written by
Abbie Sage

UNC Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

Essay Guides essay guide Admissions Tips 18 min read
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Not sure how to approach the UNC-Chapel Hill essays? With tips from a Harvard graduate, CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the UNC supplemental essays will give you the tools to write UNC application essays sure to stand out in admissions.

If you need help crafting your UNC supplemental essays, click here to create your free CollegeAdvisor.com account or schedule a free advising consultation with an Admissions Expert by calling (844) 343-6272.

UNC-Chapel Hill Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • UNC-Chapel Hill has an acceptance rate of 24%—U.S. News ranks the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as a most selective school.
  • We recommend answering all of the UNC-Chapel Hill essays carefully and authentically to maximize your admissions odds.

Does the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have supplemental essays?

Yes! UNC requires all applicants to complete several UNC supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement found on the Common App or Coalition App. You can find the full prompts for the UNC application essays on the UNC website and in the Common App.

In this guide to the UNC-Chapel Hill essay prompts, we'll break down each prompt to help you make the most out of your UNC-Chapel Hill essays.

How many essays does the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill require?

The UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays come in two categories: short answer UNC application essays (200-250 words each) and fill-in-the-blank UNC essays (25 words each).

All students must choose two of the four available short answer UNC essays. Then, every applicant must respond to all four fill-in-the-blank responses. This means that each student will write a total of six UNC essays and short supplements.

If this sounds like a lot to think about, don't be discouraged! Instead, view the UNC supplemental essays as your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions team. With six questions to answer, you have even more opportunities to showcase what makes you unique—and why UNC-Chapel Hill should admit you.

What are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supplemental essays?

The two short answer prompts and four fill-in-the-blank responses that each applicant must submit form part of UNC-Chapel Hill’s holistic evaluation process. According to UNC, the university’s goal is to build a diverse and inclusive community. They hope to learn from each candidate what membership in a community means to them.

In reading the UNC supplemental essays below, you’ll notice that all four of the short answer prompts ask about aspects of community. As we break down how to address each prompt, we’ll show you how to think through your definitions of community. The best answers to these UNC essays will show that the student has a thorough understanding of what community means to them and how it impacts them. They should also be able to discuss how their actions in a community affect others.

To learn more about how the UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays fit into the UNC application, visit their admissions page for a list of application requirements.

Are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supplemental essays important?

Yes! As a most selective school, UNC-Chapel Hill places plenty of emphasis on the UNC supplemental essays. However, don't let the UNC-Chapel Hill essays intimidate you. Think of the UNC-Chapel Hill essays as your chance to address the admissions team on your own terms. Use this opportunity to show them what you'll bring to UNC!

Remember, a well-crafted set of UNC-Chapel Hill essays can make a huge difference in admissions. Take your UNC essays seriously—you'll be glad you did.

How do I answer the supplemental essays at UNC-Chapel Hill?

Your UNC supplemental essays should complement the rest of your application to help the admissions team understand who you are and why you belong at UNC.

Wondering what it looks like to build a personal narrative in your application? Check out our expert’s dive into the personal narrative.

Remember to use dynamic, descriptive language in each of your UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays. Your reader should be able to sense your passion and enthusiasm in your UNC supplemental essays. As a rule, authentic, genuine responses make for the strongest UNC application essays. The admissions team at UNC-Chapel Hill read thousands of applications—it’s easy to spot shallow responses meant only to impress admissions officers.

Unsure of where to start? This guide will give you the tools to craft strong responses to the UNC supplemental essays.

Let's begin with the short answer UNC-Chapel Hill essays!

UNC Supplemental Essays: Short Answer Questions (200-250 words each)

All applicants to UNC will choose two of four short answer UNC-Chapel Hill essays. While each of these UNC essays has a maximum of just 250 words, these are the longest UNC supplemental essays you'll write!

Here are the prompts for the short answer UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays:

1. Describe a peer you see as a community builder. What actions has that peer taken? How has their work made a difference in your life?
2. Describe 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?
3. If you could change one thing to better your community, what would it be? Why is it important and how would you contribute to this change?
4. 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?

