These Are The 10 Best Small Colleges in North Carolina

By Abby McCain
Feb. 1, 2018

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You know there are a ton of great reasons to go to a small college — the opportunity to work with a smaller number of people, a chance to get a great education while remaining close to home, and of course, cost. After all, who wants to rack up huge student loans to get a degree that’s just about as valuable as one from a large institution?

But what small college in North Carolina is the best of all?

We at Zippia decided to take a look at the data on the 85 institutions of higher learning in the Tar Heel State to determine which programs offer the best all around experience for students. After analyzing the numbers, we sorted the schools by enrollment, limited our report to institutions with under 2,000 students.

After the dust settled, we’re left with this set of the top small colleges or universities in North Carolina

  1. Cabarrus College of Health Sciences
  2. Laurel University
  3. Davidson College
  4. Mid-Atlantic Christian University
  5. Piedmont International University
  6. North Carolina Wesleyan College
  7. Catawba College
  8. Brevard College
  9. Montreat College
  10. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

If you go to one of these schools, chances are, you’re not surprised. After all, you know how great you have it.

But for the rest of you — keep reading and we’ll get to just why these schools have some of the best experiences North Carolina has to offer.

For more NC reading, check out:

How We Determined The Best Small Colleges in North Carolina

Economics is, at its core, the study of choice under constraints. When it comes to identifying the best small schools we wanted to approach the ranking like economics major would, by looking at data on how schools perform and comparing them to one another.

What better way to optimize your choice?

So with that mind, we looked at the following data from the NCES (National Center For Education Statistics) and College Scorecard data from to understand what economics department offer the best career opportunities:

  • Career Results
    • Mean Earnings After 6 Years
    • Mean Earnings After 10 Years
    • Ratio of people working to not working after 10 years
  • School Performance
    • Admissions Rate (More selective the better)
    • Graduation Rate
    • Average Cost Of Attendance (Lower is better)
    • Average amount of debt

It’s hard to argue with a selective school that produces strong earning potential for your career.

After we had this data, we looked at the 85 institutions of higher learning in North Carolina, and ranked them according to which had populations under 2,000 students. We then ranked each of these schools for each of the criteria above with 1 being the best in any given criteria.

Next, we averaged the ranks for each school to create a “Quality Index”. The school with the best score on the “Quality Index”, Cabarrus College of Health Sciences earned the distinction of being the ‘Best Small College’ in North Carolina.

1. Cabarrus College of Health Sciences

Source: Wikipedia

Enrollment: 438

This small, private institution in Concord, NC is the best small college in the state, when you look at the unbiased data.

Cabarrus College graduates earn the 2nd-highest salaries in the state for all small colleges – even a decade after graduation. A 31% admission rate means it’s exclusive (a good sign), and the cost is the 3rd lowest, too. Meaning you get a big bang for your buck.

A bonus: It’s a great place for women to study, as about 9 in 10 students is a female.

2. Laurel University

Enrollment: 385

Located in High Point, Laurel is one of many private, Christian colleges to make this list. What makes it so great here?

For starters, it’s the most affordable small college in the state, by far. The admission rate is very low (under 40%), and its graduation rate is the 3rd-highest in the state of all small colleges we measured.

3. Davidson College

Enrollment: 1,770

Most people in the state know Davidson as being a top-notch basketball program. But this small, private liberal arts college outside of Charlotte isn’t just a great place for hoops.

Davidson’s graduation rate of 93% is by far the highest in North Carolina, which is certainly something to brag about. So is a 25% admission rate, also the highest in the state.

4. Mid-Atlantic Christian University

Enrollment: 169

By far the smallest secondary institution on this list, Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City gets high marks for a low admission rate and a high graduation rate. Additionally, for those lucky enough to get in, this is the 5th least expensive place to learn in the state.

Mid-Atlantic Christian was also ranked as the top online school in the state as well.

5. Piedmont International University

Enrollment: 425

If you want up-close personal attention at a private Bible-centered institution, than it’d be hard to beat Piedmont International, located in Winston-Salem.

Besides high marks in several categories, what really stands out is the annual salaries that its graduates command. There isn’t a place in the state where graduates earn more money once leaving school than here at Piedmont.

6. North Carolina Wesleyan

Enrollment: 1,467

This private, liberal arts college in Rocky Mount gets high marks for cost (it’s the 9th least expensive small college in NC), and for post-graduation earnings, where former students command the 9th-highest incomes in the state.

7. Catawba College

Enrollment: 1,309

Only 40% of the young minds who apply to Catawba are accepted, which is a sign of greatness. After all, when you turn so many students away, that means there’s high demand. In addition, graduates earn the 12-highest salaries.

Catawba also has the 9th-highest graduation rate of all small colleges in the Tar Heel State.

This private school is about halfway between Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

8. Brevard College

Enrollment: 730

Not only is Brevard in one of the prettiest parts of North Carolina, its students get the benefit of several leading categories. For instance, if you’re lucky enough to be accepted here, you’ll have the 3rd-lowest debt of all small college graduates in the state.

And the whole reason you go to college is to earn the big bucks, right? Brevard grads command the 4th-highest salaries in the state.

9. Montreat College

Enrollment: 1,082

If you love the mountains, you can’t do better than little Montreat College, located in the hills north of Asheville. Besides being overwhelmed by natural beauty, students will appreciate the high graduation rate, lower-than-average costs and high salaries that graduates earn.

10. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Enrollment: 853

UNCSA is one of a few public schools to make this list. Only 4 in 10 students are admitted, but this is the 2nd-least expensive small college at which to learn in the state. Additionally, UNCSA has the 5th-highest graduation rank in the state.

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Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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