How to Write the UNC Chapel Hill Essays 2020-2021

As one of the nation’s first public institutions, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the flagship of the state’s public university system and the paradigm for American public education. The school has over seventy majors—anything from Peace, War, and Defense to Photojournalism. 

 

Famous for their long standing rivalry with Duke University, the “Tar Heels” boast impressive athletic teams, hundreds of student organizations, and a prosperous artistic community. Situated against the stunning backdrop of Chapel Hill, affectionately referred to as “The Southern Part of Heaven,” UNC at Chapel Hill has a wonderful presence in one of North Carolina’s largest cities and is a part of the famous Research Triangle (the other schools being North Carolina State University and Duke University). 

 

Its admitted class from the 2019-2020 cycle includes 4,067 students from North Carolina and 935 out-of-state students. The average SAT score from out of state was from 1360-1500. Out of the North Carolina applicants, 41% were accepted—compared to only 13% of out-of-state applicants who were accepted. 

 

UNC at Chapel Hill is one of the country’s most sought after schools. Have the Southern charms of UNC moved you to apply? Do the overwhelmingly low acceptance rates have you a bit…scared or overwhelmed? We’ll show you how to improve your chances of acceptance by writing standout supplemental essays.Want to know your chances at UNC? Calculate your chances for free right now. 

 

Want to learn what UNC will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering UNC needs to know. 

 

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill Supplemental Essay Prompts 

All Applicants

 

Prompt 1: In addition to the essay you provided with your Common Application, please choose two of the prompts below and respond to each in 200-250 words. Your essay responses below should be different from your common app essay response. 

 

Carolina aspires to build a diverse and inclusive community. We believe that students can only achieve their best when they learn alongside students from different backgrounds. In reading your responses, we hope to learn what being a member of such a community would mean to you.

 

  • Option A: Expand on an aspect of your identity (for example, your religion, culture, race, sexual or gender identity, affinity group, etc.). How has this aspect of your identity shaped your life experiences thus far?

 

  • Option B: If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be and why?

 

  • Option C: Describe someone who you see as a community builder. What actions has that person taken? How has their work made a difference in your life?

 

Honors College Applicants

 

Please submit a short essay (250 words or fewer) that describes your academic interests and the ways you believe Honors Carolina can help you pursue them.

 

Global Gap Year Fellowship and Global Carolina Launch Applicants

 

Prompt 1: When students travel abroad, they become members of new communities. What qualities would you value in new social and cultural contexts and how would you contribute to your new communities? (200-250 words)

 

Prompt 2: Tell us more about why you want to go abroad. How do you hope to grow, and what skills do you hope you will bring back to Carolina? (200-250 words)

All Applicants

 

Prompt 1: In addition to the essay you provided with your Common Application, please choose two of the prompts below and respond to each in 200-250 words. Your essay responses below should be different from your common app essay response. 

 

Carolina aspires to build a diverse and inclusive community. We believe that students can only achieve their best when they learn alongside students from different backgrounds. In reading your responses, we hope to learn what being a member of such a community would mean to you.

All Applicants, Option A

Expand on an aspect of your identity (for example, your religion, culture, race, sexual or gender identity, affinity group, etc.). How has this aspect of your identity shaped your life experiences thus far? (200-250 words)

At first glance, this prompt seems extremely similar to the first Common Application prompt: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.” However, UNC’s prompt has a different objective and a different context. Let’s return to the final sentence of the instructions.

 

“In reading your responses, we hope to learn what being a member of [the vibrant UNC] community would mean to you.”

 

Based on this context, the prompt can be reframed to be the following: 

 

Expand upon one aspect of your identity. Reflect on how this aspect has shaped your life experience so far, and how it would benefit or shape your experience at UNC at Chapel Hill.

 

This prompt requires you to select one facet of your intersectional, multifaceted identity. Because the word limit is 250 words, it is important to select only one meaningful part of your identity.

 

1. Clarify and describe the aspect of your identity in an engaging way.

 

You should briefly show how this aspect of your identity has impacted your life.

