How to Write the University of North Carolina Supplemental Essay

May 24, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/24/24

Imagine your University of North Carolina supplemental essay as a key, uniquely crafted by you, ready to unlock the gates to one of the most prestigious universities in the nation—let's forge that key together!

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is more than a renowned academic institution; it's a dynamic hub where a multitude of diverse viewpoints and distinctive narratives converge, forming a lively and rich academic community.

As part of your application, the supplemental essays offer a fantastic opportunity to showcase your personality, experiences, and aspirations, helping you stand out in a pool of talented applicants.

We'll delve into the specifics of each UNC essay prompt, providing you with insightful strategies to help you craft compelling and authentic responses. Whether you're reflecting on your journey, discussing your academic interests, or sharing your vision for the future, these essays are your chance to let the admissions committee see the real you.

The University of North Carolina Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-2024

When reviewing your responses to the UNC Chapel Hill essay prompts, the admissions team is eager to understand what joining the Carolina community would mean to each prospective student. UNC takes pride in its vibrant Carolina community, which thrives on the excellence, intellect, and character of each student. 

The admissions process is an opportunity for applicants to showcase how they align with these values and envision their contribution to the university's dynamic environment.

The University of North Carolina has chosen the following prompts for the UNC-specific section of the first-year and transfer applications for 2023-2024. 

Prompt #1 

Discuss one of your personal qualities and share a story, anecdote, or memory of how it helped you make a positive impact on a community. This could be your current community or another community you have engaged.

Prompt #2

Discuss an academic topic that you’re excited to explore and learn more about in college. Why does this topic interest you? Topics could be a specific course of study, research interests, or any other area related to your academic experience in college.

How to Write the Essay Prompts for the University of North Carolina

Below are tips for writing the University of North Carolina essay prompts. Focus on authenticity and introspection, using personal stories to highlight your character and growth. 

Approach each prompt thoughtfully, clearly articulating your unique qualities and experiences, and ensure your responses are engaging and reflective of your journey and perspectives.

How to Write the University of North Carolina Supplemental Essay #1 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of Prompt #1: This prompt begins by inviting you to share a personal quality that is crucial for the admissions committee to understand. The task is to anchor this quality in a real-life story that connects to the broader world, demonstrating how you've positively impacted others. 

A practical approach might be to start from a point where you've made a meaningful contribution to a community, and then identify the personal attribute that played a key role in this context. This method ensures that the quality, be it empathy, versatility, loyalty, trustworthiness, resilience, or another, is illustrated through action rather than just described.

When contemplating your approach to this essay, it's vital to interpret "community" in its broadest sense. This term can refer to various groups, including your high school, neighborhood, place of worship, family, or even a club or sports team. 

However, it's important to remember that the impact described doesn't need to be world-altering. Avoid the trap of feeling the need to present a story where you single-handedly solve major global issues. The focus should be on authentic experiences where you've made a real difference, without necessarily being the sole hero of the story.

Here are some tips to take note of when writing the UNC supplemental essay for prompt #1:

  1. Select the Right Personal Quality: Choosing a personal quality that resonates with you and aligns with your experiences is crucial. This quality will serve as the focal point of your essay, so make sure it's meaningful and reflective of your character.
  1. Craft a Vivid Story: Start your essay with a compelling narrative that vividly illustrates the chosen personal quality in action. A well-crafted story will engage the reader and make your essay memorable.
  1. Show Impact on Others: Demonstrate how your actions and the selected personal quality have positively impacted others in your chosen community context. Highlight the difference you've made in the lives of those involved.

These three tips emphasize the importance of choosing the right quality, storytelling, and showcasing your impact on others, which are key elements in creating a strong and compelling essay for UNC's Supplemental Essay #1.

How to Write the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Supplemental Essay #2 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of Prompt #2: The second prompt asks you to discuss an academic topic you're excited to explore in college and why it interests you. It is an opportunity for you to share your academic journey and the development of your passion for a specific discipline. UNC wants to understand why you're drawn to this area of study and how your interest has evolved over time. 

