UNC Essay

In this UNC-Chapel Hill Essay Guide, you’ll find tips on how to best respond to the supplemental essay prompts for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Founded in 1789, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) is a public research university based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. UNC consistently ranks among the nation’s top public universities, placing #29 in U.S. News and World Report’s 2020 Best Colleges Rankings. The university’s acceptance rate of 22% also ranks it among the most selective public schools. It has an undergraduate enrollment of 19,117 students, with a 13:1 faculty to student ratio.

Regarding student life, various publications rank UNC, a suburban town surrounding the UNC campus, among the best college towns in the nation. 20% of students participate in Greek life, while many others participate in UNC’s extracurricular offerings, ranging from the Institute of Politics to the student newspaper. UNC-Chapel Hill is also well-known for its sports teams, such as its nationally-renowned basketball team.

Prompt 1 (No word limit, Optional): We hope you’ll share with us the activities that you’ve found especially worthwhile. We also hope you won’t feel compelled to tell us everything you’ve ever done or, worse yet, to do things that mean little to you just because you think we expect them. Low-profile pursuits can be just as meaningful as ones that draw more attention, and fewer activities can be just as good, and sometimes even better, than more activities. For example, although starting a new club can be a great experience and helpful to others, so can caring for siblings, parents, or grandparents, working outside the home to put food on the table, or being a good and caring friend. For these reasons, although we’re glad to receive complete résumés, we don’t require or encourage them. Instead, if you choose to submit something that goes beyond what you’re providing through your Common Application, keep it brief; focus less on including everything and more on choosing and explaining the things that have meant the most to you; and upload it here.

What can you showcase in this prompt?

This prompt is very detailed and mostly self-explanatory. Essentially, UNC is providing you an opportunity to provide more details about your most meaningful activities and experiences.

How is this different from the Activities Section on the Common App? First of all, you are asked only to share the activities that are most meaningful to you. Second, you can share activities that may not typically have a place in the Common Application. For example, the prompt lists caring for your family members and being a good friend as worthwhile experiences to discuss. Finally, you are able to provide some detail about these activities and why they are meaningful to you.

As such, this is different from a resume. Rather than providing a short description of your accomplishments and responsibilities, you are describing your most meaningful activities.

How can you approach writing this essay?

There are multiple ways to approach this prompt. You could do a bullet point list with the activity title, a short description for the activity, what you took away from this experience, and why you find it meaningful.

If being a member of a sports team is meaningful and has helped you develop self-discipline, you can describe that here. If you’ve chosen a work experience, you can describe what you learned from that job and how it has shaped your perspective, or your future career/studies. For example, working as a cashier at a fast food restaurant may have been valuable because it helped pay the bills for your family. Or, working as a camp counselor might have made you passionate about teaching and education.

Despite the lack of a word limit, be sure to write with focus and concision. If you choose to do a list, then keep the description accompanying each activity to a few sentences or less. Aim for a page or less if you are writing single-spaced. Don’t feel pressured to describe too many activities and experiences: focus on the ones that are most meaningful to you.

Prompt 2 (200-250 Words, Mandatory): Please choose two of the prompts below and respond to each in 200-250 words.

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

What can you showcase in this essay?

This is an opportunity to discuss your relationship with a peer, whether that be a classmate, friend, or other person who is around your age. Through this, the admissions committee can glean valuable insights about how you interact with and learn from peers. For example, is there a close friend who struggled through difficult personal circumstances and has inspired you? A peer who you work with in a club who has significantly shaped the way that you think today? A classmate who helped you when you were struggling through a class?

How can you approach writing this essay?

Keep in mind that you are the one applying to colleges with this essay, not your peer! Although you should share details about your peer, you also should focus on your perspective as you write this essay: what do you appreciate about this peer? What have you learned from him/her? How has this relationship shaped you?

Ideally, you should discuss peers with whom you have a meaningful degree of familiarity or interaction. For example, if you discuss a classmate who has inspired you, but with whom you have spoken once or twice total, it will be hard to share many meaningful insights. On the other hand, discussing a peer with whom you have worked with for a year or two on the robotics club will likely yield more insights and experiences. Or, a peer who tutored you over several months when you took a difficult science class.

