Did you know that North Carolina is somewhere in the middle when it comes to intelligence? It’s true. According to IQ tests given to individuals, and recent school testing, the folks in the Tar Heel State are the 23rd smartest in the country.
And with prestigious colleges and universities and tons of high tech companies in the state, there are lots of people here who push the needle when it comes to off-the-charts smarts.
So, which city in NC is the smartest of the smart? We’re about to find out.
We wanted to get a good understanding of how smart all residents of North Carolina are, so we measured key metrics for kids, young adults and the older members of the population.
It’s not hard to scrape the internet, run some scientific data on where the largest pockets of smart people in NC might live, and then put out a list.
After analyzing all cities with a decent number of people in them, we came up with this list as The Smartest Cities in North Carolina:
- Chapel Hill
- Oak Ridge
What about Charlotte? It was way down at spot 36. Only 14% of the residents of Charlotte have a college degree. Durham came in at 19th.
Also, we’re not saying the people outside of these cities aren’t smart, too. We’re just making an observation that as a majority, they’re not the brightest bulbs in the room.
Read on below to see where your town ranked.
What intelligent criteria did we use?
In order to rank the smartest cities in North Carolina, we had to determine what criteria defines a smart person.
We started by making a list of every place in the state with over 5,000 people based on the 2013 American Community Survey. That left us with over 150 places to rank.
We then looked at the following smart-tastic criteria for each of the places on the list:
- Spending levels at public schools
- High school graduation rates
- College graduation rates
1. Chapel Hill
Public school spending: 3rd highest
High school graduation rate: 15th highest (93%)
College degrees: 1st
Does it really surprise you that Chapel Hill, home to one of the best universities (and hospitals) in the nation, is the smartest city in North Carolina?
A whopping 3 in 4 people in Chapel Hill has a college degree. That’s by far the highest in the state (Davidson is 2nd at 68.5%). Plus, they spend just about more on each kid in Chapel Hill public schools than anywhere else in the state, at $11,756 apiece.
Which means the kids coming up through the system are smart, too.
Public school spending: 3rd highest
High school graduation rate: 27th highest (9.9%)
College degrees: 4th (64%)
Carrboro is right next door to Chapel Hill, and in some places, it’s hard to tell when you’re in one city or in the other. Being so close, then, makes it not much of a surprise that so many smart people live here, too. They essentially share a public school system.
After all, many of the grad students (and quieter, more mature upperclassmen) live in Carrboro, and attend UNC. As do many of the staff and faculty members.
But, judging by the number of bars and restaurants in Carrboro, it’s clear that the population may be quickly losing brain cells.
3. Oak Ridge
Public school spending: 20th highest – $10,236
High school graduation rate: 7th highest – 95.4%
College degrees: 12th – 53.2%
Just where is this small bastion of smartness? We’re glad you asked. Oak Ridge is a town in Guiliford County, just north of Greensboro. What makes them so smart?
First off, besides just the raw numbers above, the public schools are pretty well funded. And, Oak Ridge is home to Oak Ridge Military Academy, a private coed college-prep military boarding school.
It’s actually the official military school for the entire state.
And here’s a fun fact: Dale Jr. went here. We didn’t know he was a good driver and smart, too.
Public school spending: 20th most – $10,236
High school graduation rate: 17th highest – 91.7%
College degrees: 8th
Summerfield is pretty much right next door to Oak Ridge. At one time, this was a farming area, but over time, it’s become more of a bedroom community.
More than 54% of the residents of Summerfield completed college. And, our 7th president, Andrew Jackson, lived in Summerfield for a stint before he became president.
Public school spending: 43rd highest – $9,752
High school graduation rate: 2nd
College degrees: 2nd
Home of the prestigious (and private) Davidson College, which has been called the 3rd most rigorous school in the U.S., and the best liberal arts institution in the entire south.
