NCAA Division I athletic games where you can cheer on your beloved 49ers - Charlotte practically eliminates boredom from students' vocabulary.

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About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.

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