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How to Write the UNC Chapel Hill Essays 2022-2023

 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill requires all applicants to write two essays and answer five short answer prompts. Applicants to the Honors College or global fellowship opportunities 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.

 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

Short Answers for All Applicants (25 words each)

 

  • One family, friend, or school tradition I cherish…
  • If I had an extra hour in every day, I would spend it…
  • If I could travel anywhere, near or far, past, present or future, I would go…
  • The last time I stepped outside my comfort zone, I…
  • People who meet me are most likely to notice…and least likely to notice…

 

Essays for All Applicants (200-250 words each)

 

In addition to the essay you provided with your Common Application, please choose two of the prompts below. 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 an aspect of your identity and how this has shaped your life experiences or impacted your daily interactions with others?

 

Option 2: Describe a peer who is making a difference in your school or community. What actions has that peer taken? How has their work made a difference in your life?

 

Option 3: If you could change one thing to better your community, what would it be? Please explain.

 

Option 4: Former UNC-Chapel Hill employee, community service member, and civil rights activist Esphur Foster once said “We are nothing without our history.” How does history shape who you are?

 

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)

 

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)? (250 words)

 

Short Answers for All Applicants

 

The goal of these prompts is to get to know you better in a more casual way. The best responses will be genuine and reveal more about who you are and where you come from. No need to try to impress the admissions officers, and feel free to give more quirky or lighthearted responses if that feels right to you!

 

One family, friend, or school tradition I cherish… (25 words)

Here’s a chance to describe a meaningful experience you share with your community. What happens during this tradition? What is the story behind it? Why is it special to you? 

 

Here are some examples:

 

  • I close my eyes and strum to the beat, busking with my band at the weekly farmer’s market. Afterwards, we spend our tips on sundaes.


  • Every summer, an empty urban plot becomes a garden of native wildflowers, thanks to the guerrilla gardening of my friend group.

 

If I had an extra hour in every day, I would spend it… (25 words)

UNC wants to know what your passions are. What is the one thing you love but never seem to have enough time for? (Not in the sense that you aren’t prioritizing it, but that you’re always craving more). 

 

Bonus points if you can share a meaningful activity that isn’t already addressed on your application. This is a great space for more unconventional activities or personal hobbies. 

 

Here are some examples:

 

  • Reading more bedtime stories to my 6-year-old sister. I read one per day and she always begs me for more, but my homework is calling!


  • Getting my Rubik’s Cube solve time under 20 seconds. My personal best is currently 25 seconds, and it’s taken me two months to get there!

 

If I could travel anywhere, near or far, past, present or future, I would go… (25 words)

What’s on your bucket list? Are there any historical figures or periods you’d love to witness? What about special memories you’d love to relive?

 

This prompt is unique in that it involves both physical travel and time travel. You can pick one or the other, or both!

 

Try not to pick a place that many applicants are likely to give, such as the Eiffel Tower, unless you have a compelling personal reason for that choice. As always, the goal is to reveal more about you, so the more specific or unique you can get, the better. 

 

Here are some examples:

 

  • Preikestolen, Norway. The craggy cliffs and mountain views are otherworldly, and the hike there is a good challenge. I’d also love to practice my Norwegian. 


  • 1998 Nagano Olympics where figure skater Surya Bonaly did the incredible (but illegal) backflip. I’ve always admired her audacity and grace as a fellow skater.

 

The last time I stepped outside my comfort zone, I… (25 words)

UNC wants to admit students who can take risks, as people grow the most when they’re out of their comfort zone. The risk you took can be major or more lighthearted, as long as it’s meaningful to you.

 

Here are some examples:

 

  • Tried pineapple on pizza. It was actually pretty good, and now I’m off to experiment with mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, boba…the possibilities are endless!


  • Ran against the incumbent class president. I didn’t win, but I’m proud of the agenda I created, and hope to implement some plans as VP.

 

The last time I stepped outside my comfort zone, I… (25 words)

While this prompt has two ellipses, the Common App only gives you one answer box, so you’ll have to find a way to respond clearly without restating the prompt. 

 

Reflect on your qualities that are most and least obvious. For the more obvious qualities, are they physical traits or qualities that show up regularly? For the least-obvious qualities, why are they more hidden? Is it because you don’t share them openly, or because they’re only visible in certain situations?

