The Requirements: 1 essay of 500-750 words; 3 short answers of 40 lines (or ~250 words) each.
Although the University of Texas wants to drag another 1250-1650 words out of the depths of your soul, it’s quite straightforward as far as standalone applications are concerned. Each prompt drives at a different aspect of your personality, from your upbringing to your academics and career plans. So your greatest task is to budget your personal information wisely. Make sure you answer each prompt directly and exactly, with as little overlap as possible. Although there may be some overlap between your academics, career plans, and views on leadership, aim to focus on distinct stories and examples for each so that you leave admissions with a complete picture of who you are!
UT Topic A is very much like Common App Prompt 1, asking you to describe your background, environment, and how you became the person you are today. The options for how you approach this essay are nearly endless, but keep in mind that this is your best opportunity to provide a window into your home life. How do you fill your down time? How do you contribute to and lean on your family and community? How has your world, outside of school and formal extracurriculars, shaped you and what is your role in that world?
As the prompt suggests, there are four main angles you should consider: family, home, neighborhood, or community. Maybe you grew up with three parents and that has shaped the way you think about family and build relationships. Make sure you show admissions where you come from and how your background has affected the way you live your life. Maybe you were raised in a city that shaped the way you think about diversity and multiculturalism early in life and has affected how you interact with others. Once you choose your angle, we recommend selecting one anecdote or routine and filling it with detail. Tell one rich story rather than trying to cover every aspect of your upbringing.
Although this prompt claims to be about your career plans, it’s really about your aspirations both academic and professional. How do your current scholastic interests connect to your future career? That’s a lot to cover in 250-300 words! So, to begin, fast forward and highlight for admissions where you see yourself in the future. It’s ok if you don’t have a specific profession in mind! Even an abstract goal is a good place to start: What impact would you like to have on your local or global community? What setting would you like to live in? What do you see as your greatest skill? Once you have a goal (abstract or concrete) in mind, build the rest of your essay around it. Give admissions the academic or extracurricular context for how these interests and aspirations came to be. For example, maybe you want to work in Finance because you’re older brother introduced you to the industry and now you wake up early everyday to turn your phone on and check the stock market. Perhaps you’re even involved in a mock stock exchange! If you’re hoping to go into Hotel and Restaurant Management, when did your interest in hospitality begin? Why do you think you are uniquely qualified to enter such a field? No matter how you answer this question, make sure the goals you are describing are attainable through your program at UT. You may even want to mention a few specific UT opportunities (a lab, an internship) that would guide you in your next steps. As admissions is getting to know you, they are also trying to assess your fit, so why not make it easy for them!
This short answer provides a rare opportunity for applicants to directly address their academic history. You have the chance to assume some control over your numbers, to connect the dots or fill in the gaps with a story that provides depth and context to an otherwise flat list of numbers. There are two distinct cases to consider for this prompt: the struggle and the triumph. If you are someone who doesn’t test well, for example, here is your opportunity to clarify and explain why standardized tests aren’t a great assessment of your skills or intelligence. If you had a dip in your grades at any point because of life circumstances, this is a place for you to elaborate. Whatever blemish you may choose to address, we caution all applicants to be wary of the sob story. The point of this essay isn’t to evoke pity. On the contrary, UT is challenging you to be a bit defiant. What special skills and talents do you bring to the table that simply aren’t captured by your transcript alone?
On the other hand, if you are proud of your academic history and worked very hard to get to where you are, you may be tempted to emphasize that you have really given it your all. But remember, your goal with each essay is to reveal something admissions doesn’t know; and this prompt is a direct solicitation to do just that. So, perhaps you could take a risk by revealing an area in which you struggled. What was the root of the challenge and what steps did you take to overcome it? Maybe your A in Spanish belies months of seeking extra help after school and YouTubing telenovelas. Or, if you’ve always been a model student, maybe you can reveal the doors your academic success has opened for you. Did you get invited into a special advanced Calculus program? Or did you become a tutor for younger students who were struggling in your favorite subject? No matter what your angle, aim to tell a story that reveals something personal, that a statistic could never fully capture.
The great thing about this question is that it doesn’t ask you to describe a specific leadership position. Instead, UT is asking about leadership as a quality that you can display in any area of your life — in the classroom and beyond! We can’t all be editor of the school newspaper or captain of the track team, so if you don’t have many prominent leadership positions on your activity resume (and even if you do) this is an opportunity for you to show that true leadership is more than a title. When have people looked to you for support or guidance? In what situations do you feel comfortable taking charge? Are you the type of person that likes to take the lead during group projects or ask questions in class? If you are president of student council, what steps have you taken to achieve your campaign goals? What’s the most important problem you have helped solve at home, at school, or in your community? Once you choose a solid example of your leadership qualities, make sure you can use it as a springboard to address the second part of this question: How do you see yourself being a leader at UT Austin? Whether you simply want to continue being editor of a publication or get into grassroots organizing, connect your personal story to a goal that is achievable at the University of Texas.
**Art/Art History and Social Work applicants should note that there are special short answers for your programs.