A Guide to “The College Life” in North Carolina

(First off, what’s a Tar Heel, anyway?)
Written by Andrew Bowsher
Written by Andrew Bowsher

Insurance doesn’t have to be boring — that’s what Andrew always says. He specializes in making sense of mundane subjects, and delivering answers to the insurance questions everyday families need.

Aerial shot at UNC of the campus bell tower and football stadium.

Welcome to college in North Carolina. Whether you’re brand new around here or you’ve been bleeding Carolina blue your whole life, you’re in for a real treat.

If you choose to stay after college and buy a house, make sure you're covered with an affordable home insurance policy.

To help get you all settled in and ready for the road ahead, we’ve put together this guide to prep you for life around the state that puts the extra in extracurricular. So, let's get into it.

Chapter One: North Carolina Conversation Starters

Now, easily the most important thing to do once you get to North Carolina is make some new friends. However, in order to make friends with a real-life North Carolinian you gotta know a thing or two about 'em first. You can't just spout off a bunch of facts from the state's Wikipedia page on population and state birds and all and expect to fit in — you gotta go for a way, way deeper dive. 

When trying to assimilate to local culture, try a few of these conversation starters out:

  • Saying “sweet tea” is redundant, it’s just “tea.” End of story.
  • “Yes sir” and “yes ma’am” is thrown out around here more than the garbage. It’s just that southern flavor of manners.
  • “Well bless your heart.” This is not as nice as you might think. When a local says this, it’s most often that they’re saying it out of pity.  

Chapter Two: Where To Crash

If you’re not already set on living in the dorms, you’re going to need to know where to lay your ever-growing head at night. So let’s talk about the hot rentals around the area.

The home of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has the average apartment going for about $1,415/month, and it's even a little less in Raleigh, home of NC State, at around $1,213/month. But of course that’s right inside the city, and you can probably even find lower prices out in a number of nearby cities for less.

PRO TIP: If you put, like, two to three bunk beds in every room and grab a bunch more roommates, your rent will be dirt cheap!

Chapter Three: What's with These Locals?

To live among the folks of North Carolina, it’s best if you understand them.

First thing to know is that when you move to North Carolina, you gotta be ready to pick a side (in basketball that is). Of course, if you’re going to school at UNC, NC State, or Duke, that should make the decision pretty easy. The rivalry between these schools is as strong as any, and which side you fall on could decide your social status for years to come. No pressure.

Besides two distinct basketball teams (with two distinct cheering sections), the state can be broken down into a few main cultures, the two big ones being the western part and the eastern part. The diverse landscape of the state was a heavy influence on the diversity of its people.

The western part of the state includes the Appalachian (pronounced Appa-LATCH-an) mountain range. Farming never gained traction here as it did in the low-lying areas, and the traditional mountain folk life flourished, with influences from the Cherokees and Scottish-Irish immigrants of the past.

The eastern part (with more level terrain) has more of the southern vibe one will find in its nearby southern cousins. In these areas, farming’s been the main cultural influence over the years. Historically, the eastern side was known for its large plantation homes and fields of tobacco and cotton. 

While there are two distinct sides of the North Carolina lifestyle, throughout the state one will experience down-home southern charm, where sweet tea and porch-sitting reign supreme (one side just spikes theirs with moonshine).

Chapter Four: Where To “Study” around Town

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Now that you’re getting all nice and settled into North Carolina life, it’s time to focus on those studies. But everyone knows how distracting roommates, video games, and fridges can be when you’re trying to focus. So why not try some of the great sights and local hot spots for a little study sesh? Here are a few places we recommend.

  • Krispy Kreme: North Carolina is the birthplace of perhaps some of the greatest donuts in the world, Krispy Kremes. And they still love them today as much as ever. Stop by one of their stores for a donut and a coffee and you’ve got all the study fuel you need.
  • Outer Banks: Known for its peaceful and welcoming nature, this 200-mile strip of barrier islands off the coast is home to breathtaking natural beauty and more than a few laid-back coastal towns. The perfect study time getaway from the madness of college life.
  • At the swimmin’ hole: Everyone in North Carolina has their own favorite swimming hole. Find yours and you can take a break from the swimming with a little studying, right in the middle of all that beautiful nature.

Chapter Five: No FOMO Weekend Activities around North Carolina

One of the best things about college is the weekends. And North Carolina has plenty of incredible things to do, see, smell, and eat, to rest your mind from all that studying you’ve been doing. Here are a few of our favorite local things to do:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: If The Tar Heel State is known for anything, it’s for being the location of the most-visited national park in the US. The park is known for its crazy amount of wildlife and remnants of Appalachian mountain culture and folklore. For all of you moonshiners, hikers, explorers, and general nature enthusiasts out there, this should definitely be at the top of your list. 
  • Cape Hatteras: A little spot of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Hatteras has some of the most incredible views that scream East Coast sea life. There's a gorgeous lighthouse, beautiful sandy beaches, and tall grass all over the place. Plus, sea turtles!
  • Pisgah National Forest: The Great Smoky Mountains may be the reigning champ in the national park world, but its slightly less significant (but equally beautiful) cousin offers even more stunning natural beauty. The park is half a million acres of unbelievable forests covering mile-high mountains, and there are hikes galore. As we said before, if you’re a fan of nature (or anything outdoor-related), you’ll feel right at home in the mountains of this beautiful state.
  • Blue Ridge Parkway: A fan favorite if we ever did see one. No trip to The Tar Heel State is complete without a ride down the Blue Ridge Parkway (bonus if you do it in autumn or on a motorcycle). It’s 469 miles of wide vistas and tree-covered mountains. You’d better just do it and see for yourself, because no description is adequate. 

Chapter Six: The Post-College Job Scene

Maybe you know exactly what you want to do after graduation, or maybe you’re still undeclared. Either way, we’re so sure you’re going to want to stick around after the ceremony that we should probably talk about the local job market and which careers are hot right now around town.

The Tar Heel State is named after its people, who worked producing tar for wooden ships in colonial times. Today, however, the job situation is far removed from the smelly business of tar production. The state has flourishing business and technology industries, while health and education also play a huge role in its thriving economy.

The fastest-growing careers include: statistician, credit counselor, and nurse practitioner. Of the rest of the top 10, six are related to health services. It makes sense, considering the top employers in the Raleigh and Durham area include IBM, WakeMed Health & Hospitals, SAS Institute, and Cisco Systems. 

Let's also not forget the 7,000-acre monstrosity that is Research Triangle Park, which provides full-time employment to nearly 40,000 residents. That’s huge. The Park is also associated with the region’s three main universities (Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University), which provide awesome jobs that aren’t tar-related.

Chapter Seven: Break Out Your “Yes Sirs” and “Yes Ma’ams,” ‘Cuz Here You Come

Alright folks, there you have it — your supremely helpful, though far-from-complete, guide to North Carolina college life. It's true that we can't pack in absolutely everything that's important to consider before making a huge cross-country move, but we hope we helped you get the ball rolling.

Good luck. And remember your affordable home insurance policy.

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