As a public university, UNC Chapel Hill puts a lot of value in people and the experiences they bring to the table. Much of what school officials are interested in is how you relate to the world around you. The Common App personal statement is a great way to show off who you are as a person, but the focus of many of these supplemental prompts is everything outside of you. We encourage you to use these two additional short essays to show that you have an awareness about the influence of other people, communities, and perspectives. 

General Tips:

  1. Don’t repeat what’s in your personal statement. The prompts are explicitly asking you to talk about something new. Remember the Venn diagram analogy; each essay is a circle, and each circle should contain different details.

  2. Brainstorm a list of communities and see which ones you would be the most excited to write about. Several of these prompts (specifically #1 and #3) are asking you to think about different communities you’re a part of and expand on what they mean to you. Before you start writing, brainstorm. And don’t write about the same community for both your essays. Each one is a chance to showcase a new part of yourself. Here are different ways to approach the idea of community:

    • Place: Groups of people who live/work/play near one another

    • Identity: Groups of people who share a common race, sexuality, ethnicity, or other marker of identity 

    • Action: Groups of people who create change in the world by building, doing, or solving something together (ex.: Black Lives Matter, Girls Who Code, March for Our Lives)

    • Interest: Groups of people coming together based on a shared interest, experience, or expertise

    • Circumstance: Groups of people brought together either by chance or external events/situations

  3. Get specific. Don’t just give a generic answer followed by a generic reason for your generic answer. Be creative and use details that give you a distinctive/memorable voice.

  4. Use the space they give you. You only get about 250 words per answer, so try to use it all up. If you don’t have 200-250 words to say about something, consider writing about something else.

  5. When you can, try to make your answers school-specific. Because it’s a big public school, UNC Chapel Hill receives a ton of applications. The more you can do to demonstrate that you’ve done your research, the better chance you have of standing out. Universities want to feel wanted. None of these prompts explicitly mention UNC, but imagine that each of them has an implicit “Why us?” at the end. Even if they aren’t asking you about UNC, you want to give them an idea of how you could fit into their school community.

  6. Expand on the impact of your topic. Why does impact matter? It helps the reader understand why they should care. Hopefully, the topic you’ve chosen is something you’re already pretty jazzed about. The key here is getting your reader to be just as jazzed as you, and showing impact is the way to do it. Here are some ways to think about impact:

    • Numbers. Perhaps what you choose to talk about has a particularly shocking statistic. Maybe your interest in that topic inspired you to do something that had a significant numerical effect. Consider adding specific numbers to bolster your claims and give your readers a sense of magnitude.

    • Anecdotal evidence of impact, or quotations. Impact doesn’t have to be quantitative to convey urgency, importance, or power. The more of you that you put in your essay, the better.

    • Personal impact (on you, the author) in the form of lessons learned, skills gained. It’s especially interesting to note if these skills transferred to other areas of your life. 

  7. Write it long first, then cut it. In our experience, this tends to be easier than writing a very short version and then trying to figure out what to add. 

Example:

Expand on 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? (250 words)

You wouldn’t think an American Asian Affinity Space would be diverse, after all its whole premise is centered around one specific identity. However, members of the affinity space at my high school come from several different grades, genders and ethnicities. The group included a sophomore from China, a junior from Pakistan, and members from Korea, Japan, and even Israel. We each had unique stories of living as an Asian-American, yet, we had all chosen to come to this affinity group. As we spent time together, we were able to find shared experiences, like our parents preparing packed lunches for us from our country and being too embarrassed to bring them to school. Whether eating humbow or biryani, we all knew what it was like to feel out of place. 

My work with the AAAS got me thinking about what diversity can look like, and what it means to embrace diversity. On the one hand, you can find diversity even when people appear to be alike. By exploring our differences, we can continue learning from each other even when it seems we have shared backgrounds and values. At the same time, people who seem really different may have shared human experiences, feeling like the “other” or being embarrassed by their parents, that can bring them together. Moving forward, I want to learn about people’s differences, hearing their stories and learning about their backgrounds while also creating spaces for people to have shared experiences that bring people together.

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Challenge a misconception or generalization. This applicant does a great job of subverting expectations when it comes to her American Asian identity. She highlights how her affinity group was more diverse than one might generally expect. By doing this, she demonstrates a compelling ability to self-reflect and see nuance within important cultural spaces. The idea that diversity is more than what meets the eye is a mature and complex insight that makes this essay stand out. This is a prompt that allows you to show off your ability to “see behind the curtain,” so to speak, when it comes to a specific community or identity. Acknowledging an assumption and then challenging it is an excellent way to do this.

