How to Write the UNC-Chapel Hill Essays 2020-2021: The Tarheel Guide (With Examples!)

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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.

On top of a stellar application, well-written supplemental essays are essential to be a part of that narrow 26%.

UNC-Chapel Hill Supplemental Essay Requirements

When you complete the Common Application, you’ll choose one essay prompt to complete.

There are still two supplemental essays to write, for UNC-Chapel Hill specifically, before your application is considered complete.

  • On the UNC-Chapel Hill website, the admissions staff states that they hope to learn “what being a member of such a community would mean to you.”

UNC-Chapel Hill uses the few hundred words you write in these supplemental essays to select students for admission, and also to select first-year students for merit scholarships and other opportunities. It’s important that you take the time to make every word count.

UNC - Chapel Hill Supplemental Essays: How to Write Them!

Click above to watch a video on UNC-Chapel Hill’s Supplemental Essays.

UNC-Chapel Hill provides three prompts to choose from for your supplement essays.

You will choose two to complete and submit with the rest of your application. Each of the essays must be 200-250 words.

Here are your three options:

  • “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?”
  • “If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be and why?”
  • “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?”

UNC Supplemental Essay 1: Your Identity

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?

This prompt shows that UNC-Chapel Hill cares about what’s not going to show up on a piece of paper. They know that you’re so much more than what your application is going to tell them, and your personal identity is a large part of this.

It’s important to note that if you are not comfortable sharing this personal information, you do not have to. You can always choose the other two prompts and leave this one behind.

However, if you are comfortable sharing, there is something special about a person’s identity. Answering this question will show UNC-Chapel Hill a new side of who you are.

It will show them what shapes and forms you, as well as how you will add to the diverse community on their campus.

You may have listed your race, ethnicity, and/or gender on your application, but that doesn’t show the admissions team how this piece of you has affected your life and turned you into who you are today.

To start this essay, choose the piece of your essay that has most prominently affected who you’ve grown up to be.

You can write about more than one of these aspects if you would like to, but with only 200-250 words available, it may be smart to just choose one.

After sharing your religion, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or affinity group, it’s time to write about how it has shaped your life so far.

We recommend sharing only a few sentences on the personal aspect of your choosing, and saving the rest of your word count for how it has affected your life.

After all, this is what UNC – Chapel Hill is looking for. If they only wanted to know who you were, they would have just gone off the bubbles you filled in on your application. However, they want to gain a deeper understanding of who you are.

  • Maybe you moved to a new country as an older child, and had to learn about and live in an entirely new culture. What have you held onto from the culture you were born into, and how have these qualities affected who you’ve become (even in a new country)?
  • Do you identify with a non-binary gender? How has your gender identity shaped who you’ve become? Has it made you more independent as you stand up for who you are to those around you?
  • Do you follow a religion that not many of your local peers believe in? What aspects of your religion have made you who you are today?

No matter what you choose to write about, make sure it’s a significant part of who you are. Take this opportunity to show UNC-Chapel Hill that your identity is so much more than a label, and that you will be an excellent addition to their wonderfully diverse and accepting college community.

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UNC Supplemental Essay 1 Example

Use this essay as a guide to writing this question. Never plagiarize. It’s a serious offense to copy someone else’s work.

I lived a happy childhood in Mexico. I clearly remember playing soccer in the streets with my neighborhood friends when my dad came outside and told me I needed to hurry in. I didn’t understand, but his tone was stern so I followed.

That was the last time I’d ever play soccer in the streets of my small Mexican city. Violence had moved in, and our home was no longer safe. We abruptly moved to the United States to live with my aunts and cousins.

I loved my aunt and cousins, but the change was hard. I had to learn a whole new language when I started school, and I missed my friends. I am thankful for my childhood in Mexico and for my family, because these parts of my life allowed me to keep my Mexican culture alive.

I still live in the United States today, but I’m proud of where I came from. My culture provides a significant piece of my identity. To my culture, I owe my work ethic, my strong family ties, and my determination to build a better life for myself in the future.

My culture will stay with me always, as I hold true to who I am and celebrate all of the things it’s given me so far.

UNC Supplemental Essay 2: Changing Where You Live

What do you hope will change about the place you live and why?

Whether you love or hate the place you currently live, this prompt can be intriguing. It is fairly vague and can be taken in a bunch of different directions.

At first glance, the question seems to be talking about your hometown. However, it literally says “where you live.” This could be about your physical house, your street, your city, your state, or even your country.

Keep in mind that you only have 200-250 words, so you want to make sure that the thing you’d change is extremely specific, even if you choose a large space such as your country or state.

After you choose what area you will write about, choose something you’d love to see change.

There are many ways in which an area can change. Consider choosing a difference that relates to your passions, concerns, or even your individual talents or skills. If you’ve done something to work on this issue already, be sure to include the steps you’ve taken so far.

  • If you want to be a teacher after college and your elementary school lacks funding, wright about this issue and the negative effects it has had on your community. Let your passion for education and difference-making shine through.
  • Maybe you’re a DACA recipient, and you’re feeling the stress of the country going back and forth on whether the program will be allowed to continue. Write about how DACA benefited your life, and how you plan to make your voice heard when it comes to keeping the program going for future generations.
  • You may come from a large family living in a home that is much too small. Write about how this has affected your family and how affordable housing could make a difference in the lives of your family members as well as many others in your area.
  • Maybe you love the place you live, but you know everything could be improved one way or another. Speak about how a beautification team could benefit the aesthetics of your town, bringing more families into an excellent city. Write about that vacant building across from the high school that could make an awesome youth center and the benefits that could come from its opening.

