How to Write the UNC Chapel Hill Essays 2021-2022

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill requires all applicants to write two essays and answer four short answer prompts. Applicants to the honors college or the Global Gap Year Fellowship will also be required to submit an additional essay for their respective program.

 

Because of how many applicants UNC Chapel Hill gets each year with comparable GPAs and test scores, essays are the chief way admissions officers differentiate between applicants and ultimately decide which student they want at their university. In this post, we’ll cover how you can write a great essay worthy of admission to a top school like UNC Chapel Hill.

 

Read this UNC Chapel Hill essay example to inspire your writing.

 

 

Do you want to know your chances of getting into UNC? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Supplemental Essay Prompts

All Applicants

 

SHORT ANSWER (25 words each):

 

One family tradition I cherish:

This I believe:

The quality I most admire in myself:

One protagonist I identify with:

 

SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS (200-250 words each)

 

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 1: Describe a peer you see as a community builder. What actions has that peer taken? How has their work made a difference in your life? 

 

Option 2: Describe 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 3: If you could change one thing to better your community, what would it be? Why is it important and how would you contribute to this change? 

 

Option 4: Former UNC-Chapel Hill employee, community service member, and civil rights activist Esphur Foster once said “We are nothing without our history.” Her words are memorialized on the Northside Neighborhood Freedom Fighters monument (https://jacksoncenter.info/the-northside-gateway/). How does history shape who you are?

 

Honors College 

 

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

 

Global Gap Year Fellowship 

 

Why do you want to take a service-based Gap Year before entering Carolina and in what ways are you hoping to grow during this time? (200-250 words)

 

Before we dive into the specifics of how to answer each of these short prompts, remember that limiting your responses to only 25 words requires writing answers that are straightforward and direct. Be honest with what you write, but also think critically about the different aspects of your personality you are highlighting with each answer. Try to vary the responses so that they don’t all cluster around only one or two activities or themes. 

 

While these answers won’t make your application, they could break it if you use any inappropriate content; be mindful of your audience by choosing tasteful responses. However, overanalyzing what you think the admissions officers want you to write misses the point of showcasing your individuality.

 

Let’s discuss each question individually.

 

ALL APPLICANTS: SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS 

 

One family tradition I cherish: (25 words)

Writing about a family tradition should be something highly personal and important to you. There are many different traditions you could choose to write about. Maybe your entire extended family goes on a camping trip each year and it’s the only time you see your cousins who live across the country. Perhaps you and your mom make homemade tamales every month to donate to a homeless shelter. You could possibly talk about how your family always decorates your house as a spooky haunted house for Halloween. 

 

The possibilities really are endless here. The key is to choose a tradition that is important and unique to your family. It can be happy, sentimental, or ridiculous, but it has to be yours.

 

This I believe: (25 words) 

This prompt is very open-ended which gives you a lot of flexibility. Remember the point of these prompts is to express your personality in a fun and quick way, so you don’t want to choose something that doesn’t provide much insight to you as a person. Here are a few ideas of what you could do with a prompt like this:

 

  • Talk about an activity: I believe that we will win! The same chant before every match. The blood pumping in my ears. My heart racing. Here we go, team!

 

  • Introduce an idea you are fascinated by: I believe that we will never be truly free until we allow ourselves to think freely, beyond the restraints society places on thinking.

 

  • Include lyrics to your favorite song: “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. I believe I can soar.” My alarm goes off; time to start today. 

 

  • Make it humorous: I wholeheartedly believe that I would have made it to the Olympics if it wasn’t for my complete and utter lack of athleticism. Next time!

 

The quality I most admire in myself: (25 words) 

This prompt is a perfect opportunity to highlight an aspect of your personality that you are proud of and you think hasn’t been expressed enough in the rest of your application, or further bolsters another part of your application.

 

You should start by brainstorming a few facets of your personality you think admissions officers should know about. A common mistake students typically make with this type of prompt is trying to present themselves as too impressive. Your response should be about one quality, not a laundry list of ways you are exceptional.

 

While you can talk about more generic qualities like your confidence, honesty, determination, or optimism, responses that are more unique will probably be more interesting for admissions officers. For example, you can write about how you admire your unwavering ability to always go back for another slice of cake even when you’re full because you know it won’t taste the same tomorrow. Or possibly you admire the way you organize your binders in your locker because it means you save time between classes when you know exactly where everything belongs. Examples like these are humorous and creative, but still will provide some insight into your personality.

 

One protagonist I identify with: (25 words) 

It might feel overwhelming to choose just one character you identify with (especially for avid book or movie fans), but this is another great chance for you to show one of your personality traits through the lens of a different character.

 

You don’t have to pick Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter. In fact, you could pick just about anyone you wanted! The prompt doesn’t specify if the protagonist you identify with is fictional, so you could write about any person alive or dead that you share traits with. A female student who wants to be a world leader might talk about how she identifies with the resilience and tactfulness Cleopatra displayed in the face of discrimination and doubt. A student who spends his free time doodling on napkins and textbook pages might identify with Walt Disney’s imaginative and creative spirit.

 

Although the prompt asks for a protagonist, perhaps you feel there is a certain villain who is misunderstood and you believe they were the protagonist of their story. If you choose to go this route, be careful that you highlight a positive aspect of this character’s personality so you are showing admissions officers a positive trait about yourself, and not comparing yourself to the negative aspects of this character.

 

There are an infinite number of options for you to choose from. However, don’t just pick your favorite character or person. You should make sure there is something in common with whatever protagonist you choose.

 

ALL APPLICANTS: ESSAY QUESTIONS 

 

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 1

Describe a peer you see as a community builder. What actions has that peer taken? How has their work made a difference in your life?  (150 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.”

