Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Last-Minute Application FAQs

Monday is our first application deadline. If you have your application submitted by midnight on Monday, you'll get your decision in mid-January. So a lot of you will be finishing up your essays and then holding your breath as you hit that "Submit" button in the next few days. I know it's stressful, but it will also feel so good to get it out of the way. (I sound like your mother again, sorry.)

I thought I'd pull out a few of the most common questions we get this time of year and answer them here:

Exactly what needs to be submitted and/or postmarked by November 3?
You need to submit your application, essays and application fee by November 3. If you're mailing your application, these materials need to be postmarked by November 3. All the other materials--teacher recommendations, transcripts, counselor statement, and test scores--can arrive after the deadline. (One small exception to the rule: if you are paying by check or money order, or have requested a fee waiver from your counselor, those items can arrive after the deadline. Just be sure when you submit your application online that you choose the correct payment option.)

How late on Monday can I submit my application?
Until midnight EST.

Will you let me know if there are items missing from my application?
Oh yes, you will get many delightful emails from us if we are missing anything vital.

If I'm applying online, can I send my teacher recommendations by mail?
Yes. You may send any items by mail to add to your application. Please be sure to put your name and birth date on any items that you send, so we know who you are!

Can I send supplemental materials like new clippings, certificates, or artwork to add to my application?
You're welcome to send paper materials to add to your application. Unfortunately we rarely have time to view electronic media sent on CD, so please don't send those. If you choose to send additional items, keep in mind that you want to present yourself as completely, but also as concisely and articulately, as you can. So, for instance, it will be much more effective to send a neatly organized, one-page resume of your achievements than all 50 perfect attendance certificates you've received since kindergarten. Also, please know that we can't return any items you submit, so be sure to send photocopies and not the originals.

If I'm denied first deadline, can I re-apply second deadline?
No. We do defer a small percentage of our first deadline applicants, whom we then review again with our second deadline applicants. But if you are denied first deadline, that is a final decision.

I was originally going to apply first deadline, but now I would like to be considered for second deadline. What do I need to do?
No problem. Just send an email requesting that change to It's helpful if you put "Deadline Change" in the subject line and include your full name and birth date.

I'd like to take the SAT/ACT in November. Will that score be considered with my first deadline application?
Yes. Any scores for test dates in October and November will be considered for first deadline applicants. Just be sure to request that your scores be sent to UNC-Chapel Hill. There is no need to request rush delivery, as we receive the scores electronically.

What's all this "defer" nonsense?
As we are reading first deadline applicants, there is a small percentage of students that we can not make a decision on this early in the season, so we "defer" them and review their applications again with our second deadline applicants. Typically this is because we just can't predict what our second deadline pool will look like, how many students will end up applying, etc. If you receive a defer decision in January, we truly appreciate your patience as you wait for your final answer in March.

What other questions do you have? Please keep in mind that our office is not open over the weekend, so you won't be able to get us on the phone. Please use this comment stream to ask your questions over the weekend, and I'll be sure to check in here often.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Survey: What do YOU think of our new website?

We're redesigning our website and we'd love to get some feedback on the new design! Since we're still in the design phase, when you go to the site, please note that most of the links and drop-down menus are non-working. You can't actually click through to go deeper into the site. We're only looking for feedback on the design and usability of the main page at this point.

Before answering the questions below, please visit the site. There are a series of rotating photos (just click anywhere on the image to see the next one). Do you like the look? Do you understand where to click to find the information you're looking for? Any and all feedback is appreciated. If you'd like, please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section at the bottom of this post.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Solving Great Problems

Sunday, October 12, was a great day for Carolina. For one thing, it was the University’s birthday. For another, it was the day we installed our new Chancellor, Holden Thorp.

After taking what must be the longest oath of office anywhere—administered by Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court—Chancellor Thorp talked about his vision for the future of the nation’s oldest public university.

