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North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) is a two-year, public residential high school located in Durham, North Carolina. The school accepts rising juniors from across NC and enrolls them through senior year. Though S&M is a public school, enrollment is limited, and applicants undergo a competitive review process before being admitted. NCSSM is a member of the NCSSSMST and an affiliated institution of the University of North Carolina.

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The brainchild of former North Carolina Governors Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford, and well known author and academic John Ehle, NCSSM opened its doors in 1980 as the first school of its kind in the United States.

NCSSM is located on the site of the former Watts Hospital, which operated there from to 1895 to 1976. One of the school's buildings is still known as Watts. NCSSM's campus is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and it is home to a lunch counter from Woolworth's in Durham, at which a sit-in took place on February 7, 1960.

The student body has grown to approximately 650 students since 1980. Since its inception, the school has been fully funded by the state, meaning no student has ever paid any tuition, room, board, or other student fees. Legislation was passed in 2003 granting all graduates of the school free tuition to any institution in the University of North Carolina System, as an incentive to encourage NCSSM's talented students to stay in North Carolina.

The school has served as a model for 18 similar schools, many of which are now members of the National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology.


Designed with a strong focus on science and math, all students are required to take a course in physics, chemistry, and biology during their two year stay, and are required to complete at least 5 math credits.

Although focusing in science and math, the school maintains strong humanities programs as well. Many humanities offerings are more innovative than those at traditional public high schools, with courses ranging from interdisciplinary combinations of History and Literature to studies of contemporary culture in Latin America and Africa.

A particularly unique aspect to academics at NCSSM is the existence of a two week (eight academic days plus two weekends) "miniterm" in the spring where students are able to design their own independent project or study with staff support, travel abroad in a faculty designed study, or participate in one of a wide range of small classes designed by faculty including: A Short History of Nuclear Weapons, Blues People: The African American Oral Tradition, The Human Genome Project and Disease, and Shakespeare.

Students also have the option of designing semester-long seminars in topics of their choice for partial academic credit.

Recently, NCSSM has switched from a more typical semester format to a trimester system. This allows students to enroll in a greater variety of classes but, due to the need to condense courses, less material is taught. For example, students in the past needed to take one year of physics to meet graduation requirements. Now, however, only two trimesters are required.

The mathematics department offers classes such as "Game Theory and Combinatorics," "Vector Functions and Partial Derivatives," and other post-calculus mathematics courses. NCSSM's budding computer science department offers both introductory programming classes and upper-level classes that combine advanced algorithmics with discrete mathematics.

One highlight of the school is "Neverland," the official name of the entirely student-run, Linux-based server. The server, whose web site resides at, provides personal and academic web space to students as well as computing resources to research groups on campus. The student administrators, who change each year, also maintain a lab of Linux-based machines, which they use to teach other students about Linux in "seminars."


  • Student Body: ~600
  • Average Class Size: 18–20
  • Student-Teacher Ratio: 10:1
  • Faculty with a Masters: 100%
  • Faculty with a Doctorate: 33%
  • Male-Female Ratio: 1:1
  • Average Ethnic Makeup: 12% African American, 65% Caucasian, 3% Hispanic, 18% Asian American, 1% Native American

See also

Schools of the University of North Carolina System:

Appalachian | East Carolina | Elizabeth City | Fayetteville | NC A&T
NC Central | NC School of the Arts | NC State | UNC-Asheville | UNC-Chapel Hill
UNC-Charlotte | UNC-Greensboro | UNC-Pembroke | UNC-Wilmington
Western Carolina | Winston-Salem | NC School of Science and Math

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