What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Write the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Essay 2016-2017

About the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Located in a picturesque suburb teeming with gorgeous foliage and historical sites, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the flagship university of the UNC system. Founded in 1789, UNC Chapel Hill claims the distinction of being the first public university in the United States. Today, UNC Chapel Hill is among the nation’s best known and most prestigious public universities.


Many across the country know UNC for its distinguished sports programs — especially its extremely successful men’s basketball team. The Tar Heels compete as members of the NCAA, Division 1, and have taken home five NCAA basketball championship titles, with their most recent win in 2009. Beyond its basketball prowess, the university also fields top ranking women’s soccer and field hockey teams. Their dominance in sports has helped foster a fierce rivalry with another top southern school, Duke University.


Athletics aren’t UNC Chapel Hill’s only claim to fame, however — far from it. The university’s strong academic offerings have earned it the honor of being one of the “Public Ivies,” and it is not hard to see why. This research university offers more than 70 fields of study, dispersed among the College of Arts and Sciences and fourteen additional colleges. UNC prides itself on providing a strong liberal arts education to all undergraduates, and beyond that, students also have the option of pursuing a major within the university’s professional schools.


The social offerings at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are just as exciting as the academic opportunities. With a whopping 800+ student organizations on campus, the university ensures that every undergraduate is able to find numerous student organizations that fulfill their wide range of passions. Continuing with the athletic culture on this campus, students can also choose to join one of the 50+ intramural sports teams, no matter what their skill level may be.


Greek life is also a significant presence at UNC. Over 3,000 students are members of its fraternities and sororities. The organizations have over 150 years of history, and the university claims that “Greek Life at Carolina eliminates the stereotypical notions of sororities and fraternities. The Greek community is as diverse as the student population itself.”


As one of the nation’s oldest public universities, it stands to reason that UNC is also home to many traditions. These range from drinking from the “Old Well” on the first day of classes in order to secure good fortune and a 4.0 GPA, to climbing to the top of the campus’s Bell Tower and signing your name on it as a senior.


The university’s winning combination of strong academics and excellent campus culture makes it a top choice for many college applicants. 31,953 competed for a spot in the Class of 2019, and of those, 9,510 were admitted, for an overall admissions rate of 30%. However, it is crucial to note that state law mandates that 82% of the freshman class at UNC Chapel Hill must be from North Carolina.


When you break down that 30% admissions rate, you’ll find that there are really two rates for acceptance: 52% for applicants from North Carolina, and 19% for out-of-state applicants.


In the face of odds like these, it becomes all the more important to ensure that your application to UNC Chapel Hill is as compelling as you can possibly make it, especially if you are an out-of-state applicant. The first step to crafting a winning application to this university is to write strong supplementary essays. In this blog post, we’ll go over different tips, tricks, and insights in order to help you craft an effective and impressive essay for your supplement to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


UNC Chapel Hill Application Essay Prompts


In addition to the essay you provided with your Common Application, please choose two of the prompts below and respond to each in an essay of 200-250 words.


UNC thus allows you to choose which prompts you’d like to answer. Each response needs to be 200-250 words. We’ll break down each one separately.


Tell a Story that Helps Us Better Understand You


Tell us a story that helps us better understand a person, place, or thing you find inspiring. (200-250 words)


At first glance, this prompt may appear rather intimidating in that it is completely open-ended. Here, UNC Chapel Hill isn’t really giving you much direction on what, specifically, they want this essay to look; they just want you to write about any topic that inspires you.


However, the broadness of this prompt actually works in your favor. Because the university doesn’t include any stipulations beyond discussing something inspiring, there technically aren’t any wrong answers to this question. As always, some topics work better than others, and you should avoid polarizing or extremely controversial topics. However, ultimately, the simplicity of this prompt means that there are no actual restrictions imposed on you.


This is your chance to talk about anything you care about, and that’s a good thing. Why? Because when you talk about topics that are important to you, in most cases, your passion invariably shines through. And as we’ve alluded to in past blog posts, passion is one of the most important factors in a strong college admissions essay.


In this essay, you can choose any subject that truly and deeply inspires you, and explain to admissions officers why it is so important to you as an individual. You have the fantastic opportunity to lay out exactly what you care about and to help those evaluating your application learn what drives your actions.


With this in mind, the flip side is that you should certainly steer clear of discussing anything that you aren’t completely inspired by, as this would definitely make for a less-effective essay. The main purpose of this question is to convey passion, and failing to do so will work against you. Your topic selection should be something that unequivocally excites you, or your essay simply won’t be doing its job.


It is particularly effective if you can tie the inspiring factor you settle on back to your academic profile. If you’ve been involved with your school’s robotics team, competed in Science Olympiad, and took all of your school’s AP science courses, it would be a good idea to discuss what it is about science, exactly, that inspires you and drives you to pursue it.


Essentially, if you present the person, place, or thing that inspires as the main source of motivation behind your academic and extracurricular choices, you can help admissions officers interpret your application through a new lens and create a more comprehensive overall application.


Change the Place Where You Live


What do you hope will change about the place where you live? (200-250 words)


This question is all about issues or subjects you care the most deeply about. It’s similar to the above prompt in that it’s still gauging passion, but instead framing it in a different manner. Essentially, this prompt is asking you to identify the problem or issue you personally find most urgent, and also to shed some light on why that problem, specifically, is important to you.


