Western Carolina University - Colleges of Distinction - Colleges of Distinction
Western Carolina University
Students who want to study in a culturally and physically rich environment located in...

Western Carolina University

Cullowhee, North Carolina

Western Carolina University is nestled in a beautiful mountain valley in proximity to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The university’s rich, 129-year history is rooted in providing quality and rigorous academic programs that serve the students of the region and beyond. The natural scenic beauty of the campus in Cullowhee, North Carolina, provides an ideal study environment that also affords students the opportunity to apply their learning in real settings through service learning and community engagement, highly selective internships, and rich campus programs.


With nearly 11,000 students, Western Carolina University offers a diverse array of almost 120 academic majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including award-winning programs in education, business, health, sciences, and the humanities. The university’s engaged, rich network of partnerships has helped it earn a spot on the U.S. President’s Honor Roll for Higher Education in Community Service (eight years continuously) as well as the select list of institutions recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Community Engagement designation (2010 and 2015).. WCU provides every student the opportunity to succeed by offering a strong array of services that promote excellence, including research opportunities, work-study programs, hundreds of extracurricular activities, and upper-level internships and capstone experiences.



Student Profile

Fall 2015 Enrollment
8,652 undergraduate students
86% of undergrad students are full time
46% male — 54% female
8% of students are from out of state

Faculty Profile

2015-2016 Academic Year
502 full-time faculty
188 part-time faculty
15.7 to 1 student/faculty ratio

School Location

In addition to Cullowhee’s scenic and resource rich location in western North Carolina, WCU’s residential campus is less than an hour’s drive West of Asheville, NC, a city that is consistently included on any list of “most desirable places” to visit and live. Inviting, historic towns with vibrant community and cultural offerings are located within a few minutes’ drive of Cullowhee. Additionally, outdoor pursuits are a natural part of the landscape, with hiking, water recreation (including fly fishing and boating), and scenic drives being major attractions. Charlotte and Atlanta are less than three hours’ drive away, and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians’ reservation is approximately 30 minutes from Cullowhee.

High-Impact Practices

Read more about the importance of High-Impact Practices 

First-Year Seminars and Experiences X
Common Intellectual Experiences X
Learning Communities X
Writing-Intensive Courses X
Collaborative Assignments and Projects X
Undergraduate Research X
Diversity/Global Learning X
Service Learning, Community-Based Learning X
Internships/Coops/Practicums X
Capstone Courses and Projects/Senior Experience X


80% of students began in Fall 2014 and returned in Fall 2015 (full time, first time freshmen)


58% of students graduated in 6 years


Nonresident aliens 2%
Hispanic/Latino 6%
Black or African American 6%
White 79%
American Indian or Alaska Native 1%
Asian 1%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 0%
Two or more races 4%
Race and/or ethnicity unknown 1%


Purple and gold, Catamounts, the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, and the Purple Thunder drum line are elements of varsity athletics at Western Carolina University. Sportsmanship and academic excellence are core values of the 300+ student-strong athletics program at WCU, and the university’s membership in the Southern Conference has afforded many opportunities to demonstrate those values. The university fields 16 NCAA Division I teams, competing in football, baseball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s softball, men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s volleyball, and women’s tennis. The Prove Your Purple campaign provides current students, alumni, community members, parents of current and prospective students, staff, and faculty with ways to support Division I catamount athletics. An array of intramural sports options such as ultimate, rugby, water polo, indoor climbing, disc golf, and table tennis, to name a few, also are available. The WCU mascot, Paws, is always available to cheer on the university’s student-athletes. Go Cats!


Other Information

Western Carolina University was established in 1889 as a normal school for the preparation of teachers. Known as the Cullowhee Academy, the institution was the realization of a dream by its first leader, Robert Lee Madison. It became a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system in 1972, and today, it operates on 600 acres in Cullowhee, maintains a center in Cherokee, offers programs at an instructional site at Biltmore Park near Asheville, and provides an array of online programs and courses. The student/faculty ratio is 16:1.

WCU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate, master’s, and doctorate degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia, 30033-4097, or call 404-679-4500, for answers to questions about the accreditation of Western Carolina University.   

Academic Programs

WCU offers majors within the following colleges: Arts and Sciences; Business; Education and Allied Professions; Engineering and Technology; Fine and Performing Arts; Health and Human Sciences.

