How to Write the North Carolina State University Essays 2021-2022

 

Established in 1887, and the largest university in North Carolina, NC State is expansive and unique. The university houses 12 colleges covering a wide variety of disciplines and offers many choices for prospective students. Let’s talk about getting in.

 

NC State has five essay prompts this year. The first three every student will encounter, and include a “Why This Major?” essay, “Overcoming Challenges” essay, and a “Diversity” essay. We will also cover the two University Scholars and Honors Program prompts, which are more specific to the program. 

 

As you know, essays are really important! Not only are they required, but they allow you to showcase yourself as an individual. We know sometimes applications can feel like you’re reduced to a bunch of numbers, but this is the chance for you to change that. Your essay is what admissions officers will use to differentiate between you and other, equally-qualified applicants. 

 

Want to know your chances at NC State? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

North Carolina State University Application Essay Prompts

All Applicants

 

Prompt 1: Explain why you selected the academic program(s) above and why you are interested in studying these at NC State. (250 words)

 

Prompt 2: Discuss any other obstacles and/or hardships that you have encountered that have affected you personally or academically and how you dealt with them. (250 words)

 

Prompt 3: NC State University is committed to building a just and inclusive community, one that does not tolerate unjust or inhumane treatment, and that denounces it, clearly and loudly. Please describe what those words mean to you and how you will contribute to a more diverse and inclusive NC State environment. (250 words)

 

Honors and Scholars Program Applicants

 

Prompt 1: One of the key components of the University Honors and Scholars Program is a special set of courses called Honors (HON) seminars. You can learn more about them here. These discussion-based seminars are designed to expose students to the ways multiple disciplines approach and solve problems.

Review the courses we have offered in recent years and write a 250-350 word essay in which you explain why one particular course will be of interest, furthering your academic, professional, and personal goals while engaging you and your peers.

 

Prompt 2: Another key component of the University Honors and Scholars Program is the Scholars Forum. The Scholars Forum is designed to help students become active, informed, and engaged citizens. It delivers debates and discussions about contemporary social, political, and scientific issues; lectures from people with compelling stories to tell; and performances from a diverse collection of artists. You can learn more about it here.

As a University Honors and Scholars Program UHSP student, imagine you are tasked with helping select speakers and topics for the Scholars Forum. In an essay of 250-350 words, tell us what speaker, creative figure, or topic would you promote? How did you make your choice? How does your choice educate, challenge, and inspire others?

 

All Applicants, Prompt 1

Explain why you selected the academic program(s) above and why you are interested in studying these at NC State. (250 words)

 

This is the classic “Why This Major?” essay. Reading this prompt, it would be easy to fall into a trap of simply listing extracurriculars that you have done that relate to your intended major. For example, if you want to major in engineering, you would list that you participated in Science Olympiad and other STEM activities. However, avoid the urge to do this.

 

While you should certainly mention if there is a particular extracurricular that drove you to love this field, do not simply list the things that you have done relating to this major or program. Instead, you want to support your decision with specific content that the NCSU admissions officers have not yet seen on your application.

 

For example, you could tell a story about a moment during Science Olympiad when you encountered a project with applications beyond the club. Perhaps you discovered a robotic device to assist others and from that moment, you realized that this was a field where you could make an impact.

 

It will be helpful to consider these questions to guide your writing:

 

When did you decide to pursue this major/program? Why?

Think back to the things that first got you interested in the program you intend to pursue. For example, if math has been a passion of yours for a long time, then you could make a joke about your first memory being of doing a math problem. Or perhaps you always considered yourself a math person until you challenged yourself in a humanities class and discovered your passion for the subject.

 

What are the broader applications of this program?

Another factor that admissions officers will be looking for is your ability to exhibit how a degree from their school in this major would help you achieve your goals and make the world a better place. Try citing your career goals and how your major will help you achieve them. The admissions officers want to see your passion; they do not want to accept someone who is pre-med just because it is financially lucrative or because their parents want them to be a doctor.

