fbpx

UT Austin’s New Essay Questions

In a surprise move this summer, the University of Texas Austin changed their supplemental essay prompts. They added two new prompts, and combined two of their previous questions, resulting in students needing to write four essays. The abruptness of this change, and a lack of prior announcement, caused a great deal of shock for students.

So why did UT Austin make this change, and how should you try to answer these questions? While we can’t answer the first question, we can help you with the second. In this article, we’ll discuss the new prompts, give examples of how you can answer them, and show you what UT Austin is looking for when they ask these questions. 

We have a guide to answering supplemental essay questions generally, but due to the importance of UT Austin for many of our students, we thought it would be helpful to address these changes specifically.

“Change the World” Example

The core purpose of The University of Texas at Austin is, “To Transform Lives for the Benefit of Society.” Please share how you believe your experience at UT-Austin will prepare you to “Change the World” after you graduate. (250-300 words)

Because my goal is creating a life changing invention, I believe UT’s unique engineering program and focus on experiential learning will best prepare me for the future. As a biomedical engineering major, I’m eager to take advantage of opportunities to do research as an undergrad and potentially solve real world problems. One UT initiative that is perfect to help me accomplish my goals is the Inventors Program, which teaches entrepreneurial design and will help me make an immediate community impact.

Another aspect of UT engineering that excites me is the Senior Design project, a year-long course that allows students to design prototypes based on authentic biomedical engineering problems. While visiting my family in Honduras, I have seen firsthand the need for unique solutions to common healthcare problems. With resources like the Texas Inventionworks Makerspace, I hope to leverage my strong math and science background as well as my love of creativity to solve problems that are impacting the people I love.

In addition to the strong academics UT offers and their top-ranked engineering school, I was thrilled to learn that UT has a chapter of the Best Buddies program, and I plan to get involved immediately. In this program, peer buddies are paired with students with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and spend time together throughout the year. I have been lucky enough to be a peer buddy and eventually the president of the local Best Buddies chapter at my high school. I expect the UT chapter will continue to fuel this passion.  

UT will prepare me for a successful career, allow me to continue my love of volunteering with individuals with special needs, and help me achieve my goal of creating my own medical device. Me and UT are the kind of dream team that can change the world.

“Change the World” Analysis

This question is, quite frankly, a lot. Unlike many other essay questions that colleges ask, it is hard to single out what exactly UT Austin is looking for when they pose this question. Of course some colleges delight in asking purposefully hard-to-answer questions (looking at you UChicago), but this does not seem to follow in that vein. Instead, this question simply does not read as well thought out. 

The goal of college essays generally is for schools to learn about a student; who they are, what they’ve done, and how they can contribute to campus. This question seems to be asking how you will contribute to campus, and to society at large, through what UT Austin gives you. 

Therefore, the easiest way we have found to answer this question is as a “Why Us” essay. These essays are quite popular, and inquire why a student wants to attend this school in particular. While you can attempt to divine enough of the future to describe your post-graduation career, we do not recommend doing so.

In the example above, the student clearly discusses why they wish to attend UT Austin, and what the school’s specific programs will allow them to accomplish. The author discusses several programs, and provides clear examples of why they like these programs in particular.

The specificity of examples is important here; there are many schools with good engineering programs, but only UT Austin has the Inventors Program or the Texas Inventionworks Makerspace. The more concretely you tie your desires to the specific offerings of UT Austin, the more convincing your essay will be.

The author also discusses a non-academic draw to UT Austin. You don’t need to include one of these, but it can help make your essay more personal, and show the breadth of your interests. Mentioning specific clubs also shows you’ve done your research on the school; admissions officers like to see that you take their school seriously. We recommend not discussing the school’s city or location generally, as this is too generic and non-specific to the institution.

While this is not the easiest question to answer, by treating it as a “Why Us” essay, you will be well equipped to answer the prompt, and tell UT Austin something important about you in the process. Remember that this essay is not just for singing the praises of the school, but discussing why specific aspects of UT Austin appeal to you, and how their unique offerings will allow you to succeed, and change the world.

