How to Write the UNC Chapel Hill Essays 2023-2024
The flagship institution for the University of North Carolina is consistently ranked as one of the best public universities in the country. Because of its high caliber of academics, wide array of extracurricular activities, internship and research opportunities in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, and dedicated fan base, it’s no wonder tens of thousands of highly qualified applicants apply each year.
In order to stand out from the crowd, you will need to write exceptional essays that blow the admissions committee away. This year, UNC Chapel Hill requires all applicants to submit two short responses under 250 words. Students interested in going abroad through the Global Fellowship program will be required to submit an additional essay. We’ll cover how to write each of these essays in detail, sharing our expert tips to help you stand out.
Read this UNC Chapel Hill essay example to inspire your writing.
UNC Chapel Hill Supplemental Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: Discuss one of your personal qualities and share a story, anecdote, or memory of how it helped you make a positive impact on a community. This could be your current community or another community you have engaged. (200-250 words)
Prompt 2: Discuss an academic topic that you’re excited to explore and learn more about in college. Why does this topic interest you? Topics could be a specific course of study, research interests, or any other area related to your academic experience in college. (200-250 words)
Global Fellowship Applicants
Why do you want to participate in the global opportunities you’ve selected, and in what ways are you hoping to grow through the experience(s)? (200-250 words)
Discuss one of your personal qualities and share a story, anecdote, or memory of how it helped you make a positive impact on a community. This could be your current community or another community you have engaged. (200-250 words)
This prompt puts a spin on the traditional community service essay that asks about your involvement and impact on a community you are a part of. While you still need to address your impact on a community, you have to do it through the lens of a personal characteristic.
In order to fully answer this question, you will need to pick a character trait and a community you are part of and then find a story that blends the two together. There are two main ways you could go about brainstorming.
The first method is to start with a personal trait and work outwards to find an example that demonstrates that characteristic. This is a good approach if you have a character trait that contributes to your application theme. For example, if the theme of leadership is running throughout your application, you might want to write about your leadership and then find an example of a time when you exhibited it in one of your extracurricular or volunteer communities.
The other approach is to pick a community that is important to you and work backwards to find a characteristic. This method will require more introspection as you will need to consider the role you play in the community, how you typically act, how you interact with other community members, etc. If you have a community that is a foundational part of your personality, this might be the approach for you.
As you go about brainstorming, remember that there is no right or wrong character trait or type of community. In fact, you could even spin a “negative” trait like being impulsive or anxious into a positive story—if you go down this road, be careful to show how you had a positive impact on the community and maybe how you fixed the negative trait through being part of the community.
Once you’ve thought of a characteristic and a community you want to focus on, the next step is to come up with a story that highlights how your chosen personality trait led to a positive outcome in your chosen community. Ask yourself some guiding questions to remind yourself of important details that will make your story more engaging:
- Where were you?
- Who was involved?
- What types of conversations took place?
- Did you feel confident in your contribution or did you go outside of your comfort zone?
- What actions did you take? What were you hoping to accomplish?
Now it’s time to start writing! Since you only have 250 words, you’ll want to get right to the heart of the story. A good tactic to accomplish this is to start in media res, or in the middle of the action. For example:
“‘A little more to the right. Up a little. No, dow—there! Perfect!’ The large white tarp hung over the gym entrance, prepared to greet every student attending the rally, perfectly straight thanks to my razor-sharp eyesight and impeccable judgment.”
As you write, make sure you emphasize the story—after all, the prompt explicitly asks for a story or anecdote—by showing the reader through vivid imagery. Place the reader in the moment with active language (“running” instead of “I ran”), use sensory descriptors (“the sweet smell of cinnamon and clove warmed the biting chill in the air”), and avoid generic adjectives like “happy” or “excited.”
Another crucial thing to show (not tell) in this essay is your character trait. Readers like to feel like they are playing an active role in a story, meaning they want to pick up on clues and come to conclusions by themselves. If a student starts her essay by saying, “My positive attitude inspired my lacrosse teammates to shake off defeat and keep training,” we immediately know exactly what her trait is, which leaves us less engaged.
Instead, she can hint at her positivity without explicitly stating it by saying something like this: “Seeing the fallen faces and shaking heads of my teammates, I called for a huddle before they trudged back to the bus. I countered with a toothy smile and determination gleaming in my eyes. ‘So it wasn’t our day. Guess what? That’s why we have tomorrow!’”
