Discussing "Why UT" in your Essay A and Short Answers

Sunset over Mount Agung, Amed, East Bali

Sunset over Mount Agung, Amed, East Bali

Many selective universities require students to address directly in a supplement “why do you want to apply to our program?”

I find students really struggle with these prompts. Universities ask this question less because they want you to set out your future resume and campus involvement plans and more to see that you’re doing your research and making an informed decision.

Although UT doesn’t explicitly ask why you are applying, it is implied that you should address “Why UT” throughout your application.

Reviewers are looking for students who A) Bring a diverse perspective to campus, and B) Are a good fit for their first choice major.

Addressing these questions will help increase your chances of receiving a favorable Personal Achievement Index score.

It’s critical that both first-time freshman and transfer students discuss how UT can help them. It’s also fun to dig a little bit and find some of the many neat opportunities on the Forty Acres.

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Identify specific opportunities that interest you - avoid vagueness and generalities

One of the biggest mistakes I see students make is speaking vaguely or generally about why they want to go to UT.

They regularly reference “Austin has great job market” or “it’s the live music capitol of the world.” They write of UT or it’s specific programs as being “world-class” with “lots of wonderful student organizations and opportunities.”

As a rule, and this goes for everything in your essays regardless of the context: any time you can cite specific details, experiences, anecdotes, or, in this case, UT/Austin resources, you should.

Instead of speaking vaguely about world-class professors, for example, consider looking at the faculty list of your proposed first-choice major and find one or two professors who share similar interests to you.

If you visited campus or have a personal connection to the university, especially if you’re applying out of state, it is appropriate to mention these. Not because UT considers “demonstrated interest” or “legacy” but because it will help develop your thoughts why UT appeals to you.

You don’t need to address all of the suggestions below, but in your whole application, you should cite at least 2-3 specific opportunities/resources that interest you.

Address resources and opportunities that relate to your first choice major

One way to discuss “Why X University” is to identify opportunities unique to that campus that may not be offered elsewhere. Many universities have strong Engineering programs, for example, but what sets your preferred university apart?

Universities and majors make it easy for you to find out what makes them special because they brag about all of their great opportunities. Go to the “about” or “why us” page on any university, major, or honors program, and they will say what sets them apart.

Citing specific resources will help elevate your essay beyond platitudes about “rankings” and “prestige.”

UT houses one of the largest library collections in the world featuring, for example, over ten million volumes including one of the most prolific stores of Latin American History in the Benson Library.

UT has a nuclear reactor, marine research centers on the Gulf Coast, and the McDonald Observatory in West Texas. You can get your pilot’s license or learn to ride a horse.

The Office of Admissions also provides Wayfinder, a tool to help you explore your major and interests to help you articulate why you are interested in certain area and perhaps eliminate one or two things you had considered but don’t want to apply.

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Locate student organizations that appeal to you

UT makes it very easy to find and locate their student organizations. The Leadership Short Answer question requires you to answer directly how you see yourself as a leader on campus.

Instead of speaking generally about leading “service organizations,” identify one or two that match your current activities or proposed future interests. That’s a great way to articulate how you can bring a diverse perspective to campus and demonstrate your fit for major.

They make it very easy for you to find every student organization using the search engine Horns Link where you can filter for any number of things like cultural organizations, service, special interests, pre-professional societies, visual and performing arts, sports, etc.

Every UT College and School and many majors also have student organizations.

If you’re applying to the College of Education, for example, consider exploring their organizations. The Moody College of Communications also has an active student community across a wide variety of interests.

McCombs also has a number of organizations as do Plan II and Liberal Arts Honors.

Identify specific undergraduate research and study abroad opportunities

Many students express interest in conducting research or studying abroad during their college education, which is great! I studied abroad three times during my UT education and feel greatly enriched.

Your Academics and Career Short Answers provide perfect opportunities to discuss related resources that interest you.

Like with the Horns Link student organizations search engine, there are also tools for both study abroad and undergraduate research.

The International Office has a search engine that filters for language of instruction, country, major, and length. You might also be interested in exploring internships abroad.

UT heavily promotes it’s emphasis on undergraduate research opportunities. EUREKA is a search engine that catalogs professor’s interests and research labs.

Many colleges/schools have their own undergraduate research opportunities like College of Natural Sciences Freshman Research Initiative and this search engine for research in the College of Liberal Arts.

UT Computer Science and each major in the Cockrell School of Engineering makes it easy to see which areas they focus and what different labs are researching.

Again, your essays are not a contract requiring you to pursue any particular opportunity. Reviewers just want to see that you’ve done some homework and considered why you’re applying to UT beyond it’s “wide offering of study abroad programs.”

Locate resources, certificates, or courses outside of your major

One great thing about UT is all of their academic units are strong and well-funded. Many students often say their favorite courses or commitments were those not directly related to their major.

Even though UT only considers your first choice major, it is advisable to locate similar opportunities in other colleges/schools and discuss in a few sentences why they interest you beyond “UT’s broad offering of different courses.”

There are a ton of certificate and interdisciplinary programs. The Bridging Disciplines Program was one of my favorites and greatly aided by undergraduate studies by helping me combine my curriculum with research abroad opportunities.

You can find the list of all UT certificate programs here. The Business Foundations Program and Elements of Computing certificates are open to students from all majors to provide them skills for future employment.

For STEM students interested in broadening their education, there are Core Texts and Ideas and Creative Writing certificates.

Discuss how Austin can help further your professional, academic, and leadership goals

Austin is a fantastic city. Especially if you’re applying Out of State, it’s important to discuss how leaving your hometown can open up new opportunities not available elsewhere.

This portal provides a lot of specific reasons that Austin is appealing and may introduce you to opportunities you hadn’t considered.

If you discuss wanting to build a career in Austin, it may help to search for startups, corporations, non-profits, or government agencies. There are a ton of community organizations that connect UT students with philanthropy and service.

It’s important to avoid cliches like “UT’s vibrant technology sector” and instead reference specific technology companies. Chances are, if you’ve committed time to a service organization in high school, there are similar efforts in the City of Austin that are worth locating.

Interested in working together? Complete my questionnaire for a free consultation.

Kevin MartinEssays