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How to Write the UT Austin Application Essays 2017-2018

Founded by the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1883, the University of Texas at Austin is home to 51,000 students and 3,100 faculty members. As the “Public Ivy” of the South, UT Austin annually ranks among the Top 20 public universities.


As UT Austin’s reputation grows, its applicant pool becomes increasingly competitive as well, leaving its current acceptance rate in the low 40% range, one of the lowest among public schools. Noted departments at UT include petroleum engineering, history, and linguistics. Additionally, UT permits students to apply directly to programs that are occupation-specific, an aspect that differentiates UT from other institutions.


UT Austin provides multiple essay prompt options for students to choose between. There is one mandatory essay prompt that all students must respond to, as well as secondary questions that you may answer depending on your intended major.


Note: UT recommends that you keep your essays between 350 and 500 words, with no more than 650 words. 650 is also the word limit for the Common Application, so it’s easy for you to get an idea for how much room you have to get your point across. For more tips on how to write the Common Application Essay, feel free to check out CollegeVine’s Common App 2017-2018 Guide.


UT Austin Application Essay Prompts

Prompt A: Personal Background (mandatory)

What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.

As the only essay prompt required by every applicant, this topic allows you to expand and describe your personal background or story. Where are you from? How did you get here? How has your community influenced you to become the person you are today? Because every applicant will write this prompt, the goal is to be as original as possible.

Here are a few strategies to craft a response:


  • Consider Your Upbringing – For example, you could discuss how, as an international student from Japan, the stringency of subway transport solidified your punctuality early on. Alternatively, if you have had work experience growing up, you could explain how working as a waiter/waitress has taught you how to interact with customers, a skill that has translated to many facets of your life.


  • Write What You Know – You are already unique in that no other applicant, or person in the world, shares your experiences. Simply writing about your story, and how you perceive it, is an excellent approach to being authentic. Don’t be afraid to write candidly about important events in your life, even if they seem mundane. For example, if you want to write about how a childhood pet has impacted you in a compelling way, you should explain the significance that the pet holds for you, even though people do not usually associate pets with shaping a person into who they’ve become. Using this strategy will allow your true voice to come through the response, which can make a lasting impact on the reader.


  • Focus on Your Mentality – Remember that your background is not defined only by heritage, ethnicity, and family income, but also your mental diversity. Aspirations, light bulb moments, and passions — it’s these things that set you apart from others and will help you stand out. For example, you can explain how ever since you were a kid, your father, who is a judge, drilled into you a sense of fairness. Or, perhaps if your mother is a chef, discuss how watching her work toward perfection in her dishes influenced your disciplined mental approach to all aspects of your life.


  • Think Outside the Box – The prompt lists environment, family, home, neighborhood, and community as potential themes of responses; however, don’t let strict definitions restrict you from branching out. You can take a creative approach by defining these types of themes in your own terms. For example, perhaps family can mean your basketball team, or community can be staff, patients, and doctors in the hospital where you interned.

Prompt A is the only mandatory question out of the topics in UT’s Essay requirement. For your second essay, you should choose just one from the following prompts.

Prompt N: For Nursing Majors ONLY

Considering nursing as your first-choice major, discuss how your current and future academic activities, extracurricular pursuits, and life experiences will help you achieve your goals.

Answer this topic by explaining the origin and goals of your decision to pursue nursing; UT seeks to understand how your specific experiences will aid you along this path. Additionally, explain the future opportunities you want to participate in, and how these will help you reach your long-term goal in nursing.

How to tackle this prompt:


  • Align Yourself with Career Traits – Many applicants will not have prior nursing experience, and that is fine if nursing is the path you choose to pursue. However, it is in your best interest to show off a side of you that aligns itself best with the qualities required to be a nurse. These qualities include empathy, perseverance, and decision-making skills. You can display these qualities through storytelling and creating narratives. For example, you can consider all of your real-life experiences with nursing and healthcare. How did the teacher’s anecdotes about her experiences inspire you to pursue nursing? How did the two summers spent at San Francisco Children’s Hospital for 8 hours every day affect your perception of the profession? What did working in a nursing home teach you about empathy, specifically how to broach delicate topics to patients?