Nearly 70% of Davidson locals have at least a B.A. and only 3.1% of residents don’t have a high school diploma. That’s tied with Marvin, a small, wealthy village on the south Carolina border.
A 3.1% high school graduation rate is staggeringly low – one of the lowest rates in the nation.
Public school spending: 9th highest – $10,635
High school graduation rate: 21st highest – 91.9%
College degrees: 17th – 48.8%
Considering that Boone is a small mountain town and home to Appalachian State University, it’s not at all shocking that there are so many smart people here. A significant number of the residents of Boone are somehow connected to ASU in some way.
The city is named after Daniel Boone, one of the most influential (and smart) founding members of the start of this nation.
Public school spending: 11th highest – $10,376
High school graduation rate: 23rd highest
College degrees: 21st
Clemmons is a village of nearly 20,000, and a suburb of Winston-Salem. And since Winston-Salem is home to Wake Forest University, and Winston-Salem State (among other higher level institutions), you can imagine that many of the people in Clemmons are really smart.
Almost half of the population has a college degree, and 9 in 10 finished high school.
Public school spending: 11th highest – $10,376
High school graduation rate: 18th highest
College degrees: 33rd
Lewisville is also near Winston-Salem, which makes a case for Winston-Salem as being one of the smartest areas in the state (if not THE smartest area in the state of North Carolina.)
Only 8.8% of the population never finished high school. However, only 39% of residents completed college.
Public school spending: 43rd
High school graduation rate: 14th highest – 93.3%
College degrees: 13th
Huntersville is a wealthy Charlotte suburb. In fact, lots of smart, successful people make the 20 minute drive into Charlotte every morning for work.
While the community itself is very highly educated (more than half have a college degree). The only knock on Huntersville on this list is the low spending per student at $9,752. Meaning the kids aren’t getting as much attention as those higher up on this list.
Public school spending: 62nd
High school graduation rate: 5th highest – 96%
College degrees: 5th – 64.7%
This Durham suburb is a relatively safe, wealthy nook. In mentioning the statistics for Huntersville above, the gap between the adults and the kids is even more glaring in Morrisville.
While two-thirds have a college degree, and only 4% don’t have a diploma, sending levels on public kids still in the system are fairly low at only $9,200 per kid.
To compare, in Chapel Hill, gets get about $2,500 more spent on them each.
There You Have It
If you’re measuring the locations in North Carolina where the young kids get great attention, high school kids complete a diploma, and where adults tend to have a degree, this is an accurate list.
If you’re curious enough, here are the dumbest cities in North Carolina:
- Lexington (37.7% no high school degree)
- Sawmills (35.5%)
- Thomasville (32.4%)
- Lenoir (33.1%)
- Marion (35.5%)
We also wrote about the most redneck cities in North Carolina if you didn’t happen to see it. Click here to read it.
Desktop users, below is a chart of all 150 cities we studied, from smartest to dumbestrockingham 16.80% 110 kannapolis 16.90% 111 piney_green 20.20% 112 new_bern 24.00% 113 havelock 13.70% 114 lincolnton 17.20% 115 wilson 23.50% 116 mocksville 22.20% 117 james_city 19.60% 118 forest_city 13.60% 119 henderson 14.70% 120 goldsboro 18.50% 121 archdale 17.00% 122 eden 10.00% 123 whiteville 15.70% 124 albemarle 19.80% 125 st._stephens 11.50% 126 monroe 15.90% 127 kinston 14.40% 128 newton 16.90% 129 morganton 22.50% 130 hamlet 10.50% 131 roxboro 10.80% 132 selma 9.10% 133 dunn 18.70% 134 graham 17.00% 135 asheboro 17.80% 136 tarboro 15.50% 137 bessemer_city 8.50% 138 trinity 10.40% 138 marion 15.70% 138 lenoir 14.30% 141 thomasville 14.10% 142 sawmills 9.00% 143 lexington 12.00% 143