 

All Applicants, Option 2

Describe 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 more celebrated 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 are looking to pursue your intellectual curiosity in environmental science stemming from your Norwegian culture.
  • Or, perhaps 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 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.”

 

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 3

If you could change one thing to better your community, what would it be? Why is it important and how would you contribute to this change? (200-250 words)

 

This question helps UNC distinguish between applicants to find the specific type of student they are looking to admit. UNC wants students who are problem solvers and strive to improve the world around them. They are also looking for dedicated individuals who will contribute to the Chapel Hill community during college and beyond. Your response has to convey that you are not only a dedicated community member, but that you want to find solutions to challenges you’re faced with. 

 

1. Identify a problem in a community you belong to.

 

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. “Sundays were always my favorite days. I’d grip my father’s hand as we walked in and greeted neighbors, cousins, and friends. The Church was my first everything: choir, school, home. The stories our pastor would tell filled my head as fact—until I realized my very existence contradicted the beliefs of my church. The very same warm smiles that have greeted me my entire life would turn to icy frowns if they learned of my sexuality.”

 

2. Identify the specific change you want to make.

 

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

 

e.g. “Far too many people like me have been ostracized by the religion we grew up loving, and it’s time I make those in my community see there is harm in their opinion. As an aspiring politician, I know how important diplomacy is to address issues among groups with dissimilar opinions. A politician can never force someone to go against their beliefs, but they can help them discover a new perspective. Years of reciting Bible verses has prepared me to make a substantiated argument using the very text that claims my life is a sin. ”

 

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. “The opportunity to double major in Political Science and Religious Studies at UNC will open the door for me to pursue a career fighting for others who are forced to make a choice between their religion and themselves. As I go from classes like Race, Sexuality, and Disability in the History of Western Christianity to Religion and Politics I will learn how my experiences fit into the larger picture of a national struggle. After a long day of thought-provoking classes, I will head back to Pride Place. In this residential community I can find support among other students like me. As we share our experiences over dinner or a late-night study sesh, I will be better equipped to find solutions to the challenges LGBTQ people face not only in my community, but in others. I crave these tough conversations that will let me grow as a Christian, a member of the LGBTQ community, and a future politician.”

 

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.  

 

Here are some other helpful tips for this prompt:

 

  • While it is okay to critique your community, 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 4

Former UNC-Chapel Hill employee, community service member, and civil rights activist Esphur Foster once said “We are nothing without our history.” Her words are memorialized on the Northside Neighborhood Freedom Fighters monument (https://jacksoncenter.info/the-northside-gateway/). How does history shape who you are?  (200-250 words)

 

This prompt is not just for the history buffs out there. For this prompt you should talk about history—whether that be familial, personal, or global—that has had an impact on your development.

 

1. Identify the aspect of history that had the biggest impact on you.

 

There are many different ways you can approach the idea of history, so brainstorm for a bit before you settle on your final answer. 

 

e.g. “My grandma used to stuff my curious little face with food everytime she came to visit. ‘You are getting too thin! Eat more dal.” Spicy curries and stews would pile up on the plate in front of me when all I wanted was chicken nuggets or pasta. My American palate was a complete disappointment to my Indian grandma. I groaned whenever my mom told me Grandma was coming to dinner, knowing it meant a night of chaat and bhindi masala.”

 

2. Identify how you have been influenced.

 

Now that you know what topic you are choosing, you need to do some self-reflection to figure out how exactly your life, personality, or actions have been shaped by history. 

 

e.g. “The week after my grandma passed I found myself longing for another one of her home-cooked meals for the first time. I snuck down to the kitchen at night and found one of her old cookbooks. Reading through pages smudged with dried dosa dough and stained with oil, I pulled out the coriander, turmeric, and cardamom. My experimentation began that night, but it blossomed into something greater in the years since. With every traditional Indian dish I make, I grow closer to my grandma and our family’s history. The aromas of my kitchen transported me to the busy market where my grandma cooked when she was my age. The bowls I served food in, made by my grandma, meant she still had a hand in making the food we ate.”

 

3. Connect the past to your future at UNC.

 

The best essays won’t just dwell on the past and present: they look to the future. In this part of your essay, you should discuss how UNC fits into your history and your personality.

 

e.g. “Luckily at UNC, my journey in the kitchen won’t have to end. I can’t wait to learn more about the deep cultural impact food has on humans through the Food Studies major. The skills I will acquire through culinary labs will help me infuse other cuisines into my traditional Indian cuisine. With a minor in Business Administration, I will be prepared to open my own restaurant after I graduate. My grandma’s flavors lit the flame, but I have kept it burning by incorporating my own American twists. When all my friends from UNC come to Nani’s Table, they will taste the influence of history and engenuity in each bite.”

 

Regardless of if you choose to write about something relatively small (historically speaking) or the fall of the Roman Empire, the essay should still be about you. The biggest mistake you can make with this essay is writing a history report. No matter what historical event you pick, the essay won’t be successful if your personality and growth is not the focus.

 

Honors College Applicants

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

 

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 Applicants

Why do you want to take a service-based Gap Year before entering Carolina and in what ways are you hoping to grow during this time? (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! 

 

Keep in mind that this is a service-based gap year, so your response should talk about your desire to help global communities. However, be careful not to come across as privileged or savior-like, since that is an immediate turn-off for admissions officers.

 

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 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 doctor, 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.” 

 

Where to Get Your UNC Chapel Hill Essay Edited for Free

 

If you want feedback on your UNC essays, look no further. We know how hard it can be to review your own writing, which is why we created the Peer Essay Review Tool. This tool allows your peers also applying to college to read and edit your essay. It can be helpful to have an objective reader look over your essay and give suggestions. Using this tool, you also have the option to look at other students’ essays and give them feedback in return.


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.