 

For example, if you were writing about your female identity, a forgettable essay might read: 

 

“One meaningful aspect of my identity that I feel is important to share is my female identity. Growing up with only brothers, I was often treated differently and unfairly.”

 

The writer merely regurgitated the language of the prompt! Boring! How might you make this more exciting? Try adding an anecdote or quick metaphor. A stronger response would look something like this: 

 

“He was only a few paces ahead of me. I began my mental checklist: core—engaged. Shoulders—down and back. Feet—landing softly on the sliding gravel. My brother turns over his shoulder, to give me a sneer and a snide remark. Little does he know, I’m about to pass him. I can see my father waiting, arms outstretched. by the oak tree at the end of our street. And I have to win. I must.

 

As the only woman in my family, pursuing a career in STEM, I feel like I am always a few paces behind. For years, I occupied the shadow of my older brothers, watching their accomplishments be celebrated more than mine, simply because of their male identity. I have worked and studied in androcentric spaces, namely labs and conventions, and felt like my contributions were being swallowed by louder, more masculine voices.”

 

2. Synthesize the story of your identity and your goals in a college experience. 

 

This can be brief—even one sentence. You should explain what you’re looking for in a college experience. This explanation can be a continuation of your identity and life experience.

 

  • Maybe you want to further the exploration of your sometimes-contradictory beliefs in Christian Creationism and science.
  • Or, perhaps you are looking to pursue your intellectual curiosity in environmental science stemming from your Norwegian culture.
  • Or, maybe you long to pursue a degree in music because of its generational importance in your Mexican heritage.

 

This connection can also be a contradiction of an aspect of your identity.

 

  • Perhaps you are interested in a career in psychology to combat feeling isolated by your queer identity.
  • Or, maybe you want to find ways to explore abstraction and mess in art, film, or literature while your Japanese family champions order and cleanliness.
  • Or, possibly, you are feeling discontent in your rural hometown and want to pursue a major in City and Regional Planning.

 

3. Make a call to action.

 

Show how UNC is the perfect fit for you and your identity. This portion of the essay involves extensive research into the school. What is the history of UNC? What majors or clubs might match your identities? What courses might challenge your identities or make you question them? Whether this is a commentary on Carolina’s values or a specific program UNC offers, you should find a link between your identity and UNC at Chapel Hill.

 

For example:

 

“As a Black woman, I see tremendous value and pride in a Tar Heel education. As an aspiring journalist myself, it would be a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Karen Parker, the first African American female journalist to graduate from UNC only fifty-seven years ago. I yearn for a community that champions social justice and equity in and out of the classroom. I want to continue the legacy of powerful, Black women that have changed the face of UNC’s campus.”

 

Or

 

“I am ready now to share my sexuality, something that I have hidden from my conservative family and small town for my entire life. For me, UNC Chapel Hill stands as a beacon of tolerance and acceptance in a state where I have often felt unaccepted. I want to learn about the omitted history of queerness from our country and the ways that power, gender, and sexuality intersect in our healthcare system. Being able to take classes such as ‘The International Politics of Sexual and Reproductive Health’ with Professor Booth, or ‘Sexuality and Salvation’ with Professor Bloesch would allow me to pursue my intellectual curiosities, while giving me the space and language to articulate and explore my own identity. My education in Sexuality Studies and Healthcare could be supplemented by living in Pride Place—finding a community of people who share my identity and can help me grow in my quest of personal acceptance and self-improvement.”

 

Whatever aspect of your identity you choose, make it personal, make it unforgettable, and make it specific. After you write the first draft, ask yourself: how might an admissions officer summarize this essay? Do not forget to reframe your identity to UNC.

All Applicants, Option B

If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be and why? (200-250 words)

This question has a specific objective in mind. Through asking your criteria for the “ideal place to live,” UNC at Chapel Hill is evaluating whether or not the resources and community the school possesses fit or match the description of your personal utopia. In other words, do your expectations and aspirations match the actual characteristics of the university? You should pick an element of your town to improve that can directly parallel a current (or lacking) aspect of UNC’s community.

