North Carolina Readiness Policies


North Carolina
High School and Postsecondary Alignment

SREB’s Challenge to Lead 2020 goals call for states to align middle grades and high school policies with college-readiness standards, to recognize multiple paths to graduation and to provide students with diverse postsecondary options and resources. The following tabs summarize how North Carolina aligns its policies to promote smooth transitions for students through high school and beyond.  


North Carolina
College and Career Readiness Definitions

In North Carolina, students are considered career and college ready when they have the knowledge and academic preparation needed to enroll and succeed, without the need for remediation, in introductory college credit-bearing courses in English language arts and mathematics within an associate or baccalaureate degree program. These same attributes and levels of achievement are needed for entry into and success in postsecondary workforce education, the military, or directly into a job that offers gainful employment and career advancement.


North Carolina
College and Career Planning in K-12

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, technology , engineering and math (STEM) fields. The program offers academic enrichment for students grade six through 12 with 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.


North Carolina
High School Graduation Requirements

Course and Diploma Requirements for Current Seniors

Students must complete at least 22 units to earn a regular high school diploma, in addition to any local requirements. Students may choose to pursue a core or occupational preparatory diploma.


Future-Ready Core

Future-Ready Occupational


4 Credits:

English I, II, III, IV or a designated combination of 4 courses

4 Credits:

English I*, II*, III, IV


4 Credits:

Math I, II, III and a fourth math course aligned with a student’s post high school plans

3 Credits:

Introduction to math, Math I, and Financial Management


3 Credits:

A physical science course, Biology, and Earth/Environmental Science

2 Credits:

Applied Science and Biology*

Social Studies

4 Credits:

American History: The Founding Principles, Civics and Economics, World History, American History I: American History II OR AP US History**, IB History of the Americas**, additional social studies course**

2 Credits:

American History I and American History II

Health/ Physical Education

1 Credit: Health/ Physical Education

1 Credit: Health/ Physical Education


6 Credits required:

Two credits of any combination from either:

-Career and Technical Education (CTE)

-Arts Education

-World Languages

Four credits strongly recommended (four course concentration) from one of the following:

-Career and Technical Education (CTE)


-Arts Education (e.g. dance, music, theater arts, visual arts)

Any other subject area (e.g. social studies, science, math, English)

6 Credits:

Occupational Preparation I, II, III, IV****

Elective credits

Additional requirements:

-Completion of IEP Objectives

Career Portfolio

Career Technical Education Not Required

4 Credits:

Career Technical Education electives

Total Credits 22 22
*OCS Pathway courses aligned with North Carolina Standard Course of Study in English I, II, III, IV; Math I and American History I, II., and Biology.
**A student who takes AP U.S. History or IB History of the Americas instead of American History I and American History II must also take an additional social studies elective course to meet the four-credit requirement.
***Examples of electives include Arts Education, JROTC and other courses that are of interest to the student.
****For students entering 9th grade in 2014-15 or later, completion of 150 hours of school-based training, 225 hours of community-based training, and 225 hours of paid employment

Future Ready Core

  • English: Students take English I, II, III and IV, or a designated combination of four courses
  • Math: 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, 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.

Future Ready Occupational

  • English: Students take English I, II, III and IV.
  • Math: 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 IEP objectives and a career portfolio.
  • Career Technical Education: Four elective units

Assessment Requirements

North Carolina requires students enrolled in math I, Biology I and English II to take end-of-course (EOC) exams in these subject areas. Students who receive a proficient score on an EOC may use the score as at least 20 percent of their final course grades, but passing them is not a graduation requirement. If students do not receive a proficient EOC grade, they must take the NC READY EOC assessment at the completion of the course.

The ACT Plan is administered to 10th graders as a diagnostic assessment that predicts future performance. Students in grade 11 are required to take the ACT, and those concentrating in Career and Technical Education also take the ACT WorkKeys.