This example demonstrates her positivity and, because of the imagery, we can see other traits like leadership and determination shine through as well.
It’s important that your reader be able identify what your character trait is and how it enabled you to positively impact your community. Looking at your essay, it should be easy to point to a change in the community for the better as a result of your involvement. Once you think you’re done writing, go back and ask yourself if that change is obvious. If not, keep revising until it’s clear.
Discuss an academic topic that you’re excited to explore and learn more about in college. Why does this topic interest you? Topics could be a specific course of study, research interests, or any other area related to your academic experience in college. (200-250 words)
While you might be tempted to approach this prompt in the way you would approach a traditional “Why This Major?” essay, hold on for a second and reread the prompt. Rather than being asked why you are pursuing a particular major or area of study, you’re being asked about “an academic topic that you’re excited to explore and learn more about in college.”
Yes, you will probably be most excited to study the topic of your major, but this prompt gives you the chance to look beyond your major and demonstrate the nuances of your interests.
A Good Response Versus a Great One
A good response will focus on a student’s major—”biology,” for example—but a great response will either home in on a specific facet of the major or delve into interdisciplinary interests.
For instance, a student who wants to home in on a specific topic within biology might discuss her fascination with CRISPR genome editing and its ability to potentially cure leukemia. Although her major is technically just “biology,” she is able to focus her essay on this niche topic within biology because this prompt doesn’t box you into discussing your major as merely a school curriculum.
A different student might go down the interdisciplinary route by writing about his interest in gene expression and how environmental factors caused by housing and urban policy can influence what genes are turned on and off. While this essay would still be discussing concepts related to the student’s biology major, it would also demonstrate to the admissions committee the student’s multifaceted interests and his ability to connect seemingly unrelated topics.
Whether you choose to drill down into a specific topic or to make connections between different topics, your essay should still be related to your major. If you’re deciding to major in biology but submit an essay to UNC about your love for American history without a single mention of science, it might raise some questions from the admissions committee.
Find an Anecdote
One of the best ways to show admissions officers your passion for a subject is through a story—in fact, when it comes to college essays, the best way to show anything is through a story!
Anecdotes provide a natural and captivating introduction to your essay, can be used as supporting details for a point you are trying to prove, and can give the essay a common unifying theme. Whether you use your anecdote as a hook in the beginning or write the whole essay around it, it’s important to have a strong personal story when using an anecdote to demonstrate your interest in a topic.
Some good sources of inspiration to get you started might include:
- Your first experience with the topic
- An independent project you conducted on the subject
- A time you struggled with the subject material
- Key questions you have about the topic
- A piece of media you consumed (podcast, book, TV show, etc.) that discussed or challenged your ideas on the topic
- Your personal connection to the topic
Demonstrate Your Interest
The next important part of this essay is demonstrating your interest to show the admissions committee why you want to study this topic in further detail. Your anecdote will help accomplish this goal, but let’s break it down a little more.
In order to successfully demonstrate your interest, you will need to show what, in particular, excites you about this topic. Is it a personal connection? Perhaps your goal is to cure a disease your family member suffers from. Alternatively, is it a chance for you to let your imagination and creativity run wild? If so, how does that feel? Will understanding this topic open doors for you to tackle even more complex issues? Whatever your point of interest in the topic is, you need to make it clear to the reader.
A generic way of demonstrating your interest might look like this:
“I first learned about CRISPR technology in my freshman year biology class. The thought of modifying genes to fight diseases was so exciting to me. Ever since then, I’ve been interested in curing diseases like leukemia.”
Those sentences tell us very little about the interest, and they don’t really show us anything. Saying it was “exciting” and that she was “interested” isn’t descriptive enough to show the reader why the student is pursuing it. Compare that with this example:
“A blue and red helix swirled around the screen as nucleobases were cut and spliced. Within minutes the sequence was inserted and the DNA began replicating without a second thought to its new appendage. My eyes shot open and my jaw grew slack. Images of pristine, white hospital walls clouded my vision. The strong smell of disinfectant permeated the air. All those hours sitting with my mom, holding her cold hands through the chemo, and it could have been solved in minutes with CRISPR?”
