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How to Write the UNC-Chapel Hill Essays: The Tarheel Guide

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Did you know that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the first public university in the country in 1789?

Now, ranked #5 in Top Public Schools by U.S. News and World Report, UNC-Chapel Hill has a 26% acceptance rate.

UNC-Chapel Hill Essay Requirements

When you complete the Common Application, you’ll choose one of the essay prompts to complete. There are still two other supplemental essays to write and submit before your application is considered complete.

  • On their website, the admissions staff wants you to know “your responses will help us get a better understanding of who you are, how you think and what you might contribute to the University community.”

UNC-Chapel Hill uses these essays and supplements to select students for admission but also to select first-year students for merit scholarships and other opportunities at the university in the few hundred words you write. Make them count.

UNC-Chapel Hill gives you four prompts to choose for your supplement essays. You will choose two to complete and submit with the rest of your application. Each of the supplements must be 200-250 words. Here are your four options.

  • Tell us about a peer who has made a difference in your life.
  • What do you hope will change about the place where you live?
  • What is one thing that we don’t know about you that you want us to know?
  • What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?

Who Made a Difference?

Tell us about a peer who has made a difference in your life.

With this question, it’s possible to get into UNC-Chapel Hill without writing entirely about yourself. Stephen Farmer, the Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions has said in an admissions blog for the university he “thinks some of the best essays have come from students writing about something or someone other than themselves.”

You’ve probably heard at least one person say they find it hard write or talk about their accomplishments. I

  • f that person was you, this might be a good prompt to choose because you get to write about someone other than yourself for a change.

But who should you write about? UNC-Chapel Hill is clear that they want to hear about a peer of yours, so writing about your favorite actor, historical figure, or sports star isn’t what they want to read. Dictionary.com defines peer as “a person who is equal to another in abilities, qualifications, age, background, and social status.”

Your peer doesn’t have to be exactly your equal, but it should be someone you greatly identify with.

  • Your best friend is a good start. Choosing your best friend isn’t typically something that just happens. There’s a reason that individual is your best Tell UNC-Chapel Hill a short story that exemplifies why this person is your best friend. It’s not necessary to explain the entire backstory. If it’s appropriate, sum up how you met in a sentence or two.
  • A teammate is another good option. It’s possible to be affected deeply by someone that you aren’t close with, so this person doesn’t necessarily need to be a friend. Was there someone who tried out for a team every year but never made it? Did their resilience make you consider continuing to try for something that’s just out of reach?
  • If you’re a strong academic student, there’s probably someone that comes to mind that you were competing in the classroom. Did competing with this classmate make you understand your own determination and drive? Were you able to accomplish something that you didn’t think was possible because there was a competitive component?
  • Did you meet someone at a religious service or while volunteering that made a lasting impression? Give a quick background of the situation, then focus on the statement or story that has stuck with you so long. Don’t forget to mention what personal action you’ve taken or changed since the interaction. If you only met this person once, mention that to further prove the lasting effect of your meeting.

Changing Places

What do you hope will change about the place where you live?

A student will select an institution for many reasons. For those who have lived only in their hometown, they might be looking for new scenery or change of pace while they further their education. Sounds like you? Consider this prompt then.

You don’t have to dislike your hometown to hope something changes about it. Writing about your hometown might be too broad for you. The prompt doesn’t specify “the place where you live” as the city or town you live in, so it could be something about your physical home.

  • Is there a building that is unfinished with no sign of being completed? What is the building? Will it add value to the community? Should it be destroyed to make room for something else?
  • Do you like the feeling you have walking down the street? Could you feel safer? Less stressed? Perhaps you don’t feel much of anything because you don’t feel like your town has much to offer.
  • What’s missing where you live that would make it better? Things like public transportation, libraries, good schools, grocery stores, and malls are staples in many places, but not every place has them.
  • If it’s not something that is physically missing, what could make the place you live better? It could be the pace. Is it too fast or too slow? Are there not enough restaurants to fulfill your desire to taste different cultures?
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Who Are You Really?

