Getting To Know UNC Chapel Hill–Again
Over the course of my five-day North Carolina college tour. UNC-Chapel Hill was the only school that I had previously visited. I was last there 12 years ago on a football weekend. The Tarheels hosted Rutgers and beat them 24-22. Kenan Stadium is probably the nicest place that I have ever watched a football game. Fans were nice, too, though it’s less fun to come there to support the visiting team. Rutgers beat the Tarheels three years later in the Quick Lane Bowl following their first (and to this date only winning) season in the Big Ten. Sadly, Spanky’s, where I had dinner a couple of nights before the 2011 game, and learned a lot about Carolina sports stars and distinguished alumni by looking at the walls, is history
Athletics are no less important at UNC-Chapel Hill than when I last visited campus.
Since my prior visit in 2011, the Tarheels have placed in the top ten in the Director Cup Standings six times across the successes of 26 varsity sports. Carolina is one of only three schools (the others are Stanford and Texas) to take the Cup but won it only once (1993-94). Men’s basketball is king at Carolina with nine NCAA titles and 21 appearances in the Final Four. Carolina is also one of only five schools where the men’s and women’s basketball teams have won the National Championship. Baylor, UConn, Maryland, and Stanford are the others. Men’s and women’s lacrosse and soccer, baseball, and women’s field hockey have also been extremely successful.
Carolina has been on my Public Ivy list for some time.
I realize that the phrase “Public Ivy” bothers some people. But it is most recognized phrase for a public institution that delivers on value and student success,
- Tuition and fees for North Carolina residents were less than $9,000 for the current academic year.
- The non-resident cost of attendance is less than some Ivies and Ivy-like private schools (including Duke) charge for tuition and fees alone.
- Carolina tries to fill 100% of demonstrated financial need, unique for a public university; you must complete the CSS Profile (but not the non-custodial forms) and the FAFSA, but it’s worth the effort.
- The average borrower in the Class of 2022 owed less than $21,000. That’s $6,000 less than the maximum that an undergrad may borrow through the Federal Student Loan program.
- Scholarships and paid research opportunities are openly promoted in admissions, including the Morehead-Cain and Robertson Scholars programs.
- At least 95 percent of every freshman class since 2001 has returned for their sophomore year.
- Since 2007 at least 81 percent of every freshman class has graduated in four years. Only two public schools have done better: the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary.
Admissions are tough, almost like an Ivy or Ivy-like school.
- UNC-Chapel Hill’s acceptance rate dropped to less than 17 percent for the Class of 2026.
- Only eight percent of non-residents were offered admission.
- While North Carolina law allows the university to have up to 18 percent non-resident students, they represent less than 15 percent of the undergraduate student body.
- The SAT middle 50 percent for all enrolled students was 1340 to 1500. However, a 1400 put a non-resident in the 25th percentile of the class.
Interestingly, UNC changed their Common Data Set last year to downgrade testing from Very Important to Considered in how they factor in test scores as the university remained test-optional. Given that the NCAA and the rival University of Virginia are permanently test optional, it is reasonable to assume that UNC-Chapel Hill will remain test optional for a little while.
I get these messages from those numbers:
- If you are a resident with a 1450+ SAT/32+ ACT (700+ both sections or no worse than a 30 on all sections of the ACT), a 4.0+ weighted GPA and rigor, you must write well and tell a compelling story. Recommendations and extracurricular achievements are Very Important at UNC-Chapel Hill, rare for a flagship state university.
- That’s equally true for a non-resident, but the odds are not necessarily in your favor.
- If you have those numbers and love the idea of coming to Chapel Hill, by all means give it a shot through Early Action. Carolina admits, denies, or waitlists through Early Action. Given the size of the school and demand for seats in a freshman class, you are either in or out pretty early in the admissions cycle.
- Also take a shot at Honors Carolina as well as scholarship opportunities, the Morehead-Cain and Robertson Scholars programs. The additional benefits are well worth the extra work, if you can get them. They will help you get a more personalized educational experience than most get at a relatively large (20,000 undergrad) university.
Twelve years ago, I concluded my profile with this paragraph–that holds true today:
A visitor to this school will be amazed, not only by the student body, the community and the academics, but also that so many traditions have been respected and maintained by students and alumni. Carolina is not an easy academic ride, even for the brightest students. However, there appears to be a general feeling along these words: “You tortured me, but I love you for it,” whenever students or alumni speak of this place. That pays the traditions forward.