Before we delve into each UNC supplement essay, let's discuss how to choose which UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays are right for you. Authenticity and telling a good story in your unique voice is key to writing a successful UNC essay. Before we dive in, here are few tips from UNC’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions:

Choosing a prompt

As you consider your UNC essays, think about what stories make you who you are. Essentially, all of the UNC supplemental essays ask you to discuss your identity, background, and community. However, each prompt approaches these topics differently. If one of the UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays particularly speaks to you, follow your instinct! However, if you're struggling to choose two prompts (or can't narrow down your options), it might be time for a structured free-write.

Here's how it works: choose a prompt and set a ten-minute timer. Write about that prompt for the full ten minutes without editing, revising, or reading over your work. Once you finish your first prompt, move to the next. Do this for each of the UNC supplemental essays. If you find yourself with a lot to say about a given topic—or you just enjoy writing about it—you've found one of your UNC supplemental essays.

If you still feel stuck after your free-write, don't worry! Look over your free writes and think about how an admissions officer might view them. Which of these stories tell the reader the most about you? What narratives are the most engaging? Which responses showcase your unique traits? The most authentic stories will make the strongest UNC supplemental essays.

Once you've chosen your topics for your UNC supplemental essays, it's time to start drafting. In this section, we'll break down each of the short answer UNC essays. Remember, while we'll discuss all four of the UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essay prompts, you will only choose two of these prompts to complete.

UNC Supplemental Essays Prompt 1:

Describe a peer you see as a community builder. What actions has that peer taken? How has their work made a difference in your life?

This prompt essentially asks you to define your values through a peer you admire. Keep in mind that the admissions team explicitly asks you to describe a peer—namely, someone your own age who you work alongside. This essay is not your chance to talk about world leaders who inspire you; instead, it asks you to talk about how real change can start in your own communities. Your UNC supplement essay, therefore, should center around a classmate, coworker, or friend whose actions have changed how you see the world.

It might be tempting to spend most of your 250 words discussing the peer you choose. However, remember that this is your application. Above all, your reader should come away from this UNC supplement essay with greater insight into who you are. So, whichever peer you describe, be sure to tie your response back to your identity and your own engagement with your community. In other words, devote a portion of your response to what you’ve done as a result of your peer’s influence.

Define “community builder”

When completing this UNC supplement essay, you should first consider how you define a "community builder." What communities do you occupy, and how do your peers enhance these communities? You can also discuss a peer who may belong to a different community whose actions have inspired you to take action in your own circles. Additionally, keep in mind that this UNC supplement essay asks you to describe particular "actions" your peer has taken to build community. This means you should be as specific as possible when describing your peer's behavior and any traits you hope to emulate.

To structure this UNC supplement essay, begin by describing your chosen peer and the specific actions that make them a "community builder." You might also use an anecdote to illustrate their commitment to their community. However, as soon as you've introduced your peer, you should shift toward your own perception of community. How has the peer you describe changed your worldview? How have they contributed to your own understanding of community?

UNC Essay Draft Key Questions:

  1. Do you describe a peer (classmate, coworker, friend, etc.) rather than a public figure or adult in your life who inspires you?
  2. Does your essay include details of why this peer is an impactful community builder?
  3. Do you use your discussion of your peer to address your own values concerning community?

UNC Supplemental Essays Prompt 2:

Describe 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?

Unlike the previous UNC supplement essay prompt, this question revolves entirely around you and your own identity. While the category of "identity" may be broad, this prompt focuses on "religion, culture, race, sexual or gender identity," and "affinity group."

When approaching this essay, therefore, you'll want to reflect mostly on how these attributes influence your life. While other things may be important to your identity—such as a love of reading or a deep-seeded interest in classical music—these interests might not belong in this UNC supplement essay unless they connect back to your core identities.

As you begin this UNC supplement essay, think about how your identities inform the ways you relate to the world. After all, while everyone occupies a variety of identities, these identities will impact every person in different ways. Maybe you've faced difficulties as a disabled student working in a field not designed for you; maybe you've encountered challenges as a BIPOC student working to cross systemic barriers and access educational opportunities. Whatever you discuss, make sure it feels unique to you and your experience.

