North Carolina – High School to College & Careers


High School Graduation Requirements for Current Seniors

Course and Diploma Requirements

Students must complete at least 22 units to earn a regular high school diploma. Students may choose to pursue a college or career path.

Subjects Future Ready Core Future Ready Occupational Core
English 4 4
Mathematics 4 3
Science 3 2
Social Studies 4 2
World Languages
Health and Physical Education 1 1
Electives 6 6
Career and Technical Education 4
TOTAL 22 22

Ready Core

  • English: Students take English I, II, III and IV, or a designated combination of four courses
  • Mathematics: Students take Math I, II, III. A fourth math course should align with the students’ postsecondary plans.
  • Science: Students take three courses: one each in physical, biological and environmental science
  • Social studies: Students take civics and economics, American History I and American History II, and world history.
  • Electives: Students take two credits from career and technical education (CTE), arts education or world languages. Additionally, students may take a recommended sequential, four-unit concentration chosen from CTE, JROTC, arts education or any other academic subject area.
  • World Languages: The state does not require completion of foreign language courses to graduate, but the UNC system requires two units to meet minimum admission requirements.

Ready Occupational

  • English: Students take English I, II, III and IV.
  • Mathematics: Students take three courses: Math I; Financial Management; and, Alternate Math II or Personal Finance.
  • Science: Students take Biology I and Applied Science.
  • Social Studies: Students take American History I and American History II.
  • Electives: Students take a four-unit sequence in Occupational Preparation. The state requires students to complete a career portfolio.
  • Career Technical Education: Four elective units

Assessment Requirements

North Carolina requires students enrolled in Math I, biology and English II to take end-of-course (EOC) exams in these subject areas. In many other content area courses, students take NC Final Exams.  Students’ scores on these exams count for at least 20 percent of their final course grades, but passing them is not a graduation requirement.

College and Career Readiness

The North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the NC Standard Course of Study for all content areas in June 2010. Districts implemented the new standards, which included the Common Core English language arts (ELA) and mathematics standards, starting in the 2012-2013 school year.  State Board policies require the review of standards every five years.  Mathematics and ELA standards were reviewed following the standards review process beginning fall 2014.

North Carolina is a member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Recent state law requires legislative approval to adopt an assessment instrument. Currently, the state creates its own assessments to measure student proficiency and growth on the state standards.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has partnered with ACT to administer four tests: EXPLORE for eighth-graders, PLAN for 10th graders, ACT for 11th graders, and WorkKeys for all CTE Concentrators in 12th grade.  Test results provide guidance to students relative to college- and career-readiness benchmarks.

The North Carolina Report Card contains various data elements for high schools, including:

  • Student participation in accelerated learning options and Career and Technical Education courses;
  • Student success on North Carolina end-of-course (EOC) tests, compared to the district and state and by subgroup;
  • ACT, WorkKeys, and SAT scores;
  • Graduation project participation and,
  • Graduation rates.

College and Career Planning 

The North Carolina State Board of Education requires schools to provide college and career planning to middle grades and high school students but do not designate specific activities or timelines.

The University of North Carolina System administers a statewide, federally funded GEAR UP program, which targets school districts with high poverty and low college-going rates. The goal of the program is to increase the number of high school graduates who enroll in college and complete a degree or certificate. GEAR UP North Carolina provides tutoring, mentoring, academic planning, financial aid planning, college tours and professional development, as well as resources for Spanish-speaking students and parents.

The North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network Pre-College Program prepares students for careers in science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) fields. The program offers academic enrichment for grade six through 12 students through Saturday academies, summer programs, and leadership training and career activities. Coordinators hold parent seminars to help students and families prepare for college.

North Carolina also offers the Early Mathematics Placement Testing (NC EMPT) Program to reduce the percentage of students entering college requiring remediation. NC EMPT provides a diagnostic test that is similar to the math placement tests currently given at state colleges and universities. Students enrolled in Math II and any upper-level high school math courses are eligible to participate. Students receive individualized test results that provide a snapshot of current readiness for college-level courses for each student’s chosen major at his or her first-choice college or university.

The College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) is a statewide Web portal that helps students plan, apply and pay for college. The online portal serves as a one-stop shop for students to explore careers, save course information, track academic progress, and apply for financial aid.  

Accelerated Learning Options

Dual and Concurrent Enrollment

Session Law 2011-145, the Appropriations Act of 2011, authorized the State Board of Education and the State Board of Community Colleges to establish the Career and College Promise program, effective January 1, 2012.  The program places all dual credit opportunities under one umbrella and creates three streamlined paths toward postsecondary degrees and certificates. The table below summarizes the three paths:

Path Description Initial Requirements Continuing Eligibility
College Transfer Students earn up between 32 and 35 general education core credits while enrolled in high school. These credits transfer to any state college or university.