If you’re thinking about joining us in Chapel Hill, his remarks, which are available here, are worth reading in their entirety. And if you’re not yet thinking about UNC, and you’re the kind of person who hopes to change the world, the following three paragraphs are especially worth reading:
This is the right time for a Carolina education. It may be the most challenging period our state and nation have ever faced. But thanks to my years at Carolina, I am filled with an enduring hope that derives from the unquenchable idealism of our students and their interest in the world's great problems.

So imagine that a student could come to Chapel Hill to major in Mandarin and international studies while addressing global health. Or major in chemistry while addressing global warming. Or major in American Studies while addressing poverty or youth violence.

We can come together as an intellectual community to address the world's great problems. We can do it without dismantling or realigning our existing academic structure. And students can do their work on the great problems inside the classroom and as part of their academic life. Because of our guiding principle of academic excellence plus service, Carolina is perfectly suited to redefine higher education in this way and to leverage our young peoples' interests in the great problems to enhance their academic success and position them to lead us.
If you want to help solve our greatest problems, and if you want to be positioned to lead us through the challenges we face, then this is a great day to think about Carolina. Regardless, we are here to help you, and we wish you well.

--Stephen Farmer

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Beat the Deadline

Our first deadline falls on November 3. If this year turns out like last year, around 5,000 students will hit the submit button on their applications within 48 hours of the deadline.

If you can help it, don’t let this be you. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with waiting until the deadline, and while we’ll gladly receive your application whether it comes to us on October 2 or November 2, it’s generally smart to avoid the last-minute rush.

Two years ago I waited too long to finish a big project. Thinking I had plenty of time before my Monday deadline, I woke up early on Saturday, grabbed a cup of coffee, turned on our home computer—and got the blue screen of death.

Don’t let this be you. Great students lead busy lives, and there are times when just-in-time delivery is the best that you can do. But waiting until the last minute doesn’t always work—and even when it does, it can cost you both a weekend’s worth of worry and a lapful of hot coffee.

--Stephen Farmer

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why apply first deadline?

Our first application deadline of November 2 is coming up in just three weeks. For more info about the difference between our two deadlines, see this post I wrote a couple months ago. I definitely encourage you to apply by the first deadline if you can. But why, you ask???

Three good reasons to apply by November 2:
  1. It’s not that hard to meet the deadline. You’ve got three weeks. And the only thing that you need to have submitted by November 2 is the application itself, your essays, and the application fee. It’s fine if your transcripts, test scores, and recommendations arrive after the deadline. Also, keep in mind that any test scores from tests you take in November will be considered with your application, even if you are applying for the first deadline. So really, it’s just those pesky essays. Buckle down and get them done. You’ll be glad you did.
  2. More chance for scholarships. The earlier you get your application in, the more time we’ll have to consider you for merit scholarships. Some scholarships require that you apply by the first deadline. Others don’t require it, but it gives the selection committees more time to do their work. This isn’t a hard and fast rule; plenty of scholarships are awarded to second deadline applicants. Definitely do your research about all the different scholarships available—both through the University and from outside sources. But for the best chance of being considered for the greatest number of scholarships, it's best to apply by November 2.
  3. You don’t want to spend your winter holiday filling out applications. I mean, who would? And if you’re applying to a gazillion + one schools, it’s at least one application that you won’t have to worry about while you’re stuffed with holiday turkey.
Questions? Let me know!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Student Stories

Last week, we had a fantastic time criss-crossing campus with a photographer, capturing student faces, voices and stories during a three-day photo shoot. We met with more than 40 students to snap their pictures and talk to them on video about their experiences at Carolina. I interviewed some amazing students who are doing extraordinary things--muscular dystrophy research, community development work with local schools, studying the conflict zones of the Republic of Georgia, to name just a few. I was blown away by these students, and I am a pretty tough one to impress.

The three-day shoot was tiring, but fun. We must have walked back and forth across this campus a dozen times. (Not all that bad a walk at all, as our Director Stephen Farmer wrote below, but a more difficult feat after the sixth time in one day!)

