North Carolina – High School to College & Careers


College and Career Readiness

North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study strives to prepare all students to become career and college ready. All public and charter school students enrolled in grade 11 for the first time are required to take the ACT. In 2013-14, A college- and career- readiness indicator was added to the Academic Achievement Descriptors for the End-of-Grade (EPG) and End-of-Course (EOC) assessments. North Carolina is in the process of piloting programs introducing college developmental math, reading and English into the curriculum for the high school senior year to be fully implemented in 2107-2018.

College and Career Planning

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.

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

Future 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, 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.
  • 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 IEP objectives and 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. 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.

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

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 Credits Course Requirements



All four units must emphasize grammar, composition, and literature



Four allowable combinations:

• 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.



Three course units in science, including:

• at least one unit in a 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 one unit in U.S. history

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

Foreign Language


Two units in the same language

TOTAL 15  

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

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.

Postsecondary Placement

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

The State Board of Community Colleges adopted a multiple-measures placement policy in March 2014 with a system-wide implementation occurring by fall 2016. There are no exemptions. To be eligible for Multiple Measures Placement, a high school student must complete four math courses including Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra II (or the Common Core equivalents) and one additional math course.

North Carolina Community College System Placement Procedures

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.

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.

Postsecondary to High School 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