Plan for College FAQ

It's best to check with your high school counselor or high school website to learn about the options you have locally.  Some of these opportunities are available whether you are in a public school, private school, or home school.  Here are some opportunities you may want to explore:

Career and College Promise: this program allows eligible NC high school students to enroll in college courses at North Carolina community colleges and universities. Students who successfully complete college courses earn college credit and can often also earn dual credit — meeting high school graduation requirements with college courses.  Learn more through the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Advanced Placement (AP) Courses: these are courses offered at your local high school that are created part of the College Board's AP program.  After you take the course and earn the (weighted) grade on your transcript, you then take the AP exam at the end of the year.  Scores range from 1 to 5, and while it depends on the college and course, usually earning a 3 or higher will give you college credit for that course.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Program: this is a curriculum offered at some NC high schools where students take rigorous courses and may qualify for college credit upon successful completion of the course and exam.  You can also elect to earn an IB diploma by taking all the required classes. Earning the diploma or just taking IB classes may be especially helpful for students looking to go into majors with an international component, such as political science or business.

Here are three terms that can help you choose a college that's right for you:

  1. Programs: If you know what you want to study, you'll want to find colleges that offer the major and degree related to your career interests. Not all colleges offer the same majors such as accounting, nursing, or welding.  And not all colleges offer the same degrees such as certificates, associate, or bachelor's degrees.
  2. Match: Match is about academics. It's how similar your GPA and test scores (ACT, SAT) are to the students already enrolled at a certain college. If your GPA and test scores are similar to enrolled students and you meet any minimum entrance requirements, you have a good opportunity to be admitted and succeed there.
  3. Fit: Fit is everything other than academics. Fit includes things like location, size, cost, and extracurricular activities. For instance, some people love the idea of a large college in a big city.  Others prefer a smaller college or a college close to home. While no college is perfect, some colleges are probably a better personal fit for you than others.

You can use the College Search tool to help you with your selection. You should also visit the campus if possible.

Many experts recommend that you apply to 3-5 colleges, that you think of them in 3 categories:

  1. Safety: colleges that fit your personal preferences, and where your academic qualifications (GPA and test scores) are higher than the average first-year student. These are colleges where you are reasonably certain you'll being accepted for admission.
  2. Target: colleges that fit your personal preferences, and where your academic qualifications are similar to the average first-year student. These are colleges where you think you have a good opportunity of being accepted for admission.
  3. Reach: colleges that fit your personal preferences, and where your academic qualifications are lower than the average first-year student. These are colleges where you are less likely to be accepted for admission, but you're really interested in attending if given the opportunity.

A major is the subject or academic area you specialize in during college. Some majors, like airline mechanics, prepare you for specific careers whereas other majors, like English, prepare you for a range of careers.

A degree or credential is what you earn when you complete a program of study. Some of the most common credentials are certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees. You could, for instance, earn either an associate degree in Nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in Nursing (BSN).

You don't always have to choose a major, but it really depends on the length of your program. For instance, if you want to earn a credential that takes less than two years, then you will need to decide your major at the beginning or soon after beginning. These programs have only a few general education courses, so you will start your major courses as soon as you begin.  When pursuing four-year degrees, many students don't decide their major until they complete one or two years of general education courses.

One helpful thing to keep in mind is that deciding on a major does not necessarily mean you are deciding on a career. While a major in accounting points you in a specific direction, other majors like English or psychology can lead in numerous directions.

The main difference is the types of degrees they offer.  Four-year institutions offer bachelor's degrees, and they may offer graduate degrees like master's or doctoral.  Two-year colleges usually offer certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees.  Many students start at a two-year college and then transfer to a four-year college.

Another difference is the admission process.  Four-year colleges often have more rigorous admission requirements that include GPA, standardized test scores, and specific high school course requirements.  North Carolina's community colleges have open enrollment if you are a high school graduate, but admission to some programs like nursing is competitive.

Diplomas and Certificates – These demonstrate that you have a set of skills for a particular occupation. The length of time required varies by occupation, ranging from six months to less than two years. Certificates and diplomas are available in subjects like airline mechanics, welding, cosmetology, and practical nursing (LPN).

Associate Degrees – These are two-year degrees that provide preparation for a career or for transfer to a four-year college or university. Examples of careers that require an associate’s degree are dental hygienist, computer network manager, and airline pilot. Students can also earn an associate degree, then transfer to a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degrees – A bachelor’s degree is awarded after four years of study at a college. The bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science (BS) are the most common.  This degree requires general education courses like English and history, courses specific to your major, and electives to explore other areas of interest. This degree is also called an undergraduate degree. Examples of careers requiring bachelor’s degrees are teacher and engineer.

Master’s Degrees – A master’s degree is an advanced degree earned in a specialized field after the completion of a bachelor’s degree. Most master’s degrees take two or three years of full-time study and include writing a thesis or taking comprehensive exams. School counselors, physical therapists, and social workers are examples of people with master’s degrees.

Doctoral Degrees – A doctoral degree, also known as a doctorate (PhD), is the highest educational degree you can earn. A doctoral degree indicates expertise in a specialized field. Doctoral candidates often spend 3-5 years after earning a master’s degree completing courses and research and writing a dissertation.

Professional Degrees – Professional degrees are advanced degrees in fields like dentistry, ministry, law, medicine, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine. These degrees are earned after completing a bachelor’s degree, and the length of study required varies for each profession.

  Larger Colleges Smaller Colleges
Academic Offerings Larger schools have more professors and usually offer a wider variety of courses. They may also have more money to buy highly specialized equipment and keep larger research libraries. If you want to study a very specific field, a larger college may be better. Smaller schools have fewer professors, so there may be less variety in the courses offered. However, many smaller colleges develop special programs in selected fields and can match the opportunities at a large school in specific programs.
Research and
Graduate Students
Most large universities offer master’s and doctoral degrees, so their faculty members spend considerable time doing research and working with graduate students. Introductory courses may be taught by graduate teaching assistants instead of faculty members. To thrive as an undergraduate, you will need to
be self-motivated and seek out your
instructor when you need direction.
At schools that offer few graduate
degrees, faculty members are more
involved in teaching undergraduate
courses and may be more accessible.
Class Size At larger universities, you may be in classes that vary in size from 25 to 500 students. The amount of direct contact with the professor in a very large class may be infrequent. At smaller colleges, class size may
vary from 10 to 100 people.
There may be a greater chance of
developing personal relationships
with faculty members.
Student Activities At larger colleges, there may be more cultural events and a greater variety of activities. It might be easier to find a club or group of people with similar
interests in a large student body.
Smaller colleges offer fewer activities and student groups, but you may have more opportunities for leadership roles. For example, at a smaller school you could more easily be the editor of the school newspaper or play in the concert band.


You can participate in all campus events and organizations whether you are living on-campus or living off-campus. You determine the extent of your activities and involvement in student life.

The short answer is "yes." Both on- and off-campus activities are open, available, and appropriate to any age depending on interest. Participation in recreational activities, lectures, the arts - both visual and performing, and specialized clubs all help to create your student life.