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

State law requires school counselors 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, in partnership with the College Foundation of North Carolina, 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 College Foundation of North Carolina offers a statewide web portal that helps students plan for, apply to 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.

The North Carolina First in FAFSA initiative from myFutureNC, in partnership with the College Foundation of North Carolina, focuses on increasing the number of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA, creating a FAFSA completion tracker that supports school districts and schools in accessing FAFSA completion data and target goals.

The North Carolina Career Cluster Guide is a web app that allows students to discover their career interests and explore occupations and related salary and job information.

The North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network Pre-College Program prepares students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Four NC public universities partner with schools and districts in the northeastern and central NC to offer academic STEM enrichment activities for students in grades 6-12. These include Saturday academies, summer programs, and leadership training and career activities. Coordinators hold parent seminars to help students and families prepare for college.

The Early Mathematics Placement Testing Program seeks to reduce the percentage of students who require remediation when they enter college. The program provides a free diagnostic test similar to the math placement tests given at state colleges and universities. These tests 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. Students enrolled in Math II and any upper-level high school math courses are eligible to participate.


North Carolina
High School Graduation Requirements

Course and Diploma Requirements for Students Entering the Ninth Grade in 2022 and Beyond

Students must complete at least 22 units from the Future-Ready Core course of study to earn a standard high school diploma, in addition to any local requirements. Students with disabilities who are specifically identified for the program may pursue the Occupational Course of Study. Students must also complete a CPR instruction course to meet the Healthful Living Essential Standards as a requirement for high school graduation.




Notes and Substitutuions



English I, II, III, IV

Another designated combination of 4 courses and approved AP, IB, and dual enrollment course options



Math I, II, III

A fourth math course aligned with a student’s post high school plans

Approved AP, IB, and dual enrollment course options



A physical science course
An earth/ environmental science course

Approved AP, IB, and dual enrollment course options

Social Studies


Founding Principles of the U.S.A. and North Carolina

Economics and Personal Finance

American History

World History

Approved AP, IB, and dual enrollment course options

Health/ Physical Education


Health and Physical Education

Students are required to successfully complete CPR instruction to meet Healthful Living Essential Standards as a requirement for high school graduation


2 credits from: Career and Technical Education, Arts Education or World Languages

4 credits strongly recommended (four course concentration) from one of the following: Career and Technical Education, JROTC, Arts Education (dance, music, theater arts, visual arts), any other subject area (e.g., social studies, science, mathematics, English)

Total Credits 22  

Diploma Endorsements

In addition to their high school diploma, students may earn one or more of five diploma endorsements by meeting the following requirements:

Career Endorsement

  • Complete the Future-Ready Core mathematics sequence.
  • Complete a CTE concentration in an approved CTE Career Pathway.
  • Earn an unweighted GPA of at least 2.6.
  • Earn at least one industry-recognized credential.
  • Earn at least the benchmark reading score on a college admissions test.

College Endorsement

  •  Complete the Future-Ready Core mathematics sequence.
  • Earn an unweighted GPA of at least 2.6.
  • Earn at least the benchmark reading score on a college admissions test.

College/UNC Endorsement

  • Complete the Future-Ready Core mathematics sequence.
  • Complete three units of science including at least one physical science with a lab, one life science and one additional science course.
  • Complete U.S. History or equivalent coursework.
  • Complete two units of a world language (other than English).
  • Earn a weighted GPA of at least 2.5.
  • Earn at least the benchmark reading score on a college admissions test.

NC Academic Scholars Endorsement

  • Complete the Future-Ready Core mathematics, science and social studies sequences.
  • Complete two course credits of a world language (other than English).
  • Complete four elective course credits in one subject area.
  • Complete at least three higher-level courses during the junior and/or senior year, including AP, IB, dual enrollment courses, or Advanced CTE and CTE credentialing courses.
  • Earn an unweighted GPA of at least 3.50.