The prompt provides flexibility in structuring your essay—you can either provide a comprehensive narrative of your journey or focus on key moments or vignettes that highlight your passion.

Crafting a standout University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC) Supplemental Essay #2 involves reflecting on and conveying your passion for a chosen academic field. Here are three tips:

  1. Connect Your Past to Your Future Goals: Link your previous experiences, such as significant projects or moments of discovery, to your academic aspirations at UNC. Show how these experiences have shaped your interest and how you plan to leverage UNC's offerings to achieve your goals. Mention specific UNC resources or opportunities that align with your ambitions.
  1. Demonstrate Enthusiasm and Curiosity: Let your genuine excitement for the subject shine through. Share examples of how you've explored this interest outside the classroom, such as through independent study, internships, or personal projects. Your eagerness to engage with the subject at UNC should be evident.
  1. Reflect on the Evolution of Your Interest: Describe how your passion for the subject has grown and matured over time. Discuss any challenges you've faced and how they've reinforced your commitment to this field. Illustrate how this interest ties into your broader life goals or values.

Your essay should narratively link your past experiences to future aspirations at UNC, highlight your enthusiasm for your chosen field, and reflect on the development of your interest. Be authentic and specific to demonstrate why you and UNC are a perfect match.

Examples of UNC-Chapel Hill Supplemental Essays That Worked

The essays showcased below were composed by successful applicants at UNC. We have also provided feedback on the examples for the UNC supplemental essays and explained why the admissions committee found them compelling.

Sample Essay #1

Prompt: “Please submit a short essay (250 words or fewer) that describes your academic interests and the ways you believe Honors Carolina can help you pursue them.”

“I’ve attended [SCHOOL NAME] since second grade. Each student must pass an IQ test for acceptance, but that’s just the beginning. The curriculum is a year ahead of one’s actual grade level, so, in 8th grade, I completed our county’s ninth-grade curriculum. The students are highly intellectual and competitive, so it’s difficult to stand out academically since everyone’s an excellent student, yet because I study hard, I do. I hold that the Honors Carolina program would challenge me academically and socially in the manner to which I’ve grown accustomed, as Honors Carolina houses like-minded students who value intellect and excellence.
The classes that I’ve most enjoyed in high school have been related to law, business, psychology, and history. I aim to pursue coursework in these areas of study to hone in on my primary focus. These fields seem to suit my personality because I’m intrigued by people's actions and behaviors. I’m curious about the reason people make the choices they make. Environmental law appeals to me, for example, because I could leverage the judicial system to protect our beautiful coastal lands. History suits me because I like to put myself in the shoes of our predecessors and see life from their points of view. With none of the technology that we have today, people were able to accomplish great things in the years of yesterday. Similarly, I look forward to the opportunities Honors Carolina affords me to accomplish great things in the years of tomorrow.” 

Why Essay #1 Worked

The essay effectively communicates the applicant's academic background, intellectual curiosity, and how Honors Carolina aligns with their pursuit of excellence and specific academic interests. 

It showcases the applicant's readiness for challenge, commitment to standing out in a competitive environment, and enthusiasm for law, business, psychology, and history, articulating a clear vision for how the program can further their educational and career goals.

