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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.