For a list of all academic majors and minors, please go to https://www.wcu.edu/learn/programs/

More Distinctions

  • WCU has been named Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s Top Adventure College for the past three consecutive years (2014-16), reflecting the University’s superior academic programming in disciplines such as parks and recreation management, natural resources conservation management, geology, hospitality and tourism, and environmental science. Related to this distinction is WCU’s promotion of outdoor activities in the scenic southern Appalachians including its crystal-clear waterways and lakes, mountain biking and hiking trails, and other rich, local resources. http://news-prod.wcu.edu/2016/05/wcu-blue-ridge-outdoors-magazines-top-adventure-college/

  • For the past ten years, WCU has placed in the top 10 in number of research projects accepted for presentation at the National Council for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). http://news-prod.wcu.edu/?s=NCUR

  • For the past consecutive eight years, WCU has been listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll of institutions that maintain exemplary relationships with their external communities and promote students’ significant civic engagement. http://news-prod.wcu.edu/2016/10/wcu-named-presidents-community-service-honor-roll/

Study Abroad

With so many options for both the locations and lengths of time to study abroad, WCU students are sure to find the travel experience that’s perfect for them. Universities that are partnered with WCU welcome students with open arms, immersing them in the coursework and culture of the institutions abroad. WCU can send students directly to more than 30 institutions throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and even the Caribbean. WCU is also proud to be one of more than 300 universities in the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), a network of schools that exchange students at the most efficient prices possible.

Liberal Studies

Every WCU bachelor’s degree is a symbol not only of a student’s mastery of his or her major, but also of a student’s deep understanding of a wide range of disciplines. All undergraduate students supplement their education with a core curriculum that covers topics in writing, math, communication, wellness, and the physical and biological sciences. These foundational courses set up students for success, strengthening their communication and critical-thinking skills through a variety of contexts.

In addition to the Liberal Studies core requirements is a set of Perspectives courses, which include upper-level courses that challenge students to think outside of their selected academic majors. More than simple introductory courses, the Perspectives courses push students to grasp unfamiliar topics in varied disciplines, broadening their worldviews and helping them to become inquisitive, lifelong learners.

Undergraduate Research

Fewer things are more valuable than putting one’s skills to the test through the systematic process of discovery. Thanks to WCU’s strong supply of resources and faculty support, every student has the opportunity to participate in fascinating research projects. These efforts are greatly recognized each year at WCU’s campus-wide Undergraduate Research Exposition, a festival of engaging research presentations that is attended by hundreds of students and dozens of faculty. Not only do students get to present their research to their peers and professors at the Expo, but many students also have the honor of taking their findings to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). This prestigious honor is not uncommon for WCU students; Western Carolina University has consistently ranked among the top 10 for the number of student projects taken to NCUR since 2006.


Campus Ministries X
Choral groups X
Concert band X
Dance X
Drama/theater X
International Student Organization X
Jazz band X
Literary magazine X
Marching band X
Model UN X
Music ensembles X
Musical theater X
Pep band X
Radio station X
Student government X
Student newspaper X
Student-run film society X
Symphony orchestra  
Television station X

First-Year Seminar

Western Carolina University introduces its students to college through a dynamic set of courses that orient them to the style of collegiate coursework. As part of the Liberal Studies Program, First-Year Seminars integrate students into the college lifestyle while exposing them to topics across a variety of academic disciplines. The courses offered vary each semester, but they always are guaranteed to include exciting and interesting material. Seminar topics include “Black Death to Bioterrorism,” “A User’s Guide to Mass Media,” “Crimes and Criminals,” and “Creative Writing.” First-Year Seminar professors are passionate about the subjects they teach as well as the students whom they get to introduce to WCU. They ensure that their class environments are friendly, comfortable, and intellectually stimulating.

Writing-Intensive Courses

Because communication is a crucial part of every major, WCU’s Liberal Studies Program includes a core writing component for all students to refine their composition skills. In ENGL 101, “Writing and Rhetoric,” students learn the fundamentals of college-level writing. Through class assignments, readings, and discussions, every student finds his or her voice as a confident writer.

In ENGL 202, students learn how to apply their writing skills in scholarly and research-based contexts. This course, “Writing and Critical Inquiry,” helps develop the art of developing complex arguments through synthesizing of  academic literature.


Arts/fine arts X
Computer literacy  
English (including composition) X
Foreign languages  
History X
Humanities X
Mathematics X
Sciences (biological or physical) X
Social science X


Other: Communication, World Cultures, Wellness, Information Literacy


Size 2-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-99 100+ Total
Number of Classes 149 216 383 296 197 50 4 1295

Learning Communities

WCU offers multiple learning and living-learning communities for students throughout their entire time at college. Learning Communities facilitate students’ connection to their community by linking them to other students who take the same series of classes. These courses are linked by a network of faculty who collaborate on topics, teaching techniques, student performance, and a variety of common elements, tying together students’ education with a common thread. Participants in Learning Communities often live together in specialized residence halls that help keep close friends close by. Examples of the Learning Communities at WCU include WHEE Teach, a group of students who work together to grow as future teachers through educational service-learning; and the Ripple Effect, an initiative that analyzes the big, worldwide effects that can come from small acts. To really grasp an understanding of large social change, the Ripple Effect culminates with an international excursion to London, Paris, and Munich.

