Example essay

How to write a college admissions essay for Duke, UNC, NCSU

If you are a college student, writing a personal essay can seem daunting.

But it is not necessary.

The News & Observer spoke to admissions offices at Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State and NC Central to find out what to do – and what to avoid – when writing these essays over the next few weeks.

Here is what we learned.

Remember: most application deadlines fall around January 1 or mid-January.

Duke’s Dean of Admissions Essay Writing Tips

Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University, shared some information:

The personal essay lets the college get to know you as an individual.

  • If a college is asking for an essay (or more than one), it’s because they’re looking for the information an essay can provide, he said.

  • A good, useful essay is one that helps the college understand what matters to you, what is important to you, and why.

There are no “good” topics to choose from or “bad” topics to avoid.

  • There is no particularly good or particularly problematic subject. Almost anything can be tested well, Guttetag said.
  • What matters is that you write about what matters to you and why. And this is the only part of the app where you can express yourself in your own words.

Pay attention to style and tone.

  • The tone doesn’t need to be formal, and the language doesn’t need to be particularly sophisticated. In fact, it can sometimes prevent the reader from understanding you, he said.

  • You should approach it as if it were a conversation with an adult who is particularly interested in what you have to say. Not as casual as if you were talking with a friend or classmate, but not as formal as if it was an assignment you were writing for an assignment.

  • If you read your essay out loud and it sounds like something you would say to an adult sitting across from you listening with interest, you’ll be on the right track.

“That’s almost literally what’s going to happen,” Guttetag said. “An admissions officer will read this essay, trying to get a feel for your personality and reading it as if you were talking about it. “

Trials almost never determine a decision.

  • Essays become important when a college has to distinguish between many applicants who are academically qualified for that school, he said.

  • They are no more important than your academic record or extracurricular activities and accomplishments, but among students of similar qualification, sometimes essays can help make a decision one way or another.

UNC Chapel Hill Admission Writing Tips, NCCU

“While there is no weight to the individual components of the application, the essay is a unique opportunity to share your story and what is meaningful or important to you,” said Michael Davis, Associate Director of Admissions of UNC-CH.

  • Make: Write on a topic that helps the university understand you as a unique individual. Write about how you would contribute to the campus community.
  • Not : Write on topics that you are not comfortable writing about. And don’t write essays that elicit a generic response, as opposed to one that showcases your unique voice and perspective.

De’Janel Henry, acting assistant director of graduate admissions at NC Central, recommends avoiding essays that involve controversial topics, including political and / or spiritual issues.

How should you prepare to write your college essays

You should ask yourself a few questions before you sit down to write your personal essay, according to Duke’s recommendation:

  1. What experiences have you had that make you unique? Can you describe the characteristics that would make you a valued member of the University community for the next four years?

  2. Have you overcome obstacles in your educational career? Or have you encountered any slowdowns that you need to explain?

  3. What is “missing” in your application file? If they have a transcript, there’s no reason to waste words telling them about your good grades. If they have a list of your rewards and activities, you don’t need to just re-list them here. Is there something special about any of your activities that doesn’t appear on one list?

And here are some more tips from the College of North Carolina Foundation:

  • Brainstorm and preview: Essay topics often fall into one of two categories: a personal statement or a structured question. If you can choose which one to answer, you might want to brainstorm and describe an answer to several questions to see which one works best for you.

  • Start early: Start working on your essays early. Give yourself plenty of time for revisions.

  • Have a return: Ask for feedback from a trusted counselor, parent, or teacher to help you review and edit your work.

  • Be specific: Be sure to answer the specific essay prompt for each application. Don’t just rehash facts about yourself or repurpose an essay you wrote for another college.

  • Edit with care: Represent your ideas in the best light by carefully checking your essay for correct usage, spelling, and punctuation.

  • Don’t abuse the thesaurus: Stick to vocabulary that is familiar to you. If you rely too much on a thesaurus looking for bigger, better sounding words. You risk appearing pretentious and unwittingly overuse words.

  • Do not plagiarize: Remember that essay readers are trained to detect plagiarism. You can learn other essays, but you don’t want to copy them.

  • be honest: It can be tempting to stretch the truth when trying to impress someone, but the point of the essay is to tell the reader what kind of person you really are.

RAL_UNCCOVID-NE-082120-RTW_6.JPG
University of North Carolina students in August 2020 in Chapel Hill, NC Robert Willett [email protected]

Editorial prompts in UNC Chapel Hill applications

This year, first-year and transfer applicants will choose two short-response prompts from the following listing:

  1. Describe a peer who you see as a community builder. What actions has this 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 so far?

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

  4. How does history shape who you are? Esphur Foster, former UNC-Chapel Hill employee, community service worker and civil rights activist, once said: “We are nothing without our history. His words are commemorated on the Northside Neighborhood Freedom Fighters monument.

Applicants for UNC Chapel Hill must complete the four blank 25-word responses:

  1. A family tradition that I cherish:

  2. This I believe:

  3. The quality that I admire the most in myself:

  4. The protagonist I identify with the most:

First-year applicants should also complete one of the writing prompts on the list provided by the Common application Where Coalition application. This essay is less than 650 words.

Discover the UNC-CH Faq for more information on admissions.

Essay questions to apply to the NC state

First-year applicants must answer two mandatory short answers instructions:

  1. Explain why you have chosen the academic program (s) and why you are interested in studying them at NC State.

  2. NC State University is committed to building a fair and inclusive community that does not tolerate unfair or inhuman treatment, and that denounces it, clearly and loudly. Please describe what these words mean to you and how you will contribute to a more diverse and inclusive environment in the state of North Carolina.

Applicants should also complete one of the drafting prompts on the list provided by the Common application Where Coalition application. This essay is less than 650 words.

Consult the NC states Faq for more information on admissions.

Duke University essay questions

Duke University requires that all applicants meet a question in 200 words maximum:

  • Is there anything in particular about Duke’s academic or other offerings that appeals to you? Please share with us why you consider Duke a good partner for you.

And all applicants can, but are not required to, answer two questions:

  1. Duke University seeks a talented and engaged student body that embodies the broad spectrum of human experiences; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you would like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you have had that would help us understand you better, perhaps a community you belong to or your family or cultural background, we encourage you to do so here. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate real people who apply to Duke.

  2. Duke’s commitment to diversity and inclusion includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. If you want to share with us more about your identity in these areas, you can do so here. If you believe that you have correctly represented your gender and sexual orientation in other parts of your application, please do not hesitate to respond to this prompt.

First-year applicants will use either the Common application or the Coalition request to respond to an essay prompt on the list of seven (for the common application) or five (for the Coalition application) questions.

Discover Duke’s Faq for more information on admissions.

NC Central Essay Requirements

The NCCU does not currently require an essay for admission.

“However, we encourage students to have one on hand, in case they are interested in scholarships or joining clubs or organizations,” Associate Director Henry said.

The university does not use the Common App or the Coalition App, for example Best Accredited Colleges.

Discover the NCCU Faq for more information on admissions.

This story was originally published December 1, 2021 10:36 a.m.

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Kimberly Cataudella (she / she) is a reporter on duty for The News & Observer.


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