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How to Write the North Carolina State University Essays 2022-2023

 

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 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)

 

University Honors Program Applicants

 

Prompt 1:One of the key components of the University Honors Program is a special set of courses called 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 would be of interest, furthering your academic, professional, and personal goals.

 

Prompt 2: Another key component of the University Honors Program is the Honors Forum. The Honors Forum is designed to help students become active, informed, and engaged citizens. Students will be exposed to compelling lectures and performances from a diverse array of thinkers and artists fostering debate and discussion about contemporary social, political, and scientific issues. You can learn more about it here.

 

As a UHP student, imagine you are tasked with helping select new speakers and topics for the Honors 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 NC State 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 NC State and not another school?

The most important thing for this part of your response is doing research! If you incorporate NC State into your essay, then you should avoid hackneyed statements like: “NC State 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 NC State 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…

 

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 prompt is a clear fit for the “Overcoming Challenges” essay archetype. A successful response will use strong, specific evidence to convince the reader of your ability to manage adversity. College can be full of challenges, and admissions officers need to see that you’re able to handle those challenges. 

 

As you brainstorm for this essay, reflect on your life and experiences. Think about moments when you faced hardship and consider what you did to overcome that hardship. Keep in mind that this does not need to be a traumatic event—admissions officers are not evaluating students based on the severity of their problems. They are most interested in knowing how you overcame the challenges in your life, regardless of if they were big or small. 

 

When you’re choosing the challenge that you will write about, you should pick one that demonstrates one or more personal qualities that you want to highlight. Some of these qualities may include:

 

  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Cooperation
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Leadership
  • Initiative 

 

To highlight some of these qualities, you might choose a topic like this:

 

Once, during your sophomore year, you had a big research paper due for biology and no idea what to write about. You decided to take a walk to help ease your anxiety over the looming deadline, and that’s when you noticed a metallic green beetle clinging to a nearby tree. You could have passed by it without a second thought, but instead you did some research: it was an emerald ash borer, an invasive species to your area. Your fascination with the beetle and its impact on the environment went on to become the focus of your research paper. Additionally, you were inspired to volunteer to help educate your community about the emerald ash borer, and this work has encouraged you to pursue a minor in Applied Ecology at NC State’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

 

The above topic highlights curiosity, cooperation, and initiative. Your curiosity led you to research the strange insect you saw on your walk. By describing your volunteer experience, you illustrated your ability to cooperate with others and work towards a common goal. Finally, your initiative to make a positive impact on your environment guided your desire to learn more about ecology. 

 

As a bonus, your topic is specific enough to be memorable, and you have expressed the exact reasoning behind your interest in NC State. Most importantly, your topic answers the prompt; it allows you to explain that by combining your values of curiosity, cooperation, and initiative, you were able to not only overcome your obstacle, but turn it into a positive experience.

 

Some topics for this prompt, despite being valid challenges, are not the best choice for your essay because they are too overdone. When writing, try to avoid challenges like:

 

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

 

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?

 

  • Focus on your internal struggle in this section. Let the reader know about the feelings you had as you faced your challenge. Were you frustrated? Anxious? Despondent? Continue to describe how your feelings changed as you overcame the challenge. Perhaps finding the solution made you feel motivated? Triumphant? Empowered? 
  • For example, you might write: “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. However, as more and more people began ordering, I became increasingly confident in my work.”

 

 

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

 

  • Conclude your essay by ensuring that the reader has a clear understanding of what you learned from this experience.
  • Rather than explicitly stating “this experience taught me X,” show the reader by reflecting on your feelings and the outcomes of the experience.

 

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 struggled to balance working long hours and doing my best in school. My stress from work was keeping me from completing my assignments, and at school I was a blanked-out zombie. I was scared to quit because I had to pay my bills, but I also recognized the importance of maintaining my grades. I knew I needed to seek a better solution. 

 

I started by taking inventory of my interests and skills. I had always considered myself to be an artsy person, and I had seen others build successful small businesses selling their crafts online. One day, while researching, I glanced at my water bottle and suddenly I had my solution: I would start my own line of stickers, just like the ones that adorned my bottle. I spent weeks working out the designs before I launched my creations. At first, I was nervous. Would anyone like my designs? Would I be able to pay my bills? I wasn’t sure. However, as more and more people began ordering, I became increasingly confident in my work. Within three months, I was making what I needed, without sacrificing my mental health and academic progress. At that moment, I knew I could do whatever I set my mind to. Because of this hardship, I realized that a challenge in life can also be an opportunity to grow. I have since decided to study design in college so I can continue creating art as a career.

 

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 sign for “listen” in American Sign Language is simple: just point to your ear. Yet, since birth, my sister Lola has never used her ears to listen. Like many people with hearing impairments, Lola listens with her eyes and speaks with her hands. Throughout her life, she has struggled to live in a world built for hearing people. As her oldest sister and biggest advocate, I have dedicated thousands of hours to learning ASL and educating others about increasing accessibility for people like Lola. 

 

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

NC State 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 NC State 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 NC State, 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 NC State 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. 

 

 

 

University Honors Program, Prompt 1

One of the key components of the University Honors 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 would be of interest, furthering your academic, professional, and personal goals.

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. The Velox rocket, a four foot, multi-chambered missile made from Sprite bottles, was only possible because of the combined efforts of our team. Jose laid the blueprints, Muhammadu led the team, Alexis crunched the numbers, and I 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 each contributed our diverse perspectives and skills to the project. 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.

 

 

University Honors Program, Prompt 2

 

Another key component of the University Honors Program is the Honors Forum. The Honors 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 UHP student, imagine you are tasked with helping select speakers and topics for the Honors 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 NC State, 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 NC State community:

 

“Like many other metropolitan areas, Raleigh lacks adequate housing for all of its residents—as of 2019, the city is at a 28,845 unit deficit. Contemporary architects throughout the world are constantly devising new ways to address the issue of homelessness, whether that be constructing housing from shipping containers or converting an old railway station into low-income apartments. For my Honors Forum selection, I would choose to explore how innovation in architecture can solve Raleigh’s affordable housing problem.  

 

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

 

“As an aspiring architect, I am fascinated by how contemporary architecture seeks to address the problem of homelessness. Most NC State students, like myself, live in, and love, Raleigh. We see the repercussions of homelessness every day, but I think we could all benefit from taking the time to think critically—and creatively—about how we can alleviate its effects in our city. ”

 

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

 

“Through the lens of architecture, we may examine how designers’ decisions, both artistic and pragmatic, may achieve a positive outcome for residents. In a broader sense, through this topic, UHP students will be able to discuss the power of innovation as a means of social change. 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 for the issue with the knowledge we gain from the forum. After learning about how architecture can help the homeless, students will be inspired to work together to think of creative ways to solve other problems in our community” 

 

Where to Get Your NC State Essays Edited

 

Do you want feedback on your NC State essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

 


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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.