Oldest Universities in NC

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

There are outstanding universities in North Carolina, but many of them are fairly new, such as Elon University. However, there are some great older universities that you may not have heard about before. Here is a list of some of the oldest colleges in NC that you can still attend today.

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North Carolina has long been considered a leader in academic excellence. For that reason, it’s no surprise that the Tar Heel State has a few universities that have been in existence even before the United States was formed as a country. In this list, you’ll find the oldest universities in North Carolina, each with their own unique history and prestige.”, 

North Carolina has some of the oldest universities in the United States. Old Dominion University, for instance, was founded on October 12, 1930 as a public teaching school. The oldest university in North Carolina is not one you may expect: it is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. UNC has been serving students from the 1789 and its main campus is in Chapel Hill, NC.

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Oldest Universities In NC

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History of the University

The University of North Carolina was the first public university in the nation. In 1789, William Richardson Davie wrote the act that established the University. In 1793, he and fellow trustees laid the cornerstone of the first building, Old East. Students arrived in 1795, and UNC became the only public university to award degrees in the 18th century.

The School of Law was established in 1845. Other graduate programs began in 1876, followed by a summer school for teachers in 1877 and medical and pharmaceutical programs in 1879. In 1915, leaders broadened the mission of the University to include research and public service. Professional schools were established as follows:

  • School of Education (1915)
  • School of Commerce, now Kenan-Flagler Business School (1919)
  • School of Public Welfare, now the School of Social Work (1920)
  • School of Library Science, now the School of Information and Library Science (1931)
  • Institute of Government, now the School of Government (1931)
  • School of Public Health, now the Gillings School of Global Public Health (1936)
  • Division of Health Affairs (1949)
  • School of Dentistry (1949)
  • School of Journalism, now the School of Media and Journalism (1950)
  • School of Nursing (1950)

In 1922, the Association of American Universities (AAU) admitted UNC as a member, an acknowledgement of its growth in research and graduate programs.

In 1931, the North Carolina General Assembly established a Consolidated University comprised of the Chapel Hill campus, Woman’s College at Greensboro and North Carolina State College at Raleigh. In 1972, it created the UNC system, joining 16 state colleges and universities under a president and board of governors.

Learn more about Carolina’s history at:

The Carolina Story and History on the Hill.

What’s a Tar Heel

A black female student holding a Tar Heel-shaped foam finger cheers on the U.N.C. football team.

Carolina Traditions

Many legends and good luck omens have become popular lore at Carolina. Two of the most famous ones revolve around a poplar tree and a well. Read more on the Virtual Museum site.

University Day

University Day is an occasion to remember the University’s past and celebrate its future. The date, October 12, marks the laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the institution’s first building and the oldest state university building in the nation. Read more at the University Day site.

Bell Tower Climb

The UNC General Alumni Association invites folks to climb the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower several times each year, including prior to home football games and during Senior Weekeach spring.

The 25 Oldest Colleges in America

Niche took a look at the founding years of American universities, including those that went through name changes and are still in operation today, and compiled this list of Oldest Colleges in America.

  1. Harvard University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1636
    • FOUNDERSMassachusetts legislature
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE6%Even though this oldest Ivy went on to be named for university benefactor John Harvard, it originally went by the names “New College” or “the college at New Towne.”See more facts on Harvard’s Niche profile
  2. College of William & Mary
    • FOUNDING YEAR1693
    • FOUNDERSKing William III and Queen Mary III
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE33%U.S. presidents like Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe went to this Virginia school, in addition to 16 signers of the Declaration of Independence.See more facts on William & Mary’s Niche profile
  3. St. John’s College – Annapolis
    • FOUNDING YEAR1696
    • FOUNDERSMaryland colony
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE87%It may have been christened “St. John’s College” in 1784, but the school had its origins as “King William’s School” in 1696—Maryland’s first “free” school (“free” meaning to liberate students through education).See more facts on St. John’s Niche profile
  4. Yale University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1701
    • FOUNDERSClergymen
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE6%The charter name of this school wasn’t too original (“Collegiate School”), but in 1718, it was renamed “Yale College” in honor of benefactor Elihu Yale, who served as governor of the British East India Company.See more facts on Yale’s Niche profile
  5. Washington College
    • FOUNDING YEAR1782
    • FOUNDERSEvolved from Kent County Free School
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE56%Aside from allowing the college use of his name, George Washington also granted 50 guineas to this school in Chestertown, Md.See more facts on Washington’s Niche profile
  6. University of Pennsylvania
    • FOUNDING YEAR1740
    • FOUNDERSBenjamin Franklin
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE10%Benjamin Franklin founded Penn (not to be confused with Penn State), which became the first academic institution to follow the multidisciplinary model used by European schools.See more facts on Penn’s Niche profile 
  7. Moravian College & Moravian Theological Seminary
    • FOUNDING YEAR1742
    • FOUNDERSMoravians
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE86%Originally known by the name Bethlehem Female Seminary, Moravian College was founded as the first boarding school for women in the United States.See more facts on Moravian’s Niche profile
  8. University of Delaware
    • FOUNDING YEAR1743
    • FOUNDERSFrancis Alison
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE68%Like William & Mary, UD alumni include signers of the Declaration of Independence, including George Read, Thomas McKean, and James Smith.See more facts on UD’s Niche profile
  9. Princeton University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1746
    • FOUNDERSNew Light Presbyterians
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE7%Not only was Princeton originally founded as the “College of New Jersey,” but it was also created in order to train ministers.See more facts on Princeton’s Niche profile
  10. Washington & Lee University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1749
    • FOUNDERSScotch-Irish Presbyterian pioneers
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE19%This school went through a series of designations before settling on Washington & Lee, including the name “Liberty Hall” during the American Revolution.See more facts on Washington & Lee’s Niche profile
  11. Columbia University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1754
    • FOUNDERSRoyal charter of George II of Great Britain
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE7%The oldest institution of higher education in the State of New York was founded with the name “King’s College” before being renamed “Columbia” in 1784.See more facts on Columbia’s Niche profile
  12. Brown University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1764
    • FOUNDERSBaptist Church Association support
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE9%The school was originally called the “College of Rhode Island,” but was renamed in 1770 following a gift from Nicholas Brown Jr.See more facts on Brown’s Niche profile
  13. Rutgers University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1766
    • FOUNDERSMinisters of the Dutch Reformed Church
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE60%You may know it today as simply “Rutgers,” but at one time the New Jersey public research university was called “Queen’s College.”See more facts on Rutgers’ Niche profile
  14. Dartmouth College
    • FOUNDING YEAR1769
    • FOUNDERSEleazar Wheelock
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE12%As one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution, the college was incorporated as “Trustees of Dartmouth College.”See more facts on Dartmouth’s Niche profile
  15. College of Charleston
    • FOUNDING YEAR1770
    • FOUNDERSSeveral prominent South Carolinians
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE78%The long list of founders went on to sign the Declaration of Independence (Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge) as well as the United States Constitution (Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, and John Rutledge).See more facts on CofC’s Niche profile
  16. Salem College
    • FOUNDING YEAR1772
    • FOUNDERSMoravians
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE60%Located in Winston-Salem, N.C., Salem College is the oldest female educational institution that still operates as a women’s college.See more facts on Salem’s Niche profile
  17. Dickinson College
    • FOUNDING YEAR1773
    • FOUNDERSPennsylvania legislature
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE48%Dickinson initially started as a grammar school, but soon people started pushing for it to become a college. The conversation to found the college ended up taking place on prominent businessman and politician William Bingham’s porch.See more facts on Dickinson’s Niche profile
  18. Hampden-Sydney College
    • FOUNDING YEAR1775
    • FOUNDERSSamuel Stanhope Smith
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE47%In addition to being known as one of the few men’s colleges remaining in the United States, Hampden-Sydney is also the last college founded before the American Revolution.See more on Hampden-Sydney’s Niche profile
  19. Transylvania University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1780
    • FOUNDERSVirginia Assembly
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE83%The first college west of the Allegheny Mountains has alumni that include two U.S. vice presidents, two Supreme Court justices, and many other government officials.See more facts on Transylvania’s Niche profile
  20. Washington & Jefferson College
    • FOUNDING YEAR1781
    • FOUNDERSThree frontier clergymen
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE42%Three Princeton graduates (John McMillan, Thaddeus Dod, and Joseph Smith) founded this college in Washington, Pa., where it originated in three log cabin schools.See more facts on W&J’s Niche profile
  21. University of Georgia
    • FOUNDING YEAR1785
    • FOUNDERSGeorgia General Assembly
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE56%The University of Georgia is the United States’ first state-chartered university and also the oldest and largest institution of higher education in the state.See more on UGA’s Niche profile
  22. University of Pittsburgh
    • FOUNDING YEAR1787
    • FOUNDERSHugh Henry Brackenridge
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE53%The University of Pittsburgh was founded in early 1787  under its original name, “Pittsburgh Academy.”See more facts on Pitt’s Niche profile
  23. Franklin & Marshall College
    • FOUNDING YEAR1787
    • FOUNDERSFour prominent ministers
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE39%Named for Benjamin Franklin, F&M was established in mid-1787 as a German college with the goal to preserve the “present republican system of government.”See more facts on F&M’s Niche profile
  24. Georgetown University
    • FOUNDING YEAR1789
    • FOUNDERSJohn Carroll
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE17%The oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the United States received charter under the name “The President and Directors of Georgetown College.”See more facts on Georgetown’s Niche profile
  25. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • FOUNDING YEAR1789
    • FOUNDERSNorth Carolina General Assembly
    • ACCEPTANCE RATE28%UNC Chapel Hill is the oldest public university in the nation based on the start of its public instruction.
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Best Universities In North Carolina

What are the most popular Universities in North Carolina? uniRank tries to answer this question by publishing the 2021 North Carolina University Ranking of 53 recognized North Carolina higher-education institutions meeting the following uniRank selection criteria:

  • being chartered, licensed or accredited by the appropriate US higher education-related organization
  • offering at least four-year undergraduate degrees (bachelor degrees) or postgraduate degrees (master or doctoral degrees)
  • delivering courses predominantly in a traditional, face-to-face, non-distance education format

Our aim is to provide a non-academic League Table of the top North Carolina Universities based on valid, unbiased and non-influenceable web metrics provided by independent web intelligence sources rather than data submitted by the Universities themselves.

2021 North Carolina University Ranking

sort by: rank a-z town
RankUniversityTown
1University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill
2Duke UniversityDurham
3North Carolina State UniversityRaleigh
4Wake Forest UniversityWinston-Salem
5Appalachian State UniversityBoone
6University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboro
7University of North Carolina at CharlotteCharlotte
8East Carolina UniversityGreenville
9Elon UniversityElon
10University of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmington
11Davidson CollegeDavidson
12Western Carolina UniversityCullowhee …
13North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State UniversityGreensboro
14North Carolina Central UniversityDurham
15High Point UniversityHigh Point
16Campbell UniversityBuies Creek
17University of North Carolina at AshevilleAsheville
18University of North Carolina at PembrokePembroke
19Fayetteville State UniversityFayetteville
20Queens University of CharlotteCharlotte

NC Colleges And Universities

See 79 North Carolina Four Year Colleges and Universities from our extensive database of 195 North Carolina Colleges, Community Colleges, and Trade Schools.

The state of North Carolina has 85 colleges and universities to choose from that will give one that necessary step forward to achieving a successful and prosperous career. Whether you want to be a doctor, lawyer, financial analyst, or writer in a well-distributed newspaper, there are many universities in North Carolina for you to receive the knowledge and education need to make those dreams a reality. With well-known cities, such as Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, and Wilmington, one is provided with the best environment to succeed thanks to the exceptional social and educational environments in each of these cities. Check our database below to find the North Carolina university, college, or community college for you.

Quick link: Scholarships

SchoolCityEnrollIn-State CostOut-State Cost
Apex School of TheologyDurham1,148$5,450.00$5,450.00
Appalachian State UniversityBoone19,548$19,387.00$32,554.00
Barton CollegeWilson1,128$41,170.00$41,170.00
Belmont Abbey CollegeBelmont1,717$32,694.00$32,694.00
Bennett CollegeGreensboro736$30,848.00$30,848.00
Brevard CollegeBrevard745$38,545.00$38,545.00
Cabarrus College of Health SciencesConcord545$12,936.00$12,936.00
Campbell UniversityBuies Creek7,225$46,090.00$46,090.00
Carolina Christian CollegeWinston Salem75$4,525.00$4,525.00
Carolina College of Biblical StudiesFayetteville154$5,425.00$5,425.00
Catawba CollegeSalisbury1,465$41,753.00$41,753.00
Charlotte Christian College and Theological SeminaryCharlotte168$10,044.00$10,044.00
Charlotte School of LawCharlotte1,375
Chowan UniversityMurfreesboro1,565$33,920.00$33,920.00
Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical ArtsAsheville85
Davidson CollegeDavidson1,910$60,921.00$60,921.00
DeVry University-North CarolinaCharlotte945$18,452.00$18,452.00
Duke UniversityDurham17,662$63,999.00$63,999.00
East Carolina UniversityGreenville31,338$21,102.00$36,299.00
Elizabeth City State UniversityElizabeth City2,133$13,359.00$25,034.00
Elon UniversityElon6,832$45,414.00$45,414.00
Fayetteville State UniversityFayetteville7,142$13,413.00$25,021.00
Gardner-Webb UniversityBoiling Springs5,312$39,390.00$39,390.00
Grace College of DivinityFayetteville150$3,720.00$3,720.00
Greensboro CollegeGreensboro1,045$39,550.00$39,550.00
Guilford CollegeGreensboro2,468$47,175.00$47,175.00
Heritage Bible CollegeDunn76$19,477.00$19,477.00
High Point UniversityHigh Point4,625$46,710.00$46,710.00

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