 

Here are some examples:

 

  • My friends praise my delicate desserts, but what they don’t see are the countless failed experiments and early mornings perfecting those recipes.

 

  • My maximalist outfits stand out, with vivid colors and patterns. Underneath the bold pieces, I’m a sensitive listener, giving my friends a shoulder to lean on. 

 

Essay Prompts for All Applicants

 

In addition to the essay you provided with your Common Application, please choose two of the prompts below. 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 an aspect of your identity and how this has shaped your life experiences or impacted your daily interactions with others? (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 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.

 

Remember that identity can mean many things. It can refer to:

 

  • Clubs, organizations, or sports teams
  • Culture, language, or ethnic background
  • Hometown or geography
  • Shared interest, value, trait, or ability

 

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 57 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 2

Describe a peer who is making a difference in your school or community. What actions has that peer 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. Since the prompt specifically asks for you to discuss a peer, make sure you’re picking someone who has similar responsibilities or status as you in a specific community. 

 

Peer most commonly refers to someone of the same age, but someone older or younger can be your peer too, depending on the situation. For example, if you play in a community orchestra, your stand partner could be your peer even if they’re of retirement age.

 

Here’s how to approach this prompt.

 

1. Identify someone making a difference in your community.

 

Someone can make a difference in many different ways. While leadership or service probably first come to mind, your peer could also make a difference by offering emotional support, motivating others, or coming up with innovative ideas.

 

For example, say you’re part of the bowling team, and you admire how another member is always organizing team bonding events even though they’re not a formal leader on the team. 

 

 2. Share the actions they’ve taken and how they’ve impacted you. 

 

Since this essay is short, you’ll likely only have space to share 2-3 specific examples of how this peer has made a difference. Pick the ones that impacted you the most. 

 

Continuing the above example, maybe this peer organized a shopping trip for bowling shoes and planned a fundraiser when some members said they couldn’t afford proper shoes. Maybe he also suggested a new team tradition of spaghetti dinners before the weekly bowling matches against other schools. The team dinners helped you open up more as a shy freshman, and you ended up making your closest friends from those events. 

 

3. Discuss how you might implement this person’s values at UNC.

 

How has this person changed your perspective or the way you live your life? How will you share these values with others at UNC? Give specific examples of communities you plan to join and how you’ll impact them.

 

Continuing the bowling example, seeing how this peer brought your team together and looked out for all members, you hope to do the same in your future clubs and communities at UNC. And where there isn’t a formal community, you hope to create one, such as organizing study groups for your future science classes and impromptu outings with your dorm floor.

 

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 once my favorite days. My family would beam as we walked into the church and greeted members of the congregation. 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. “Too many people have been ostracized by the religion we grew up loving, and it’s time I make those in my community see the harm in their opinion. As an aspiring politician, I know how important diplomacy is in addressing differences in beliefs. A politician can’t force someone to change their mind, 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. “I plan to major in Political Science and Religious Studies at UNC so I can pursue a career fighting for others who are torn between their religion and themselves. As I go from classes like Race, Sexuality, and Disability in Western Christianity to Religion and Politics, I’ll learn how my experiences fit into the larger picture of a national struggle. After classes, I’ll head back to Pride Place, a residential community where I’ll find support among students like me. I’ll 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, member of the LGBTQ community, and 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.” 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 face with food when she came to visit. ‘You’re 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. My American palate was a complete disappointment to my Indian grandma.”

 

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 one of her home-cooked meals. 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.”

 

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 end. I can’t wait to learn more about the deep cultural impact of food 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’ll open my own restaurant after I graduate. My grandma’s flavors lit the flame, but I’ve 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 ingenuity 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. The Honors College alumni are proof that you can dream big.

 

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)? (250 words)

 

UNC applicants have the opportunity to be considered for four global opportunities, including the Global Gap Year Fellowship, Joint Degree Program with National University of Singapore, Russian Language Flagship Program, and Russian Language Flagship Program.

 

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 only gives you up to 250 words, we also recommend applying for no more than two programs. 

 

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 opportunity well.

 

 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?

 

Continuing the above example, 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 concept to them. They want to learn to tell the human stories behind climate change to move others to take actions. 

 

 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 could want to take the lessons they learn back to UNC as an Environmental Studies major. While on campus, they hope to continue virtually interviewing 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!


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