College MatchPoint Guide to University of Texas at Austin Majors

The University of Texas at Austin offers 170 fields of study across 13 undergraduate colleges and schools—with majors available in 120 of those fields. It's exciting to have that many options at the start of a student's college journey and can get students looking forward to the academic demands of college. But because students are asked to choose their first-choice major on their UT application, it can also be a bit overwhelming.

How can a 17-year-old know what they want to spend the next four years studying? And how should they navigate the selection process, knowing that it has an impact on their chances of admission? There's no magic formula, but it's important to understand major choice in context, so we'll take a look at this big—and exciting!—decision from a few angles.

College MatchPoint has developed a guide for navigating the system of selecting a first-choice major at UT Austin. It explains how first-choice major factors into holistic review, offers tips on how to demonstrate academic fit for the first-choice major, discusses interdisciplinary majors and honors programs, and more. If your student is applying to UT Austin, we recommend reading the ebook with them to help guide them through the process of selecting their first-choice major.

 Click to download our ebook

Click to download our ebook

Tackling the UT Austin Short Answer Application Prompts

When UT Austin introduced three short answer essays to their application in 2017, many students felt panicked. Applications are already writing-intensive, so adding even more required writing was an overwhelming prospect.

But when it comes down to it, these questions are intended to help students. How? By giving them more opportunity to showcase their fit for UT and their first-choice major.

Read on for a series of tips about how to make the most of these short answer prompts, including specific advice for answering each one. 

General Tips For The Short Answer Prompts

Just answer the question. Seems simple, but it's important to keep in mind: these are not trick questions. UT Admissions is asking students exactly what they want to know. Students should read the question carefully and be sure they're addressing it directly. 
Be succinct. Students should absolutely use illustrative examples where appropriate, but they can save their creative juices for Essay A. The short answers are more about providing extra information to the admissions committee.
Always keep first-choice major in mind. The short answers are a great place to provide additional evidence for why a student is a good fit for their first-choice major.

Tips For Short Answer 1: Career Plans  

“If you could have any career, what would it be? Why? Describe any activities you are involved in, life experiences you’ve had, or even classes you’ve taken that have helped you identify this professional path.”

The first short answer prompt most easily lends itself to a discussion of academic fit for first-choice major. In their answer, students should fully and specifically explain how their desired major fits into their longer-term plans. After all, if a student's future career plans—and the background that led to them—don't match the desired major, the admissions committee won't have much reason to admit them to that major.

The one exception: students applying to the School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS). It would be unrealistic (and unhelpful) for an undeclared student to craft a response about how a major in UGS might fit into their career plans. Instead, in this case, we suggest writing about a career theme or goal instead of a specific career. Perhaps the student knows they want to work with kids, but they're not sure if they want to be a teacher. Or maybe they know they want to work in social justice, but aren’t sure from what angle. This approach helps the reader see that the student was thoughtful in answering the prompt, even if their plans are still up in the air. 

Tips For Short Answer 2: Academics 

“Do you believe your academic record (transcript information and test scores) provide an accurate representation of you as a student? Why or why not?”

This question is a huge opportunity for students who've had an academic misstep or two. If they want to explain a tough semester, an SAT score that was earned before their family knew they needed time accommodations, or a lower grade trend in a particular subject area, they have the floor. This is the chance for the student to tell their story.

The most important thing to remember: frame this answer in a positive way. How did the student overcome this challenge? What insights did they gain from the situation? How do they know they'll be successful at UT because of this experience?

But what if the answer to this prompt is just a simple "yes"? If that's the case, the student should use this opportunity to tell the reader something they wouldn’t know about the student's academic performance from looking at grades and test scores. This is true whether the academic record is glowing or a mixed bag:

For students who have a stellar academic record, they can take the chance to add some non-transcript academic information for the reader. For example, perhaps a student taught themselves a foreign language because the class wasn’t offered at their school.
For students whose academic record is less than perfect—but does accurately represent them as a student—they could spotlight the class that challenged them the most. They might describe how the late nights and tears were worth it, even if it resulted in the lowest grade on their transcript. 

