There is no way to know why a particular admissions decision was made except by being in the room where it happened. However, there is a way to understand how admissions functions overall at a school; by reading and understanding the UT Austin admission process and policies.
UT Austin has their own document (located starting on page 31 of the pdf), which outlines how admissions decisions should be made, how they grade students, and how they work to ensure that the process is fair. This is a long and complex document, so we’ll summarize the most important points for you in this article. We hope that by understanding how the UT Austin admission process works, you will feel less stress when applying. Let’s jump in!
AI and PAI
When admissions officers review an application, they assign them two scores: the Academic Index (AI), and the Personal Achievement Index (PAI). These two scores are how the university compares the merits of various students and determines who is offered admission.
AI is calculated based on GPA, class rank, and test scores using a series of equations. The equations differ by school, and due to the age of this document, they are now no longer accurate, but GPA is weighted more than test scores. This is likely even more true now, as UT Austin has gone test-optional.
PAI is calculated holistically and is given to a student by an admissions officer based on the non-academic facets of their application, including their essays. Each reader of an application assigns it their own PAI score. The exact factors considered when calculating PAI are:
- Extracurricular Activities
- Work experience
- Service to school or community
- Special circumstances
- These include socio-economic status, single parent home, family responsibilities, language spoken at home, student performance relative to school
Students are assigned a score of 1-6, while the equation used to determine AI gives the student’s predicted freshman GPA.
How the Scores are Assigned
The document conveniently gives us a rubric used to assign PAI scores, and a second rubric for scoring essay responses. Both are graded 1-6, with a score of 6 being the best. We’ll now cover what they say for each.
- A score of one is the lowest possible. Students are given a 1 if they showed well below average achievement in terms of leadership, service, and extracurricular involvement. Further, the student demonstrated a lack of maturity or passion.
- A score of two means that students have shown a lack of achievement, and are below average for leadership, service, and extracurricular involvement. When they were involved their commitments were short term or temporary, and did not display passion or growth.
- A score of three means that the student’s achievement is slightly below average. While they participated in activities, it was often temporary or without full commitment. There is only slight evidence of the student meeting a challenge or pursuing opportunities.
- A score of four is average. The student has demonstrated achievements in some areas, at a level commensurate with their age. They display an average amount of maturity and commitment. The actual achievements may be more ordinary.
- A score of five means the student has commendable accomplishments in leadership, service, or other extracurriculars. The student has also demonstrated a high level of passion, maturity, and commitment.
- A score of six means the student has an exemplary level of achievement in leadership, service, or other extracurriculars. They have shown a high level of passion and commitment. A six may also be awarded for students who have overcome great challenges, and demonstrated remarkable achievements along the way.
In addition to the PAI scores, essays are also scored from 1-6. Here is how essays are graded:
- An essay is graded one if it demonstrates incompetence. The essay is disorganized, doesn’t address the prompt, or has technical errors that harm comprehensibility.
- An essay is graded two if it demonstrates some incompetence. The essay has poor organization, a lack of supporting details, and uses many awkward phrases, which are difficult to follow.
- An essay is graded three if it demonstrates developing competence. Such an essay may have insufficient organization, have insufficient details to support the main ideas, or have inarticulate phrasing.
- An essay is graded four if it demonstrates adequate competence. The essay answers the prompt and has a reasonable organization and structure. The essay has minimal sentence variety.
- An essay is graded five if it has reasonably consistent competence, though there may still be occasional lapses. The essay adequately addresses the prompt, uses supporting details well, and demonstrates fluency and lucidity in its use of language.
- An essay is graded six if it demonstrates clear and consistent competence. The essay effectively answers the prompt, and is well organized and fully developed with clear examples to support its argument. The essay also shows the student’s command of language, with a solid vocabulary and variety in sentence structure.
How the Scores are Used
Each student has their two scores noted, and they are plotted on the following chart:
Students in the upper left corner are seen as the most prepared and likely to succeed in college. This chart is used several times, first to determine admissions for non-automatically enrolled students, and second to determine which students get into their first or second choice majors.
Students who score highly are much more likely to get into their desired major, regardless of whether they meet the benchmark for automatic admission. How good your scores have to be to get admitted varies based on both the number and quality of other applicants. In a year with many high-quality applicants, competition is understandably stiffer.
What This Means for You
Now that you’ve seen how scores are assigned, and the importance of PAI and AI, for both admissions and major choice, you can apply more strategically. Your goal when applying is to maximize your scores, while selecting primary and secondary majors best able to suit your needs.
Depending on your year in high school, your AI score may already be set. While you should try to maintain a high GPA for all four years, if you’re already a junior or senior, you only have so much time left. Therefore, the bulk of your time should be spent on your PAI score.
UT Austin very kindly lays out exactly what they want to see from students. They want you to have achieved remarkable things in extracurriculars, demonstrating commitment, passion, and maturity along the way. They are looking for signs of leadership and a willingness to serve your community.
The best way to do this is to devote your time to a few select activities and explore them in-depth. This shows the school your ability to commit to something. Further, the longer you are involved with an activity, the deeper your involvement can become, and the easier it is for you to take on a leadership role.
UT looks for this in your essays and activities list. Not every essay needs to be about your extracurricular activities, but these are a great place to show off what you’ve done. Each essay should cover a different activity; if you’ve only done one and want to expand on it then each essay should cover a different facet of that activity. Admissions officers only know what you tell them, so you try to tell them as much as possible.
Finally, you should spend a great deal of time and effort on the UT essays themselves. UT is looking for coherent, well-written narratives that show off your command of language and answer the prompts in interesting ways. While writing essays takes effort, this is well worth it in the end, as this is the last piece of admissions you will be able to influence directly. You should spend time and effort crafting your essays, as time invested will pay off.
Final Thoughts on the UT Austin Admission Process
Now you know how UT Austin evaluates students seeking admissions, and as the saying goes, knowing is half the battle. Of course, it’s only half, the next stage is doing, and while having a roadmap can help, applying to college can still be quite difficult.
If you want help along your journey, finding activities, studying for standardized tests, tutoring, or writing the essays themselves, we can aid you. Schedule a free consultation to learn how we can make your application stronger. We have a depth of experience helping students apply to college, and are always happy to hear from you.