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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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How to Write UT Austin’s 2016-17 Essays

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Known as a “Public Ivy” since 1985, the University of Texas at Austin is home to more than a whopping 51,000 students and 3,000 teaching faculty members, on top of being one of the best research institutions in the nation. It has been ranked among the top 20 public universities according to U.S. News and World Report, with the top ranked programs in Latin, American history, and petroleum engineering.


This super-institution can foster basically any type of incoming student, given the wide breadth of its opportunities, both during college and afterwards. Graduating from UT Austin also gives you access to an alumni base of around 500,000 proud Longhorns.


The average SAT score of students admitted to UT Austin is 1274 (out of 1600), while the average ACT score is 29. In terms of competitiveness based on high school class rank, 71.5% of admitted applicants graduated in the top 10% of their class, and 91.7% graduated in the top quarter of their class.


Unlike many institutions of higher learning in the U.S., UT Austin offers its applicants the possibility of applying directly to specific programs, focusing in fields such as nursing or social work, rather than writing a universal admissions essay. If you are sure that one of these vocations is your calling, then keep on reading for our guide on how to complete your admissions essay supplement to UT Austin.



Sign up below and we’ll let you know when our Essay Breakdowns for the 2017-2018 cycle are out. We’ll have how-to guides for the top 100 schools, and possibly more!


UT Austin Application Essay Prompts


All applicants must submit an essay responding to Topic A, along with a second essay addressing either Topic B, C, D, N, S or W.


Note: The application provides ample room for you to compose a strong essay, in spite of the vague word limit presented on the platform. Thus, you should keep in mind that the vast majority of successful essays to these prompts tend to range from 500-750 words per essay.


Topic S, used to detail special circumstances you want considered as part of your admissions application, may be submitted as a second essay, or as a third essay if you are required to submit one in response to Topic D, N or W due to the major you selected. You may also submit it as a third essay at your discretion.


Special Requirements: 


Architecture: Topic D is required for those applying to Architecture.

Art and Art History: Topic D is required for those applying to Fine Arts Department of Art and Art History.

Nursing: Topic N is required for those applying to Nursing for their first-choice major.

Social Work: Topic W is required for those applying to Social Work for their first-choice major.


Topic A


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.


In their efforts to better understand the high school experience of every applicant to UT Austin, admissions essays readers will use your response to this essay to place the rest of your application in context. Prior to writing your response to this prompt, you should take some time to think about what this question is asking you.


As you go about your day, maintain awareness of things that ordinarily seem insignificant, to the point that you may be taking them for granted. For instance, remind yourself of the neighborhood you wake up in every day, the foods available to you for breakfast, and how you feel as you pass through your community on your commute to school. Reflect upon the impact your surroundings have on your day-to-day life and the ways in which they have fostered your personal development.


After reflecting upon this exercise, you might realize that your work ethic stems from your gratefulness for the sacrifices your immigrant parents have made in order to give you a chance to succeed, or it could take the shape of your precocious desire to study geriatric medicine and hearing loss pathologies because you have grown up in a town where the majority of your community is of advanced age.


This thought experiment is the perfect way to start dissecting what it is about your surroundings that has shaped you into the person you are. Most importantly, it will show your essay reader that you have matured enough to be able to speak about yourself in a frank and vulnerable way. As long as you speak your truth, there can really be no wrong answer, but there are still some mistakes you can make in execution; read on to find out how to craft a piece that is not cliched or pity-inducing.


If you describe poignant tales of overcoming hardship and obstacles in your response, that is fine, as long as it is the truth. Though some applicants might think that exaggerating their tales will score with admissions officers, a successful admissions essay, no matter how brutally honest, should never cater to the reader’s pity.


If you choose to discuss overcoming hardships in your essay, be sure that it has a resounding, memorable point — not just a reminder to your reader that you suffered (and imply that that is why you deserve admission). You should include enough details to make your response memorable and personalized, and ultimately communicate that the difficulties you have overcome have made you stronger. Regardless of one’s experiences, it is the way that one has internalized those experiences (and their proper explanation in this essay) that will add value to her application.


On the other hand, should you wish to include happier elements, such as expressing how support and love within your community has fostered a strong individual who is ready to give back to the community, be sure not to exaggerate here either. You do not want to bore your reader, and you definitely do not want to risk sounding trite or cliched.