This version shows the reader infinitely more about the wonder and disbelief surrounding the topic with imagery like “my eyes shot open and my jaw grew slack.” Then, by detailing the images, smells, and feelings of sitting with their mom through chemotherapy, the student fully conveys her personal stake in this technology and why she is drawn to the topic.
Why Should UNC Care?
Okay, so you know what topic you are interested in studying in college and you have a good story to go with it. So what? Why should the UNC admissions officers care? The final step is to connect your interest to the academic and extracurricular offerings at UNC Chapel Hill.
Although this isn’t a “Why This School” essay that specifically asks for you to mention school resources, the best way to make your essay stand out is to go beyond what you are explicitly asked for and demonstrate the level of research you have done.
The word count is limited for this essay, so the majority of your focus should be on telling the story and demonstrating your interest in your chosen topic. However, try and reserve a sentence or two to weave in school-specific offerings.
When you are including these opportunities, it’s important to ensure that they are both unique and supported by your personal connection. In other words, don’t just say you’re excited to take Biology 101 at UNC, since every university offers that class—instead, find a more distinctive offering that would be harder to find elsewhere, like Molecular Genetics.
Similarly, tie each resource you mention back to yourself. Don’t just say that you want to work with a specific professor; add what you hope to learn from their work with gene replication in mice and how you think you might apply that work to humans, for example.
The UNC admissions officers will read thousands of essays where students simply tell their stories and forget to connect their previous experiences to their future ones. When they come across an essay that is able to tell the student’s story and incorporate the school’s offerings, they will be impressed. Everyone loves a little flattery—even colleges.
That said, make sure that the one or two school resources you mention naturally flow in the essay. The easiest solution is to add a sentence at the end about how you’ll explore your interests on campus, but this tends to disrupt the flow of the essay and make it feel forced. Below is an example of how to make this idea less jarring:
“If only I could tell my mom about the hours I’ll have spent researching with faculty at the CRISPR Screening Facility at Chapel Hill to develop a new drug that would make chemotherapy a bad dream, and not a reality, for those suffering from leukemia.”
If you can successfully unite the topic you’re interested in with the classes, professors, programs, or extracurriculars at UNC, your essay will likely resonate more with the admissions committee.
Global Fellowship Prompt
Why do you want to participate in the global opportunities you’ve selected, and in what ways are you hoping to grow through the experience(s)? (200-250 words)
UNC applicants have the opportunity to be considered for four global opportunities, including the Global Gap Year Fellowship, Joint Degree Program with the National University of Singapore, Russian Language Flagship Program, and the Summer Study Abroad Fellowship.
In this prompt, you’ll need to explain why you selected the program(s) you did. What is it that you hope to experience, learn, or gain from your time abroad?
Take the time to read up on the program(s) you selected and what they entail. Because this essay gives you a maximum of 250 words, we recommend applying for no more than two programs (unless you have a genuinely strong interest in being considered for all four).
1. Identify why you want to go abroad.
Do you hope to gain an appreciation for a specific nation’s people or history? Do you want to develop language skills? Are you hoping to gain self-reliance?
For example, a student interested in the Global Gap Year Fellowship might want to visit communities impacted by climate change, volunteer with the locals, and document those experiences in a series of short stories. Since the countries experiencing the worst effects of climate change are outside of North America, going abroad suits the student’s goals well.
2. Identify areas for growth.
What would an experience abroad provide you with? What lessons may you learn that you need to or want to learn? How to adapt to changing circumstances? How to learn in nontraditional experiential experiences? How to deal with failure? How to communicate better or in a different language?
Continuing the example from the first point, this student wants to expand their understanding of climate change since they come from an urban community where issues like drought and rising sea levels are just a hazy concept to them. They want to learn how to tell the human stories behind climate change in order to inspire others to take action.
3. How would you impact the UNC community?
This could be anything from continued research and connection with a community to major selection. Are you going to start a club? Study with a professor whose expertise aligns with your experience? Be specific and intentional.
Again, the example student might want to take the lessons they learn abroad back to UNC as an Environmental Studies major. While on campus, they might virtually interview people around the world who are impacted by climate change, and maybe with help from the Carolina 360 Club, they’ll share those stories in a podcast.
Where to Get Your UNC Chapel Hill Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your UNC Chapel Hill 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!