Short Prompts

Along with your main essay, you must submit at least three additional short essays. According to the UT Austin application requirements, your answers should be limited to no more than 40 lines, or about 250–300 words. While not quite as elaborate as a traditional common app essay, you still have sufficient space to develop a compelling response. The following sections will discuss strategies to approach the UT Austin short answer prompts.

Short Answer 1: Career Plans  

If you could have any career, what would it be? Why? Describe any activities you are involved in, life experiences you’ve had, or even classes you’ve taken that have helped you identify this professional path.

Some Tips to Consider: Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do for your career, you can still write an excellent response. First, notice that this prompt is hypothetical in that it asks, “if you could have any career, what would it be?” With that being said, you can feel free to explore and select between countless options for your topic, and they don’t necessarily need to be exactly what you want to do. The career path does not necessarily need to match every aspect of your skill set and personality; rather, it should incorporate your experiences and interests, and potentially complement other information you’ve provided.


One strategy to write this essay is to match an aspect of your personality to a career. For example, if you are very meticulous and attentive to aesthetic details and love to travel, you may want to consider writing about being a photographer for National Geographic. You could discuss how viewing awe-inspiring photographs on Instagram has motivated you to travel and see different cultures. At the same time, you could take the response a step further by explaining how you would love to incorporate aspects of your cultural anthropology class to better document the lives of the people or communities you photograph.


Instead of focusing too much on the career path itself, you can make the task of writing easier by expounding upon your relevant activities or experiences. For example, if you want to be a product manager for a high-tech company, you could discuss how your leadership role in the robotics club has taught you valuable lessons in failure. Now, whenever you design, you take a skeptical approach and assume things will never work the way you intend, which causes you to iterate quickly as a manager.

Short Answer 2: Academics

Do you believe your academic record (transcript information and test scores) provide an accurate representation of you as a student? Why or why not?

Some Tips to Consider:

Here is a tip directly from the UT Austin Admissions Office:


“Feel free to address anything you want the Office of Admissions to know about your academic record so that we can consider this information when we review your application. You can discuss your academic work, class rank, GPA, individual course grades, test scores, and/or the classes that you took or the classes that were available to you. You can also describe how special circumstances and/or your school, community, and family environments impacted your high school performance.”


Essentially, you can discuss anything you want with respect to your high school academics. Some potential topics could include:

  • A particularly transformative project you worked on
  • An elective that sparked your interest in a unique subject
  • A difficult semester you had

You may feel compelled to “explain” a bad grade in a class or convince admissions that your GPA could have been higher, but that’s not really the point of the prompt or what admissions wants to hear.

Instead of focusing on making excuses, focus on the lessons you’ve learned from mistakes. For example, if you struggled in calculus, explain why you may have found the subject challenging and how you worked hard to change your study habits by setting up weekly meetings with your professor to work on the concepts. A response like that could shed light on a lower grade on the transcript while revealing positive aspects about your character. Whatever you choose to write about, try to incorporate the positives of what you took from the experience and show why you are now a better applicant due to the experience. Keep in mind that admissions officers consider your potential as well as your past accomplishments.

Short Answer 3: Leadership

How do you show leadership in your life? How do you see yourself being a leader at UT Austin?

Some Tips to Consider:


Here is a tip directly from UT Austin:


“Leadership can be demonstrated by positions you hold as an officer in a club or organization, but other types of leadership are important too. Leaders can emerge in various situations at any given time, including outside of the school experience. Please share a brief description of the type of leadership qualities you possess, from school and non-school related experiences, including demonstrations of leadership in your job, your community, or within your family responsibilities, and then share how you hope to demonstrate leadership as a member of our campus community.”


The most effective way to respond to this prompt is to split it into two parts. Part 1 should concern your experience with leadership or cultivating a leadership skill. Part 2 should directly respond to Part 1 by analyzing how the identified skill will apply directly to a campus group or community at UT Austin.


