North Carolina vs. South Carolina: How do they Compare?

Along with the great resignation, many people have also uprooted their lives like us or considered moving to another area in the country for a variety of reasons.  If you are one of many moving from west to east and are considering the Carolinas, you might be wondering what makes them similar and where they differ.  Depending on your values, goals and what stage of life you are in at the moment, one state might rise above the other or pique your interest for greater consideration. 

If you base your decision solely on statistics, North Carolina looks like a clear winner in so many ways.  They have more moderate climate, more public land access and parks, greater educational opportunities that are more affordable, and in some cases game changing, and lower crime.  Granted, South Carolina has just 60% of the land area compared to North Carolina, so it makes sense that North Carolina would have more public land and schools. However, three of North Carolina’s universities offer a $500 promise, in which you pay only $500 per semester in tuition.  This is a great opportunity that can make higher education more accessible and reduce student debt.

Photo by Markus Spiske on

Both states have similar geography, being more mountainous in the west, hilly in the central region and having hot, humid lowlands along the coast.  If scuba diving is important to you, it might be of interest to know that North Carolina’s outer banks and barrier islands are home to a ship graveyard where 1000’s of ships have sunk and can be explored.  But if low country food is more important, then visiting South Carolina’s historic Charleston might entice you to stay.  If you are like me and gravitate toward the mountains, North Carolina may be more attractive, especially considering it is home to the highest point of elevation east of the Mississippi: Mount Mitchell, elevation 6684 feet.  Also unique to North Carolina is that it shares portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains with its bordering states.

When it comes to job opportunities, median income, taxes, unemployment, and cost of living, both states are fairly close across the board. However, North Carolina is known for being one of the top 10 places in the nation in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Both states have a large industry focus on farming and manufacturing, but South Carolina has manufacturing plants for Boeing and Michelin, and a strong tourism presence, especially in Charleston and Myrtle Beach.  And though overall cost of living is comparable, South Carolina’s housing costs are nearly 12% lower than North Carolina, which is a big deal for nearly everyone.  

Politically speaking, both North and South Carolina have an interesting history.  They were predominantly Democratic-leaning states from the late 1800’s through the 1960’s, at which point both states shifted to a Republican-leaning voting record. However, North Carolina as a state elected a Democratic president twice since the 1960’s, in both 1976 and 2008.  If voting rights are more important to you, North Carolina has no-excuse absentee voting, whereas South Carolina does not.  It may go without saying, but looking at the voting record of a specific city and county can tell you a lot more about that area than just looking at the entire state.  I use Best Places to review this information.  

Photo by Laker on

All that being said, it really comes down to where you feel most comfortable.  We have done our best to spend time in specific communities, meet people in the area and hear their perspectives.  It’s especially interesting to find out either why someone has moved there from somewhere else in the country and what keeps them there, or find out why someone stayed if they grew up there.  For us, educational opportunities, ample and affordable housing, a plenitude of job opportunities, access to the outdoors and bike- and pedestrian-friendly spaces are important.  Seeing places that have and continue to invest in these areas show the most promise, and we have repeatedly seen that college towns often fit the bill for our needs.

Explore, meet people, ask questions, and listen to your instincts.  Which place seems more like home to you?  Why do you feel that way?  Could you see yourself living there or just visiting?  How sustainable is the area to live both from a cost of living standpoint and having access to jobs and education, but also provides quality of life?  Statistics alone could steer you in a particular direction, but leave you feeling ill at ease and disinclined to actually want to live there.  Regardless of whether you’re moving a few hours away or across the country, it’s a big decision, and having a balance between practical and idealistic reasons behind your choice will help you make sure it works out for the best.  Good luck and happy travels.  

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