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A Year in Review 2020-2021

To say the 2020-2021 academic year was different from years past is an understatement. The ongoing pandemic changed the Carolina experience for all our students.

Traditions from Convocation to Commencement took new forms, many classes were conducted online and regular campus hangouts were transformed into testing sites and vaccine clinics in an effort to keep our community safe.

A student works on a laptop in the library,

Despite the challenges and obstacles, this year also gave us plenty to celebrate.

Students excelled in their academics, even in a remote setting. Researchers made remarkable discoveries — many that advanced our response to the pandemic. Tar Heels won national championships. And Carolina officially installed its 12th chancellor.

Most importantly, we saw the Carolina community come together and support each other.

Take a look back at some of the biggest stories that shaped this academic year.

A female student talks with a group of students.

Fall 2020

Welcoming the newest Tar Heels

The Carolina community grew by more than 7,600 in August, with a new wave of Tar Heels beginning their academic careers at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Back-to-school celebrations were held the night before FDOC as Tar Heels kicked off the year with storied Carolina traditions that took on new looks, including a virtual Convocation and a livestreamed Sunset Serenade.

Meet members of the Class of 2024

  • 4,497first-year students
  • 843transfer students
  • 2,312graduate students
  • 1,053first-generation undergraduate students
  • 97North Carolina counties represented
  • 718new students enrolled in Carolina Away

Though Carolina shifted gears at the start of the semester to return to predominantly remote learning, the University continued to make history, conduct research and celebrate its students throughout the fall semester.

Carolina’s 12th Chancellor

In October, Kevin M. Guskiewicz was installed as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The installation of a chancellor is a significant moment in the University’s history because it allows us to recognize our past and look toward our future.

The historic event was livestreamed and featured brief remarks from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, UNC System President Peter Hans and faculty and staff leaders.

Read more about the installation

World-class education

Carolina continued to hold its place as one of the best-ranked universities for value and academic programs this year.

In the fall, Carolina was named the best value among public universities by the U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best College rankings for the 16th time. The same ranking listed UNC-Chapel Hill as the fifth-best public university in the nation for the 20th consecutive year.

We were also named the third best public university in the country by the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education’s ranking, and the 30th ranked university in the world in the 2020 Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Wilson Library

Beginning a new chapter

Winter Commencement was postponed this year, but the end of the fall semester was still a time to celebrate the achievements and dedication of the graduating students. More than 1,200 Tar Heels, including graduate students, finished their academic careers in December.

Learn more about the winter graduates

Tassles on a table.

Top Fall stories

  • A collage of photos that includes a sculpture of a lion head as a fountain; a silver and brass button on the Old Well; branches of a tree wrapping around each other; the rings of a cut tree trunk; blue 3D printing robots in a line; and a cup of steel pieces from a letter press.

    Taking a closer look

    With historic buildings and picturesque landscaping, Carolina's campus is iconic, and some of the University's most beautiful spots are worth a closer look. Photographer Johnny Andrews shared close-ups of some of the objects, designs and textures that might be easy to miss at Carolina.

  • A woodworker measures a piece of wood.

    Giving new life to historic trees

    The Carolina Tree Heritage program is giving second life to downed campus trees by transforming the trunks and branches into furniture, sculptures and other wooden creations, with the proceeds going toward student scholarships.

  • Sean Nguyen, Aditi Adhikari, Selina Shi and Preeyanka Rao in front of Wilson Library.

    Asian American Center comes to Carolina, virtually

    In September, Carolina officially opened its Asian American Center to cultivate a critical understanding of Asian American peoples, cultures and histories.

  • Sarah Mackenzie and Peter Angrinda.

    Two Tar Heels named Rhodes Scholars

    Alumni Peter Andringa and Sarah Mackenzie became Carolina’s 50th and 51st Rhodes Scholars in November. The world’s oldest international fellowship award, the Rhodes Scholarship funds study at the University of Oxford in England.

Spring 2021

More Tar Heels returned to campus for the spring semester and found some new programs in place — a COVID-19 testing program and, later, a vaccination clinic at the former Wendy's in the Carolina Union. Spring break was converted into several long weekends to allow for more breaks throughout the semester.

By mid-May, nearly 6,300 students graduated, becoming Carolina alumni.

Students step up to keep campus safe

When you walked across campus in the spring, you were sure to see students in yellow vests ready to help community members navigate campus buildings. When students walked into a Carolina Together Testing Center site, they saw even more students ready to assist their peers.

Student volunteers were all over campus, helping to keep Tar Heels safe and healthy. More than 1,400 students volunteered with Carolina Together Ambassadors and the Carolina COVID-19 Student Services Corps throughout the semester.

Learn more about the volunteer programs

A male student talks with another student in The Pit.

Roy Williams retires

Roy Williams, who led the University of North Carolina to three NCAA championships, retired in April after 33 seasons and 903 wins as a college basketball head coach. In addition to NCAA titles in 2005, 2009 and 2017, he led the Tar Heels to a 485-163 record, two other Final Fours, nine ACC regular-season championships and three ACC Tournament crowns.

Hubert Davis, who helped lead the Tar Heels to the 1991 Final Four as a sharpshooting guard and to two Final Fours and a national title during nine years as an assistant coach, was named the new head coach.

Read more about Coach Williams

The University of National Champions

Pandemic protocols shifted the landscape of college athletics this year, but Tar Heels continued to bring home ACC titles and national championships.

Both the men’s and women’s tennis teams captured ITA National Team Indoor championship titles in February. A month later, Austin O’Connor became Carolina wrestling’s sixth national champion when he won the 149-pound NCAA Championship. Most recently, the field hockey team won its ninth national championship. It was the team’s third-straight title.

Several teams are still competing in their NCAA tournaments, so more trophies may be on their way to Chapel Hill soon.

Celebrating the Class of 2021

Graduating Tar Heels experienced a Spring Commencement like no other when nearly 6,300 graduates were celebrated throughout five ceremonies. Thousands of friends and family members joined the University, virtually and in Kenan Stadium, for the celebrations.

Drs. Anthony Fauci and Kizzmekia Corbett ’14 (Ph.D.), two of the nation’s leading experts on COVID-19 pandemic research and national response strategies, also virtually joined the ceremonies to congratulate the students and share advice as they enter a new chapter in their lives.

Relive Spring Commencement

A graduate walking into Kenan Stadium.

Top spring stories

  • Students sit near each other on campus.

    Carolina receives 31,940 applications for its first-year early action admission deadline

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received 31,940 applications for its early action deadline for first-year admission in 2021, representing an increase of 10% compared to last year.

  • The interior of the Gaming Arena with screens and chairs.

    Press start on the Carolina Gaming Arena

    On the ground level of Craige Residence Hall, down a small set of stairs just off the volleyball court, sits the new Carolina Gaming Arena, a space designed for everybody from casual gamers to competitive players. The arena was outfitted with state-of-the-art gaming PCs and monitors provided by Lenovo.

  • A person skateboards past the Old Well.

    UNC-Chapel Hill places in the top 5 of The Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges

    UNC-Chapel Hill also ranked second on the list of public universities for financial aid and fifth among best value public colleges for students with no demonstrated financial need. In addition, Carolina is listed as eighth among public universities for making an impact.

  • A man wearing an orange mask carries a stack of books on campus.

    A year of resilience

    The pandemic year was anything but easy for all of us. Hardships and frustrations collectively created a lingering weariness on our entire community. As UNC-Chapel Hill hit the one-year mark of the beginning of remote learning this March, the Carolina community reflected on one of the past year.