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David Recine

UNC Admissions: The SAT, ACT Scores and GPA You Need to Get In

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The University of North Carolina (UNC) is an excellent school… or rather, an excellent system of schools. Today, we’ll look at how to get into UNC, with a profile of UNC SAT scores, UNC ACT scores, and UNC admissions requirements

Table of Contents

How to Get Into UNC: 16 Campuses, One Great System, Many Different UNC Admissions Policies

The University of North Carolina, as I mentioned, a set of 16 campuses within the state of North Carolina. The jewel of the system is, without question, UNC-Chapel Hill. Within the state of North Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill holds the number two university rank, second only to Duke. And nationwide, UNC ranks in the top 1% of America’s thousands of universities. Needless to say, the question of how to get into UNC has a unique answer for this especially elite UNC campus. As you can imagine, Chapel Hill has the highest UNC admissions standards. And to be sure, how to get into UNC varies, depending on which UNC school you hope to attend.

A full list of UNC’s campuses can be found here. For this article, we’ll focus on the five UNC schools that are classified as national universities in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings. These schools are: UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Ashville, UNC-Carlotte, East Carolina University, and North Carolina State University. For the matter of how to get into UNC, this article will focus on these top-ranked campuses and their UNC admissions criteria.

Let’s look at a snapshot of how to get into UNC at each of these top 5 UNC schools. The table below lists the various UNC SAT scores, UNC ACT scores, GPA requirements, and acceptance rate. Each school’s US News and World Report national rank is also listed.

(Note: All data in this table about how to get into UNC, including UNC SAT scores and UNC ACT scores, comes either from US News and World Report, the National Association of College Admissions Counseling or the universities themselves.)

UNC School NamesUNC SAT Scores (New SAT)UNC ACT ScoresUNC GPA RequirementsUNC Acceptance RatesUNC National Ranks
UNC-Chapel HillCritical Reading and Writing: 640-720;
Math: 530-670
(middle 50%)
28-33 (middle 50%)3.74 (average)
27%30
North Carolina State UniversityMath: 600-690;
Critical Reading and Writing: 570-660;
(middle 50%)
27-31
(middle 50%)
3.72
(average)
46%81
UNC-Ashville880
(minimum)
17
(minimum)
2.5
(minimum)
78%141
UNC-Charlotte1130-1280
(middle 50%)
22-27
(middle 50%)
3.2-3.7
(middle 50%)
62%198
East Carolina University1060-1200
(middle 50%)
20-25
(middle 50%)
3.0-3.65
(middle 50%)
70%207

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UNC SAT Scores: A Closer Look at this Aspect of UNC Admissions

So let’s talk a little bit about the deeper meaning of the UNC SAT scores in the table above (note that the info for SAT is more complicated than the UNC ACT scores!). You may notice that not every school posts SAT requirements in terms of the minimum score needed. In fact, among these top 5 schools, only UNC-Ashville posts a minimum score. The rest of the schools offer score ranges and do not have a strictly stated minimum. Obviously, the way schools use SAT scores in UNC admissions can vary.

You’ll notice that I said the minimum UNC SAT scores are not strictly stated by the other four schools. This does not mean that there is no minimum SAT score at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, Charlotte, or East Carolina. In fact, every single UNC campus has a minimum score. Remember, these are state-run schools. This means that even when a UNC campus doesn’t set its own minimum, it still has to follow the minimum standards for the statewide system. And the minimum statewide UNC SAT scores are 880 for the New SAT, and 800 for the old version of the SAT. See this link for details. (This link also includes state minimums for UNC ACT scores, as well as other helpful information.)

While most of the campuses in the table above don’t have their own local minimum UNC SAT scores, it’s worth noting that Chapel Hill and North Carolina State do have preferences for UNC SAT scores beyond the statewide standards. NCSU’s statewide requirements for UNC admissions only deal with whole-test scores; Chapel Hill and NCSU have separate expected ranges for SAT Math and SAT reading and Writing. So UNC SAT scores can be varied and nuanced, in terms of what individual schools want.

In any case, you definitely don’t need the perfect SAT score to get into any of the UNC schools. But for the schools that post middle 50% ranges for UNC SAT scores instead of minimums, is it possible to get accepted with an SAT score that’s below mid-range? Absolutely! These schools look at the “big picture” of your application. If other aspects of your application such as extracurriculars, reference letters, GPA, etc. are strong, a lower-end SAT score may still be acceptable. You’ll still need to get at least an 880 on the new SAT or 800 in the old in order to attend though. The state regulations on UNC SAT scores are firm, even if individual schools are flexible regarding UNC admissions!