 

1. Identify a problem in your own town.

 

This should be presented quickly and uniquely. Because the word count is very limited, anecdotes and quick metaphors are often the best option. 

 

e.g. “We have a running joke in my town of Scotia, California. When you meet someone new, you ask “Does your dad work for the factory?” It is only funny to us, its inhabitants, who know that the answer is always, undoubtedly, and unfortunately, “yes.” When I was younger, I’d trace my father’s hands—scarred by the splicing and sanding of wood—while he shared his dreams for me: to leave the town and pursue my own interests, not those of the factory.”

 

2. Identify the specific change you want to make.

 

What about your town could be changed to solve the problem you identified? 

 

e.g. “As an aspiring entrepreneur, my dreams and ideas are often dismissed in Scotia by laughter or lectures about practicality. While I have a reverence and respect for factory work, my brain has always been fascinated with ideation—the generation of ideas—and creating a team of similar thinkers to help pursue them.”

 

3. Demonstrate how UNC would provide the change in community that you desire.

 

This aspect of the prompt, similar to the previous one, requires research of UNC. Might you find this community in a specific major? Minor? Club? Residential Community? Be specific! —specifically those geared toward enhancing the quality of student life.

 

e.g. “Not only does UNC provide classes on entrepreneurship, through the Shufford Program, the school also has residential communities where conversations can continue beyond the classroom. My utopia or “dream community” sounds similar to life in the Blue-Sky Innovation residential community: staying up late, having conversations about startups with peers who could eventually become business partners. I crave these conversations and debates—to talk about consumer choice, profit maximization and choice under uncertainty with twenty-one other peers who will challenge and propel me forward as a student, thinker, and entrepreneur.”

 

If you are unsure of where to begin your research, try looking into some of the current initiatives and programs in place at UNC specifically geared toward enhancing the quality of student life.

 

For example, UNC at Chapel Hill offers a variety of Living-Learning Communities under its Residential Learning Programs. These communities allow you to live on campus while also living among students who share common career aspirations, social interests, or family backgrounds. Pride Place, First Gen, Global Scholars House, and Blue-Sky Innovation are among the variety of residential learning programs offered.

 

Here are some other helpful tips for this prompt:

 

  • While it is okay to critique your town, stay away from sounding completely negative or disrespectful toward a way of life or being.
  • Find a genuine, specific connection to UNC. This can be through clubs, residential services, coursework, etc. Granularity over generality.
  • Have fun! Show off your personality. Don’t be afraid to make a joke at your own expense.

All Applicants, Option C

Describe someone who you see as a community builder. What actions has that person taken? How has their work made a difference in your life? (200-250 words)

Here, UNC hopes to understand what kind of people and ideas you value and assess whether they are comparable to the type of students, faculty, and values found at UNC. In answering this prompt, it is helpful to research the qualities and skills UNC values in its students and faculty. These points can be helpful for you to consider or reference if you are having a hard time pinpointing a specific interaction with a particular community leader. For the most successful essay, it is crucial that you write about an authentic moment.

 

 1. Identify a community builder. 

 

To begin the brainstorming process, draft a list of individuals that come to mind immediately. Possible examples include peers, local activists, teachers, club leaders, coaches, directors, conductors, religious leaders, etc. Then reflect upon what values or practices resonate with you. How does this person facilitate community? Can I discuss them for an entire essay?

 

Begin with an anecdote or an engaging hook, not with a regurgitation of the prompt’s language.

 

e.g. “We wait in eager anticipation for the slightest movement of his hand. He stands on his podium and gives us a reassuring smile, as if to say, Let’s do it just as we practiced. After briefly glancing down at the stand in front of him, Mr. Grauer’s right hand makes a definitive slash through the stagnant air. We watch as the audience leans forward, to hear the pianissimo of the flute.

 

As I glance at my sheet music for my entrance, not for another thirty measures, I am reminded of something Grauer said to us.

