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 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 fields. The program is located at four NC public university campuses. It offers academic STEM enrichment for students in grades 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 Program to reduce the percentage of students entering college requiring remediation. The program provides a free diagnostic test 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 Students Entering the Ninth Grade in 2012 and Beyond

Students must complete at least 22 units to earn a standard 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:

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, teater arts, visual arts), any other subject area (e.g., social studies, science, mathematics, English)

6 credits:

Occupational Preparation I, II, III, IV: completion of 150 hours of school-based training, 225 hours of community-based training, and 225 hours of paid employment

Elective credits such as arts and JROTC
Additional requirements: complete IEP Objectives and a carrer portfolio

Career Technical Education Not Required

4 credits:

Career Technical Education electives

Total Credits 22 (plus any local requirements) 22 (plus any local requirements)
*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.

While they are not a requirement for graduation from high school in North Carolina, two credits of a World Language are required for admission to the University of North Carolina system.

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. Students who receive a proficient score on an EOC before completing the course may use the score as at least 20 % 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 upon course completion. 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 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

The Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina authorizes institutions to contract with community colleges to offer remedial instruction.

Two-Year and/or Technical Colleges

The State Board of Community Colleges requires institutions to use a multiple-measures placement policy.

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 OR

ACT English 18


SAT  Evidence-based Reading 480


ACT Math 22

SAT Math 530

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 (Accuplacer). Colleges place students who do not meet placement cut scores in developmental education courses.

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


North Carolina
State Financial Aid for Undergraduates

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 to students who attend public institutions, enroll in at least six credits per semester, and have an EFC under $5,000.

The Community College Grant provides grants to students who enroll in at least six credits per semester and have a qualifying EFC.

The UNC Need-Based Grant provides grants 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 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 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.