Information from someone with inside knowledge can be the key to creating a stand-out college application. That's why, on September 5, we hosted an info session with Alexandra Taylor, Director of Out-of-State and Alumni Relations for the Office of Admissions at The University of Texas at Austin. She was able to provide insights that you can't get without being in the belly of the beast.
Alexandra was able to provide crucial information to everyone in attendance, and we were thrilled by the turnout. But for those who missed the event, we did want to share a few highlights—what we found to be the eight most important takeaways for anyone considering UT:
1. Make the application personal.
Every applicant to UT gets a holistic review; this includes automatic admits, who aren’t necessarily admitted to their top choice school/major. That means admissions officers are reading a ton of material and students need to be sure that their story is coming through. From essays and short answers to resume and recommendation letters, each part of the application should show UT admissions what makes the student who they are.
Alexandra even suggested choosing non-traditional recommenders who know a student beyond their grades—those with personal stories to tell. Students should be strategic in choosing their recommenders, looking at their application as a whole and trying to fill in any gaps with rec letters. For example, if a student's grades and test scores demonstrate that they are a math star, they don’t want someone writing a letter that says essentially the same thing. Instead, the recommender should highlight a different strength or passion.
2. Second-choice majors aren't considered.
Many students were wondering: “How will I be considered for my second-choice major?” The short answer: they won't. Alexandra was upfront about the fact that students will not be considered for their second-choice major, except in extremely rare cases.
3. ...but they can be leverage for honors programs.
If a student is interested in honors programs—particularly any that are outside the college/school of the student's first-choice major—the second-choice major will give the student access to honors program applications in that college/school.
For example, if a student's first-choice major is in the College of Engineering but they are also interested in Plan II, they would list a major from the College of Liberal Arts as a second choice. They would then have access to honors program applications for Engineering Honors and Plan II and Liberal Arts Honors.
4. Essays matter a lot.
Alexandra was careful to note that essays really do matter. The long essay, in particular, serves as an opportunity for reviewers to get to know applicants on a personal level—so students should consider telling a story that really illustrates who they are.
Students will have plenty of chances to indicate their fit for their first-choice major in other parts of the application, so they shouldn't force it into the long essay if it doesn’t make sense. Instead, they should use the essay to focus on the personal stuff.
5. The expanded resume is critical.
Submitting an expanded resume is critical, particularly for Engineering, Computer Science, Nursing, Communications, and Business applicants. For example, Engineering and Computer Science applicants must show an actual background in the field—beyond just coursework—and business students need to demonstrate significant leadership experience.
Alexandra reiterated that students in all fields should use the expanded resume to communicate their fit for their intended major. The key to making a resume work for UT is to show details beyond those in the rest of the application and to clearly demonstrate why an activity matters to the student and their story.
6. Send in every score.
Alexandra made it clear that UT will pick and choose which test scores to consider for the student's major/school and will toss out the others. So there's no reason to withhold scores.
7. Emphasize fit to major.
Fit to major remains an important piece of the UT admissions puzzle. They want to match students to majors they know they have interest in—and are likely to succeed in. Alexandra confirmed that trying to "game the system" and sneak into highly competitive programs like Business or Engineering by selecting a different major will likely backfire. UT is onto this strategy, and it often ends in a rejection letter.
8. Don't mess with deadlines.
For UT, all application materials (recommendations letters, test scores, resume, essays) must be received by—not postmarked by—the deadline. This means ordering test scores for any fall tests on the day of the exam; that way, UT gets them the same time as the student. If any piece of the application is missing on deadline day, the student's application will be deleted. Don’t be late!