Tips For Short Answer 3: Leadership

“How do you show leadership in your life? How do you see yourself being a leader at UT Austin?”

Students often feel stumped by this question, and for good reason: it's pretty broad.

We encourage students to think creatively about what it means to be a leader, whether it's through more traditional leadership roles, like Student Council President or less common pathways, like encouraging other students to attend a school pep rally. Personalizing the concept of leadership will help the student's application stand out.

The first part of this prompt lends itself to a quick, illustrative story. Students can talk about a time they demonstrated leadership—or even about a time when they weren’t a very good leader and what that taught them. 

The second part of the prompt is a bit tougher. Students often answer this part with a list of clubs and organizations at UT Austin, but that approach can feel a bit insincere. When it comes down to it, the application reviewer wants to know how the student will demonstrate campus and/or community leadership—whether it's organization-specific or not. 

To help, students should change the question in your mind from “How do you see yourself being a leader at UT Austin?” to “How do you see yourself being a leader in college?” Sure, the answer might include references to UT Austin-specific organizations, but by adjusting the question, students can provide a better explanation for why a particular activity is such a great fit for their leadership abilities. 

Finding The Right Honors Program at University of Texas Austin

If your student is driven and curious, they might be looking for a more rigorous curriculum than what standard majors offer. At UT Austin, that comes in the form of freshman honors programs. 

There's no central honors college at UT Austin. Instead, the university offers a mix of college-wide honors programs, department-specific honors programs, and honors majors that are open to freshmen applicants based on their first-choice major. After students submit their application for admission to the university, they will then gain access to the honors program application.

While each program offers something different, honors programs usually include the following:

  • Program-specific classes open only to honors students
  • Individualized advising
  • Research opportunities
  • Exposure to innovators in their fields
  • Access to dedicated honors housing

College-Wide Honors Programs

College-wide honors programs require that students complete a separate major within the college. For example, you might major in Mexican American Studies within the Liberal Arts Honors program. Here are the options for college-wide honors programs:

  • Liberal Arts Honors Program
  • Engineering Honors Program
  • Moody College Honors Program
  • Natural Sciences Honors Programs: Dean's Scholars, Health Science Scholars, and Polymathic Scholars

Department-Specific Honors Programs

The Natural Sciences Honors Program also includes two department-specific honors programs, which means that the program is only open to students in a specific department within the school. Those two programs are as follows:

  • Turing Scholars (Computer Science)
  • Human Ecology Honors (Advanced Human Development and Family Sciences or Advanced Nutritional Sciences)

Honors Majors

Perhaps the most well-known honors programs are UT Austin's honors majors:

  • Business Honors Program (McCombs School of Business)
  • Plan II Honors Program (College of Liberal Arts)

Students can pursue these majors alone, but most complete at least one other major. 

Maybe because of its unusual name, there's some mystery surrounding Plan II Honors. Plan II is a true interdisciplinary liberal arts degree with a reputation for being one of the most prestigious college honors programs in the U.S. Students who apply to Plan II frequently have Ivy League and other state flagship institutions on their college lists. Plan II Honors graduates enter a variety of career fields and often pursue graduate/professional programs, including medical and law schools. 

Given the wide variety of honors program options at UT Austin, we recommend that students conduct thorough research on each program, which should include attending information sessions for programs of interest. And remember: if a student is genuinely interested in pursuing an honors program, there's no reason not to: their honors application will have no effect on their general admission to UT. 

10 Tips for Testing With Extended Time

Our colleagues at Endeavor Academics have worked with countless students as they navigated the process of testing with extended time.  Megan Phillips shares their top tips for students focussed on getting their best score with the least amount of stress.

1. Apply for accommodations ASAP: Getting accommodations can take time.  Ideally, you’ve been using your accommodations in school for several months before applying for extra time on the SAT or ACT.  If not, starting early will give you time to complete or update educational testing and get your accommodations in place at school.  Starting early will also give you the opportunity to appeal the decision if your initial request for testing accommodations is denied.  