Adventure, Culture, and Fun

Western North Carolina is bursting at the seams with natural beauty. With such a diverse ecosystem in their backyard, WCU students have endless opportunities to hike, fish, camp, canoe, and so much more. The Tuckaseigee River has smooth waters for kayaking as well as rushing streams for whitewater rafting. The nearby city of Sapphire is made of beautiful valleys that are aching to welcome adventurous skiers. No matter their desire, WCU students can get their fill of their favorite outdoor activity.

WCU’s surroundings are not only beautiful, but they also act as a hub for cultural events and activities. Jackson County hosts a variety of events each year, including Mountain Heritage celebrations and sustainability festivals. A community of fine arts performance centers also complement the thriving creative community of the area.

Campus Activities

WCU’s campus is alive with events that greatly extend the university’s value beyond its classrooms. More than 200 student organizations fill campus with activities and events with a focus on such topics as the arts, athletics, spirituality, personal growth and health and numerous other interests. With the help of the Department of Campus Activities, which hosts a variety of trips, concerts, and other social events, students are sure to find their place at WCU.


Coed dorms X
Men’s dorms X
Women’s dorms X
Apartments for married students  
Apartments for single students X
Special housing for disabled students X
Special housing for international students  
Fraternity/sorority housing X
Cooperative housing  
Theme housing X
Wellness housing  
Other housing options  


The Center for Career and Professional Development is committed to helping every interested student find the internship that is the right fit. The center’s staff work individually with students, helping them find internships that match their future career goals, navigating the application processes, and preparing them for interviews with agencies and organizations. With internship experience, WCU students can gain academic credit while building their résumés and giving them life-changing experiences to help them apply their learning and find careers after graduation.

While there are countless internship opportunities in the surrounding cities of Western North Carolina, WCU gives students access to internship programs nationally as well as abroad in countries all across the world. Students can work in career-building jobs while studying abroad, giving them cross-cultural competence, well-rounded experience, and access to a strong, international network of professionals.

Service and Community-Based Learning

Service and community-based learning are hallmarks of an education earned at Western Carolina University. Students who enroll at WCU are afforded the opportunity to make a profound difference in their communities. The Center for Service Learning is full of resources to connect students with philanthropic organizations that need their help, opening up the chance for students to live out the caring, community-conscious mission of their university. The center also organizes Days of Service, which rally students together to volunteer all around Western North Carolina, as well as Alternative Breaks, which take advantage of long weekends and holidays by transporting students all around the world for acts of meaningful service and learning.

Finish in Four

WCU’s Finish in Four initiative is the university’s pledge to provide every resource necessary for students to complete their degrees within four years. Students who pledge to Finish in Four commit to meeting with their advisers every semester in order to stay on track to finish their undergraduate requirements in a timely manner. Advisers then, in turn, may direct them toward extraordinarily helpful tutors and counselors or programs to ensure their success. No matter how much help a student may need, WCU guarantees a successful route to graduation to all who pledge to Finish in Four.



17,702 Total Applicants
7,127 Total Admissions
1,639 Total Freshman Enrollment

40.26% of applicants admitted

Admissions Deadlines for 2016-17 Admission

Rolling admission? No

Closing date: Aug 15
Priority date: Feb 1


Very Important
Rigor of secondary school record
Class rank Academic
GPA Standardized test scores

Application Essay
Extracurricular activities
Character/personal qualities
Work experience
Level of applicant’s interest

First generation
Geographical residence
State residency

Freshmen Profile Fall 2015

  25th Percentile 75th Percentile
SAT Critical Reading 470 560
SAT Math 470 570
SAT Writing    
SAT Essay    
ACT Composite 20 24
ACT Math 19 24
ACT English 19 24
ACT Writing    





  In-State Out-of-State
Tuition $3,893 $14,286
Fees $3,134 $3,134
Total $7,027 $17,420
Room and Board (on campus) $8,864 $8,864
Room Only $4,438 $4,438
Board Only $4,426 $4,426
Estimated Total On Campus $15,891 $26,284


Average Financial Aid Packages 2014-2015 Final

$11,048 First year students
$6,224 All undergrads

Financial Aid Breakdown 2014-2015 Final

65.6% on average, the percentage of need that was met
12% of financial need students that had need fully met

$6,224 Average need-based scholarship or grant award
$6,303 Average need-based loan