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  • Bonnie Kleffman, M.Ed., GCDF

Understanding UT's Short Answer Questions

Happy Summer Everyone!


I hope that the longer days and relaxed weeks have refreshed your mind and tamed that end-of school year stress! While it is very important to take a short break from the daily grind that is the school year, if you are a rising senior, you still have work to do. If it helps, frame this in your mind as the task of storytelling, but the hard part is over, because you already have the material!


You are ¾ finished with high school, and your job now is to highlight the best parts of your story for the college admissions committees. If you have a highly selective school such as University of Texas at Austin on your list, you’ve undoubtedly taken a rigorous course load, achieved high grades and pursued activities outside of the classroom that you are passionate about. I encourage you to look at the college application process as an exercise in layering, where each layer reveals something different about the unique student that is you! Today I am going to go over how to tell your best story using the UT-Austin Short Answer Question prompts.



Though these prompts are not universal to all highly selective colleges, you will likely see some similarities between UT-Austin’s prompts and others. Here we will focus on how to completely and thoroughly answer these questions in a concise and thoughtful way. I dare say that much of this will be applicable to many of your applications, so apply this advice broadly, even if the focusing lens is UT. You have between 250 and 300 words to get your point across, so economy paramount!


There are three required Short Answer Questions for UT-Austin. This is typical of many highly selective schools. The following is an analysis of each question, and suggestions on how to begin writing.


Required Short Answer Question 1: Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?


Though the answer to this question should not duplicate anything you have shared in your main essay or personal statement, it is indeed a place for you to share the inner workings of your mind and motivations. Is it a major that ties to a specific job you want when you graduate (Engineering/Nursing, etc)? If so, tell us a story or two about how you became interested in that career. These can reach back to a childhood memory or experience, or can apply to an ‘aha’ moment in the classroom or at an extracurricular activity.


If you have been following Access College America’s recommendations of demonstrating fit to major with your coursework and activities outside of the classroom, this essay is a great place to expand upon experiences you’ve had that have shaped your decision. As with many essays, an excellent way to begin is to craft a story or two about how your interest began. Then, go into the reasons why, as a more mature student, you find this topic of study engaging. Does this major fit with things you want to accomplish in life? Will it give you the tools you need to solve an important problem in the world?


While brevity is important, don’t forget to add a little of your personality into the essay as well. What about this subject fascinates you? What do you envision for your future as a result of your studies?


In 250-300 words, tell the story about how this major was inspired by past experiences, and how it will shape who you hope to someday be. Share what you are excited to learn about, and why! Let your excitement shine through in your story and you are on the right track.


Required Short Answer Question 2: Describe how your experiences, perspectives, talents, and/or your involvement in leadership activities (at your school, job, community, or within your family) will help you to make an impact both in and outside the classroom while enrolled at UT.


This, my sweet scholars, is a slightly more difficult question because it is focused on an impact you have yet to make. Frame this question as more of ‘what do you hope to continue doing that you already are good at?’ If you were section leader in your school orchestra, or an award winning member of the debate team AND you plan to do these things in college, let UT know in the answer to this question. Remember that this isn’t simply a laundry list of things you’ve done, rather it is a place to showcase passion for a particular set of activities or skills you want to continue to develop in the future.


If you notice that your expanded resume’ or activities list have a common theme or character trait that has sharpened your effectiveness as a person, tell them how the campus community would benefit from your unique perspective and skills. Remember, this essay isn’t a contract that says you MUST participate in cheerleading or debate in college, it is an intention to bring your skills and abilities to campus.


What UT-Austin is asking here, is if they invite you to the party, what will you bring? How will it be different from the student next to you? Admissions officers are in the business of building a balanced class and community. Everyone can’t be a club officer or type A leader, but everyone CAN be aware of her strengths and understand how they fit into the larger community.


This would also be a great place to showcase some of the detailed research you have done regarding UT- Austin’s programs, campus traditions or research opportunities. The question references “in and out” of the classroom, so call upon the specific reasons why you want to study and live in the UT community!


Required Short Answer Question 3: 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.


Oh boy. This is likely going to be a difficult question for some scholars, but remember it isn’t a contract, it’s a projection. The key points in this question are: How do you want to change the world once you leave college? AND What about UT-Austin will help me to do that? Let’s build upon but not repeat any information that you shared in response to question two. What do you hope to learn from the experience at UT? (Be very specific to the college here.) What labs or facilities do you look forward to using? What will you learn there and how does this relate to your eventual career or life’s mission?


I know, it is very difficult to conceptualize a life’s mission as a 17 year-old, but changing the world does not necessarily mean you will start a nationwide foundation or come up with a solution to world hunger. What it does mean is that UT wants you to explain what you think your life’s work will be (in an ideal situation), and how attending their school will help you with that. You could speak of the first five years of your career or the last five, or you could describe how the character traits upheld by Longhorns will forever be with you (mission statement, anyone?).


Again, draw on your detailed research here. What do you know about faculty, campus culture, alumni relations, etc., that will give you an edge as a UT graduate.


OPTIONAL Short Answer Question 4: 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.


You should leave this question blank unless you were very deeply impacted by a personal tragedy or the consequences of COVID-19. The scope of what needs to be explained here is things such as the death of a parent, the financial ruin of your family because of job loss, or other really extenuating circumstances.


Be brief, share what you must and move on. If it is an explanation of a personal problem, describe it in a sentence or two and then briefly explain what you learned from it. Frame it positively and let the admissions committee know that it is now behind you. Admissions officers don’t want to hear that online learning was hard, or that quarantine was tedious. That was a common experience for all students. Unless it was significant, leave this one blank.

As you continue working on your main essay, consider the short answer questions and be sure to highlight different stories within each. Remember that every portion of your college application should provide NEW information about you as a scholar.


Excellent storytelling is a craft - so take the time this summer to think about how you want to put your best stories together to highlight the curious and thoughtful student you are. Remember, you have the material already, so get pen to paper and go!




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