Sample Essay #2 - UNC Activity Essay

“It was the summer of 2022 when fifteen fellow [ENVIRONMENTAL CLUB] members, three chickens, an octopus, a bevy of clams, and I all partook in a marine science project. The goal; to discover why the local clams were dying. As a Junior Board Member of [ENVIRONMENTAL CLUB], I helped arrange the dumping of a million clams back into [OCEANFRONT]. Scientists would then track and analyze the local clam culture and population. A grand plan to save clams had to start somewhere. Ours began with a ten-foot long metal clam tumbler at a local clam farm. The tumbler was filled with 100,000+ clams, making it our largest clam run to date in the “[EVENT NAME]”!
I arrived at the clam farm, and was struck by the familiar smell of a bait shop, a scent I love, as it reminds me of fishing. Our clam project required us to purchase the clams from the clam farmer. The one hiccup in the plan was that we had to handpick them ourselves, separating the live from the dead. It seems you can’t just order 7,000 pounds of live clams and expect them to be handed to you.  I was positioned at the bottom of the tumbler, picking through a constant river of clams and other sea life. An added bonus was sorting out toadfish, crabs, starfish, and even a live octopus with my bare hand and feeding them to the farm's chickens. After three hours of picking, we loaded countless five-gallon buckets onto a trailer before making our “[EVENT NAME]” up to [OCEANFRONT] where this clam run’s drop zone was. 
Mysteriously, there is a new war going on between clams and their environment. The reason for the clam population’s demise is unknown. As the lieutenant of this campaign, leading my corp and our 76,000 stone-like soldiers on the biggest clam run of our [EVENT NAME] I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride at being a part of this project. As a team, we took matters into our own hands (literally) to preserve our community’s little mollusks. Though it’s too early to tell if our efforts have been successful in our Great “Clampaign”, we are nonetheless able to track the success of each group of the million clams we dropped throughout the various drop zones of the [OCEANFRONT] battlefield, and we are cautiously optimistic that we’ll win the war to save the clams!
To fully grasp why saving the clams is so critical to me, one must understand what it is like growing up on a beach. The marine ecosystem is something I study and enjoy every single day. Island dwellers gain an insight into their environment and are tuned into practical ways to keep the gulf coast thriving. Between fishing, sea turtle protection, identifying invasive lizards, tracking tides, beach renourishment, safeguarding gopher tortoises and their burrows, clam tagging, and island conservation, I’ve been involved in a multitude of coastal ecological projects. Because it’s not enough for just our generation to respect the [OCEAN NAME] and do our part to preserve its beauty, [ENVIRONMENTAL CLUB]  is currently raising awareness in the elementary schools as well. We are teaching the importance of protecting [OCEANFRONT] and its essential aquatic flora and fauna to our community and to our visitors from all over the world. When it comes to preserving the coast, you don’t want to be shellfish.”

Why Essay #2 Worked

The essay successfully illustrates the applicant's deep engagement with environmental conservation through a vivid narrative of a marine science project, highlighting leadership, teamwork, and a hands-on approach to solving ecological challenges. 

It effectively conveys the applicant's passion for marine ecology, their community involvement, and their commitment to educating younger generations, all of which align with the values sought by UNC.

Sample Essay #3

Prompt: “Describe an aspect of your identity and how this has shaped your life experiences or impacted your daily interactions with others? (200–250 words)”

“I adjust the grand piano’s bench, which loudly scrapes against the boards of the stage with the dissonance of a bow against an untuned violin. In my peripheral vision, I spy a judge wincing at the noise. I dry my sweaty palms on my slacks and visualize the first measure of my piece. I position my fingers on the keys that normally feel so familiar, though today, like strangers. My breath syncopates in my chest as my heart beats presto staccato. With time ticking away, the moment never quite right, I attack the first note.
Since age 5, I’ve been learning the technique of playing, listening to, and analyzing the history of piano and music. Practicing requires diligence and dedication, but for me, it’s become as automatic as brushing my teeth. While listening to music, even on the radio, I’ve been trained to listen for rhythm, textures, tempo, patterns, and even historical context. Ensemble play, which I’ve been doing since age 7, has helped to develop my leadership skills, my openness to different opinions and ideas, and of course, patience. I use these skills daily in school and sports, as they help me collaborate better.
Playing piano is like traveling on an infinite road toward mastery. Though you may never get there, the journey is what counts. I’ve applied this idea to everything I do, focusing more on the journey than the destination. After 14 years of successful performance, there’s one thing I can always count on: the next note.”

Why Essay #3 Worked

The essay effectively conveys how the applicant's identity as a pianist has shaped their life, emphasizing the discipline, dedication, and collaborative skills gained through years of practice and performance. 

It illustrates a profound connection to music that impacts daily interactions and personal growth, using vivid imagery to draw the reader into the experience and highlighting the transferable skills developed through musical pursuit.