UNC ACT Scores: An Important Aspect of How to Get Into UNC

UNC ACT Scores, like their counterpart UNC SAT scores, are subject to the state minimums. In the case of ACT, no UNC campus can accept a student whose score is below 17; this is the immutable rule for UNC admissions when it comes to your ACT results.

As with UNC SAT scores, we see a preferred range at moany UNC campuses. Most schools in the system use the middle 50% ACT score range for accepted students when they set their UNC admissions preferences. This is where UNC ACT scores start to look different from SAT, in terms of how they are used in UNC admissions. While many campuses have separate standards for the two halves of the SAT (Reading/Writing, Math), when it comes to UNC ACT scores, only whole-test scoring is considered. This policy for UNC ACT scores makes sense, as the ACT does not have separate subscores and only offers a composite score. (There isn’t one score for ACT Math/Science and another for Reading/Writing, for example.)

Once again, you don’t need a perfect ACT score. You can certainly get a score below mid-range and still be considered for acceptance. Some people with less than 28 on the ACT are accepted into UNC-Chapel Hill, in spite of its preferences for 28+ UNC SAT scores. A score of 17 or 18 could still get you into East Carolina University, and so on. Remember though, below a 17 is too low by any UNC admissions standard on any campus.

UNC GPA: How to Get Into UNC Involves More than Just Testing

The average GPA scores and ranges you see in the table above are subject to the statewide UNC admissions minimums, just like UNC SAT scores, and UNC ACT scores. You can possibly get in with a GPA below that of the average accepted student. You’re only absolutely ineligible if you drop below the state minimum of 2.5.

Another important note on GPAs: in the chart above, I have listed only the standards for unweighted GPA. Unweighted GPAs are a strict conversion of percentage score to GPA. Such GPAs range from 0-4.0. Most high schools use unweighted GPAs, but some high schools weight their GPAs. Weighted GPAs are “curved,” taking the difficulty of a given course into account. Curved GPAs usually have a 0-5.0 scale. We won’t really look at curved GPAs in this post since they’re not common. But if your GPA is weighted, I have good news. Most UNC schools post their requirements for weighted GPA on their websites. And the ones that don’t still do have weighted GPA standards that you can get by contacting the admissions office.

Not sure what your GPA is? Use our GPA Calculator to help you figure it out!

The UNC Freshman Profile, and What it Says About How to Get Into UNC

I’ve already told you that UNC looks at the “whole picture” when considering applications; they don’t just look at UNC ACT scores, or just focus on SAT performance, for example. But even if your UNC ACT scores or SAT scores are great, you may be wondering if you look like the “picture” UNC wants to see. How much do you resemble a typical UNC freshman? Well, let’s look at the UNC freshman profile.

Every UNC campus has its own unique freshman profile, one that extends far beyond UNC ACT scores or SAT scores. But rather than looking at each of the top 5 ranked UNC schools, it may be useful to just look at the most competitive one. UNC-Chapel Hill, with its 27% acceptance rate, is the hardest UNC school to get into. If you match what they’re looking for, you will likely be a competitive applicant anywhere in the UNC system. Needless to say, Chapel-Hill’s high standards have some interesting implications for UNC admissions.

Interested in only applying to UNC-Chapel Hill? Ashley C. from Transizion has some advice for you!

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“Test scores and GPA are important, but UNC-Chapel Hill emphasizes that they review applications holistically. There are no formulas, cutoffs, or thresholds. The goal is to find intelligent, motivated students with a variety of talents and strengths who will actively enhance the Chapel Hill community.

To demonstrate that you’re one of these students, it’s important to emphasize quality over quantity. Here’s how:

  • Don’t attempt to prove that you’re well-rounded. Instead of being casually involved in many activities, become deeply involved with one or two that you’re passionate about. If you haven’t found your passion yet, explore areas of interest.
  • Ideally, you’ll find leadership roles or opportunities to be of service that are related to your areas of interest.Your application should tell the “story” of your unique talents and strengths. What are you passionate about, and how did you discover this interest? What relevant courses, activities, and opportunities have you explored? How have you used your skills to give back to your school or community? (By extension, the admissions team imagines how you would contribute at UNC-Chapel Hill.)
  • If you’ve already participated in a variety of activities, consider what cohesive story these activities tell. Are they mostly creative pursuits? Athletics? Activities that involve public speaking or performing? In your application, hone in on the experiences that have been most meaningful to you.
  • Emphasizing quality over quantity reveals your area(s) of expertise, allowing the admissions team to picture how you’ll learn, grow, and contribute at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

Check out more from Ashley here!

UNC Freshman Profile: Where are UNC-Chapel Hill students from?

Being “local” works in your favor if you’re applying to Chapel Hill. On this campus, the overall UNC admissions rate is 27%. However, being a North Carolina high school student nearly doubles your chances of acceptance; NC applicants have a 46% acceptance rate. Moreover, being from out-of-state cuts your chances of acceptance almost in half. If you are not an in-state applicant, your acceptance rate is just 14%.