Academic Interruptions Essay

Please share background on events or special circumstances that you feel may have impacted your high school academic performance, including the possible effects of COVID-19. (250-300)

Even though my junior year was going to be virtual, I was excited to return to school and some sense of normalcy. I had a full schedule, with a mix of AP and IB classes, and hoped my teachers would be as effective through Microsoft Teams as they were in-person. Being at the height of the presidential election season, I was especially looking forward to AP Government class discussions.

 It was my teacher’s first year at Lamar, but he seemed excited to teach the course and wanted lots of class interaction — a nice change from sitting behind the screen in silence. Unfortunately, after six weeks of school, the teacher abruptly quit. The administrators told us he did not enjoy teaching over an online platform. The class was upset that he couldn’t at least finish our semester. Many of us did not enjoy learning virtually, but we all pushed through for the rest of the year. In typical Lamar fashion, not having enough time to arrange a replacement, they introduced us to our new teacher: the football coach. It was a dreadful semester filled with incomprehensible powerpoints and fill-in-the blank worksheets. Most people successfully completed the class without having to unmute their microphone once. The class transformed from an experience I enjoyed to a grating waste of time. Countless emails were sent by many students and parents requesting a different teacher, but all were dismissed. The coach did not want to teach us; therefore the students did not want to listen. Worst of all, his poorly composed lessons were killing everyone’s desire to learn. I tried to stay motivated and teach myself as much as possible but, as you can imagine, a coach reading powerpoints to a class of 64 people left us completely unprepared for the AP test.

Academic Interruptions Analysis

While this question is more straightforward than the other, that does not necessarily make it easier to answer. Last year, UT Austin had a version of this question as an optional prompt, as did the Common App. We touched on these, and writing about Covid 19 generally, before.

This prompt, however, is mandatory. We do not understand this decision, as the students who suffered notable academic setbacks already had a place to discuss these, and students without them had no cause for concern. Now, all applicants will have to write about stumbling blocks, which leads immediately to a problem.

Not all students have suffered academic setbacks or struggles in high school. This is normal, some students struggle more than others; thus an optional essay on academic challenges makes sense. By making this question mandatory, UT Austin seems to penalize students who have not suffered any academic struggles at all during their studies. 

Of course, due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, most every student will be able to write about some kind of academic interruption they suffered, be it virtual classes, AP test issues, or SAT and ACT cancellations. This is what the author does in the example above. 

While the author’s setback is not major in terms of grades, a rough course, especially when it impacts an AP exam as well, is notable. This story is far from unique, but the context it provides for the student’s academic achievement is important. While you don’t have to report low AP scores, colleges will still see that you took an AP class, and not reporting an associated score will often make them assume you either felt unprepared for the test, or you did poorly on the test.

While this essay would not be worth including in the additional information section under normal circumstances, the new prompt from UT Austin gives it a place to live. Notable as well is the author’s clear desire to continue learning, and attempts to remedy their situation, though they proved futile. Colleges like to see that you have shown initiative when pursuing your education, especially in the face of setbacks. 

While you may not have a great story to tell here, or a particularly original one, that doesn’t mean you can’t answer this prompt. When doing so, avoid giving too many excuses. Instead explain what happened, how it impacted you, and what you did about it. You should always focus on the third step if possible, as your actions demonstrate your drive and capabilities.

Final Thoughts

College essays are always a challenge to write, and even more of one when they are unexpected. While UT Austin’s new essays caught many students by surprise, we hope that these examples will help you when trying to answer them. The unfortunate truth of college admissions is that universities have far more power than students in the relationship, and they get to set the terms for how the process works.

If you want more individualized guidance when writing your essays, or have further concerns about your admissions journey, schedule a free consultation with us. We have deep experience helping students get into their dream schools, and are always happy to share what we know.

5/5
Wendy Y.
Parent
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
5/5
Arda E.
Student
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
5/5
Samson S.
Parent
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!