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University of Texas at Austin 2019-20 Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

University of Texas at Austin 2019-20 Application Essay Question Explanations 

The Requirements: 1 essay of 500-700 words; 3 essays of 250-300 words

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community, Why, Additional Info, Personal statement

All freshman applicants must submit a required essay, Topic A in ApplyTexas and the UT Austin Required Essay in the Coalition application. Please keep your essay between 500–700 words (typically two to three paragraphs).


Tell us your story. What unique opportunities or challenges have you experienced throughout your high school career that have shaped who you are today? (500-700 words)

Whether you’re using the Coalition or ApplyTexas to apply to UT Austin, you’ll have many opportunities to document your greatest high school achievements. So for this essay, it’s important that you focus on telling a personal story (it’s right there in the prompt!) that doesn’t appear elsewhere on your application. What opportunities and challenges were specific to your high school experience? The goal isn’t to craft a list, so aim to focus on one central story that describes either an opportunity or a challenge. When brainstorming, on the other hand, we recommend writing the longest list you can think of: two columns or a Venn diagram documenting every hurtle or special chance you got throughout high school. 

As you consider your “opportunities,” keep in mind that your reflection on the event or opportunity that shaped who you are today will be a source of great insight for admissions. Maybe being fluent in Tagalog opened up a unique opportunity for you to start an online exchange between your school and a school in the Philippines.  Or were you invited to perform with your dance group at a community event? Did this experience launch you to seek out other performance opportunities, spurring your interest in entrepreneurship? As you sift through your “challenges” route, aim to showcase qualities like resilience, perseverance, or simply an ability to turn lemons into lemonade. Perhaps the long commutes on the bus between home, school, and your internship taught you about time management or inspired an interest in urban planning. The challenges you choose to write about can be serious (dealing with bullies or discovering a learning disability) or seemingly banal (a public speaking #fail). While the possibilities are almost endless, students should be careful not to choose challenges that may seem trite (getting a B on a big project or winning lottery tickets to Hamilton). 

Regardless of the direction you choose to pursue, remember to make sure that admissions is learning something new about you through personal anecdotes and specific details. 


All applicants must submit three required short answers and may submit one optional short answer responding to prompts in your admissions application. Answers are limited to no more than 40 lines, or about 250–300 words, typically the length of one paragraph. Note Special Requirements: Architecture, Art and Art History, Nursing, and Social Work require additional short answer questions of their applicants. 

Required Short Answer 1: 
Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?

This prompt sounds simple enough: describe what you want to study and why you like it so much that you’re willing to dedicate four years of your life to it (at the very least). While you might be tempted to get technical or poetic in your response, your reader will expect you to connect your intended major to some prior experience and/or passion. In other words, tell a story. Lucky for you, we would have advised you to start with an anecdote anyway. The most memorable essays spring from concrete descriptions of your experiences. What excites you and why? When was the last time you got drawn down a Reddit rabbit hole – and what was the topic? While you don’t need to pinpoint the exact moment you became interested in ancient history or calculus, try to zero in on some inspiring experience. What was the best TED Talk you ever watched? The first time you spoke to your new friend in ASL? Your story should showcase your unique connection to your chosen course of study. And don’t forget to talk about UT Austin! By the end of your essay, your reader should not only know why you are passionate about your chosen major, but also what excites you about Austin’s program. In admissions, we call that your fit!

Oh and a quick shoutout to all the undecideds out there: don’t worry! If you can’t decide, then tell a story that demonstrates your wide range of interests or natural curiosity. Focus on the opportunities UT Austin offers across departments and how you plan to explore once you arrive on campus. It’s normal to want to try new things at the start of college!

Required Short Answer 2:
Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.

When answering this question, resist the urge to rewrite your resume. UT Austin isn’t asking you for a list! Remember: it’s your job, as an applicant, to use every essay as an opportunity to reveal something new about yourself. Admissions even gives you a runway for your brainstorming: you can talk about leading at school, your job, in the community, or within your family! Think of a moment when you were in a position where you worked really hard to help a group of friends or loved ones. Maybe you are always the one helping your younger siblings with school projects, and you struggled to find ways to attain and keep your little brother’s attention. Maybe as a volunteer you were in charge of teaching new staff the proper policies for walking dogs at the local shelter. Perhaps, during a group project at school, you organized and planned all of your meetings and drove home classmates who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to attend group sessions outside of school hours. Try to isolate a single leadership moment, and bring it to life with vivid details. Describe where you were, what was happening around you, and what you were feeling. Discuss what challenges you faced, and what you ultimately learned from the experience. Don’t shy away from challenges, or even failures, since these are exactly the kinds of character-building experiences that can demonstrate resilience and quick thinking.

Required Short Answer 3:
Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

In short, this is an essay about diversity and the aspects of your life and experience that distinguish you from your peers. For some applicants, the answer might be obvious: you might have been the only one at your school with a certain background, belief system, or inherited skill set. But whether this prompt seems like it was made for you or just a total head-scratcher, we encourage you to dig a little deeper than your first thought. What about your history, experiences, perspectives, or talents might be worth highlighting for an admissions officer? And how can the experience, perspective, or talent you choose enrich the learning environment at UT Austin? Maybe you grew up in a military family that moved around a lot, and you want to write about how this experience has shaped your ability to make new connections super quickly. Perhaps you’ll teach your floor-mates about what makes for a great ice breaker. Maybe you were raised on a farm and developed a strong work ethic at a young age as you helped your parents tend to the fields. Perhaps you will be a natural leader in group projects and take initiative in the many clubs you’d like to join. Be sure to connect your personal story to a future vision of yourself at UT Austin. The most important thing to remember for this prompt is that your experience, perspective, or talent is dynamic and specific to you and who you are, and no one else.

Optional Short Answer:
Please share background on events or special circumstances that may have impacted your high school academic performance.

This is UT Austin’s version of the Additional Info essay, which means that unless you have something crucial to explain to admissions – and there is absolutely NOWHERE else on the application for you to write about it – you should skip this essay. Think about it: If you were an admissions officer, would you really want to read one more essay per applicant? 

That being said, this essay is perfect for students who have encountered outstanding challenges, and need an opportunity to explain them. In fact, we recommend saving those details for an Additional Info essay, so that you can use the rest of your application to highlight other parts of your amazing personality. So, if something has happened that affected your academic performance, this is a great opportunity to explain the circumstances. Did an illness during your junior year cause your participation in clubs, sports, and activities to take a hit? Did a family emergency cause an overall drop in your GPA? A drop in grades or a gap in your resume does not define you. Remember to make this essay not about the things you couldn’t control, but the actions you took to improve the situation. You don’t want to come off as a victim of circumstance, but as a resilient person who can take steps to positively affect their situation.

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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