 

When asked why music was important, he responded. “People love to talk about how doctors save lives. But you never know when someone is going to walk into this symphony hall, needing for their life to be saved, too.” We sat in a solemn, long silence—perhaps realizing the gravity a single note has. I started my career in music out of obligation. Grauer didn’t care.”

 

2. How might these values be applied at UNC?

 

Answering this question could take as little as two sentences or it could be a more prominent part of your essay. Ask yourself:

 

  • What have I learned from this community builder that I want to take with me to my undergraduate experience? 
  • Do I admire this person’s charisma and ingenuity?
  • How might I implement this person’s values at UNC?

 

Maybe your mentor taught you the importance of mental health and wellness—you could write about ActiveMinds at UNC. Or, perhaps your community builder taught you fearlessness— you could talk about joining a club that sounds appealing, but slightly intimidates you like a dance ensemble, mock trial, etc.  

 

e.g. “While imagining my farewell with Mr. Grauer seems a little too painful right now, I am drawn to what an undergraduate mentor in music might teach me and how I might continue to live and espouse the teachings Grauer has taught me at my university. Although I wish to pursue a degree in Public Health, specifically in Health Policy and Management, I do not want to surrender the community music has given me. Having the chance to play in the Carolina Bluegrass Band or the Global Rhythms Ensemble would give me the chance to be a part of community that has taught me the lessons of discipline, practice, and perseverance, and allow me to bring sustained joy to myself, other members of the ensemble, and the audience.”

Honors College Applicants

Please submit a short essay (250 words or fewer) that describes your academic interests and the ways you believe Honors Carolina can help you pursue them.

This prompt allows the admissions committee to get a sense of you and what you will contribute to UNC at Chapel Hill.

 

First, you should begin with your academic interests. The more specific you are when describing your interests, the better.

 

Instead of just “biology,” perhaps you are passionate about bringing equality to the American healthcare system, specifically shining a light on the intersection of race and gender-identity and its respective effect on patient care.

 

Instead of “English,” perhaps you are fascinated with the act of translation and adaptation. What is lost through a translation? How might texts be adapted to fit our current political period without losing the author’s intent and the specificities of the zeitgeist of their time.

 

How did your interest begin? This should be introduced with an anecdote or a quick metaphor, something to grab the attention of the reviewer.

 

You should conclude your essay with an undeniable argument about how UNC will help you achieve your goals. This involves research of specific academic initiatives, faculty, and majors. 

 

Consider mentioning First Year Honors Seminars. There are a whole host of courses that are offered, including Lynching in American Literature and Culture, Ghettos and Shtetls: Urban Life in East European Jewish History, or Mind, Matter, and Metaphysics: The Philosophy of Experience and Reality. 

 

How would the Honors College support your learning, intellectual curiosities, and professional aspirations? Take a look at the Morehead-Cain Alumni Visiting Distinguished Professors. Robert Bach, the 2015 professor, was an ’84 graduate who led the development of the Microsoft Xbox. Sir Christopher Meyer, the 2010 professor, was a former British ambassador to the United States who authored a book on the history of British diplomacy. Go down a wormhole! Explore! Write about it!

Global Gap Year Fellowship and Global Carolina Launch Applicants, Prompt 1

When students travel abroad, they become members of new communities. What qualities would you value in new social and cultural contexts and how would you contribute to your new communities? (200-250 words)

This prompt is your opportunity to delve into the reasons you are applying to this specific program at UNC. You should not only discuss your choice to apply for a global year program, but also why you want to experience one under the context of UNC’s community. 

 

1. Identify qualities that you value in new social and cultural contexts.

 

Some values may include conscientiousness, openness, extroversion, social harmony, respectfulness, empathy, etc. Once you’ve chosen a few values to focus on, share how these values have existed in your new social and/or cultural contexts. 

 

Anecdotes are often the best way to quickly and effectively introduce a concept. While writing, make sure you are aware of the distinction between appreciation and appropriation. It is okay to appreciate a different culture, but appropriation can quickly become problematic.