 

How does your major connect with some of your other interests?

Admissions officers appreciate students who realize that their major can connect to other subjects and activities. Briefly referencing your other interests will portray you as multidisciplinary, making you appear more interesting. An example could look like this: “Philosophy, much like the jazz music I play on my piano, is all up to interpretation and how you see things. You can give any pianist the same chords and never get the same song. Similarly, after proposing a question to a group of philosophers, you will get myriad and innovative responses.”

 

Why this major/program at NCSU and not another school?

The most important thing for this part of your response is doing research! If you incorporate NCSU into your essay, then you should avoid hackneyed statements like: “NCSU will help me pursue my dreams of becoming a civil engineer because they have a really good engineering program.” NC State puts a heavy focus on research and will appreciate someone who is ready to positively contribute to their community and is genuinely interested in the subject.

 

You could look at the research professors in your major are conducting that you might be interested in. Also consider researching clubs on campus and what kinds of projects they are working on or events they hold. By citing specific resources you plan to take advantage of, you will help admissions officers picture you as part of the NC State community.

 

With all that being said, it’s also okay to be undecided. One of the wonderful things about college is that it is a time to explore your interests and try new things! If you are unsure about your potential major, then provide examples of things that you want to try out at NC State. You could discuss how you may want to be an engineer but have worked with little kids as a camp counselor and would like to try teaching. For this, the same rules apply as above; do not list, but rather, be specific and tell a story about your background or how you would fit in at NCSU as you try new things and gain value from a multidisciplinary education! Here’s more tips on how to write the “Why This Major” essay if you’re undecided.

 

Now that you have an understanding of what elements to include in your essay, let’s look at an example of a bad essay, and how it can be improved:

 

I have a passion for learning about different cultures. I have studied French for six years and participated in an exchange trip after my freshman year for two weeks, allowing me to live with a family in Oyonnax, France. This experience, along with continued political discussions in the midst of the French and American elections, has inspired my interest in global affairs. I love communications, diplomacy, and politics. I want to go into international public service with a focus on human rights and be a voice for those who lack one.

 

One of the main reasons this essay is not very strong is due to its “listiness” quality. Many of the items included in this essay are ones that the admissions office will already have read from the activities list on the Common Application. Including them here is a waste of space that could be used to share new information.

 

How could it be improved? Telling a story and showing why you want to study this major is a good place to start. Focus on what was mentioned in the last sentence: “be[ing] a voice for those who lack one.” Have you had experience with this? Why is this important? Why have you enjoyed it in the past? The focus could also be placed on the part about the French and American elections: What was interesting about these discussions? How were the elections similar and different? Give specific details to strengthen your response. Here is a much stronger example:

 

“Macron a gagné,” my host mom said with a relieved sigh. It was 2017, and I was studying abroad as a homestay student in Oyonnax, France. The murmur of BFM TV became muted as I tuned into my own thoughts ─ I had just lived through my first French election, and it was a fascinating experience!

 

Since that day, I have been interested in the differences between French and American elections, and most of all, democratic power transitions. Elections to me are a universal human right ─ the peaceful transition of the torch of Lady Liberty, the keys to the kingdom, is a historical marvel. I want to keep democracy alive; by combining what I learned in Oyonnax and in Durham as a poll worker about political accountability, I aspire to start an election monitoring NGO specializing in my mother’s home country of Mali. Majoring in Political Science at NC State, with its unique Honors Program and faculty advisors who conduct comparative elections research, is the best stepping stone I could take to make my goal a reality…

 

At the end of the day, it’s also okay to be undecided. One of the wonderful things about college is that it is a time to explore your interests and try new things! If you are unsure about your potential major, then provide examples of things that you want to try out at NC State. You could discuss how you may want to be an engineer but have worked with little kids as a camp counselor and would like to try teaching. For this, the same rules apply as above; do not list, but rather, be specific and tell a story about your background or how you would fit in at NCSU as you try new things and gain value from a multidisciplinary education! Here’s more tips on how to write the “Why This Major” essay if you’re undecided.