The issue you choose says a lot about who you are as a student and as an individual in that it demonstrates what your personal priorities are. For instance, let’s consider a student from Fort Myers, Florida. Perhaps this student responds that they hope that their town will implement a program to protect the endangered Florida bonnet bat, a species of bat that is now exclusive to their region and is verging on extinction. This effectively conveys that the student is extremely passionate about environmental issues.


Let’s consider a different example. Perhaps a student from California writes that they hope that the United States closes the gender wage gap, and specifically addresses the dramatic disparity in both wage and earning potential between white men and Latinx, American Indian/Native American, and African American women. The decision to write about this particular topic indicates that the student is passionate about gender equality and intersectional feminism.


In these examples, we not only see how subject choice can reveal a lot about an applicant, but also that the term “place,” as used in the prompt, is relative. Student #1 interpreted “place” to be their hometown, which many students may initially think is the only correct response. However, Student #2 chose to talk about their country of residence, which is equally acceptable. “Place” is extremely subjective, and you can choose to define it as anything from the home you live in to the universe at large.


That being said, be wary of writing about something that is overly broad to the point that it loses its meaning. For example, if you respond with “I hope that global poverty is eliminated,” admissions officers are unlikely to be very impressed unless you can approach this topic from a new and unique angle. Your essay should be specific to you; most people would agree that poverty is a bad thing, and in an ideal world it would not exist. This example doesn’t tell admissions officers anything specific about you as an individual, and fails to distinguish you from any other applicant.


Referring back to our earlier two topic samples, you should note that in both cases, the respective subject matters of these two essays can certainly be strong on their own. However, both essays become all the more effective if the students have extracurricular activities and academic performances that substantiate the specific interests to which they allude. As always, it is a great idea to help create a comprehensive narrative within your application, if at all possible.


To sum up, your job is to help admissions officers learn more about you via your essay, and to reveal key insights into your personality and passions. Demonstrate what issues you care about, and more importantly, show admissions officers why you care about those issues.


Small Goal You Hope to Achieve


Tell us about a small goal you hope to achieve, whether in the next 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years. (200-250 words)


The key word in this essay is “small.” While discussing our last prompt, we mentioned the dangers of discussing something that is too broad. This same lesson applies here; this essay is not a place for you to talk about your desire to end world hunger. Rather, it is the place to reveal key information about yourself that is not readily available elsewhere in your application.


Because this essay specifically asks for a small goal, this is a fantastic place to reveal quirky personality characteristics or unique hobbies and interests. This prompt lends itself to a fun, lighthearted essay that helps you showcase a different side of yourself to admissions officers. This is a great opportunity to further humanize yourself, and let UNC get to know you as not only a student but a person.


That being said, it is possible to write a fun and quirky essay that still helps contribute to your overall academic profile.


For example, maybe you’re an aspiring chemistry major who has a deep passion for baking. You could discuss how your “small goal” is to create the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe within the next ten months. You could include a fun anecdote about your trials and errors in the kitchen, and then highlight your passion for science by discussing how you approach crafting a recipe like balancing an equation. You could draw parallels between your ingredients and different scientific elements, and talk about how baking is just another branch of chemistry to you.


This is effective in that it not only shows admissions officers an alternate side of you, but it also demonstrates how your academic passions permeate other facets of your life. The best approach to this essay is to choose a goal that relates to hobby or trait that admissions officers may not initially know about based on the rest of your application, and then connect it back to your application’s overall theme. If you can do these two things, and do them in an engaging tone, you’ll have an extremely compelling essay on your hands.


The Best Breakthrough


What will be the best breakthrough — whether scientific, social, economic, or other — between now and 2025? (200-250 words)


In this question, phrasing is key. Note that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill isn’t asking what you hope will be the best breakthrough, but rather what, inevitably, will happen. This question requires a certain level of expertise to answer, in that you have to know the current state in a scientific, social, economic, or other field in order to predict what it will look like in about a decade.


Because of this, one approach is to first identify a field you’re already familiar with and then extrapolate about how this field will be revolutionized within the next ten or so years. For instance, maybe you are passionate about domestic politics and have observed that social media has played a significant role in increasing the political awareness of millennials.


You could then talk about how the biggest breakthrough would be that for the first time in recent history, youth voters will participate in elections at the same or higher rate as their elders. Then, you could talk about what the effects of this shift will be, how you perceive, and what that means for you and your personal passions.


By starting with a focus area you’re already relatively well versed in, you’re not only able to formulate a better-informed answer, but also more likely to craft a more passionate essay. After all, the fields you know best are the ones you are more interested in, and so it’s extremely important to make sure that this interest shines through in your essay.


This is a good approach in that it allows you to showcase your various interests and creates a great way through which you can connect your essay back to your overall application. For instance, in the example we mentioned above, this essay would be especially powerful if the student writing it had some background in politics or youth rights.


However, that being said, it is not completely necessary to discuss a breakthrough firmly rooted in a more academic field. UNC leaves your options open by noting that it’s acceptable to choose a field that falls under the category of “other,” so you shouldn’t feel limited. What’s most important is that this essay helps admissions officers learn about where your interests lie and who you are as an individual; as long as your essay accomplishes this, you can choose to focus on any kind of breakthrough you deem fit.


Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.


For more helpful tips on applying to UNC Chapel Hill, feel free to check out these CollegeVine Blog posts:



Lydia Tahraoui
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.