Global Languages Endorsement

*indicates proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English)

  • Earn a combined unweighted 2.5 GPA or above for the four English Language Arts courses required for graduation.
  • Establish proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English.
  • Establish “Intermediate Low” proficiency or higher per the ACTFL proficiency scale.
  • Complete a four-course sequence of study in the same world language, earning an overall unweighted GPA of 2.5 or above in those courses.
  • Demonstrate “intermediate Low” proficiency or higher on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages proficiency scale.
  • Reach “Developing” proficiency on the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment proficiency scale.

Assessment Requirements

North Carolina requires students enrolled in NC Math I, Biology I, English II and NC Math III to take end-of-course exams in these subject areas. With the exception of students following the Occupational Course of Study, all students must use EOC scores as 20% of their final course grades.

The PreACT is administered to 10th graders in four subject areas: English, math, reading and science. Students in grade 11 are required to take the ACT in English, math, reading, science and writing. Students concentrating in Career and Technical Education are required to take the ACT WorkKeys. Those who achieve qualifying scores can earn a North Carolina Career Readiness Certificate.


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 program 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. Students must also complete a college application and be accepted by the college. To remain eligible, students must continue making progress toward high school graduation and maintain a 2.0 GPA for all college coursework. The North Carolina 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

2.8 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

2.8 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 a 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 contracts with local school districts to establish Cooperative Innovative High Schools, targeting students at risk of dropping out of high school. 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. There are currently 134 Cooperative Innovative High Schools in the state, including 123 funded partnerships.

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 University of North Carolina System has established minimum course requirements that align with the North Carolina State Board of Education’s college preparatory curriculum. First-time undergraduates must have a minimum, weighted high school GPA of 2.5 and document minimum qualifying scores on the SAT (1010 or higher) or ACT Composite (19 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 1% 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

Institutions set requirements for placement into math, English and other courses.

Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

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

The State Board of Community Colleges requires institutions to use a multiple-measures placement policy. Students who meet one or more of the following criteria may be exempt from all or a section of the NC DAP Placement Test.

Multiple Measures Used for Community College Placement Decisions

Placement Measure



High School GPA

Students who graduated within 5 years of enrollment who meet the GPA benchmark are exempt from placement testing.

2.6 GPA


Qualifying scores exempt students from placement testing.

ACT Reading 22 OR

ACT English 18

SAT Evidence-based Reading 480


ACT Math 22

SAT Math 530

NC Diagnostic and Placement Test

The College Board administers the ACCUPLACER exam to assess students’ skills in English, reading, and math

Scores help determine appropriate coursework for new college enrollees. 

The board authorizes community colleges to establish policies on how to support students that earn scores very near to Accuplacer cut scores through enrollment in a college course with appropriate developmental education supports.


North Carolina
State Financial Aid for Undergraduates

Merit-Based Aid


Need-Based Aid

The state funds four need-based grant programs. Award amounts vary based on the level of financial need and the type of institution. All programs calculate financial need using income data from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The Education Lottery Scholarship provides grants up to $3,768 to students who attend public institutions, enroll in at least six credits per semester and meet the requirement for a Federal Pell Grant with the exception of the Expected Family Contribution.

The Community College Grant provides grants up to $2,200 to students who enroll in at least six credits per semester and have a qualifying EFC of $8,500 or less.

The UNC Need-Based Grant provides grants up to $4,200 to students who enroll in at least six credits per semester at one of the 16 institutions in the University of North Carolina system and have a qualifying EFC.

The North Carolina Need-Based Scholarship for Private College Students provides grants to students attending nonpublic institutions who enroll in at least nine credits per semester and have a qualifying EFC.




North Carolina
Postsecondary Feedback to High Schools

The Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina System maintains the Freshman Admissions and Performance Dashboard. The site displays college admissions, college readiness, retention and graduation data at the system and institutional levels. Data is broken down by race, ethnicity and income.