2. Start early preparing early, but not too early: Both the ACT and SAT include math content covered in Algebra 2.  Unless you are on an advanced math track, you are likely to still be learning important material over the course of your junior year.  While it’s tempting to wait until the end of junior year to get more math under your belt, doing so will leave you with very few test dates to choose from before your application deadlines. Waiting until after the first semester of junior year is often a good compromise. If you have already completed Algebra 2 when junior year starts, start your preparation in the fall.  It feels great to have your testing out of the way early!

3. Choose one test to focus on - pick that test based on data: Junior year is stressful enough without having to juggle preparation for two tests.  Sometimes students get approved for accommodations for one test but not the other.  If that’s the case, your decision is an easy one. If you get approved for accommodations on both tests, take a practice SAT and a practice ACT to make the decision based on facts not feelings. Often students perform significantly better on one test, so it’s worth investing the time in practice tests to be sure of your decision.

4. Consider available dates: Your preparation should be scheduled backward from the test date you choose.  Unfortunately, each test is only offered seven times each year.  As a result, it’s important to consider your schedule when choosing a date.  Are you playing football in the fall?  If so, waiting for an early spring date will allow you to avoid testing the morning after a big game.  Are you in the spring play?  Rehearsals might leave you too exhausted to adequately prepare, so testing in the fall is likely a wise choice. Whatever date you choose, make sure that there is at least one (ideally two) date after your initial test in case you decide to test again. Many students test two or three times before arriving at their final score.

5. Decide whether to add the writing: Both the SAT and ACT include optional writing sections, though a handful of schools require applicants to have an essay score.  Fortunately, neither test incorporates that score into your composite score.  If you are still unsure of where you will apply, taking the essay is probably the safest bet.  However, it should be noted that the vast majority of schools do not require it.  

6. Pick the right prep program: Make sure that the program you choose will set you up for success.  If you are testing with accommodations, you will want a teacher or tutor that has experience working with students with extended time.  The strategy and techniques should be adapted to your strengths, scores, and testing conditions.  Don’t be shy about asking questions about a tutor’s experience with accommodations before you decide on a program.  Having the right support will increase your scores and decrease the amount of time, money and stress associated with the preparation process.

7. Commit to doing the work: Unless you plan to apply to schools that are test optional, your scores are a vital component of your application.  Unlike with your GPA, you can make a significant difference in how competitive your application will be in a relatively short period of time. Every year we see big gains from students who buckle down and get focused.  Don’t wait to get serious or you will drag out a process that could have been much shorter.

8. Do your homework under testing conditions: Using your time efficiently can be one of the most challenging components of these tests.  A strong test prep program will have you completing homework each week.  Make sure to complete your assignments using a timer.  If you have other accommodations beyond extended time, practice under those conditions as well.  For example, if you qualify to have the test read aloud, ask a parent, sibling or friend to read homework assignments to you.  Practicing the same way you will test will give you more confidence on test day and will give your teacher or tutor more accurate data to coach you.

9. Take practice tests: Homework is incredibly important, but it won’t give you the same experience as taking the full test.  Make sure to take at least one full length test (though ideally several) before your real exam.  This will give you a sense of the stamina required to complete the test.  It will also allow you to test out the pacing plan that you’ve developed with your teacher or tutor.  

10. Keep the lines of communication open with your teacher or tutor:  Everyone learns differently.  Don’t be shy about letting your instructor know if you still have questions, if they can make adjustments in their instruction to improve your understanding or if their suggestions for a pacing strategy aren’t working as well as you had hoped.  The best strategy is one that you develop with your teacher based on their years of expertise with the test and your knowledge of how you work and learn. This isn’t a one size fits all process, so don’t be embarrassed if you feel like a different approach might help!  Your teacher wants that high score for you too, and sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference.  

Inside University of Texas at Austin Undergraduate Admissions

On September 5, we are pleased to host an evening with Alexandra Taylor, Director of the UT Austin Undergraduate Admissions Center. This event was very popular last year, allowing students the opportunity to speak one-on-one with an admissions leader. Alexandra will discuss the latest information about admissions and academics at UT Austin, as well as answer your pressing questions.