And of course, make sure to avoid any bigotry or offensive language. The only exception is if you are describing an incident where you’ve experienced bigotry. Then, you could use this incident as a starting point to draw your reader in. However, it shouldn’t be the focus of your response.

UNC Essay Draft Key Questions:

  1. Do you discuss a part of your identity that significantly impacts your daily life
  2. Does your essay highlight this identity in a unique way?
  3. Is your essay free of any bigotry or offensive language?

UNC Supplemental Essays Prompt 3:

If you could change one thing to better your community, what would it be? Why is it important and how would you contribute to this change?

Like some of the other UNC application essays, this prompt emphasizes the value of community. In evaluating your response to this UNC supplement essay, the admissions team is looking to see if you can think critically about community. Successful UNC essays will also demonstrate the applicant’s problem-solving skills. In other words, it’s not enough to identify the problem—you also need to show that you can take steps towards solving it.

Essentially, this UNC supplement essay prompt asks you to describe one thing you would change to make your community a better place. As you consider your response, you should first define the community you wish to improve. Is it your neighborhood? Your school? Your church? Successful UNC supplemental essays could describe many kinds of communities, so while you shouldn't limit yourself, it's still important to be specific about the community that you’d like to change.

Once you've defined your community, it's time to think about how you would make this community a better place. Notice that this UNC supplement essay asks for one action. Make a list of all of the things that you’d like to change in the community that you chose. The changes can be both big and small, but they should be specific. For example, instead of just saying you would like to "solve homelessness,” you could say that you’d like to increase access to affordable housing in your community.

Be specific

Citing a specific objective will help you answer the second portion of the prompt, which asks how you would contribute to the change. Take a look at your list of possible answers to this UNC supplement essay—what are you most passionate about? What do you feel you could make the most contributions toward changing with your skills and talents? Ask yourself these questions to find the one thing you’d like to change.

Now that you’ve identified the one thing you’d like to change, consider why it’s important to change this. Avoid vague language like “homelessness is bad.” Instead, think about concrete effects that the issue has on your community, the individuals it impacts, and its larger effects on society, the nation, and the world. Your UNC supplemental essays should show the admissions team your critical thinking skills.

In the final portion of this UNC supplement essay, you’ll need to address how you would contribute to this change. There are a couple of ways you can tackle this: practically or hypothetically. Let’s revisit the homelessness example. A practical contribution towards increasing access to affordable housing could look like a student volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and helping to build affordable homes in their community. Hypothetical responses can be much larger—you may talk about how you’d like to help to create an organization that builds and manages hotels and halfway homes for the homeless. Whether you dream big or keep it practical in this UNC supplement essay, remember to discuss why your “one change” is important and exactly how you’d contribute to making it happen.

UNC Essay Draft Key Questions:

  1. Do you identify a community that matters to you?
  2. Does your essay specify one tangible way that you could make a difference in this community?
  3. Do you explain why this change would be important?

UNC Supplemental Essays Prompt 4:

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?

Like the other UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays, this UNC supplement essay prompt revolves around identity and community—even if it doesn't seem that way at first glance. By framing this question about history through a lens of civil rights activism, the UNC essays ask you to understand your identity and background through a historical lens. In doing so, it asks you to reflect on your own position within structures of hierarchy and oppression.

This UNC supplement essay can be a great space to discuss your relationship with your racial, ethnic, or cultural background. It's important, however, to handle these topics delicately. If you're not from a background with a history of marginalization, you shouldn't view this UNC supplement essay as your chance to show the admissions team how accepting you are by describing the conditions that your BIPOC peers might face. Tell your own story—don't try to tell someone else's.

To that end, like the other UNC essays, this response should show the admissions team who you are and how you see the world. Don't describe an interesting family anecdote without telling your reader how your familial background impacts your lived experience. If your topic doesn't relate to your own identity and character, it probably doesn't belong in your UNC essays.

UNC Essay Draft Key Questions:

  1. Does your essay reveal something relevant to your overall character?
  2. Do you focus the essay on yourself rather than around external anecdotes?
  3. Do you tell your own story?