You should make sure to approach this essay with fresh eyes every time you work on it, and be sure to have a range of capable, nonbiased adults read it so that you can estimate how your admissions officer would react to your story.


Topic B


Most students have an identity, an interest or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.


This is your chance to discuss what makes you unlike the rest (or at least, the vast majority) of applicants. You should treat this topic, and all responses to essay prompts in general, as an argument. You must be able to offer valid points that demonstrate your talent or interest should you choose to write on one. This could appear in the form of some relevant activities you’ve participated in, an award for some effort, etc. Since this talent or skill is supposed to define you in an essential way, it would be very difficult to convey that belief to your reader if you had nothing to show for it.


A possible first step to developing your argument is to do a simple creative-thought exercise in which you imagine your life, except it is missing something. Go through a mental checklist of all the things that can be removed from your life; this can include your soccer ball, the club you are most devoted to, the German language, amount of time spent in a laboratory, your series of trumpet solos, etc.


Eventually, you will come across one thing with which its absence will feel the most noticeable and impactful, and then you should make a clear mental note of why it feels so much heavier than the absence of something else. At this point, you have found at least one thing that defines you in an essential way, because if it were to be removed from your life, you would no longer feel like your true self. Pretend you are your essay reader, and you have just finished reading this essay: What is the lasting point or most memorable content you just read?


Additionally, it would be helpful, although not necessary, to discuss about a passion you have towards something that you could keep working on while at UT Austin. Most important, however, is the fact that you want the subject of this essay to harmonize with the central theme of your entire application — do not define yourself by something that would appear random or out-of-place to an admissions officer. For example, if you’re a political science major who has held internships in law offices each summer, writing about your interest in astrophysics might seem a bit incongruous.


Afterward, it is time to begin putting these thoughts on paper. An effective strategy is to start with a narrative explaining how your interest formed, coupled with an explanation of the role it now plays in your life. For instance, if you decide to focus on your rowing career, you might describe the point at which it went from being a hobby forced upon you by your parents, to a much beloved fruit of your efforts to an opportunity to finance your college education.


Your narrative should be accompanied by references to your accomplishments in rowing, and as always, watch your tone and diction so that you do not come off as conceited. You will have to practice the skill of humbly bragging in this essay, like most. Your achievements should be seamlessly woven into your description of how rowing has defined your life.


On the other hand, if you chose to approach this essay prompt from the perspective of an identity that defines you, the content may be more subjective. However, it is still possible to create a strong essay. One good way to approach the development of this essay would be to think of a specific example in which you become aware of your place in a particular group.


One such example would be to describe your identification with an ethnic group — for example, millennial Latino Americans. This is a revolutionizing generation because of the increasingly mounting influx of Latino immigrants in the past decades, and how their children (millions of people) are now college-age. You could discuss how this has been leading to a large upward shift for Latinos in the American socioeconomic ladder, and more importantly, how you see yourself uniquely fitting into this paradigm.


In effect, these people exhibit a dual background in how they have been raised in Latino households, but have been forced to assimilate into American ways of life. You might write about how this large-scale shift in the sociological makeup of young Latinos has impacted your life, and maybe the way in which you have developed your identity; how did you reconcile the two conflicting cultures from which you originate? Try detailing key moments in your life in which you questioned your identity and how you resolved the debate.


Moreover, you could discuss how your identity affects you and how you affect your identity; this is an example of unique insight you could use to distinguish your essay from others. This second point is much more subtle to define, but it is essential to understand that identities change over time, whether they be per individual or per population.


You could discuss how your experiences have been, in part, determined by your identity. At the same time, how you internalized those experiences and have gone on to do shape your surroundings speaks volumes about the people that you represent. Using the example of a millennial Latino living in the U.S., this is a great way for you to write about the development of the collective identity of all young Latinos born of Latino origin, since the identity, in general, is still so new.


Topic C


You’ve got a ticket in your hand — Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?


For all the young high school graduates bursting with wanderlust, this essay is for you. While you may be tempted to talk about that trip via yacht to New Zealand or Monaco you have always fantasized of taking, those dreams will not barter any favor with your essay reader at UT Austin.


Despite what some may believe, these sorts of questions definitely have right answers. For this prompt, the dream trip that your essay reader wants to see is not the same dream that you would describe to your friend. Either way, this prompt is an amusing way to exercise your imagination in a productive manner.


