The flagship school of the University of North Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill is recognized as one of the top public universities by the Wall Street Journal and one of the best value schools by Forbes.
UNC ranked #36 in the U.S. News study, which examined not only academic performance but research mission, global and regional reputations, the reach of scholarship, and efforts at collaboration with other institutions.
UNC has an undergraduate population of almost 20,00 students, so it’s a large, bustling campus in the middle of a classic college town, Chapel Hill.
An easy drive to the coast or to the mountains, the campus is 729 acres situated in the middle of the rolling hills of the North Carolina piedmont region.
Established in 1795, it is the only public university in the United States to have granted degrees in the 18th century.
UNC alumni include numerous governors and members of Congress, as well as a Vice-President and a President. CEOs of companies as diverse as JP Morgan Chase, Hulu, Hershey, and Citigroup are UNC graduates, as is a former chairman of the American Stock Exchange.
Nine Nobel laureates and 23 Pulitzer Prize winners started careers from a UNC education.
Professional athletes Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm must have walked past the Old Well, as did comedian and writer Lewis Black and television journalist Charles Kuralt.
Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti followed his UNC career by heading to San Francisco and starting City Lights books, as well as an entire literary movement.
Countless others have called UNC, one of the nation’s best public universities, home.
Today, we profile UNC, discussing its acceptance rate, admissions requirements, ranking, and more.
UNC Acceptance Rate
In 2020, UNC welcomed the largest incoming freshman class in the school’s history. While the school also received an unusually high number of applicants as well, the 2020 incoming class’s overall acceptance rate, 24%, doesn’t vary much from UNC’s usual highly selective status.
Over the last decade, the acceptance rate has dropped each year by a percentage point or two, mostly reflecting an increase in applications. UNC has been called a “public Ivy” as a result of its demanding admissions process.
For scale, 41% of 2020 enrolling first-year UNC students were among the top ten students in their high school graduating classes.
To clarify, these students were not ranked in the top tenth percentile – they were on the list of top ten individual students in the graduating class.
As for the top tenth percentile of high school graduating classes: 74% of UNC 2020 freshmen could claim their spot in that group.
92% of UNC first-years in 2020 ranked in the top 20% of their high school graduating classes.
It’s safe to say that class rank is a strong factor in the admissions process at UNC.
UNC Out-of-State Acceptance Rate
The system-wide UNC policy allows for no more than 18% of a first-year undergraduate cohort to be made up of out-of-state students.
As a result, UNC’s acceptance rates for out-of-state students tend to be dramatically lower: 14% for the 2020 incoming freshman class. The acceptance rate for in-state freshmen was 48%, still judicious, but a little more accessible.
The UNC System initiated the 82/18 distribution rule in the mid-1980s to preserve enough room in all UNC System campuses for qualified in-state applicants.
Rising numbers of applicants from beyond North Carolina for many of the increasingly popular system schools, coupled with the higher tuition brought in by out-of-state students, spurred UNC System officials to mandate distribution numbers favoring North Carolina natives.
Arguing that these public universities get their funding from local tax revenue, and that many have mission statements committing them to local service and community improvement, the UNC System plans no change to the distribution rule in the immediate future.
Many Admissions departments report using a holistic strategy when interpreting student data; UNC also adopts this approach.
UNC describes class rank and GPA as “important” factors in the process, below “very important” aspects like test scores, the personal essay, and letter of recommendation.
But it’s worth considering that nearly all enrolled UNC undergraduates ranked in the top 25% of their high school graduating classes, and the average GPA for accepted students is 4.7 on a 4.0 scale.
Like most highly selective schools, a competitive applicant to UNC would need a transcript with mostly As.
However, students hoping to attend UNC must also enroll in the most challenging coursework their high school offers: Advanced Placement, Honors, International Baccalaureate, or other college-preparatory or advanced classes.
UNC may classify GPA as only an “important” feature of an applicant’s portfolio, but the rigor of a student’s high school course load constitutes one of the chief interests of the UNC admissions staff.
Enrolling in the most advanced classes, even if it requires online coursework or supplemental courses through a local community college, is the way to show UNC a student is ready to welcome the difficult work of an intellectually challenging curriculum.
UNC graduates 91% of its full-time, first-year students; 83.85 graduate on a four-year timetable. Part of that success comes from admissions policies that identify students ready to pass the test of college life.
SAT & ACT Requirements
UNC considers standardized test scores to be a strong indicator of college success, but the admissions staff makes a point of acknowledging that test scores alone do not provide an accurate portrait of student potential.
