University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) is obviously trying to get to know their applicants. With multiple essay questions on a variety of topics, students who thoughtfully consider the prompts will have plenty of opportunities to share some revealing stories about themselves. Here are a few tips to help you do that.
Complete each of the following sentences about yourself. Don’t think too long or too hard; just help us get to know you better.Your responses could be as short as one word or as long as about 20 words—no longer, please.
Their directions really say it all. Don't over-think these. The very worst strategy here is to try to impress them. You'll just end up sounding like every other kid.
Instead, tell the truth, whatever it is. And where appropriate, inject some personality into your answer. Here are some examples of what that sounds like:
The last book I read outside of class was…
"Paris Hilton: Life on the Edge" Please don't throw my application away.
It would surprise my friends to know that I…
"..feel a little hurt when they make fun of my hair. I do have bad hair but it's hard to laugh along with them."
If I could travel anywhere in time or space, either real or imagined, I’d go…
"…back in time to my parents' wedding. They looked so happy and it would be fun to see them at 24 and newly in love."
The form of communication that I’d most like to ban from existence is
"Any sentence where people use the word 'like' too often, as in, 'We should, like, hang out.' Ugh."
The question I would most like to have answered is
"Is Jason Siegal going to ever grow a spine and ask me to the prom? Seriously. Embarrassing, but true."
My favorite random fact is
"There are fourteen punctuation marks in standard English grammar."
My most treasured possession is
"My necklace that my mom gave me for my 16th birthday. She got it from her mother when she was 16."
This applicant did a good job. There's no secret strategy at work here–she just told the truth, even when it was embarrassing. She injected her personality into the answers, sometimes being funny, sometimes being serious. And most importantly, she didn't try to serve up responses that were designed to impress.
The message here isn't that everyone should try to be funny; the message is that everyone should be themselves, whether you're funny, self-deprecating, introspective, intellectual, etc. Just relax and tell the truth. And have a little fun while you're doing it.
Please respond to two of the prompts below. One of your essays should be short (about 250 words), and one essay should be longer (about 500 words).
I would suggest that you read through all the prompts and see which one(s) you have an immediate reaction to. See if there are any that you read and immediately think of something you could, or better yet, would want, to say. Those are the prompts you should focus on.
Here are a few prompt-specific tips.
1. People find many ways to express their inner world. Some write novels; others paint, perform, or debate; still others design elegant solutions to complex mathematical problems. How do you express your inner world, and how does the world around you respond?
Do you do anything that you feel is a great representation of who you really are, the parts of you that other people may or may not know about? If you like to play soccer, that's not really an "inner world." But if you're fascinated with the game of soccer, if you love the rich pageantry of the sport when it's played in the World Cup, if you read soccer magazines to keep up with your favorite teams in England, and you study the history and legends of the game, where do you express that part of yourself? Do you wear jerseys from your favorite teams? Do you set the DVR to record all the European league games and watch them while wearing team paraphernalia? Do you have posters in your room or a bumper sticker on your car?
Like so many essay questions, this one is trying to learn something about you that might not necessarily be outwardly apparent to everyone else, an interest or passion you have in your mind that you express in your own way. So share one with them.
2. It’s easy to identify with the hero—the literary or historical figure who saves the day. Have you ever identified with a figure who wasn’t a hero—a villain or a scapegoat, a bench-warmer or a bit player? If so, tell us why this figure appealed to you—and if your opinion changed over time, tell us about that, too.
Twenty bucks says the UNC admissions office will read more than 30 (probably more than 100, but I don't want to risk my 20!) essays about Rudy. Any takers? Hey, I love that movie, too. But if you spend 500 words telling them that Rudy never gave up and that he inspired you to, well, never give up, that's a pretty cliche essay, and one that virtually anybody who's seen this movie could write.
The most compelling answers will use the person you describe as a vehicle to share more about yourself. Don't write a 500-word essay about someone else. Write a 500-word essay about how and why this person appealed to you and what the impact was. And most importantly, don't write the same essay that anyone else familiar with this figure could write. Inject enough of your own details so that you own your story.
What if you told your story about being the worst runner on the cross country team, how you struggled with your decision whether to quit, how you actually watched "Rudy" five times that summer and finally just decided that you'd rather be a slow but proud runner than a free but ashamed quitter. Now they've learned something about you (and good ol' Rudy helped out!).
3. Carolina students conduct original research and work to solve problems in almost every imaginable field. If you could spend a semester researching a specific topic or problem, what would you choose and why?
You know this is a topic you should tackle if your immediate reaction is to borderline fantasize about how great it would be if you could actually do what the prompt is describing. That kind of reaction is usually driven by a more than casual knowledge of the topic or problem and a passion for research and scientific discovery. That's why this question is for students who really have a passion for learning.
Maybe you already know a thing or two about spider monkeys and what's killing them, or that science is actually much closer to finding an AIDS vaccine than many people realize, or that the melting ice in Antarctica is actually having a cooling effect on the water? Or maybe you've read about the secret FBI files on John Lennon, or the various interpretations of what the founders really intended with the Bill of Rights and how that document impacts Supreme Court decisions, or the effects of subversive racism on under-represented populations? If you do, this is the place to talk about it.