 

 

All Applicants, Prompt 2

Discuss any other obstacles and/or hardships that you have encountered that have affected you personally or academically and how you dealt with them. (250 words)

This is an “Overcoming Challenges” essay. The whole point here is to show how you respond to adversity. College can be difficult and full of challenges, and admissions officers need to see that you’re able to handle those challenges. 

 

When you’re starting this essay, the first thing you need to do is brainstorm your topic. Look back on your life and experiences, and think about the events that have had a significant impact on your growth. This absolutely does not need to be a traumatic event. Admissions officers are not evaluating students based on how serious the obstacle was. All they want is to know that you are intelligent and capable of handling challenges, big or small, that come your way. 

 

When you’re choosing the challenge you want to write about, you should pick one that demonstrates a quality about you that you want to highlight. Some qualities to highlight include:

  • Curiosity
  • Willing to take risks
  • Leadership/Initiative
  • Commitment to the community
  • Collaboration with others

 

To highlight these qualities, you could choose a topic like:

  • How you were unsure of what you wanted to do in life, and couldn’t really find anything that you were drawn to. Then you began researching and became curious about how mRNA works and how it can be used to treat disease. You dove into that subject, and decided to pursue science in college. 
  • How you struggled to balance a job and school, and you were slipping at one or both. You knew you needed to quit the job, but still needed to make money. So, you took a risk, and started your own Etsy store selling stickers that you made on your Cricut in your free time. You were able to make money while still focusing on school, and maybe you’re even interested in pursuing design now because of it!
  • How your school didn’t have the funding to buy books for the English department, and you and your classmates weren’t able to read books that were relevant to you. So, you took initiative and gathered a group of students to make a campaign for donations to the English book fund. You found websites where you could get free PDFs, and you formed a partnership with a local library. 

 

Each of these examples highlights one or more of the qualities above, and shows how you can make whatever challenge you’ve faced work for your essay. When writing, try not to go straight to challenges like:

  • Sports injuries
  • Immigration stories
  • Tragedies like death, divorce, or abuse
  • Challenging academic classes
  • Volunteer trips
  • Moving
  • Romantic relationships or breakups
  • Family pressure

 

While all of these things do present real challenges in life, they are also cliche topics. You want to try and avoid cliche topics as much as possible, since the themes within are pretty common, and will not set you apart. 

 

Here’s what your essay should look like:

 

Section 1: Describe the challenge

  • Give a fairly brief overview of the challenge here. 
  • If you can, try to move away from the more traditional essay structures. Maybe discuss a challenge you are currently overcoming, that spans multiple activities or events, or that you can write about in a narrative style. 

 

Section 2: What did you do to overcome the challenge?

  • When you’re doing this, focus on your internal struggle. Don’t waste your 250 words describing other people and events.
  • Describe your mental state. Let the reader into your feelings. Were you excited, scared, anxious?  
  • As an example: “When I started my own store, I was nervous. Would anyone like my designs? Would I be able to pay my bills? I wasn’t sure. As more and more people began ordering, I became increasingly confident in my own ability.

 

Section 3: Reflect on your growth as a result of the challenge

  • You should finish off by making sure the reader has a clear understanding of what you learned from this experience. 
  • Do not explicitly say “this experience taught me X”. Show the reader through your words so that you don’t have to explicitly say it. 
  • You can show your growth through your actions or your own reflections. 
  • Remember, the goal here is to show admissions officers why your experiences make you a great candidate for admission.