No matter what type of change you write about in this essay, remember to be creative and showcase your passions, concerns, talents, or skills, and if applicable, one of your past difference-making experiences.

When you take a vague, almost unrelated essay question and turn it into something that reflects who you truly are, UNC-Chapel Hill is sure to take notice.

UNC Supplemental Essay 2 Examples

In my hometown, houses are expensive. The minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour, and a mortgage on a medium-sized home in an average neighborhood starts at $250,000.

I live with my parents and my 5 siblings. We share a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home. If I could, I’d change the home we live in by moving us to one that has adequate space for us all.

However, I understand why my parents have been unable to move us out of our home. To allow families like ours to afford living in a safe, fitting home, the housing market has to change.

I also understand that even though my home is small, it is a safe place to live and that is much more than other members of my community have. If more affordable housing was available, our homeless resident rate would drop instead of rise, and more children could be able to grow up in healthy, stable homes.

More affordable housing, whether that be through government housing, significant minimum wage increases, or a drop in the value of new homes, is a necessity in my hometown.

On some level, it affects every member of our community. Fixing this issue would lead to better lives for every person around me. No potential change could be better than that.

UNC Supplemental Essay 3: Describe a Community Builder

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?

When it comes to college application essays, you are likely expecting to write about yourself. This prompt has a unique twist, as it is asking you to share all about someone else.

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.”

Since they believe some of the best essays are written about someone else, it’s pretty generous of UNC-Chapel Hill to offer a question like this.

This prompt takes them a step further in figuring out who you are exactly and why you’d make a good fit for the UNC-Chapel Hill community.

It shows that they truly aren’t trying to stump you. They’re trying to give you access to prompts that spark your desires and passions because those aspects of your identity are just as important as the grades you earned and the extracurricular activities you participated in.

While you are writing about someone other than yourself, make sure that the person indirectly displays your passions, interests, or skills. Even though this essay prompt is not about you, your application still is.

  • Maybe your science teacher is a community builder in your life. Talk about the real-world experience he has in the field, and how he brings that to the classroom. Share a quick story that shows his dedication to helping every student grow. Add in a section at the end that states your passion for science and research would not be the same without his guidance and support.
  • Your best friend who spends every evening after school tutoring younger students could be your community builder. Write about the passion she has to make a difference in the lives of younger students. Your choice in friends will show the admissions team that you associate yourself with others that are on the path to success, and therefore would fit in well with the UNC-Chapel Hill community.
  • It might even be your mom who is a community builder. Maybe you see her up late at night searching for the perfect host family for next year’s foreign exchange student. She may have opened up your own home to many students in the past until she was able to find their ideal match. She cares deeply about diversity, belonging, and educational opportunities, in hopes to better the future of kids around the world.

This essay is meant to be about someone else, so make sure that you use the majority of your word count to describe your difference-maker. You can consider taking the last 2 or 3 sentences to share how they’ve made a difference in your life (allowing the admissions team to get to know you, your passions, and your beliefs.

  • Talk about how your science teacher has included you in research projects and sparked your interest in finding a cure for M.S.
  • Mention how volunteering for your best friend’s tutoring program has taught you about dedication and your real opportunity to make a tangible difference in the world around you (even though your passion is in medicine).
  • Describe what you learned throughout your mom’s years working with Foreign Exchange students. Share how the relationships she has helped you build have given you a more worldly perspective, and how that perspective is going to shape your future.

You can share these monumental details in just a few sentences when you make every word count, ensuring that the essay’s main focus is still about the community builder, not yourself.

UNC Essay 3 Example

After graduating from MIT with a degree in Computer Science and Molecular Biology, Mr. Smith spent 10 years working in a well-known lab studying evolutionary genetics. Later, he got his Master’s of Education and became our new science teacher at Roosevelt High.

From the start, I knew that Mr. Smith was different. He didn’t just come to class and teach us lessons from a textbook. He would find an issue, and tell us to solve it. He would create an imaginary virus, and make us cure it. He shared stories of his real-life experience working in a lab and taught us about the real differences that scientists make in our world today.

Mr. Smith also cared more about his students than any teacher I’ve had before. He didn’t care about grades; he cared about the level on which we were learning. He didn’t want us to circle the right multiple choice answer, he wanted to see our brains transforming.

Mr. Smith got to school early and invited us for extra study time. If we had an interest, he’d create a lesson to let us learn all about it. He started a club that allowed future science majors to participate in real-life research projects, similar to what we will experience in college.

Mr. Smith changed my life, making me the future scientist that I am today. He allowed me to find my passion for changing the world around me, one scientific discovery at a time.

Conclusion: Writing the UNC-Chapel Hill Essays

As has been mentioned a few times, these supplemental prompts are important. Here are a few last-minute tips to help you write your very best essays:

  • Don’t forget to proofread your work
  • No matter what you’re writing about (someone else, a change to your community, etc.) make sure it reflects who you are. The prompts may be about topics other than yourself, but they are still being used to allow the admissions team to get to know you.
  • After you’re done writing, go back through your piece and make sure every word counts. With only 200-250 words available, not even one should be wasted.

When you follow these tips, you’re sure to write an excellent supplemental essay for UNC-Chapel Hill. Follow the directions, show who you are, and let your passion shine through. Take what some call a challenge and turn it into an opportunity to show this college who you truly are. Your spot in that 26% is waiting for you.

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