Go to Niche reviews and listen to student produced YouTubes. You will learn UNC-Chapel Hill is not only an academically rigorous university; it can be frustrating to get the academic program you want, especially if you come in undecided. For example:
- Computer Science applicants are admitted to a pre-major status. They must apply to be admitted into the major late in freshman year. If you are a North Carolina resident, I suggest comparing UNC-Chapel Hill’s program with the major at NC State. I would also suggest the same for prospective business majors.
- Other popular majors are tied to assured admissions programs with Early Action deadlines, including Biostatistics, Business, Environmental Health Sciences, Environmental Science & Information Science, Health Policy & Management, Nutrition, Pharmacy
- There are also assured and accelerated programs where students apply during their freshman year in Contemporary European Studies, Education, Information Science and Journalism and Media.
Niche reviews I read after my tour cited academic advising as a major weakness of this school, especially if you come in undecided on a major. Among the YouTubes that I watched after I came home, one where eight Black students discussed mental health issues had me concerned about the availability of counseling resources. However, a planned expansion to the Kenan-Flagler business school will allow the university to increase the number of business majors by as much as 50 percent.
Carolina pushes the liberal arts through a gen-ed curriculum called IDEAs in Action.
This works fabulously at a school that does not push students into majors at the start. However, the university appears to be shifting in a direction where it really helps to know your major. It really helps to work with an academic advisor before you start your degree, so that you can find a direction to complete the gen-eds and either get into the major you want or have the opportunity to consider more than one option for a major.
There are some downsides to this campus.
While UNC-Chapel Hill has built some nice buildings in recent years the center of campus has not changed much. Older buildings designed in the 18th and 19th centuries have been allowed to age gracefully, especially in the main quad. However, the student center and bookstore are quite dated, especially compared to NC State. I also recommend watching student produced YouTubes about the residence halls. The freshman accommodations are quite dated, too
The small campus, combined with the high population density, makes Carolina feel crowded at the peak times students walk to classes or meals.The mid-day social center on campus is The Pit, a sunken plaza where student clubs recruit members and service organizations raise money for numerous causes or listen to “sidewalk philosophy” from activists or street preachers. Another hint: forget about a car unless you can afford to live near campus at a place with parking. Parking on campus is ultra-tight.
Conservative politics have held more sway since I last visited.
Twelve years ago, I would have considered Carolina to be a “balanced” campus when it came to advocacy for various political views. Conservative, moderate, and liberal viewpoints could be displayed and openly discussed in public venues. Today, while North Carolina has not gone to the extremes of culture war politics as Florida, and has twice-elected a Democratic governor, the state now has a veto-proof Republican legislature. For those concerned, abortion is currently legal in North Carolina, but only up to 20 weeks. and six days. However, Republican lawmakers are seeking more restrictions.
The university’s leadership has also taken at least three actions that conservative would support, and moderates and liberals might oppose.
- Four years ago the university tried (but failed) to give ‘Silent Sam,” a statue of a Confederate soldier, to the Sons of the Confederacy along with $2.5 million to help the organization maintain the statue
- Nearly two years ago, journalism professor and New York Times writer Nikole Hannah Jones, author of The 1619 Project, won her lawsuit to receive tenure at Chapel Hill, only to leave for Howard University.
- This year, trustees introduced a resolution calling for the establishment of a School of Civic Life and Leadership
There have also been legislative inquiries into Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility practices at North Carolina’s public universities. These have focused on hiring and employment practices. However, future inquiries could extend into student support, multi-cultural programs, and student organizations now that there is a veto-proof Republican majority.
UNC-Chapel Hill also finds itself as the public focus of a Supreme Court case on race-based admissions that I offered comments in November.
However, at the time that I wrote that piece, the state did not have a veto-proof legislature. I don’t know how accessibility and affordability will be addressed in the future should the university lose this case. Carolina has taken issues of accessibility and affordability more seriously than most flagship state universities. The Carolina Covenant helps qualified low-income students to graduate debt free.
I have visited UNC-Chapel Hill four times over the last four decades, twice while I was a senior in college, and twice as an education writer. It’s really easy to fall in love with this school. The campus is brimming with history and it’s easy to walk on to Franklin Street, the dining and entertainment center in town. The alumni base and alumni loyalty are incredibly strong. But prospective students must make sure that the academics and support services will work before they commit to enroll and follow the politics surrounding the school and the state, especially if they come from a blue state like New Jersey.
For more campus pictures, check out my UNC-Chapel Hill Pinterest page.
Report Card: UNC-Chapel Hill
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: A
- Community: A
- Curriculum: A
- Comforts: B
- Connections: A
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