 

e.g. “There is a story my mother likes to tell strangers. It goes like this: I am five years old. I walk into the kitchen of our small Brooklyn apartment with my sister’s Barbie suitcase and a bottle of water in a futile effort to make the most dramatic entrance possible. My mother is standing, hunched over the stove, her back turned to me. I stomp my right foot, loudly announcing my arrival. She turns, and I meet her gaze. “I’m leaving, and I won’t be back for a long time” I inform her. She places her hand over her mouth to conceal her laughter, but before she does, I’m out the door. 

 

My mother reminds me of this memory to show me how precocious I was. ‘You were a sixteen year old in a five year old’s body,’ she’ll tell me.

 

I think I have always had a hunger for independence.”

 

2. How would you contribute to your new communities?

 

Before answering this question, you should identify whether you want to Design Your Gap Year or apply to the Global Citizen Year. 

 

If you are Designing Your Gap Year, make a specific choice. What community/communities would you want to visit? What do you hope to learn from them? How would you contribute?  

 

If you are applying for the Global Citizen Year, choose an emphasis: environmental conservation, agriculture, public health, education, or social enterprise. Mention your self-designed final community project and the long-term homestay model.

 

e.g. “My insatiable quest for independence has led me to the field of musicology. I want to explore the world and learn the origins, histories, and stories of music. I am drawn to the Design Your Gap Year program because of the independence it grants me to study musical culture in specific geographic areas. If given the opportunity, I would love to have a cultural, musical exchange with different communities around the world: to learn about music, and share my own music—heavily influenced by American gospel music. I am drawn to the rainy Pacific coasts of Colombia, where I can study the inception of currulao and the Marabi style of South Africa, created under the nightly curfews of Johannsberg.” 

Global Gap Year Fellowship and Global Carolina Launch Applicants, Prompt 2

Tell us more about why you want to go abroad. How do you hope to grow, and what skills do you hope you will bring back to Carolina? (200-250 words)

In this prompt, you should specifically discuss the reasons you want to go abroad. What is it that you hope to experience, learn, or gain from your time abroad?

 

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? Whatever your reason is, talk about it! 

 

Once you select a reason, use an anecdote or a quick metaphor to grab the reader’s attention. Avoid using clichés like “see the world” or “learn from a community.” Be more specific! Describe your reasons as they uniquely relate to you. 

 

e.g. “My father is eccentric. His nonconformity extends beyond his wardrobe and music choices. I’ll call for him when I am in bed, struggling to speak with a sore throat. He’ll listen to my ailments and return a few minutes later carrying a brown vial. “This is Belladonna,” he’ll tell me. Later that day, my throat will be less irritated. Insomnia? “Here’s something for that,” he’ll say, before prescribing coffea cruda. A raging pimple? Cured with Calcarea sulphurica. 

 

The history of homeopathic medicine is a long and complicated one; however, it is something that I want to delve in and explore. Homeopathy is a worldly tradition: spanning from Pakistan to Chile— India to Brazil.” 

 

2. Identify areas for growth.

 

What would an abroad experience provide you with? What lessons may you learn that you are lacking? Adaptability? Nontraditional experiential learning experiences? Failure? Communication?

 

e.g. “After eighteen years of learning through rote memorization to obtain specific results, I want to learn how to acquire and enjoy knowledge experientially. If you asked a friend to describe me, they might lead with the words “rigid” and “methodical.” As an aspiring scientist, those words sound like compliments; however, I want to learn how to be more adaptable and persevering— to try to embark on a journey and a project that may yield no traditionally “significant” results.” 

 

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.

 

e.g. “Although a (hopeful) global citizen, The Tar Heel State, specifically in the Tar Heel community, feels like home to me. After a year of learning about homeopathy abroad, I would have a worldly and more holistic perspective on medicine and treatment and be able to continue my research and intellectual curiosities on campus, hopefully under the guidance of Dr. Susan Gaylord, a professor at the School of Medicine and Public Health.” 

 

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