It’s hard to believe that a school as large of the University of Texas at Austin actually reviews every part of every student’s application. But it does: UT is deeply committed to the holistic review of its applicants. Even for students who qualify for automatic admission, the holistic review will help determine admission to specific colleges, schools, and majors.
Students and parents often wonder why does UT approach admissions in this way. They want to build well-rounded classes made up of specialists who can contribute to the Longhorn community in ways other than great academic performance. By evaluating an application from a holistic perspective, UT gets to know applicants as people, not as numbers.
Taking only the applicants with the top grades and test scores may not make for a diverse or well-rounded student body. This is why in addition to the “hard factors” (GPA, grades, and test scores) of a student’s application, colleges also place great weight on the “soft factors” (essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and demonstrated interest) in order to gain a full picture of applicants.
Holistic review means that the Office of Admissions takes everything into account, from test scores to extracurricular interests to special accomplishments—and everything in between. That means each application item receives the same amount of attention as the rest. While students often think of the essay as the make-or-break piece, they should be putting just as much effort into their short answers, expanded resume, and choice of recommenders. The application should be cohesive, while still highlighting different aspects of the student’s background and accomplishments depending on the section.
According to the UT website, holistic review includes the review of all of the following items, and no one item is a make-or-break point for the application:
Strength of academic background
SAT Reasoning Test or ACT scores
Record of achievements, honors, and awards
Special accomplishments, work, and service both in and out of school
Special circumstances that put the applicant’s academic achievements into context, including his or her socioeconomic status, experience in a single parent home, family responsibilities, experience overcoming adversity, cultural background, race and ethnicity, the language spoken in the applicant’s home, and other information in the applicant’s file
Recommendations (although not required)
Competitiveness of the major to which the student applies
A student’s first-choice major becomes the lens through which a file reviewer evaluates each item in an application. Demonstrated academic fit for major is one of the most important aspects of UT Austin’s holistic review, so each application item should provide evidence to support the student’s first-choice major selection. By selecting an appropriate first-choice major and putting equal effort into each part of the application, students will have a leg up in the application process.