UNC Supplemental Essays: Fill-in-the-blank Questions (25 words each)

So, you've begun your short answer UNC application essays. Congratulations! Now, let's turn to the fill-in-the-blank UNC essays.

These UNC essays aren't essays at all—they're simply short-form questions that aim to help the admissions team learn more about you. Your short answer UNC supplemental essays were the hard part. Now, it's time to have fun.

Here are the prompts for the four fill-in-the-blank UNC application essays:

1. One family tradition I cherish:
2. This I believe:
3. The quality I admire most in myself:
4. The protagonist I most identify with:

Above all, these short UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays should add context to your candidate profile and help the admissions team get to know you. Each of your fill-in-the-blank UNC application essays should supplement the rest of your application, working alongside your longer essays to paint a complete picture of your identity.

Be concise

With only 25 words for each prompt, you don't have much space. Plan to answer each of these short UNC application essays in just 1-2 sentences. Don't waste space repeating the prompt. For instance, don't start your response to Prompt 4 with "The protagonist I most identify with is..." Instead, cut to the chase. For Prompt 4, you might write, "Kim Possible—I also want to fight for justice while wearing a classic black turtleneck."

Since these are fill-in-the-blank questions, the admissions team doesn't expect you to fully explain your responses in each of these UNC-Chapel Hill essays. You should include one sentence or clause of explanation in each response, but not more. For example, a response to Prompt 3 might read, "My tenacity—if I'm committed to a project, I'll always find a way to make it happen." This response gives admissions officers a bit more context than just writing "my tenacity.”

Save the anecdotes

You also don't need to include additional anecdotes in these UNC essays. Hopefully, your other UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays have already shown the admissions team who you are. Now, you can focus on telling them any additional information. For instance, a 250-word response to one of the UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays above might begin with a personal story, but there's no need (or space) for that in these fill-in-the-blank UNC questions. Instead, just give your reader the information. A quick response—such as "My family always makes pierogis on Christmas Eve to celebrate our Polish heritage"—will do just fine.

Finally, don't let the absolute language in these prompts scare you. For example, Prompt 2 might seem overwhelming—after all, it's hard to center your thinking around just one core belief. However, don't be intimidated. At the end of the day, this question simply asks you to talk about one of your core values in 25 words.

Add some (tasteful) humor

Additionally, if the rest of your UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays have demonstrated your depth, you can use these short UNC supplemental essays to add a bit of humor to your application. One response to Prompt 2 might be "All people deserve the right to an education," but another valid response might be, "Cows would make great household pets." Think about your application in context—if you've already shown that you have a vast inner life, you can afford to be cheeky. If you do go this route, however, limit your jokes to just one of the fill-in-the-blank UNC essays. And, as always in your UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays and these short questions, avoid offensive language.

At the end of the day, don't overthink these short answer questions. You should spend most of your time on your UNC application essays rather than deciding which fictional character most resembles you. Go with your gut! If your responses to these fill-in-the-blank UNC essays help your reader learn more about you, you're on the right track.

UNC Supplemental Essays: Final Thoughts

While completing two 250-word UNC Chapel-Hill essays and four short-answer questions might seem like a lot, don't let the sheer volume of UNC application essays discourage you from applying. Your UNC supplemental essays are your time to show off what makes you unique.

Finally, don't forget to revise your UNC application essays multiple times. In fact, you’ll want to start your writing process for these UNC application essays early, a least a few months before the application’s due date. Once you’ve completed a draft, you might also ask a trusted adult to proofread your UNC-Chapel Hill essays for spelling, grammar, and clarity. However, it’s best to stay away from heavy edits that erase your voice from the UNC supplemental essays. Remember, the admissions officers want to know more about you, not the person who helped you edit your UNC-Chapel Hill supplemental essays. Good luck!


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This 2021-2022 essay guide on UNC-Chapel Hill was written by Abbie Sage, Harvard ‘21. Want help crafting your UNC supplemental essays 2021? Click here to create your free account, or call (844) 343-6272 to schedule your free advising consultation with an Admissions Specialist.

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