For those who may be wondering, this essay prompt does not limit you to discussing only peers who were a positive presence in your life. While a positive relationship may be the most obvious angle, you also can write about peers who have created negative experiences. The risk in this type of essay is that depending on how you describe your peer, you may come off as overly negative and vengeful. For example, writing about how you find one of your classmates annoying because of a personal dispute may not work. On the other hand, writing about a bully in high school who you stood up to and how you grew from this experience may work better.

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

What can you showcase in this essay?

This is an opportunity to describe your community and your vision for how it can be better. Through this essay, the UNC-Chapel Hill admissions committee can learn more about your values, awareness of your community, and approach for envisioning change.

How can you approach writing this essay?

This is not a policy brief! Don’t worry about providing a bullet point list of your proposals for changing your community. Rather, focus on describing the relevant parts of your community first. You can do so most effectively through specific examples and anecdotes.

For example, if you want to focus on improving civic engagement in your community, you could write about examples of peers struggling to find volunteering opportunities because no community center exists in your area. Or, if you want to write more broadly about attitudes of people in your area on certain issues, you could describe specific conversations you’ve had with these people.

Then, you can describe what you hope can change about these aspects of your community. A general description works, but it’s more helpful to be specific about what you want to change, why, and what impact it could make. For example, if you write about political partisanship in your area, you could supplement this with, “I hope that my community will become more open to discussing difficult political issues together because XYZ. The community that I envision is one where XYZ.”

This essay is also a good opportunity to highlight work you have already done to improve your community. It’s fine if the issue you discuss is not one you have personally worked on, but if you have prior experience, feel free to share it. For example, if you choose to write about lack of access to affordable housing, and you have worked on this issue before, feel free to discuss that briefly.

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

What can you showcase in this essay?

This is an opportunity to describe any type of perspective, interest, or experience that can show a new side of you to the admissions committee. Do you like collecting different U.S. coins as a hobby? Do you have a particularly close relationship to one of your siblings? Did you move many times in your life to different cities? Do you have specific ideas of how you want to use your UNC-Chapel Hill education in the future? Any of these aspects could help admissions officers paint a fuller picture of you.

How can you approach writing this essay?

Start by mapping out different aspects of your interests and background that are not captured in your Common Application: hobbies, life experiences, etc. As you do this, think about what each of these aspects can demonstrate about you as a person. Once you narrow down on your topic, you can consider a narrative-type essay that uses anecdotes and stories to show the reader the aspect of you that you’d like to share, and how it has shaped you today.

For example, if you choose to write about moving to different places many times in your life, you could start with an anecdote about packing up your belongings (yet again) as you prepare to move out of X city. Then, you could segue into a reflection of how the experience of moving has been one of the few constants in your life, and how this has shaped you.

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

What can you showcase in this essay?

These types of “background” essays ask about different aspects of your upbringing, views, and experiences that can offer valuable perspectives to the UNC community. Many of my college peers will attest to the fact that much of our learning took place outside of the classroom: building relationships and learning from our diverse peers. This is your opportunity to showcase what unique value add you can provide to the learning environment at UNC-Chapel Hill, both in and out of the classroom.

How can you approach writing this essay?

First, it may be useful to do some research on UNC-Chapel Hill’s student body to understand if there are parts of your identity and experience that may be unique. But don’t feel a need to limit yourself to demographic diversity.

Are there perspectives, beliefs, and experiences you feel can contribute to your peers’ learning? For example, were you a volunteer firefighter, or worked as a car mechanic as a part-time job? Did you play a large role in helping support your family and raising your siblings due to challenging personal circumstances? Are you the only one in your family who has a particular political or ideological leaning? Focus on the aspect of your background and experience that is most meaningful to you – one you feel can contribute to the UNC-Chapel Hill learning community.

As you write this essay, make sure to offer specific examples when you can! For example, if you write about faith, you can describe specific experiences you have had because of your faith identity, traditions that are meaningful to you, and what insights you would hope to share with your peers at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Second, make sure that what you write about here is not duplicative of your Common App essay. If you already wrote about a particular aspect of your background, such as racial identity or your family circumstances, in the Common App, it may be most useful to describe another aspect of you in this essay.


This UNC-Chapel Hill essay guide was written by Jesper Ke, a UNC – Chapel Hill admit and Harvard Class of 2019 graduate. If you want to get help writing your UNC – Chapel hill application essays from Jesper or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.