Big public schools that make you feel right at home in the Carolinas

Last week I wrote about the unexpected perks of attending a large school. I say unexpected, because most people make assumptions that large schools are impersonal places where students are only focused on athletics and partying.

We are lucky to have so many great choices of big schools in the Carolinas:

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – UNC-CH

With over 18,000 undergraduates, UNC-CH consistently ranks as one of the most sought-after schools in the country. It is often touted as a “public-ivy” – the most selective public universities in the country, alongside the University of Virginia, University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley and University of California at Los Angeles.

Patty Baum, Assistant Director of Admissions at UNC-CH shared that last year, UNC-CH received about 36,000 first-year applications. Of those, 12,000 were from NC residents and 24,000 were from out of state and international students. Those numbers surprise a lot of people and clearly indicate that North Carolina residents have a gem in their own backyard.

UNC-CH has nationally ranked programs in several majors, including: media and journalism, business, pharmacy, public health and nursing. According to Princeton Review Best 381 Colleges, “students use words like “world-class,” “brilliant,” and “incredible,” while also noting that professors are “warm,” “welcoming,” and “passionate” about their work and their students.” Chapel Hill offers students great academics as well as a first-class blend of a traditional college town, a vibrant social life with an active, but not dominant, greek life, unparalleled Tar Heel sports and great weather.

North Carolina State University – NCSU

With over 24,000 undergraduates, NCSU is the largest and most diverse campus of any of the public universities in North Carolina. The Princeton Review describes NCSU as a place that “provides undergrads with a high level education and great value. The campus rings with a welcoming, down-to-earth vibe and Wolfpack pride is certainly infectious.”

NC State’s engineering programs are top-rated with renowned faculty and undergrads also like to emphasize the exceptionally rigorous design program which is small and personal. NC State is often mislabeled as an engineering or “ag” (agriculture) school, but its business program and its relatively new entrepreneurship concentration are the envy of many big and small colleges across the country. NCSU’s Raleigh location is ideal for students interested in pursuing internships and post-grad employment. NC State offers an extremely well-regarded University Honors Program that provides top students with unparalleled access to special seminars, research opportunities, guest speakers and team-building activities as well as an award-winning Honors Village residential option.

University of South Carolina – USC

Topping out at over 25,000 undergraduates, USC has become a popular destination not just for students in the Carolinas, but from all over the globe. The USC student body hails from 115 countries and 39 percent are from out-of-state. Note, colleges in the North Carolina system are not allowed to accept more than 18 percent of students from out-of-state. Princeton Review states, “There is certainly that southern charm, especially because of the large greek population on campus. The university welcomes everyone with open arms to make everyone feel included in the Gamecock experience.” USC’s graduate International Business major is considered among the best in the country and that has caused students to flock to USC as undergrads as well. Other strong majors include: Exercise Science; chemical and nuclear engineering; health education; hotel, restaurant and tourism; and marine science. In just six years, the number of annual undergraduate applicants to USC has doubled. The good news is that USC offers in-state tuition to its strongest out-of-state applicants. Check their website for specific details.


Clemson with its 18,000 undergraduates is more than tailgating and football. Although, on home game days the little town of Clemson, S.C. swells to triple its normal size. For many, Clemson offers the best of both worlds: the friendly environment of a small college town with the advantages of a large university, including great study abroad options, research opportunities and first-class athletics. One student shared, “No other place makes a student feel so instantly welcomed and at home while making you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself.”  Clemson has consistently ranked at the top of Princeton Review’s list of “Happiest Students.” Clemson is mid-way between Atlanta and Charlotte and has solid employer connections in both cities for summer internships and post-grad employment and the Clemson alumni network is strong internationally. Clemson’s strongest majors are Engineering; Business/Commerce and Biology. The Calhoun Honors College is selective and a wonderful place for a top student to engage more deeply in their academics and still enjoy the perks of the Clemson life.

Lots of great choices for students wanting to stay in-state.


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;