 

Here is an example of a good “Overcoming Challenges” Essay:

 

I knew I had to quit my job. I couldn’t handle working long hours on top of doing my best in school. I was slipping. My stress from work was keeping me from completing my assignments, and at school, I was a blanked-out zombie. I was so scared to quit because I had to pay my car insurance, phone bill, and car payment. I was frantic. What will I do? My family couldn’t help and I was desperate. Any other job would work me the same hours, and I’d stress out again. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. My manager said that I’d never find a job that would work with my “unreasonable expectations.” I was incredulous. A high schooler looking to put school first is unrealistic? So, I quit. I took an inventory of my likes and skills, finally settling on starting my own line of stickers available online. I began nervously posting them on social media. Would anyone like them? Could I pay my bills? As more and more orders poured in, my confidence grew. Within three months, I was making what I needed, without sacrificing my mental and academic health. Within six months, I was doing even better! My belief in myself skyrocketed. I knew I could do whatever I set my mind to. I know I am capable of anything. My business is still going strong, and it was what pushed me to study design. I hope for continued growth!

 

 

All Applicants, Prompt 3

NC State University is committed to building a just and inclusive community, one that does not tolerate unjust or inhumane treatment, and that denounces it, clearly and loudly. Please describe what those words mean to you and how you will contribute to a more diverse and inclusive NC State environment. (250 words)

 

To start this essay, think about the concepts they want you to define: a just and inclusive community and denouncing inhuman treatment. Explain what they mean to you with a story, and connect the two concepts—in order to have a just and inclusive community, we must first denounce inhuman treatment. You could begin the essay with first lines similar to the following:

 

“The rain was pouring on us, the wind was gushing. I could barely keep my soaked eyes open, but I could still see the beauty of the moment. Thousands of people of every color and walk of life were marching together to support Black Lives Matter. The Raleigh Convention Center faded behind us as we moved closer to the state capitol—closer to progress. That was the day when I truly learned what a just and inclusive community looks like. 

 

A just and inclusive community is one where one person’s struggles and oppression, no matter how different they are from our own, are treated as everyone’s struggles and oppression. This community does not come about, but is created by denouncing inhuman treatment. The arc of the universe bends towards justice, but not without help.

 

I aspire to bend the arc of NC State’s community towards inclusiveness by…”

 

This essay has a descriptive and engaging anecdote that shows the reader what specific experience taught this student the meaning of justice and inclusivity. The next step for this student is to explain how they will contribute to a diverse community. Here are some tips for if you decide to discuss, at least in part, how you could contribute to the diverse student population at NC State:

 

Continue Work You Began in High School

  • Show that you are already involved in working with diverse populations and groups!
  • Have you volunteered with the SPCA? Have you tutored differently-abled children? Have you worked to educate those around you on inclusive and appropriate actions? Talk about it!
  • As in the example above, talk about how you’ve advocated for change. Even if you are not a part of a marginalized group, you can talk about how you’ve supported causes that will make life better for everyone.
  • You do need to be careful with this though. Keep in mind that you may not fully share the experiences and oppression others face. Show your support, but recognize your lack of first-hand experience. 

 

Describe Clubs You’ve Researched Committed to Diversity and Inclusivity

NCSU has hundreds of clubs and organizations. There is something for everyone! Here are some examples:

  • Advocacy and Politics:
      • American Justice Corps
      • Circle of Sisterhood at NC State
      • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Alliance
      • Habitat for Humanity
      • International Justice Mission
  • Global and Cultural Interests:
      • African Student Union
      • Asian Students Association
      • Caribbean Student Association
      • Cultural Exchange Network
      • Iranian Students Association
  • Religious and Spiritual Interests:
    • Agape Campus Ministry
    • Cru
    • Hindu YUVA at NC State
    • Muslim Student Assocation

 

Research the clubs that are of interest to you, and use what you learn to inform your essay. How can you aid their mission? How will you improve their work with your ideas and experiences? 

 

Show How You’ll Share Your Unique Background with Your Friends and Classmates

Think about these questions:

  • How did the location you grew up in influence your identity?
  • Does your family emphasize the importance of religion or culture?
  • Did you grow up in an area with a lot of diversity?
  • What are some of the things that get you fired up? What are you passionate about?
  • Is there something that you could bring to NCSU that they don’t already have? (Example: You are a master at solving Rubik’s Cubes and would love to bring this quality to share with others at NC State.)

