Eight Tips for your UT-Austin Academic Short Answer

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In 250-300 words, UT asks you to discuss your academic record. "Do you believe your academic record (transcript information and test scores) provide an accurate representation of you as a student? Why or why not?"

Consider these eight suggestions when crafting your response. Remember, your application is read as an entire whole, so it is important to combine your three short answers together with your Essay A and Expanded Resume.

1. Start off your essay response directly.

The first sentence of your essay should plainly state, "My academic record ____ represents my performance as a student."

In the blank, you can write "does/doesn't represent me." You could also write something in between like partially, somewhat, or does for some classes and semesters but not for others.

Beginning directly signals to your reviewer what to expect for the rest of your response and also if they should refer to your transcript.

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2. Discuss what you may have done differently if you could do high school all over again.

Very few people have an ideal high school career, or any period of their life for that matter. By framing your response and focusing on how you have grown, you can paint a positive picture of your record regardless of your grades.

It is important to focus on the future and not dwell in the past. By sharing lessons learned, you can give your reviewer an idea of how you view your curriculum. For example, would you have taken more honors or Advanced classes, or perhaps pursued your school's IB or Dual Credit programs? Would you have reconsidered taking that fifth AP course junior year and overloading?

Focus on future and how you hope to approach your studies in college.

3. If you had a bad semester or below average grade, talk about it.

Reviewers only know as much as you tell them. If you don't signal that there is a reason behind your less-than-perfect class rank, they can't assume anything. They may also not look at your transcript when reviewing your application.

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Since the only criteria UT uses to assess your transcript is class rank rather than curriculum rigor, weighted/unweighted GPA, or the number of advanced courses, it is your responsibility to put your class rank into context.

It's okay to talk about a few C's or an uncharacteristic semester where you made all B's and what was going on. 

4. Discuss any special circumstances.

UT used to allow students to submit Essay S where they could discuss a special circumstance. Transfer students still have this option, but first-time freshman do not.

Do you have family obligations, an illness or injury, or did you change cities or schools?  Let reviewers know what is going on. If you have a physician's diagnosis, consider referencing this or having them submit a reference letter.

Sometimes, students talk about difficulties or adversity at home in their Essay A. If this is the case for you, then use your Academic short answer to elaborate on what you write in the "environment which you were raised" prompt.

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5. Discuss your interests and how you spend your spare time.

I think some students have the misconception that this prompt is only for students to explain away a bad grade or a semester. I anticipate that some academically stellar students will write one sentence "My transcript accurately represents me" and leave it at that. You're sacrificing valuable word limit real estate and compromising your chances of admission to your major or honors programs.

Instead, if your grades and test scores are great, use this prompt to discuss any Independent study like Khan Academy, Coursera, or EdX, outside tutoring for advanced subjects, and if you are self-studying for any AP exams.

You can also discuss non-academic interests or hobbies that you have. Do you enjoy creating iPhone applications? Taking apart and reassembling watches? Repairing cars and motorcycles?

Tell your reviewer what you daydream about and how you enjoy spending your free time.

6. Identify characteristics that are unique to you.

All applicants regardless of their grades or test scores should link in their academic performance with personal characteristics.

What type of group member are you? Is there a particular topic that captures your interest? What would your teachers or classmates say about you? Have your views on learning, studying, or school evolved or changed over time?

Provide examples to support that you are hard working, an independent learner, resilient, and so on. These can help provide context to your transcript and demonstrate that you are "more than numbers on a page."

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7. Talk about your favorite subject or teacher.

If you're running out of ideas, keep it simple. Is there a teacher or subject you really connected with?

Provide a specific example why that instructor or course helped you view a problem differently, introduce you to something new, or help inform what you want to study in college.

Especially if your favorite course or teacher is not an obvious one, like an accounting or technology elective, let your reviewer know.

Consider tying your academic short answer back into your first choice major. 

8. Use the Academic short to answer "Why UT"

It may be prudent to write for 3-4 sentences what opportunities and resources unique to UT interest you. Research your prospective academic department and major to see how they brag about themselves.

Is there a particular course, professor, research unit, study abroad, or on campus opportunity that stands out? Demonstrating that you have a thoughtful reason for applying to UT can help put the finishing touch on an excellent application.

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