For example, you could begin by describing your experience volunteering or tutoring at a local elementary school. Instead of simply saying you were “a leader” to the younger kids, focus on describing the types of qualities you learned and how. If the kids often struggled with paying attention or staying on task, you could explain how you learned to temper expectations, be patient, and interact with a cool head. When the kids recognized how patient and composed you were, they adopted the same demeanor when solving problems and improved drastically. You could even go in-depth about particular moments or instances in which you learned a certain skill or developed a leadership quality. Further, you can also discuss what leadership means to you, potentially touching on the types of qualities you value in a leader.


Following your anecdote, you can specifically show how your leadership qualities will be used at UT Austin. For example, if you are interested in leading outreach projects in local Austin communities or even other countries, you can explain how the quality of “patience” will come in handy when convincing organizations to let you work with them. If you do a mission trip in another country, patience is often crucial for forming relationships and overcoming social or linguistic barriers, as well. The point of this example is to show how clearly you must organize the response and how the specific quality you discuss in your personal anecdote must also motivate your application to UT Austin.

Short Answer: For Architecture, Art History, Design, Studio Art, Visual Art Studies, and Art Education Majors ONLY

Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (architecture, art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?

This topic confirms that UT Austin is searching for two things in applicants applying to a degree in architecture, art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education:

1) relevant past experiences and 2) how and why those experiences motivate you to pursue one of the above-mentioned fields.


Some tips to consider:

  • Explain Your Passion Descriptively – Admissions officers are actively searching for ways in which your work affected your perspective in a certain field. As with any college essay, it is exponentially more effective to delineate how your interest in the field was the driving impetus behind your accomplishments, rather than simply stating your passion and hoping they take your word for it. For such visual realms of study, it is advantageous to spend time describing closely the details of architectural or artistic aesthetics. You could discuss how certain aesthetic decisions were motivated by ideologies, and how your own choices as an artist stem from your background.


  • Consider the Program’s Alignment With Your Interests – The second portion of the topic asks what you have done to “prepare yourself for further study in [your] area?”. Make sure to touch base on how attending UT Austin’s program for your degree will help you develop yourself within the field. For example, your passion could be design, which stems from sketching characters ever since you were a child. Perhaps your mother enrolled you in a painting studio by middle school, but by eighth grade, you pinpointed your interest in design. Taking action on that interest, you were able to score an internship in a medium-sized, local design, where after a year you designed and produced an article of clothing. Along the same lines, explaining how attending UT’s design program could allow you to explore all the different options that design has to offer would complete your essay. Relating steps of an experience, in this manner, is a great method of organizing your experience into writing.

Short Answer: For Social Work Majors ONLY

Discuss the reasons you chose social work as your first-choice major and how a social work degree from UT Austin will prepare you for the future.

This topic essentially asks the same thing as Prompt N, for social work. Describe how your decision to pursue social work came about. Relate previous experiences in social work to how they will guide you in your pursuit down this career path.


Some tips for Prompt W:

  • Align Yourself to Career Traits It’s perfectly fine to have limited social work experience, but it is always in your best interest to present yourself in a manner that aligns with the qualities of a social worker. These qualities include endurance, empathy, and magnanimity. Social workers are instrumental in helping individuals, communities, and groups enhance overall well-being and social functioning. Consider ways in which you have worked with someone to overcome a challenge. Perhaps you were an avid tutor in high school, and learning how to adapt to the student will help you deal with the variety of individuals you will face as a social worker.


  • Consider the Program’s Role – Describe how you will take advantage of what UT offers in its social work degree. Explain the specific opportunities you want to participate in, and how and why you will take these opportunities to help you reach your long-term goal of benefitting the economy, health, or society. We recommend conducting thorough research on relevant clubs, organizations, or resources that you can tie into your response.

In Conclusion

UT’s requirement of Prompt A and short answer essays is a chance for you to show off yet another aspect that readers have not been exposed to. Remember that an unforgettable essay can go a long way in convincing readers to grant you admission to the home of the Longhorns!


Happy writing!


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