If you have an academic passion for which research and deeper study could help solve problems, answer questions, or impact the world in some way, you might have a good answer to this question.
4. After your long and happy life, your family must choose no more than a dozen words to adorn your headstone. What do you hope they choose, and why?
Here's a good opportunity to think about what you really want your life to be like. The more articulate vision you have for it, the more likely you'll have something to say in response to this question. If you want to be a journalist, that's a good start. If you want to be a journalist who covers world issues, that's a better start. If you want to be a journalist who makes your professional mission to tell the stories of those impoverished populations who never have a voice, that's a great start.
This doesn't have to be about saving the world. You might have an articulate vision for your family, or your work with your church, or your community involvement or what your kids will think of you. But you should have some sense of what you want your life to be like, some idea of your goals and values that you'd like reflected on a headstone. If you don't have those yet, don't worry. You've still got a long life to lead.
5. We tend to spend our time doing the things we know we do well—running because we’re good runners or painting because we’re talented artists. Tell us about a time when you tried something for which you had no talent. How did it go?
First of all, don't use this question as an excuse to talk about a talent that wasn't all that surprising. For example, don't tell them that you ran for student body president and were surprised that you were such a great leader once you were elected. If you really had no leadership talent, you likely wouldn't have run for (or won) that kind of position.
The most effective answers to this question will be brutally honest and share experiences where you had no talent but tried it anyway. Sometimes those experiences go well (maybe you can't dance but actually did a pretty decent job in the school musical). Sometimes those experiences go badly (maybe you were a decent soccer player but discovered you were the world's worst goalkeeper when you took over for the injured starter). That's what makes these stories interesting–the sometimes surprising but always story-worthy outcomes of trying things we know we're not naturally good at.
Nobody is good at everything. If you had the guts to take a risk and try something you knew you didn't know how to do, you deserve credit. And you can get some credit by sharing your story here, even if the experience didn't go well.
6. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the best you’ve ever given?
One good way to judge the value of any advice is in the outcome it produces. If you've been given advice that, when you followed it, left you happier or healthier, made you more successful, more confident or more engaged, improved your relationship with your family or a teacher or a friend, or just generally impacted your life in a positive way, so much so that you can illustrate the change that took place after taking the advice, you might have a good story to tell here. The same goes for the best advice you've ever given to someone else. How did it change their life?
7. If you have written an essay for another school’s application that you really like, feel free to use it as your short or long essay for us. Please be sure to tell us (a) what essay you are answering and (b) why you think this essay represents you well (your explanation will not be included in the essay word count).
It's tempting to just recycle one of your essays from another application here so you only have to write one essay for UNC. But I'd be careful with that approach. One of the reasons UNC asks you why you think this essay represents you well is so they can hear from you why you decided to use this instead of answering one of their own prompts. Your response will tell them a lot.
For example, if a student submitted an essay about her work with National Charity League and told UNC,
"This essay represents me well because NCL is very important to me. I have done over 12 community service projects totaling over 150 hours of service, and I've served as our vice-president during my junior year."
…that doesn't really tell the admissions committee much that they didn't already read on your application. It smacks of recycling just to make things easier on yourself.
You should only be submitting an essay from another college's application if you believe that the story you wrote, whether because of the subject matter or the writing or even just the way the prompt grabbed you, is one that you think represents you better then what you might have to say for UNC's prompts. Don't recycle one just because it's less work to do it that way.
Optional Additional Statement (please limit your answer to approximately 250 words)
Is there anything else you would like to share with us regarding your background or interests that you didn’t have the opportunity to share elsewhere? Have you overcome exceptional difficulties or challenges? Have you participated in any programs or activities to help you prepare for college, such as Governor’s School, Project Uplift, Gear-Up, AVID, Upward Bound, LEAD, ROTC or Summer Ventures?
Don't fill this space just for the sake of filling it. If you add something here that's not all that important or not well-written just so that you can use the space, you'll dull the rest of your application. So follow the prompt's advice. If you have something that you really wish you had the opportunity to share elsewhere, especially if it was a difficulty, challenge, or a unique educational opportunity that you didn't describe anywhere else, this is the space to do it.
It's a lot of work to apply to college today, and multiple essay questions certainly add to the workload. But you don't have to wonder if UNC will take the time to read your work–they will. So you'll want to take the time to share some revealing answers. Write clearly and in a way that sounds like you. And most importantly, relax and have a little fun. I know that's not easy to do during application season, but the more you can do it, the better your essays will be.
Note: Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides
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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.
With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to writing a fantastic UNC Chapel Hill supplemental essay. If you’d like more help on your essays for this or any other university, reach out to one of our highly trained essay specialists for more guidance!
For more helpful tips on applying to UNC Chapel Hill, feel free to check out these CollegeVine Blog posts: