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Crack the Code: Getting into the University of Texas at Austin

Updated: May 23, 2023

Dreaming about wearing burnt orange? Thoughts on attending one of the most prestigious, recognizable public universities in the country (without going into debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars)? Then the University of Texas at Austin may be a place for you, the flagship university for the State of Texas. There’s no wonder why last year UT received over 50,500 applications for only 19,500 spots (38% acceptance rate!). In the old days, a high GPA and great test scores got anyone into UT. Not anymore, the rules have changed.

It’s also far more competitive for those applying into any business, engineering or natural science major too. In fact, some of these majors had less than a 25% acceptance rate and that’s like gaining admission into an ivy league institution too.

NEWSFLASH! Even those with automatic admission aren’t guaranteed their first choice major either (the top 6% of a graduating class). So, how do you get your first choice major?

In this article, we'll crack the code on how to get into UT Austin.

Let’s ‘Crack the Code’, hook ‘em!

Advantage: Texas Residents

The university has an acceptance rate of around 38%, meaning 38 of every 100 applicants will be accepted and according to public data on the university website, 89.2% of this year’s incoming freshman are Texas residents. Good luck for any out-of-state applicants! In addition, UT has a 95% retention rate for freshman which is practically unheard of while most university’s experience a 50% freshman drop-out rate. UT is extremely proud of the admissions and vetting process that they have successfully created, and it shows in how they screen for applicants.

The Holistic Review Admissions Process

With over 50,000 applicants, how do you crack the code ensuring that your application is accepted? Admission to UT is multi-faceted and highly competitive, comprising much more than a high GPA and SAT/ACT scores. The admissions committee at UT uses a holistic review process to assess all the elements of your application, meaning they read every single word of your application!

Dale Price stands in front of the main building at the University of Texas at Austin, TX. He is Past-President of Texas Exes, Los Angeles Chapter.

The elements that will be reviewed include: high school transcript, test scores (see what test optional really means below), 750-word personal statement, mandatory supplemental short answer questions, expanded resume and letters of recommendation (see UT Admission Checklist). In addition to class rank (which UT really cares about), test scores, and a challenging curriculum, UT also considers whether you've given back to the community (and how much is on your own vs. how much is part of a school activity), along with what honors and awards you've earned. Keep in mind that the Priority Deadline for Submission is Nov. 1st, but there’s no need to wait until then to submit. Apply early! Submit your application after it goes live but sooner than November 1st to maximize your chances. That means, you should start working on all parts of the application as a rising senior over summer.

Test Optional?

COVID-19 continues to throw game changers in the high stake’s world of college admissions. But what does test optional REALLY mean at UT? Prospective college students are not disadvantaged for admissions, scholarships, or honor(s) programs if they do not submit them. Disclaimer: This is not necessarily the case at other universities. However, when should you retake these tests or submit your score?

If your SAT is 1350 / ACT 28 then you’re in range of the average student admitted but this may not be the case for the more competitive majors (i.e. business, natural science, etc..). Access College America recommends researching the statistics for your first choice major, understand the range of test scores and only if you’re in the 50% percentile or higher: Submit! If you fall behind these numbers, carefully reconsider submitting your scores.

Many of the students admitted with lower than average test scores will be athletes or flagged applicants from underrepresented regions and demographics. We predict that scores will be lower next year too because access to testing has been hard to find. Statistically speaking, students that take these test two and three times increase their score. Some students will only have a chance to take the test once. It’s also important to note that the university does not favor the SAT or ACT so aim high!

When to Start the Planning Process

Everything you do beginning the summer before your freshman year of high school will be considered in the holistic review of your application. Creating a four-year high school academic plan is key.

Four-year Academic Plan

The transcripts will be the most important factor in admissions. Rigor, performance and evidence of a fit-to-major is CRUCIAL for admissions at UT. The entire application will be filtered through the lens of a prospective student’s first choice major too.

Littlefield Fountain is a World War I memorial monument designed by Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini on the main campus of the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas, at the entrance to the university's South Mall.

Keep in mind that UT does take the profile of your high school into consideration when looking at rigor. Your high school’s profile provides insight into the resources for academics, clubs and organizations, standardized test ranges plus so much more. All students are compared within the realms of their high school’s offerings using this profile. Admissions will look at what clubs were offered and did the student get involved with any that are directly related to their academic interest? They review the types of course offerings available and which directly relate to their major. No two high schools are created equally, and prospective longhorns will not be penalized for limitations, but the student MUST rise to the occasion in a high school that provides competitive educational opportunities. Again, the key components of your academic plan is rigor, performance & evidence of a fit-to-major. Another thing that UT really cares about is class rank.

STEM, Engineering and Business Majors should plan your classes to include the highest levels of math and science. For instance, a student interested in mechanical engineering should at minimum complete Physics 1, with Physics 2 being optimal. Business students must show calculus readiness too.

CAUTION: Texas state law guarantees automatic admission to the University of Texas at Austin for students in Texas high schools ranking in the top 6% of their class by the end of junior year. This does NOT mean that you will be accepted into your first choice of major. You are competing against all 50,000 plus applicants. In the end, your application for admission will be accepted, deferred, or denied. All applications go through the same holistic review process.

PRO TIP #1: If you are in a high school that does not offer some of the higher-level courses, go the extra mile to show intellectual curiosity and seek out these learning opportunities through online research and coursework, internships, specific training in your field of study. We also recommend adding rigor through a community college too.

Choosing a Major

How do you select what occupation to pursue for the rest of your life? This requires time and reflection to find an answer – and well enough in advance to be indicated and proven on your college application form. Ask yourself, what interests you enough that you would consider studying it? Then, WHY does it interest you? Write down anything and everything that comes to mind. If you are undecided, or wanting some help in this area, UT created a tool called Wayfinder. This diagnostic tool will assess your strengths, allow you to explore the wide-variety of degrees offered at UT, and offer you ways to gain experience outside the classroom as you make one of the most important decisions of your life.

PRO TIP #2: This is a good tool for everyone, even if you think you know what you want your major to be, better to find out sooner rather than later that certain fields aren’t a good fit for you.

Choose Extra-Curricular Wisely

Showing demonstrated interest in your first choice of major should be a factor in choosing what activities you choose to participate in. If your high school does not have clubs or activities in your chosen field, get creative. Business majors can run for treasurer or serve in other leadership roles to create evidence in areas of interest. Another way to show fit to major is quite literally to BE the engineer. BE the business major. BE the STEM field of interest while in high school.

PRO TIP #3: UT looks closely at how you spend your summers and other prolonged periods of time when school is not meeting in person (e.g. Covid-19 spring 2020). Use that time to prove intellectual curiosity for your first choice of major. Consider independent learning opportunities, internships, summer camps that specifically relate to your choice of major, community service and social justice activities.

The checklist on the UT admissions page states that it accepts optional material such as resumes and letters of recommendations by applicants. Which means– submit them.

PRO TIP #4: If it states optional, it’s NOT! Optional means opportunity. Use every opportunity to showcase why YOU deserve to join the burnt orange!

Expanded Resume

The expanded resume is how you show the university the REAL YOU. Unlike a traditional resume, this is a CATALOG of every single activity you participate in from the summer prior to your freshman year until now. Organize this resume by showing which activities have the highest impact on your major of interest first. Use action verbs in your descriptions. Include every school clubs/organizations/major project, your role in each and what was accomplished as a club. You can also showcase your awards here, as well as hobbies. Also include travel (think study abroad) and what you learned from it. Finally, include community service and volunteer work (e.g. homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, etc.).

Bevo is the official mascot for the UT at Austin.

It should be 3-to-5 pages in length, and should include the amount of time you have devoted to each activity/conference/program/competition you have been in. You can include athletics and all other activities/experiences that provide evidence to support your first-choice major, explaining them in more detail than permitted on the application, itself. This is your chance to build your case. Be specific. Don’t just list Student Council and years of involvement. Include officer positions or projects you coordinated. Also include the size of your organization and if the involvement includes region, state, nation-level activity, list it. Just like your academic planning, map out a four-year plan for extracurricular activity and community involvement. Quantify everything! How much money did you raise? How many teams did you beat? How big was your organization? You get the point.

Essays and Short Answer Questions

Since UT does not conduct interviews for admission, treat the essay and short answer questions as an opportunity to interview for your spot at UT. Use them to reveal your uniqueness in ways that are not otherwise covered on your transcript, application, expanded resume or letters of recommendation. In addition to the main essay, UT has three required short answer questions. Keep in mind that 50,000+ students will be answering these same questions. Your answers MUST be creative and unique to you, something that will make you stand out to the admissions officer.

PRO TIP #5: Know your audience. Your audience is an admissions officer. Don’t use generic statements that could easily be applied to other students or another college. Your statements must be unique to you and show why you will be a good to your chosen first-choice major. Do research on the department you’re applying too and identify reasons why that program is a match for you.

PRO TIP #6: Strongly consider your first choice of major and compose your application with that in mind. Write every essay and short answer with the goal of proving “fit to major”, meaning show the admissions officer that he should choose you for the limited number of spots for that major’s class of 2021.

Letters of Recommendation

UT allows up to two letters of recommendation with your admissions application. To reiterate, while UT states that these letters are optional, you should take every opportunity through these letters to strengthen parts of your application not covered elsewhere in your application.

PRO TIP #7: These two letters should be written only by core teachers who can speak to your ability, skill, and evidence of fit-to-major.

NOTE TO PARENTS: While it is integral for you to be a part of this process with your student, your role is to provide support and, in many cases professional guidance. It is NOT your role to write or complete any of the college application. Not only is it unethical, but the admissions officers will KNOW if the writings have the voice of a high school student. Instead become the biggest cheerleader and encourager for your student, helping create confidence in their abilities.

Looking for College Counseling services?

Access College America is Austin's premier college counseling service, providing personalized guidance to our high school scholars. We encourage high ambitions, especially in STEM fields, and tailor our curriculum to fit each student's unique goals. Our experienced advisors design strategy sessions to stimulate growth, confidence, and aspiration.

In addition to personalized coaching, we offer SAT or ACT test prep and access to six hands-on labs. Recognizing the essential role parents play in college planning, we offer detailed progress reports and exclusive forums for parents, ensuring transparency and inclusivity.

We limit our intake to 25 scholars per grade, providing a personalized experience and fostering a high success rate and client satisfaction.


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