10 Fun Facts about the University of North Carolina

November 09, 2018

One of the top public universities in the country, this school is not just the oldest public university but also one of the original 8 Public Ivies. The University of North Carolina is known for its athletic dominance in men’s basketball and one half of what is considered the fiercest sports rivalries of all time.

1. UNC Chapel Hill is the first state university in the United States and the only one to award degrees during the 18th Century. Classes officially began in 1795 and had a student body of just one for the first two weeks. The school also claims the oldest collegiate athletic team in the Carolinas; in sports, the school is often referred to as “Carolina.”

2. Along with North Carolina citizens, the school’s athletic teams are referred to as the North Carolina Tar Heels, but what exactly is a tar heel? There are two possible origins. The first: during the revolutionary war, British troops found their feet covered with tar after crossing North Carolina rivers. A product of North Carolina’s pine trees, tar became one of the state’s most important exports. The second stems from the Civil War when North Carolina soldiers threatened to stick tar on the heels of retreating soldiers to make them stay in battle. General Robert E. Lee is said to have commented, “God bless the Tar Heel boys!”

3. The school colors blue and white have become so iconic that the particular shade of blue is referred to as “Carolina blue.” A popular bumper sticker reads that God must be a Tar Heel because he made the sky Carolina blue. In Chapel Hill, even the fire trucks are painted Carolina blue! 

4. Named after Ben Franklin, Franklin Street runs through the heart of downtown Chapel Hill and is a popular gathering place for community-wide events. On Halloween, up to 80,000 people will take to the streets—a showcase of the most creative costumes. Students also swarm the street for bonfire celebrations each time the school team defeats arch rival Duke University.

5. The Carolina-Duke rivalry—most notable in men’s college basketball—is considered one of the fiercest sports rivalries. An ESPN poll conducted in 2000 ranked the basketball rivalry as the third greatest in North American sports and Sports Illustrated has named it the #1 “Hottest Rivalry” in college basketball.


6. The school has one of the top basketball programs in the country with five NCAA National Championships under its belt. The former men’s basketball head coach Dean Smith set the record for the most wins of any men’s college basketball coach in his 31 years at the school until the record was broken in 2007 by Bob Knight. The school has produced some of the top NBA players, the most famous? His Airness Michael Jordan.

7. The Old Well, a neoclassical rotunda that stands at the heart of the campus, is the most enduring visual symbol of the school (it’s used as the official stamp of all university-licensed apparel). It was the primary source of water for the university for over a century. Today, a water fountain stands at the center of the structure. Campus tradition states, starting at midnight on the first day of classes, a drink from the foundation will bring good luck and straight A’s.

8. UNC’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, which opened in 1950, served as a NASA training facility from 1960 to 1975. It was the first planetarium in the south.

9. The university was dubbed a “Public Ivy” by Richard Moll in his 1985 book “The Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities.” The name refers to the caliber of the school’s academic programs—a claim that the university provides an Ivy League experience for a public school price.


10. Lastly, if you aren’t already swayed by the academic and athletic prowess of the school, the college town of Chapel Hill is such a beautiful setting it has been referred to as the “Southern Part of Heaven,” after the title of a book by William Meade Prince.

If you’re looking to apply to UNC, AdmitSee can help. Search our database of students successfully admitted into UNC and see their grades, essays, scores, and answers to advice questions you don’t want to miss out on. As a high school student, you can also apply for a chance to win our $5,000 scholarship. Already in college? Make sure to sign up and fill out your profile to earn more from AdmitSee.

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Accepted to Yale, UPenn, Davidson, UNC, UMich, Emory, Northwestern, Wake Forest, UVA, UKentucky, William & Mary, Miami OH, Vanderbilt

Passionate about education from the great state of Kentucky.

Accepted to UNC, GA Tech, William & Mary, NC State, UGA

Hi. I'm a closeted romantic that loves books and math.

Accepted to UNC

Alpha Phi Omega Co-Ed Service Fraternity; Pre-Occupational Therapy; Traveler!

Accepted to UNC, UNC-Charlotte, NC State

Student at the real Carolina with roots in Asheville, NC. Go Tar Heels!

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