For that matter, even after students are accepted, they’re much more likely to actually enroll if they are home state students. 61% of accepted NC applicants actually enroll at UNC-Chapel Hill, compared to just 20% of students accepted from outside of North Carolina.

The advantage of being an American student is even higher where UNC-Chapel Hill admissions are concerned. 95% of the students who get accepted into Chapel Hill are U.S. citizens. In comparison, only 2% of accepted students have Green Cards. And a mere 3% of the students Chapel Hill accepts are international students.

UNC Freshman Profile: Academic Background at UNC-Chapel Hill

Are you the “leader of your pack” in high school when it comes to grades? Then UNC-Chapel hill might just be the place for you. Aside from its 3.75 GPA for applicants, UNC also exclusively accepts students who were in the top 10% of their class. 22% of all students accepted into Chapel Hill were either first or second in class rank. And the remaining students who get in were somewhere in the top 10% of their graduating class.

UNC Freshman Profile: Family Background of UNC-Chapel Hill Students

In America, students whose parents also attended university are much more likely to attend university themselves; this makes a difference not just in UNC admissions but in all school admissions. And Chapel Hill’s freshmen are no exception to this rule. 83% of all UNC-Chapel Hill freshman had parents who graduated from university. Not only that, but 19% of first-year Chapel Hill students had parents who also attended UNC-Chapel Hill.

Still, the number of first-generation university students at Chapel Hill is significant. 17% of accepted students–nearly 1/5 of the student body–are the first people int heir family to attend college.

For more information on the UNC freshman profile at Chapel Hill, go to Chapel Hill’s official Freshman Profile page. Other UNC campuses offer similar profiles on their own official websites.

Liam got a 35 on the act. Get a higher act score.

How to Get Into UNC: Other UNC Admissions Requirements and Info

Now that we’ve gone over general requirements and the freshman profile, I’d like to emphasize that “whole picture” isn’t the same as “perfect picture.” While the requirements and profile give you an idea of the kind of students that are most often accepted into UNC, there is the “wrong” type of student. Even if you don’t perfectly match what UNC seems to be looking for, you still have a chance of getting in. And in fact, once you’re on any school campus, you’ll find plenty of people who don’t perfectly match the freshman profile…and may even be very different from a “typical” admitted student.

Here are a few other things to be aware of as you consider your UNC candidacy:

UNC is looking for diversity.

Yes, UNC’s students are typically local, and often have parents who also attended college. However, every UNC campus is always looking for a wider range of students. Each campus has a goal of increasing its number of first-generation students, international students, and minority students.

Every UNC campus excels in different ways.

While it’s tempting to just go for the UNC schools that are ranked the very highest, university rank isn’t everything. Sure, UNC-Chapel Hill is a fine school. But every school has its own special niches. For example, while Chapel Hill itself is renowned for its Biology education, many feel that the lower-ranked UNC-Charlotte has a better engineering program.

The non-national campuses are worth looking into.

Don’t let the non-national UNC campuses fly completely under your radar. For one thing, these campuses have some very unique offerings. Appalachian State University is doing some very intriguing psychological research. The UNC School of the Arts is a vibrant learning community for students who want to cultivate their artistic talent. Fayetteville State University has an excellent nursing program.

Not only that, but these lower-profile schools also have cheaper tuition and higher acceptance rates. So these places are certainly something to think about as you look at getting into UNC.

How to Get Into UNC (conclusion)

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably a very interested UNC hopeful. I’m glad Magoosh has been able to show you so much helpful information today.

I’ve already touched on this in the article, but I’d like to emphasize it again: if you fall short of the exact requirements we’ve discussed, or don’t “look” like a UNC “profile” freshman, this does not mean you don’t have a good chance at getting in. You’ll want to do your best of course. Aim for the highest SAT or ACT score that you can get. (And it really is an “or;” you don’t need both exams.) Do your best to excel in high school.

But in amongst all that effort, remember that the UNC system is a big one, hungry for students who bring new perspectives to the table, as well as students who are much like the excellent learners they’ve already accepted. No matter who you are, UNC just might have a place for you.

So apply with confidence! And to help you with that confidence, Magoosh has three great tools: our guide on how to ask for a letter of recommendation, our GPA calculator, and our tutorial on writing a college application essay that will delight UNC admissions officers.

Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!

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About David Recine

David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent. Currently, David lives in a small town in the American Upper Midwest. When he’s not teaching or writing, David studies Korean, plays with his son, and takes road trips to Minneapolis to get a taste of city life. Follow David on Google+ and Twitter!


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