The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is in, you guessed it, the beautiful town of Chapel Hill in the wonderful state of North Carolina. A public research university, UNC offers affordable in-state tuition, so if you are a North Carolinian already, it’s definitely worth a look. It isn’t an easy school to get into, though. Only about 24% of students who apply are invited to join the 19,000 strong undergraduate student body. If you go, you’ll join the likes of sports greats like Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm, and great-greats like doctor-turned-comedian Ken Jeong.
UNC kept things simple this year by having the same supplement as last year. Luckily, we think it’s a pretty great one! In the supplement, they ask you to pick two of four prompts and answer each in 200-250 words. Below, we break down each prompt to help you choose the best ones for you and ace your answers.
Tell us about a peer who has made a difference in your life.
This isn’t a bad prompt, but we wouldn’t go so far as saying that it one of our favorite choices out of the four. This disappoints some people because it’s a pretty easy one to tackle. People usually write about their, grandmother, siblings, or best friend. Unfortunately, these are people we generally ask our students not to write about. Why? Because it’s distracting.
If you are going to introduce secondary characters (aka anyone other than you) into your application, you need to be able to reflect yourself off of them. As the adage goes, you are who you hang out with. Or, in this case, you are who you write about. If you insist on going with this prompt, you also need to avoid writing about anyone within the framework of you helping them or providing them with something. UNC wants to know how someone has made a difference in your life, not how you tried to make a difference in theirs.
What do you hope will change about the place where you live?
We really like this question. It offers the perfect opportunity to go from a macro idea to a micro example. Think about a big problem and then zoom in on your community and examine how it applies where you live. Maybe homelessness is a big issue around you, and you hope that better housing services will be created to serve that population, or perhaps farmers are being squished out for subdivisions, and you hope your community will rally around farmers while pressing for property tax controls to help keep family farms in business. Looking local is critical here, but you don’t need to think too small scale.
You also don’t need to get granular. While you are answering, remember that they didn’t ask you how. They asked you what. They don’t expect you to draft up a proposal and budget. Allow yourself to be a little idealistic and to envision a better future without the tether of how you’d pay for it.
What is one thing that we don’t know about you that you want for us to know?
We told you we liked this supplement. This is such a stellar place for humor. If you pick this prompt, embrace it fully. Be earnest and be playful. Write about something that you love to do that is nowhere else in your application. Do you love to make homemade pizza? Awesome. Do you write poetry about pigeons? That’s curious, but you can work with it. Allow yourself to be fully yourself here. They want to know something that isn’t anywhere else, so have fun with it.
What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?
We are iffy about this question. It’s awesome to have a diversity question, but it can also be a bit of a trap. When simplified down to its essence, it’s asking “how has your background changed you?” If you choose to go this route, we recommend picking something about yourself to focus on that is not physically visible. We like to start by examining what things in your family life or lived experiences have shaped your belief system — and then we dig into the ones that resonate most.
The biggest caution that we can give is to not fall back on tragedy. Bad things do shape us, but when you are writing an application, you want to coach the reader into envisioning your successful future. That can be really tough if you use precious words to focus on tragic experiences. Challenges are good, hardship can be woven into beautiful stories, but wallowing in tragedy can weigh an application down. Try to focus on the positive things that have shaped you into the awesome person that you are. And if you’ve gotten this far, you’re well on your way to your next chapter.
We’re good at talking through ideas. Let us know if you need help.