We're looking forward to sharing the video and stories that we are recording with all of you through this blog, as well as on our new website. We're redesigning the website, so look forward to much more multimedia and lots of opportunities to hear directly from current students.

But in the meantime we are getting ready to begin reading your applications! Consider this my first official reminder: the first deadline is just over three weeks away! I'm going to nag you as badly as your mother.

Below is a short excerpt from one of our interviews. Julia is a senior chemistry major; she's the one doing the muscular dystrophy research. When I asked her to tell me more about her research, her eyes just lit up and she enthusiastically began talking. I think that's the thing I love most about being on this campus--people here seem to find a passion, and they just run with it. The enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring. Enjoy!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Transfer Application is Up!

As of late last week, the online application for transfer students is available! Apply now through your UNC Homepage. Or if you'd rather not apply online, you can download a PDF of the application and mail it in the old-fashioned way.

One change this year is we've given you options for the essay! Now you can choose which essay prompt you'd like to respond to. We're hoping this will give you more scope for the imagination.

The deadline for transfer applications is March 2 this year. For more about transferring to Carolina, visit our Transfer page. Questions? Post a comment right here!

We hope to see your application and get to know you soon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

One Campus

Yesterday I wrote about walking the 400 steps from the Pit to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Today I took a longer walk—all the way across campus—just to show you how long it doesn't take.

Carolina is one campus. All our undergraduates study, and most of them live, within a few minutes of one another. When you visit while you’re still in high school, you might wonder how you’ll find your way around. But the campus is really pretty compact—and there are plenty of friendly people to help you find your way.

1:52:00 pm. Standing at the northernmost edge of campus--on the stone wall separating McCorkle Place from Franklin Street. Two students walk past and wish me happy Friday.

1:55:00 pm. Just miss photo of toddler drinking from the Old Well. Nothing to be sad about, since this happens every day.

1:57:45 pm. Wilson Library, home of one of the greatest manuscript collections in the world, as well as the great digital collection Documenting the American South. Steps here are a great place to meet; in fact I’m meeting a prospective student here tomorrow afternoon just before the football game to talk about Carolina.

1:59:15 pm. Bell Tower. Fourteen bells chime the hour and occasionally play “Sweet Caroline.”

2:04:30 pm. Rams Head Dining Hall. Delayed because of conversation with Steve Reznick, friend and psychology professor. Walk down lawn—actually a green roof for the parking deck below--just as Rebecca Egbert, assistant director of admissions, walks out of dining hall with terrific transfer students involved in our C-STEP program.

2:09:50 pm. Student Academic Services Building. Delayed because of conversation with John Blanchard and Robert Mercer, friends and colleagues from the athletics department. Note color of sky.

Total time: 17 minutes, 50 seconds. I’m betting you can beat that pretty easily—and if you don’t want to walk or need help getting around, there are tons of buses and vans to get you from place to place. Happy Friday.

--Stephen Farmer

Why do they seem so happy?

Yesterday morning in the media center at West Charlotte High School, one of the students asked Holden Thorp, our chancellor, what makes UNC students special. Chancellor Thorp said: “They love the University, and they love each other.”

I just walked back to my office from the Pit, the shaded, sunken plaza that’s the heart of student life at Carolina. It’s a short trip—maybe 400 steps—but on the way at least a dozen students smiled and said hello. The few who didn’t were walking in twos or threes, laughing and lost in conversation.

Why do students smile so much at Carolina? Why do they seem so happy?

I think Holden Thorp has the right answer—and I’m not just saying that because he’s the chancellor.

--Stephen Farmer

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Three or Four Hints about Essays

This morning I visited West Charlotte High School, home of the Lions, with our chancellor, Dr. Holden Thorp. We were warmly welcomed and had a great time.

The students at West Charlotte asked terrific questions. One of them had to do with application essays: What specifically do we look for when we read them?