 

Now, how will you use your identity and experiences to enrich not only your experience at NCSU, but the experiences of others? Will you teach your roommate to make a traditional dish from your culture? Will you encourage those around you to be accepting of differences, like you learned to be in your super diverse neighborhood? Will you be able to participate in class discussions by adding a lived experience that others don’t have? Tell your admissions officer how!

 

Explain How You’ll Fight Inhumane Treatment in the Surrounding Community

Look into the community around you. You’ve noticed problems. How will you help fix them?

 

Will you:

  • Work with campus organizations to outreach to the surrounding area? What specific problem do you want to address? Homelessness, school funding, food insecurity? What is dear to you?
  • Create your own organization to address a need that you don’t see already represented?
  • Advocate for a chosen cause to your classmates, dormmates, and others on campus?

 

What kind of work will you do? Describe it, and make your reader see your already big plans. Let them know that NCSU is the perfect place for you to begin or continue your journey of service by being specific about problems that need to be addressed in the community around the school. 

 

 

 

Honors College, Prompt 1

One of the key components of the University Honors and Scholars Program is a special set of courses called Honors (HON) seminars. You can learn more about them here. These discussion-based seminars are designed to expose students to the ways multiple disciplines approach and solve problems.

Review the courses we have offered in recent years and write a 250-350 word essay in which you explain why one particular course will be of interest, furthering your academic, professional, and personal goals while engaging you and your peers.

The goal of HON seminars is to give honors students an interdisciplinary education based on research and discussion. You will want to start the essay by telling the story of the moment when you realized why such an education is important for the world we live in today. For example, the introduction could be:

 

“We didn’t win the bottle rocket competition in AP Physics by chance. There was something our team had that resulted in the creation of the Velox rocket, a four foot, multi-chambered missile made from Sprite bottles. Our team had José, who laid the blueprints for our rocket with attention to detail. Muhammadu kept the team united and focused with his management skills, while Alexis crunched the numbers to optimize our aerodynamics. I added a Space X-style paint job to the body and fins and wrote our project report. I believe that our rocket soared into the sky on launch day not because each of us was a genius, but because we combined our diverse perspectives and skills with open communication and a passion for research. As our rocket landed on a nearby house, I saw the power of interdisciplinary teamwork.

 

Interdisciplinary teamwork not only produces bottle rockets, but real rockets. It is crucial for the undergraduate experience today because…”

 

To explain how HON seminars are important to you specifically, think about your goals. What skills and personal values do you want to develop during undergrad, and what are you intellectually curious about? Look into the details of the HON seminars and choose a specific seminar that would help you go beyond your general education and reach your unique goals. 

 

You can begin this part of the essay with a connecting phrase such as “Interdisciplinary teamwork would be crucial for my own undergraduate experience.” Explain how your skills and personal values could benefit from an interdisciplinary environment and hands-on learning. For example, if you wanted to develop your leadership skills during undergrad, you could talk about how an HON seminar would allow you to intellectually lead through discussion-based classes and research conducted with a socratic philosophy. 

 

Mention a topic that you would be excited to explore in your chosen HON seminar. Highlight why you have intellectual curiosity about this topic, and what questions you have about it. Show your passion here by probing deep. If you are interested in astrophysics, talk about how you would like your idea of starting an asteroid mining business to be intellectually challenged during the Science, American Style HON seminar. 

 

Conclude by tying your own intellectual curiosity back to the NC State community. Explain how you are ready to meet others who love asking questions, enjoy working with people who have completely different backgrounds and perspectives, and value immersive learning experiences.

 

 

Honors College, Prompt 2

Another key component of the University Honors and Scholars Program is the Scholars Forum. The Scholars Forum is designed to help students become active, informed, and engaged citizens. It delivers debates and discussions about contemporary social, political, and scientific issues; lectures from people with compelling stories to tell; and performances from a diverse collection of artists. You can learn more about it here.