  2. Highlight growth. When you answer this prompt, it’s great if you can create a narrative arc by showing how you developed within a specific identity. In this case, the author talks about her growing ability to find common ground with other members of her affinity group. In this way, she’s showing her values of inclusion, culture, and diversity. Although this is a short essay, having a “story” is very helpful. Think of the narrative arc as a rope that you can use to pull your reader through your answer. Showing how you changed over time or learned more about yourself compels people to keep reading.

  3. Use paragraph structure to clarify your main points. The author here uses her first paragraph to expand on a part of her identity (being Asian American) and the second paragraph to expand on how that part of her identity has shaped her values and perceptions. She also touches on how this ties into her ongoing interest in creating inclusive spaces and embracing difference. This is a really nice way to answer the prompt because it’s very clear which part of the question she’s answering in each paragraph. The first paragraph sets the scene of the past, and then the second one speaks more to the present and future. Having a paragraph break also gives the reader a chance to breathe before moving right into the second half of the answer. Try to use the structure of your piece to amplify your content.

  4. Connect to the future. As we mentioned, the author does a nice job of segueing into how the lessons she learned from her American Asian Affinity group have inspired her interest in creating more inclusive spaces. This is something you should do in your essay too. You don’t have to be super specific about what you want to do (although you definitely can!), but giving your reader a sense of how this aspect of your identity would impact what you do or who you’d interact with in college helps them better understand what kind of student you’d be.

Here’s a great example of an essay answering Prompt #3:

Example:

Describe someone who you see as a community builder. What actions has that person taken? How has their work made a difference in your life? (200-250 words)

When I met Bella, my ears didn’t work. I could hear, but not listen. When I conversed with friends, we were in our own universes. There was little empathy, just interruptions and distractions. And because nobody around me seemed to have the desire to listen, I gave up on it too.

From the moment Bella and I were crowned co-winners of a middle-school cup-stacking competition, each winning half of a coveted cookie cake, things changed. I soon realized how perceptive Bella was to people’s feelings. 

Our chats morphed into meaningful conversations and fits of laughter. She was the first friend I came out to as bi. After telling her, I waited nervously for the uncomfortable acceptance and frantic search for other conversation topics. But instead, she looked me in the eye and said she loved me no matter who I loved. Then, she asked curious questions rather than trying to ignore my identity. And I was there for Bella too. When she told me about the emotional distance she felt growing up far away from her dad who lives in South Korea, I supported her, not trivializing her pain with dismissive reassurances. Since our cup-stacking battle, we’ve been strong for each other.

Bella unplugged my ears. That’s why she was the first person I interviewed for my podcast, Portraits, about people in my life. I know that as an empathetic listener, I am more vulnerable now, but, thanks to Bella, I understand how to communicate love. (246 words) 

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Tips + Analysis:

  1. Consider starting with a punchy first line. This author’s first line is super strong. All she says is, “When I met Bella, my ears didn’t work.” This raises lots of questions. Who’s Bella? What do you mean your “ears didn’t work?” How did you meet this Bella person? This is the best kind of hook because it elicits more questions than answers. It’s also short and to the point. It’s not overly convoluted. And don’t worry, it’s okay to disorient your reader a bit in the first line. It intrigues people and makes them want to keep reading.

  2. Highlight your own values. Think of the peer you choose as an extension of yourself. By writing about what you admire in this person, you are essentially saying that you value those qualities. Although the author of this essay is talking about what a great listener Bella is, she’s also showing us that she cares about empathy and open dialogue. The person you write about becomes your surrogate, so think carefully about how you can represent yourself through the peer you choose. 

  3. Embrace vulnerability. This essay is chock full of vulnerability. The author talks about her sexuality and her journey toward a greater sense of empathy. A great essay isn’t just about showing off all your great accomplishments. In fact, reflecting on how you’ve changed over time shows that you’re introspective and adaptable. Nobody is perfect, and oftentimes it works to your advantage to embrace that. A great question to ask yourself if you’re writing for this prompt is: How did this person help me grow? Think of the answer to that question as the frame for your essay and fill the details in with the words you have left.

  4. Make your reader want to be friends with this person too. After reading this essay, we want to sit down with Bella and absorb her awesomeness. The author writes about her in such a way that we feel the love she has for her friend. Part of what helps us feel that love is the amount of details she includes. She tells us about the cookie cake competition that started it all and the kinds of topics she talked about with Bella. Those specific moments where she explains what it felt like coming out as bi or listening to Bella talk about her family situation in Korea give us a more visceral sense of what this friendship looked like. Get someone who doesn’t know the person you’re writing about to read your essay when it’s finished. That person should want to meet your peer after they read it. Remember, you might know the person who you choose super well, but your reader has never met them before and needs you to do as much legwork as possible in conveying all the aspects that make them worth writing about.

With these tips and examples in mind, you should be ready to start mapping out your own Venn diagram.