Sample Essay #4

Prompt: Former UNC-Chapel Hill employee, community service member, and civil rights activist Esphur Foster once said, “We are nothing without our history.” Her words are memorialized on the Northside Neighborhood Freedom Fighters monument. How does history shape who you are? (200–250 words)”

Take a look at how this Emory student answered this prompt:

“What do the Mayflower, the Salem witch trials, six Prussian brothers, a Sicilian immigrant, and a [AGE]-year old [ETHNICITY] girl have in common? The hint has to do with identity and family, but it’s too diverse to pack in a box…
On dad’s side, six Jewish brothers fled European antisemitism. In the US, their progeny achieved the American dream. When I became a bar mitzvah, I recommitted to my Jewish religion. 
My father’s side was not my family's first American experience. When John Alden, the Mayflower’s ship cooper and a direct ancestor of my [FAMILY MEMBER], arrived in Plymouth in 1620, another piece of my lineage took root here. I am the [GENERATION NUMBER] of this line! 
My mother’s side of the family was involved in remarkable times, including the Salem Witch Trials. When only 14, my great-great-grandmother traveled solo from [COUNTRY] in the hold of a ship. Finally, my great-grandparents came from Sicily through Ellis Island. They settled in Massachusetts and started a profitable cheese company. 
Serendipitously, my parents met in [CITY AND STATE], tying their interesting histories together. My mother converted to Judaism before I was born, further melding their histories into my own unique, facile-classification-defying identity. My history is special and the stories of my people inspire me. I want future generations to look back at my life and feel that same pride. 
So, what do the Mayflower, the Salem witch trials, six Prussian brothers, a Sicilian immigrant, and a [AGE] [ETHNICITY] have in common? Me!”

Why Essay #4 Worked

The essay skillfully intertwines personal and familial history with broader historical events, illustrating how the student's unique heritage and the diverse backgrounds of their ancestors have shaped their identity. 

By connecting their lineage to significant historical moments and migrations, the student demonstrates a deep appreciation for their complex heritage, fulfilling Esphur Foster's assertion about the importance of history in defining individual identity and inspiring future generations.

FAQs: How to Write the UNC-Chapel Hill Supplemental Essays

Below are some of the frequently asked questions and answers about UNC supplemental essays:

1. Does UNC Have Any Supplemental Essays?

Yes, UNC Chapel Hill requires applicants to complete two supplemental essays, each capped at 250 words, as part of their application. 

The first UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essay prompt invites applicants to discuss a personal quality they possess, along with a story, anecdote, or memory demonstrating how this quality positively impacted a community. 

The second essay prompt focuses on academic interests, asking applicants to explore a topic they are excited to learn more about in college and explain why it intrigues them. This could relate to a specific course of study, research interests, or any other academic area they plan to pursue at UNC-Chapel Hill.

2. How Many Essays Do You Need to Write for UNC?

UNC requires applicants to write seven essays and short supplements. These include two short-answer essays of 200–250 words each and five fill-in-the-blank essays of 25 words each. 

Additionally, applicants must write one personal statement from the Common Application essay prompts, which should be 250–650 words long

3. What Does UNC-Chapel Hill Look for in an Essay?

UNC seeks genuine insights into applicants' personal qualities, backgrounds, and community involvement. The university aims to gauge what applicants will contribute to campus life. 

Applicants should use vivid, concise language in their essays to distinguish themselves and demonstrate why they are a fit for UNC-Chapel Hill's diverse community.

Final Thoughts

As we wrap up this comprehensive guide on writing the University of North Carolina supplemental essays, remember that these essays are your opportunity to shine. They are not just about showcasing your academic prowess or community involvement; they are about sharing your unique story, your passions, and how these have shaped you. 

In writing your University of North Carolina essay, remember that the admissions committee wants to see beyond grades and scores. They're interested in real individuals with unique stories and ambitions. Your essays should be a true reflection of your identity and values and illustrate how you envision contributing to the UNC community.

So, take a deep breath, be yourself, and let your personality and aspirations come through in your writing. Good luck!

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