As a University Honors and Scholars Program UHSP student, imagine you are tasked with helping select speakers and topics for the Scholars Forum. In an essay of 250-350 words, tell us what speaker, creative figure, or topic would you promote? How did you make your choice? How does your choice educate, challenge, and inspire others?

 

While this is a unique essay prompt, you can look to Political and Global Issues essay guides for assistance. Admission officers want to see if you are an engaged citizen that cares about others and wants to spread knowledge. Are you up to date on current events? Do you care about current issues? Do you value diverse experiences and knowledge? That’s what you need to show here. 

 

When you’re coming up with topics for an essay like this, you need to be careful about the issues you’re writing about. You need to pick a topic that’s specific and personally relevant to you. You should also make sure the issue you choose is aligned with the school. For NCSU, you might want to look at some of the causes the university supports, and choose a topic that aligns with those causes. The university has a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, so choosing to promote a speaker concerning homelessness or the housing crisis in North Carolina would be a good example of aligning your topic to the school. However, you shouldn’t only focus on why the university would support the topic, but also why you’re passionate about it. 

 

When choosing your topic to promote, make sure you stay specific. 

  • Instead of homelessness, try the housing crisis facing downtown Raleigh
  • Inside of prison reform, try North Carolina’s prison system and the issues it is facing with COVID
  • Instead of police brutality, try rates of police shootings in North Carolina and the communities in which they happen

 

To write this essay, begin by introducing your problem or specific speaker. Explain what topic or speaker you chose, and why you think they would bring value to the NCSU community:

 

“I would bring Raleigh’s homeless and affordable housing problem to the forefront of the Scholars Forum. To get speakers familiar with the issue, I would reach out to city council members, as well as reporters familiar with the issue, and those directly affected as well. Though the city has a goal of constructing 5,700 affordable housing units by 2026, this is not enough to address the 28,845 unit deficit shown in 2019. The nearly 50,000 low-income renter households in the city deserve a place to call home.”

 

Then, speak about how the issue/speaker is relevant to you. Why did you pick it?

 

“Most students live in, and love, Raleigh. The Raleigh community is our home, the people, our friends and neighbors. We see the repercussions of homelessness every day. When people complain about encampments under 540, or treat those on the street as if they don’t exist, I don’t understand it. Those people do not want to be there any more than you or I. Personally, I have worked in soup kitchens every summer since I was 15, and I know that these people are the same as any other. Most of them are down on their luck, something that could happen to most Americans if they missed only a couple paychecks. NC State students should have the knowledge to see these people as people, not as “others”, as many unfortunately do.”

 

Finally, explain how this issue/speaker will educate, challenge, and inspire others in the community.

 

“This topic would be perfect to tie into Shack-a-Thon, when students across campus are already talking about housing. As a program, the UHS could have its own shack, and raise awareness of the issue with the knowledge we gain from the forum. This topic would educate students on a situation that could happen to anyone, as well as give them a lesson in empathy and respect for others. It would challenge them to see past their own biases, and step into the shoes of another. It would inspire them to work together with the community to solve these issues, lobby their council members, and vote for people who care about the issues affecting the entire community.” 

 

Where to Get Your NCSU Essays Edited for Free

 

It’s important to get extra sets of eyes on your essays, whether it’s family, friends, or teachers. Asking people who know you well is a great way to make sure your essay sounds like you, and your unique experiences and self come through in your writing. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism, everyone around you is hoping for your success!

 

We know that outside opinions can be useful in your writing. That’s why CollegeVine has a free Peer Essay Review tool, allowing you to submit your essay and get feedback from another student. Editing other students’ essays will also help you improve your own writing skills. You can get the help you need while helping your peers to achieve their goals. And, guess what? It’s all free when you sign up for an account with us! We know admissions season can be overwhelming, so we and the entire CollegeVine community are here to help you feel cool, confident, and prepared.

 

Want more college admissions tips?

We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.

Short Bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.

Don't miss out on the best high school & college admissions resources!

Join thousands of students and parents getting exclusive high school, test prep, and college admissions information.