Even considered alongside other attributes, some generalizations can be made by looking at the average test scores of admitted UNC students.
The middle 50% of the 2020 incoming undergraduate class scored between 1320 and 1500 on the SAT (numbers skewed quite a bit higher for out-of-state students, from 1370-1540).
ACT numbers are equally impressive, falling between 28 and 33.
Most incoming students in 2020 also submitted other test scores for placement or credit as well.
Even if UNC does not grant credit for an Advanced Placement course or test, a strong score can boost a student’s appeal to the admissions committee.
Students intent on attending UNC should consider investing time and energy in taking any relevant standardized tests with as much specific preparation as they need for a strong showing.
UNC, like many schools, has suspended the admissions requirement for SAT and ACT tests in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the waiver applies to all schools in the UNC System, several member schools reported that most students submitted test scores last year.
Requirements & Admission Tips
A base score for standardized tests (1010 for SAT and 19 for ACT), as well as at least a weighted GPA of 2.5 are the minimum requirements for application to UNC, though any student at the low end of these ranges would need to account for their situation and make up for these deficits elsewhere in their admissions portfolio.
As part of its focus on the academic rigor of each candidate’s high school coursework, UNC requires a range of specific classes, including a minimum of four high school units of English and Math courses (including at least one calculus-related math course), 3 units of science (including a laboratory science), 2 units of foreign language, and 2 units of social science (one must be U.S. history).
Looking at trends among admitted students can give prospective applicants a sense of how to highlight their own relevant experience as they make their cases to UNC Admissions.
Community service shows up as a common feature, with 92% of new 2020 students reporting community service experience in their backgrounds. 72% of the 2020 freshman class played a sport on a high school team.
Even for students without these specific traits, it’s helpful to know that UNC looks for candidates who work well in groups and for larger goals.
Early Action, or submitting all application materials by the early deadline in October, gives students a slight but measurable advantage over students adhering to the traditional spring deadline.
A strong essay is crucial to UNC acceptance, drawing together all the elements of a student’s application to form a complete portrait of the candidate.
In its profile of favorable applicants, UNC mentions curiosity, bravery, strong character, and a sense of service as essential dimensions to highlight. This part of the application bears enough weight that UNC annually includes its own additional, UNC-specific short essays.
Stand-out UNC applicants tell compelling, authentic stories that put them in the room with the admission readers. Vitality and spark should characterize the narrative.
With almost 50,000 essays to read annually, UNC admissions staff have seen all the tricks and stereotypical college essay tropes.
It’s the true, relevant stories that stand out, especially those that reveal a student’s capacity to adapt and accept a greater challenge.
What’s relevant to UNC is a sense of adventure and a duty to community.
Prospective UNC students should describe in detail what positive traits, experience, and ingenuity they can bring to UNC’s campus.
In one of the school’s recent additional essays, students were invited to write about a person they considered a “community builder,” focusing especially on the traits that person embodied to fill that role.
Within the essays, students should find a place to demonstrate their curiosity and boldness in service to their academic interests and their exploration of the world beyond themselves.
A specific story, preferably one unique to the student, is the best way to convince the committee of a candidate’s strengths.
Is UNC Right for You?
Student activities range in scope, from fine arts to social justice to almost every academic discipline.
The award-winning Daily Tar Heel newspaper is student-run, as is the campus radio station WXYC, which was the first radio station in the world to broadcast its signal over the internet.
Multiple performance spaces on campus feature dance, music, and theater performances; UNC has its own regional theater company in residence.
UNC is additionally home to one of the nation’s best medical schools, which routinely ranks in the top 25 of all medical schools in the US.
UNC offers exceptional scholarship programs, including the Morehead-Cain scholarship, the first merit-based scholarship in the United States.
This program not only covers tuition, books, room and board, and a stipend for living expenses, but also funds a gap year, student projects, and a summer enrichment program that allows students to travel or gain work experience.
The Robertson Scholars program, a cooperative scholarship, allows its students to take courses at both UNC and neighboring Duke University.
As part of its commitment to the students of North Carolina, the Carolina College Advising Corps recruits students from underrepresented, lower-income households across the state.
Among the students in the 2020 UNC incoming freshman class, 20% will be the first in their families to graduate from college.
In that same group, 36% come from rural counties.
As for transfer students, 45% came from the community college system.
Big campus, small-town atmosphere.
Commitment to the community with a sense of global responsibility.
The arts, science, sports, and politics.
Performance and research.
Tradition and innovation.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill embodies the state motto of North Carolina: to be, rather than to seem.
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