North Carolina
Accelerated Learning Options in High School

Competency-Based Credit

Credit by Demonstrated Mastery allows a student to receive high school credit without course enrollment by way of a two-phase assessment process. Phase one consists of a standard examination: either the associated end-of-course or — if there is not a pre-established EOC — a final exam developed locally. Phase two is “an artifact which requires the student to apply knowledge and skills relevant to the content standard.” CDM is open to all students, but it is neither designed for whole groups of students nor intended to replace general accelerated pathway options.

All students are eligible throughout middle grades and high school to request an opportunity to earn credit in both academic and career and technical education courses through demonstrated mastery. For CTE courses, an industry credential may be accepted as the required “artifact” component. There is no limit to how many credits a student may earn through demonstrated mastery, but students may only make one attempt per course. Students who are unsuccessful after one attempt must enroll and complete that course in the traditional way.

Career and Technical Education

North Carolina has adopted the National Career Clusters Framework. The state’s College and Career Promise allows qualified high school students who maintain a B average to begin their two- and four- year college work tuition-free through the career and technical education pathway. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction administers the ACT WorkKeys to all 12th graders who have achieved a CTE concentration (four technical credits in a cluster, including one completer course).

Cooperative education, offered to students 16 and older, combines technical classroom instruction with directly related paid employment. The paid experience must complement instruction and be completed in the same year in which the course is offered.

Dual Enrollment and Dual Credit

The Career and College Promise program allows high school students to enroll in courses at North Carolina community colleges, often earning dual credit — both at the college and high school levels. Eligible public, private, and home-schooled students may participate in the CCP program, and are offered three pathway options to choose from. Students interested in the program must contact their high school counselors, be approved by either the counselor or principal, and indicate the pathway and program of study they wish to pursue. The NC General Assembly pays all tuition charges, while student fees and textbook costs may be paid in a variety of ways, including student self-pay. The table below summarizes the three pathways.










Tuition-free course credits toward an Associate in Arts, Science, Engineering, Nursing, AFA Visual Arts, and a four-year degree. Must complete at least 30 hours.

High school junior or senior standing

3.0 GPA (weighted)

Demonstrate college readiness in English and math

OR meet provisional status. See CCP Pathways

Continue progress toward high school graduation

Maintain 2.0 GPA after two courses

After two courses, students must adhere to the college’s policy for satisfactory academic progress

Career and Technical Education

Workforce Continuing Education

OR Career and Technical Education Pathway. Tuition free course credits toward an entry-level job credential

OR certificate or diploma aligned within a career cluster

High school junior or senior standing

3.0 GPA

Received career pathway completion requirement information

OR Be an eligible freshman or sophomore. See CCP Pathways

Continue progress toward high school graduation

Maintain 2.0 GPA after two courses

After two courses, students must adhere to the college’s policy for satisfactory academic progress.

Cooperative Innovative High School Program

Located on college campuses. Students complete a high school diploma and an associate degree or up to two years of college credit within five years.

Students grades 9-12 with access to an approved CIHSP. Eligibility requirements are established jointly by local boards of trustees in accordance with G.S. 115C-238.50.

Special preference given to first-generation college students

Eligibility for remaining in CIHSP is established jointly by the local boards of education and local boards of trustees.

Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction established the NC Advanced Placement Partnership with the College Board to broaden access and successful participation in advanced courses with focus on low-performing school districts. This legislation further provides funding for all test fees for AP and IB course exams to all public and charter school students. NCDPI also continues to increase access to AP courses through the NC Virtual Public School. Students who score a 3 or higher on an AP exam may be eligible to earn college credit for that course.

Early College High Schools

University of North Carolina System institutions may enter into contracts with local school districts to establish Cooperative Innovative High Schools. These early college high schools, often housed on college campuses, allow students to earn credit toward high school diplomas while working toward an associate degree, a technical certificate, or transferrable college credits. Early college and university officials agree on readiness measures that, when mastered, will allow early college students to take university-level courses.