Because this is such a good question, and because it’s one that comes up a lot, I thought it might be helpful to post a talk on this subject that I gave last spring to a group of guidance counselors. Let me know if this does any good at all—and please feel free to tell me if it doesn’t.

We received this essay last year, in response to a prompt that asked students to choose and describe a logo that encapsulates who they are:
Logos are symbols that are used to describe or stand for objects, places, or people. If I were to choose a logo for myself it would be a boat.
One reason I would choose my logo to be a boat is because I love to fish and most of the time when I go fishing it takes place on a boat. I try to go fishing on my boat as often as I can. I usually go out every weekend and if I have free time after school I don’t mind going in the late afternoon. My favorite fishing is waking up early and going way offshore. I like this best because the fish are bigger.
Another reason I would choose a boat as my logo is that I’d much rather drive a boat than a car. …
And so it went on—for five well-organized paragraphs. After reading it, we knew that this student liked his boat. But we didn’t know much else about him.

Now let me quote from a different essay—one that left a different impression.
It seemed like everything exciting in the world was about to happen to you when you were ten. Even in the books I read, ten-year-olds seemed always about to embark on some new adventure. Wendy from Peter Pan was ten. So was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Secretly I had a feeling that life would now start being like a book, full of humor and excitement. I was ten years old, and I thought I could do anything. Well, no, that’s not true. I knew I could do anything.
This student was writing in response to a prompt that asked, “What advice would you give to a ten-year-old?” She ended like this:
Keep that feeling, that confidence, as long as you can. It’s a way of looking at things that makes the whole world seem as if it’s just a little more brightly colored, a little more gentle. If you don’t know the odds, you may find yourself accomplishing anything.
Where did this essay succeed where the Boat essay fell short? Let me offer just three observations, in the hopes that they’ll be helpful to at least some of your students.

The first idea: voice matters as much as content. Good essays sound as though they were written by real people—ideally, smart, curious, good-hearted people.

The second idea: little is better than big. Small subjects close at hand are better than big subjects that are beyond any writer’s grasp. Students are tempted to write about big things, about ultimate experiences—the best thing that ever happened to me; the worst thing that ever happened to me. Almost no one can write well about this kind of thing, and students should generally steer clear.

The third idea: others are better than self. Not everyone shares this view. In fact we often advise students that the essay is a chance to say something about themselves—preferably something winning and definitive. But in my view this is really a tall order for any student, and in fact it’s something of a curse. It’s the rare writer and the rarer seventeen-year-old who can write self-consciously in this way. Better to write about something else, especially since we learn a lot about others by listening to them talk about something not themselves.

To illustrate this point, here’s a third essay from last year. The prompt read: “Describe a mistake you’ve seen some leader make.”
Head over heels, my grandfather entered the grave. He was merely ashes at that point, stored in a modest cardboard box. Before his death, he was a dedicated minister and teacher. Despite this, the pastor in charge of the internment ceremony bent down slightly and tossed Granddaddy into the hole. The priest let gravity take my grandfather three feet down when he was supposed to be ensuring a journey many miles upward.
I watched disbelief spread like a wave around the circle of family members. Their eyes fixated on the hole as my grandfather bumped and tumbled into his final resting place like a man in a barrel going over Niagara Falls.
The pastor was the leader of the ceremony, the emcee of mourning and remembrance. …
“The emcee of mourning and remembrance”—what a beautiful and evocative phrase! The student closed with the quiet lesson she’d drawn from her experience: “A leader must realize the effect of every choice he makes on the people in his charge and must act in the best interest of his followers.” Wouldn’t we all want to teach this student? Wouldn’t we want to learn from her?

Three observations: Voice as much as content. Little better than big. Others better than self.

And this fourth one: stories help. If your students get stuck, encourage them to tell us a story. Humans are suckers for stories, because our stories tell us something about ourselves, and because our stories matter.

--Stephen Farmer