What is one thing that we don’t know about you that you want us to know?

This is a pretty broad question, considering the admissions representative has probably never met you in person. So, what do they know about you? She pretty much knows as much as was included in your application to UNC-Chapel Hill. They know what classes you took, what grades you got, what extracurricular activities you participated in, and any other information you provided.

For this essay, you can write about what is missing between the lines on your transcript and resume, if you provide one. They may know that you were a member of the orchestra but don’t see that you won a state competition in your instrument’s category. You might have earned straight As in English class, but that doesn’t say that you’re also a published author if you are one.

There are some elements in your application that you don’t write, so you should investigate a bit before choosing this supplemental essay. You will submit a statement from a school counselor and a letter or recommendation from a teacher.

While you shouldn’t know what they write, it’s important to anticipate their perspective on you. You want to write about something different than they did so you can show off another reason why you belong at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For example, if you think your science teacher will write about how you won the science fair, you won’t want to write about that for this prompt. It’s something the admissions representative already knows about you or will learn, depending on which they read first.

The topic you choose to write for this supplemental essay doesn’t have to be academic- or extracurricular-based. You can pull from your personal life if you think it’s worth mentioning and not included anywhere else in your application.

  • Did you organize an event for a charity or cause you’re passionate about? What were the results?
  • Is there something unique about your position in your family? Did you start working at a young age to help pay bills? Maybe you’re the only boy/girl in your generation and that shaped your outlook on life.
  • Do you have any hobbies that are notable? Do you have a YouTube channel with a decent viewership? Did you code a gaming app that all your friends love?

You won’t need to tell the entire story of the experience you choose, so make sure it has one focus. Explicitly mentioning how it’s related to your qualifications for admission is not necessary, but it is something to keep in mind when finalizing your supplemental essay. How does this information make me look more qualified for admission?

How Will You Contribute?

What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?

The goal of admissions representatives is to admit students who will positively represent the university and contribute to the overall community. Diversity and inclusion are other goals they keep in mind when shaping the incoming freshman class.

Your life up to this point is what you will contribute to the community at UNC-Chapel Hill. This supplemental essay can get be very personal, so it’s important to acknowledge that before choosing this prompt.

First, you only need to choose one of the four areas mentioned in the prompt regarding what you will contribute to the education of your classmates. In 200-250 words, it would be challenging to discuss all four.

Second, education is the focus of your contribution to this prompt. It can be argued that education doesn’t only happen in the classroom, so don’t let the classroom constrict your imagination when thinking about what your educational contribution can be.

  • Do you or does someone in your family have a disability that needed accommodating? Not everyone has experience being around disabled individuals, so you might bring some education on how to make proper accommodations for these individuals. If someone hasn’t chosen a major that relates to caring for someone with special needs, they may never get this insight except through your experience.
  • Have you lived in another country or multiple states? Moving and living in different environment adds depth to your worldly perspective. You have the ability to compare/contrast societies first-hand when others can only speculate. Some individuals never live outside their hometown.
  • Are you the only person, or one of few that you’ve met, who practices your religion or faith? You’ll provide an opportunity to educate your future classmates on these practices whether they’ve never heard of them before or have little prior knowledge of them.
  • Are you a first-generation college student? What motivates you to apply to college and take it seriously? You probably have a slightly different outlook on the college experience and opportunities than peers who come from a long line of college graduates.

Conclusion: Writing the UNC-Chapel Hill Essays

Don’t forget to proofread your work.

Also, make sure you are the subject of each essay. While you’ll use stories and other people as foils to demonstrate your character and what you have to offer UNC, you need to be the focus of the essay.

Last, brainstorm thoroughly and take the word count seriously. A good topic will help you extrapolate your beliefs and write an effective essay.

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