Early High School Graduation

Credit through Demonstrated Mastery may provide the opportunity for a student to graduate early from high school. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recommends that decisions regarding early graduation be made “through deep discussion between families, students, and appropriate educational staff.”


North Carolina
Postsecondary Admission Requirements

Four-Year Institutions

The Board of Governors has established minimum course requirements that align with the North Carolina State Board of Education’s (NCSBE) college preparatory curriculum. First-time undergraduates must have a minimum high school GPA of 2.5 and produce minimum qualifying scores on the SAT (800 or higher, or the corresponding score on the redesigned SAT) or ACT Composite (17 or higher).

System institutions may set higher admission standards. Institutions may make exceptions to the minimum SAT/ACT score or GPA requirements for up to one percent of their incoming classes.

UNC – NCSBE College Preparatory Curriculum

Subject Units Course Requirements



Units must emphasize grammar, composition, and literature



Four allowable combinations:

  • Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II and one unit beyond Algebra II
  • Algebra I & II and two units beyond Algebra II
  • Common Core I, II and III
  • Integrated Math I, II and III, and one unit beyond Math III

(the fourth unit of math affects applicants to all institutions except the N.C. School of the Arts)



Three course units in science, including:

  • At least one unit in life or biological science (e.g., biology)
  • At least one unit in physical science (e.g., chemistry, physics)

At least one laboratory course

Social Studies


Two course units in social studies, including

  • At least one unit in U.S. history

Institutions may admit students without this unit if they complete a three-credit course by end of sophomore year.

Foreign Language


Two units in the same language




Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

Community colleges have open-door admissions policies for applicants who are at least 18 years old and who possess a high school diploma or an equivalency credential.


North Carolina
Postsecondary Placement Policies

Four-Year Institutions

While the system has set a common definition for “remedial instruction” through its annual Remedial Activities Report, institutions choose how to deliver remedial and developmental education at their campuses. Since 1992, the system board has authorized institutions to contract with community colleges to offer remedial instruction.

Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

Since 2016, all North Carolina Community Colleges have been required to use multiple measures to make student placement decisions.

Multiple Measures Used for Community College Placement Decisions

Placement Measure



High School GPA

Students who meet the GPA benchmark are exempt from placement testing.

2.6 GPA


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.

ACT Reading 22

ACT English 18


SAT Reading 500

SAT Writing 500


ACT Math 22

ACT Math 500

Diagnostic Assessment

Students who do not meet the GPA benchmark, ACT/SAT cut score, or who graduated from high school within the past five years take the placement test.

Colleges administer the North Carolina Diagnostic Assessment and Placement test. Colleges place students who do not meet placement cut scores in developmental education courses.

North Carolina community colleges have recently modularized their developmental math, English and reading courses. The future goal is a modular approach. However, the paths vary by college.


North Carolina
State Financial Aid for Undergraduates

The state funds four need-based grant programs. Award amounts vary based the level of financial need and the type of institution attended. All programs calculate financial need using income data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, but the UNC Need-Based Grant does not use the Expected Family Contribution metric to determine need.

The Education Lottery Scholarship provides grants to students who attend public institutions, enroll in at least six credits per semester, and have an EFC under $5,000. Annual amounts range from $115 to $3,130.

The Community College Grant provides grants to students who enroll in at least six credits per semester and have an EFC under $8,500. Annual award amounts range from $150 to $1,800.

The UNC Need-Based Grant provides grants to students who enroll in at least six credits per semester. Annual award amounts range from $500 to $4,200.

The North Carolina Need-Based Scholarship provides grants to students attending nonpublic institutions who enroll in at least nine credits per semester. Annual award amounts range from $2,000 to $7,100.


North Carolina
Postsecondary Feedback to High Schools

The University of North Carolina System of Higher Learning provides schools with three feedback reports by state, school type, county, or high school: Freshman Application Report; Freshman Performance Measures Report; and Freshman Retention Report. These reports include subgroup specific information about enrollment rates, student performance, and graduation rates.