Pretend this prompt says that the ticket in your hand is for the purpose of professional, academic, or personal development, and then you can begin brainstorming about what it will be used for.


You should think about which experts in your field you have fantasized about meeting; which company headquarters’ strategy room you wish you could visit; what it would be like to go to the training site of your favorite professional soccer team, after 12 years of doing the sport; or how it would be to have a 1-on-1 session with a famous editor you admire, since you are working on some script ideas.


Whatever its purpose, your ticket must be used for something creative that sheds light on your interests and personality; so try not to mention something trivial that would not ultimately benefit you in the eyes of an admissions officer.


It would be ideal to relate your ticket to an opportunity offered by UT Austin, such as a boarding pass to Barcelona in order to study Spanish at a study-abroad program you read on UT Austin’s study-abroad page, because you work with Latino immigrants in your community center and feel the need to bridge the cultural gap between you and your clients.


Describing the purpose of your experience will inform your essay reader of your interests, how far you are willing to go to fuel them, and most importantly, if you were given the chance, how you would take advantage of the opportunity to gain more experience in your interests. As you discuss what will happen when you reach your destination, remember that there are no limits to what could happen on this experience, so be creative!


Regardless of what you choose for the purpose of your ticket, your essay will fare best against the creativity of all your competitors if you are able to relate it to the activities, courses, and general experiences you would pursue at UT Austin.


Topic D


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?


Your decision to pursue a degree within architecture, art history, design, studio art, visual art/studies, or art education cannot be solely substantiated by work you have done in the field in the past. Through your response to this essay, UT Austin admissions officers seek to understand how your interaction with your preferred form of art has affected your way of thinking.


The admissions reader will want to see self-reflection regarding your work in your field. Mentioning a passion for the art form will not add as much value to your essay as explaining how you translated your passion into a thought process that has driven your subsequent creations. You should prove in this essay that you have already begun growing as an artist of sorts, and how you think your artistic ability could evolve should you be admitted into the program at UT Austin.


One example of how you could approach this essay topic is to write your essay on your interest in architecture, which comes from your longtime interest in woodshop. You could describe how, in the beginning, this interest of yours took the form of de-stressing by creating artisanal birdhouses. Then, when brainstorming ideas for your Eagle Scout capstone project, you realized your skill could be applied to something as major as developing your public park’s infrastructure.


Upon completing this project, your newfound understanding of mankind’s various utilizations of trees has allowed you to better your community by utilizing your interests and skills. As such, you wish to pursue architecture so that you continue to explore the various relationships that man can have with different objects in nature.


Topic N


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.


In this essay, your essay reader will be expecting you to discuss the experiences and introspection that have led you down this career path. The prompt asks you to speak on the aspects of your life that have prepared you for or drawn you to a career in nursing.


This might include writing about volunteering at a hospital in some capacity for several years, already having taken an anatomy or AP/IB Biology course at your school, or more subtle experiences like learning meditative calming techniques you can teach others in distress. The more you have developed your interest in healthcare, the more competitive your application will be.


Note: Since you want your response to this essay to complement the essay you write for the required Topic A, you do not want to have excessive overlap between the content. This means that you should avoid capitalizing on your works and successes in nursing/healthcare at length in Topic A’s response. Remember, you want to show off as many different perspectives of who you are as possible in your application.


Regardless of whether or not you have a nursing-knowledge base already, you must generate an essay attesting to the fact that your personal ideology and pursuits are in keeping with those of a future nurse. Some of the characteristics found in great nurses include empathy toward patients and the state of mankind’s health; the ability to keep a level head during tough emotional and medical situations; persistence through long, nighttime work hours and study requisites; and in a distant academic sense, a general desire to advance mankind’s progress.


In this essay, you should not only talk about your present activities and experiences, but also include specific opportunities available to you in UT Austin’s nursing program that will help you reach these goals. Discussion of your relevant future activities and life experiences should show your essay reader that you have established long-term goals in nursing.


Remember that you do not need to have your future activities and goals clearly defined; rather, you need to show that you have an understanding of what you need in order to reach your current goals and aspire even higher once you are at UT Austin.


Topic W


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.


For this essay, you must apply similar thinking as to Topic N, in which an applicant is asked to detail his or her aptitude for nursing, but in the field of social work. Think back to all the academic activities, extracurricular pursuits, achievements, and interests related to social work that you have experienced. These could include the hours you have spent mentoring underprivileged children in your area, a certificate of appreciation from your local council for your time spent volunteering at a nearby soup kitchen, or even your longtime fascination with racial and gender disparities in executive management on Wall Street.


