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Last updated June 20, 2023

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How to Write the UNC Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

Writing the UNC supplemental essays requires thoughtful reflection on your identity, community, and personal experiences. Choose prompts that allow you to showcase your values, demonstrate growth, and highlight your connection to history. Craft concise fill-in-the-blank responses to complement your application narrative.

Applying to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill? You’ll be writing two short supplemental essays and completing five fill-in-the-blank responses. In total, you’ll be writing up to 625 words—that’s about as long as your personal statement!

Let’s take a look at the prompts.

Short answer prompts

You’ll pick two out of the following four prompts to answer. Your responses should be 200-250 words long.

  1. Describe an aspect of your identity and how this has shaped your life experiences or impacted your daily interactions with others?

    If there’s an essential part of your identity that you think UNC admissions officers ought to know about, then this might be a good prompt to choose. It might be an identity related to your culture, gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, or more. You’re free to choose any identity you hold deeply. Once you’ve explained your identity, focus in on answering the second part of the prompt. Use specific examples if appropriate, and don’t forget to reflect on the “so what”: why is it meaningful that your identity has shaped your experiences or interactions? What do you want an admissions officer to take away from your essay?

  2. Describe a peer who is making a difference in your school or community. What actions has that peer taken? How has their work made a difference in your life?

    Now this is an interesting prompt. One of the biggest college essay mistakes is writing an essay that focuses too much on someone other than yourself. This prompt is practically begging you to do just that! But you can write an excellent essay without making that mistake. The key is finding a balance between describing the peer you admire and using that admiration to reveal something vulnerable about yourself.

    Let’s say that you really respect one of your peers who is standing up against your school’s dress code because it has a gender bias. You could spend your entire essay describing their actions in detail. That would make for an okay essay. But if you want to write an outstanding essay, you’d explain your peer’s actions and then reflect meaningfully on why they have inspired you: “I’ve learned to have the confidence to stand up for what I believe in, even when people in power disagree” or “I felt empowered and cared for by my peer’s actions. I hope to make someone else feel that way someday, too.”

  3. If you could change one thing to better your community, what would it be? Please explain.

    In this community essay, you have the opportunity to do double duty: you can draw back the curtain and give admissions officers a glimpse into where you come from, and you can show your community care and problem-solving skills.

    The community you focus on and the change you choose to implement will reveal a lot about your values. Remember that UNC admissions officers are looking for new students they want to invite to their community, so take a gander through UNC’s website, motto, and mission statement to find some areas where you align with UNC’s own principles.

  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?

    Your answer to this prompt could go in a lot of different directions. You could take an academic interest approach and respond in a way that shows your intellectual curiosity in history, politics, culture, art, etc. If you go that route, just be sure to still answer the question: how does history shape who you are?

    You could also take your response in a more personal direction and write about your family history or a moment in history that has impacted you as an individual. The more specific, the better.

Fill-in-the-blank responses

Once you’ve got your two short essays down, you’ll have to answer all of the following five questions. You have up to 25 words for each of your responses.

The trick to short answer questions like these is fitting a lot of personality and information into very few words. You can mix up your tone through each of the questions to show a range of your personality.

As you’re deciding how to approach each fill-in-the-blank, I’d urge you to think about your application narrative. Is your narrative cohesive? What parts of you are best represented across your application? What parts are missing? Do you want to emphasize anything in particular? Do you want to be more vulnerable or show some humor?

  1. One family, friend, or school tradition I cherish:
  2. If I had an extra hour in every day, I would spend it:
  3. If I could travel anywhere, near or far, past, present or future, I would go:
  4. The last time I stepped outside my comfort zone, I:
  5. People who meet me are most likely to notice, and least likely to notice:

Assess your application and use the fill-in-the-blank questions to fill in any gaps and strike a balance across your narrative.


You’ve got a lot to write for UNC Chapel Hill, so you’ll want to take your time deciding which short answer prompt you want to answer. And as you think about your fill-in-the-blank questions, don’t be afraid to show some personality.

Remember to check out our supplemental essay guide for more tips on writing standout supplements.

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