• High school junior or senior standing
• 3.0 GPA (weighted)
• Demonstrate college readiness on placement test

or provisional status:

• 3.5 GPA (weighted)
• Completed two years of English with a grade of C or higher
• Completed Math II or a similarly advanced course with at least a grade of C
• Written approval from principal and college president

• Satisfactory progress toward high school graduation

• Maintain 2.0 GPA in college coursework

Career Technical Education Students earn a community college certificate or technical diploma aligned with a high school career cluster • High school junior or senior standing
• 3.0 GPA (weighted) or principal recommendation
• Complete career path prerequisites
• Satisfactory progress toward high school graduation
• Maintain 2.0 GPA in college coursework
Cooperative Innovative High School Located on college campuses. Students complete a high school diploma and an associate degree or 60 hours of college credit within five years. Vary based on agreements between local districts and community colleges Vary based on agreements between local districts and community colleges

Early College High Schools

University of North Carolina System institutions may enter into contracts with local school districts to establish an early college high school. Students attend high school full time but earn credit toward high school diplomas and college degrees. Early college and university officials agree on readiness measures that, when mastered, will allow early college students to take university-level courses.

Advanced Placement (AP)/International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme Courses

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) is working towards broadening access and successful participation in advanced courses. Based on recent legislation, NCDPI has established the NC Advanced Placement Partnership with the College Board to support this work and particularly work with low-performing school districts. Beginning in 2014-15, this legislation further provides funding for all test and registration fees for AP and IB course exams to all students. NCDPI also continues to increase access to AP courses through the NC Virtual Public School.

Career and Technical Education

North Carolina has adopted the National Career Clusters Framework. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction administers the ACT WorkKeys to all 12th graders who have achieved a CTE concentration (for technical credits in a cluster).

Postsecondary Admissions and Placement

University of North Carolina System

University of North Carolina System institutions may set higher standards than the minimum shown below. Institutions may make exceptions to the minimum requirements for up to 1 percent of their incoming classes. Starting in fall 2013, applicants must have minimum GPAs of at least 2.5 and a composite SAT score of at least 800 or an ACT score of at least 17.

Subjects Minimum Units Course Requirements
Language 4 All four units must emphasize grammar, composition, and literature
Mathematics 4

Four course units of mathematics; in any of the following combinations (the fourth unit of math affects applicants to all institutions except the N.C. School of the Arts; it is recommended that prospective students take a mathematics course unit in the twelfth-grade):

• Algebra I and II, geometry, and one unit beyond Algebra II,
• Algebra I and II, and two units beyond Algebra II, or
• Integrated Math I, II, and III, and one unit beyond Integrated Math III.

Science 3

Three course units in science, including:

• at least one unit in a life or biological science (for example, biology),
• at least one unit in physical science (for example, physical science, chemistry, physics), and
• at least one laboratory course.

Social Studies 2 Two course units in social studies, including one unit in U.S. history, but an applicant who does not have the unit in U.S. history may be admitted on the condition that at least three semester hours in that subject will be passed by the end of the sophomore year.
TOTAL 13  

UNC institutions make decisions regarding placement in remedial/developmental courses. Some universities contract with community colleges to provide remedial instruction.

North Carolina Community College System

Community colleges have open-door admissions policies for applicants who are high school graduates or who are at least 18 years old. The system adopted a placement policy in February 2013 that uses multiple measures to determine students’ readiness. 

Placement Measure Description Benchmark
High School GPA Students who meet the GPA benchmark are exempt from placement testing. 2.6 GPA
ACT/SAT Students who do not meet GPA benchmark or who graduated from high school more than five years ago take the ACT or SAT. Qualifying scores exempt students from placement testing. English:
ACT Reading 20 or ACT English 18
SAT Reading 500 or SAT Writing 500
ACT Math 22 or SAT Math 500
Diagnostic Assessment Students who do not meet the GPA benchmark, ACT/SAT cut score, or who graduated from high school more than five years ago take the placement test. Colleges administer the North Carolina Diagnostic Assessment and Placement test. Colleges will place students who do not meet placement cut scores in developmental education courses.

Feedback Reports

The University of North Carolina System provides schools with three feedback reports: Freshman Application Report; Freshman Performance Report; and Retention, Graduation and Persistence Report. These reports include information about enrollment rates, student performance, and graduation rates.

State Financial Aid

The majority of financial aid dollars in North Carolina are allocated based on financial need.

North Carolina sponsors four need-based grant programs that vary based on which type of college that students attend and the level of financial need. The table below summarizes grant requirements. 

Grant Education Lottery Scholarship Community College Grant UNC Need-Based Grant North Carolina Need-Based Scholarships
Who Can Apply? Students attending public institutions Community college students Public university students Students attending nonpublic institutions
Required Enrollment Six credit hours per semester Six credit hours per semester Six credit hours per semester Nine credit hours per semester
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Threshold Less than $5,000 Less than $8,500 Does not use federal EFC  
Award Range $100 to $3,000 $100 to $1,300 $500 to $4,200 $1,360 to $7,200

All North Carolina need-based grants require students to submit the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which generates the students’ Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Special Thanks

We would like to thank the staff at the following agencies for their assistance in carefully reviewing and confirming the accuracy of the policies and programs described in this document:

North Carolina Community College System

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

The University of North Carolina General Administration


College Foundation of North Carolina
GEAR UP North Carolina
North Carolina Community College System
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
The University of North Carolina System