You should pick two to three of the most important among these experiences to emphasize in your essay. They should attest to your aptitude as a social worker, or a steward to the community of sorts. Also, they should not overlap with the ideas substantiating your response to Topic A, so that you can show your admissions reader as many unique parts of who you are in your whole application. This topic requires more factual information, as opposed to the more narrative response required for Topic A, so as long as you keep the information insightful and memorable, your essay will be successful.


Whatever your background in social work lies, your essay will need to discuss how your past experiences have given you the mental mindset of a social worker. Your experiences should be easily relatable to characteristics like an ability to empathize with people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds; emotional durability such that you are able to be exposed to serious, often sad situations on a daily basis; a personal philosophy in which you believe in bettering the plight of those less fortunate or perhaps in a more academic sense; or how addressing social issues in a country can boost its economy, social capital, and health.


You should definitely spend some time researching precise opportunities made possible by participating in UT Austin’s social work major, and then explaining how those opportunities will fill in your experience gaps so that you can be the best possible social worker (or related employment). You might not be aware of where your experience gaps lie in particular, but you can always talk about the importance of pursuing new things in your field so that you can always grow. This will tell your reader that even though you are approaching this career path with confidence, you are aware of the fact that you still have learning to do.


Remember that you do not need to have your future activities and goals clearly defined; rather, you need to show that you have an understanding of what you need in order to reach your current goals to aspire even bigger in the future once you are in UT Austin’s social work major.  


Topic S


There may be personal information that you want considered as part of your admissions application. Write an essay describing that information. You might include exceptional hardships, challenges, or opportunities that have shaped or impacted your abilities or academic credentials, personal responsibilities, exceptional achievements or talents, educational goals, or ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.


Due to the extreme breadth of this potential essay, our guide will not be able to provide you a definite answer as to what you might include in your essay, but we have created a general list of items that might be applicable. If you choose to submit information for this topic, be sure to have it reviewed by a reliable adult — perhaps a teacher — who may be able to provide advice on how your response to this question can add to your application. Remember that your aim should not be to narrate a sob story; rather, it is to paint the facts to explain where you are coming from, and more importantly, how these key experiences will shape your success at UT Austin.


Some items to talk about can include:


  • Illness, in particular maladies, that prevented you from performing in school as best as you could have. This includes mental health illnesses, but be extremely aware of the fact that you must not include anything that would make your reader think that you are not ready for UT Austin. Be sure to address in your essay that any illnesses has been resolved and you welcome the chance to succeed at Austin.
  • Low family income, that has resulted in situations such as you having to babysit often, take care of adults, work one or more jobs that have detracted from your ability to take advantage of your high school opportunities, etc.
  • Cases of extreme hardships, such as a period of homelessness, and what it has taught you about life; the importance of never giving up,  such that you realized your difficulty in connecting to the common man; or people’s initial judgment of your character and the importance of educating others about similarities rather than differences.
  • Exceptional talents, such as your savant-like achievements in STEM research at an early age, and how you humbly welcome major achievements, knowing that it is worth the attention if it will ultimately benefit mankind.
  • Educational goals, such as being able to speak dying languages, so that you might be able to preserve the cultures and spirit of all the people who have died and spoke those languages all their lives.
  • Death of a close/loved one, and how it has affected your outlook on life (and death) and the way you make your decisions.


Since this topic invites you to discuss any hardships you might have endured in your life, you are obviously welcome to share as much as you please; however, be aware that this does not mean sharing extremely intimate details in service of making your point as honest as possible. There is such a thing as being too honest in this case, and your reader may be made uncomfortable if you share details about illegal activities, sexual assault, etc.


Your emphasis should never be on the event that has transpired. Share it briefly with the words you feel are necessary, but remember that you must work with diligent tact in order to convey your story. Focus more on how the experience affected you, again how you internalized it, and how it has changed you moving forward in subsequent decisions and experiences you have been faced with.


Preparing responses to this multitude of topics can be daunting, so please feel free to book a free consult with one of our UT Austin specialists and you’ll be writing in no time.


We at CollegeVine wish you the best in your academic endeavors. Good luck as you prepare for essays for admission to the University of Texas at Austin!


Happy writing!


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