UT Admits Record Number on Appeal

Before a concert, Bali.

Before a concert, Bali.

I was totally wrong on the appeals process outcome probabilities for Fall 2019 outlined in this widely shared post.

Both in state and out of state students across all majors have gained admission on appeal with many admittedly who provide little to no new information or compelling circumstances. There seems to be little rhyme or reason who got in and who didn’t. Since UT hasn’t announced anything publicly or in their counselor newsletter, speculation will continue. We’ll probably never know how many students got in on appeal, but it is apparent the number is non-trivial.

I have no idea how many students have gained admission on appeal. It seems that at least a few hundred have gotten in if not a thousand.

I’m seeing students already guessing why their appeal was successful. It’s more likely that successful appeals have almost everything to do with the aggregate and overall needs of the university rather than the individual merits of a given applicant. Regardless, congratulations to those students who have UT as an option for Fall 2019.

I want to apologize for any student who was deterred from my post and decided not to take the time to submit an appeal. It seems you would have had a good chance of success totally independent of any merits from your actual appeal.

I’ve had a number of clients gain admission on appeal. I stopped accepting appeals cases in early February because, ethically, I feel uncomfortable accepting payment for what is the height of anxiety and desperation.

I’m not in the business of selling false promises, and appeals historically basically never work out. I don’t want to be seen for a family’s last hope when I feel I have little value to add. I’ve heard troubling reports of unsavory characters guaranteeing families admission by appeal or their money back.

Conversely, I don’t claim success for my clients or those who hired me that gained admission on appeal. I will not offer appeals service for future admissions cycles under any circumstance or price.

Let’s take a deep dive and recap the admissions process this cycle, discuss these appeals outcomes, and propose a few theories and recommendations for future cycles.

How did we get here?

UT admitted a record low number of applicants at 17,000 from a record high number of applications at 53,000, down from 19,000 admits from a pool of approximately 50,000 last year. Non-top 6% Texans gained admission at a 13% rate, and the OOS/International admit rate is slightly below 10%.

It’s been a rough year for UT admissions from the botched “fourth short answer on diversity” that they suddenly presented and then retracted at the beginning of August to dozens or perhaps hundreds of denied students being “UnCapped” in the middle of February. UT flatly denies that any “UnCapping” occurred leaving thousands to wonder if some big errors were made that they hoped to subtly correct. And of course the bags of cash the UT Tennis Coach received in parking lots as bribes to earmark non-athletes as recruits.

There was the poorly worded rejection letter universally panned on Reddit and College Confidential, and even these successful appeals did not receive an e-mail notifying a status change. UT also changed the timeframe at least once regarding when students can submit an appeal. There was also more chatter than usual of exceptional students getting denied with questionable ones gaining admission, but I won’t make any conjectures about the relative merits of any given applicant.

These among other non-transparent miscues reinforce the perception in some circles that UT is unconcerned with the well-being of their applicants.

What in the world is going on?

It seems UT has admitted a record number of students who submitted an appeal by the March 1 deadline. For whatever reason, many appellates have yet to hear back despite UT’s promise of releasing all appeals decisions by April 1.

Will those students get their appeals denied? Honestly, who knows. We’re in uncharted territory.

In the nine years of college admissions, any more than a handful of either first-time freshman or transfer students gaining admission by appeal is unprecedented.

Inductive reasoning looks at past events to forecast future outcomes. The sun rose yesterday and every day before that; therefore, it is highly likely to rise again tomorrow.

In the past, UT has denied almost all appeals except those that present significantly new and/or compelling information or who leverage VIP connections; therefore, it was safe to assume this year would be true. Even in two of the last ten years when UT did not offer a waitlist, there wasn’t a large spike in students admitted by appeal.

Basically, I didn’t see this coming, and there was no way for me to predict otherwise. Regardless, my recommendation for future cycles remain the same: your chance of appeal is unlikely to succeed, and it’s prudent to make arrangements to begin or continue your studies elsewhere.

I would rather temper expectations and allow students and families to receive a pleasant surprise than say things like “you’ve got a good chance of getting in on appeal.”

Here are a few hot take possibilities and theories of what happened recognizing that I still have very little idea concretely what happened.


UT utilized appeals instead of a waitlist

It has happened twice that I know of since 2008 that UT did not build a waitlist. In previous cycles, UT would invite anywhere from a few dozen to up to a few hundred students to join a waitlist. In those years, anywhere from zero, to a few, to almost all waitlist students were invited to enroll either in their first choice major or another program, usually at the end of April when UT has a good idea how many additional spaces they may have available.

UT did not build a waitlist this year. That didn’t signal anything in particular. It’s easy to look back and connect the dots that 1. No wait list PLUS 2. A record low number of applicants could EQUAL 3. Allow more spaces for admission based on appeal.

For whatever set of unknowable reasons, UT needs more students to enroll, and they’re using the Appeals process to fill these gaps.

UT missed on their yield projections

Let’s discuss “yield forecasts,” admissions jargon for a university’s best educated guess at how many admitted students will show up on campus.

All universities admit more students than who will attend. Even Harvard only enrolls 83% of their admitted students. When Harvard is admitting around approximately 2,000 students, they presume around 1,700 will accept their offer by the May 1 National Decision Day. Yield also accounts for “admissions melt” or the few dozen or hundred who enroll but don’t matriculate through the fall semester.

Historically, UT has enrolled between 45-50% of their admitted students. This number has remained static from year to year. 2012 was an exception when they overadmitted and thus overenrolled a higher percentage of students for the Class of 2016 producing, at the time, UT’s largest ever enrolling class.

Senior admissions staff, the housing department, the academic colleges and schools, provosts and deans, and even the President’s Office and Texas Legislature among others play a role in assisting the Office of Admissions with determining how many spaces are available and forecasting how many students might enroll if offered admission.

Beyond simply admitting 17,000 students, there are a lot of nuances to predicting how many arrive in August: scholarship or honors offers, pathway programs, recruiting events for highly sought after applicants, athletic recruiting, and so on.

Since state laws require 90% of all enrolling students must come from Texas, and since 75% of enrolling Texans must rank in the top 6%, that makes forecasting yield particularly difficult for UT-Austin. Mark Rome “The Parent’s Dean” covers the admissions side of deciding how many students and who to admit more indepth here.

Since UT began admitting students in early December and admitted almost everyone prior to February 1, they were undoubtedly tweaking who would gain admission based on how many students have already enrolled.

If more or less admitted students were enrolling early, that might affect how many they project to admit in later waves. It’s possible then that UT either has

1. More spaces than they anticipated, and/or

2. Were cautious on over-enrolling students so decided to admit them on the back-end through appeals, and/or

3. Less admitted students enrolled than they anticipated, and/or

4. They have received pressure from the Board of Regents or the Texas Legislature from the current legislation cycle to increase the incoming size of the freshman class.

It’s possible some or all of these factors are in play, or that there are other causal factors that are unknown and unknowable. I’ll be curious to see how many students end up enrolling at UT for Fall 2019.

What does this mean for transfers?

Last year, UT admitted a record low number of transfers. It was by far the most competitive cycle ever, which I cover here.

It’s possible that, if they are intending to enroll more students through appeal, that there are less spaces available for transfers. It’s also possible that there is little direct relationship.

I’ll wait and see what transfer admissions looks like to make any recommendations for the future.

Concluding thoughts for this and future admissions cycles

The one thing we know for sure each year with UT admissions is you just never know what’s going to happen. If I could wave a wand, there are many things I would have changed about this process while employed and now on the other side assisting students and families.

I always go back to “focus on factors you can control.” College admissions anywhere is highly arbitrary.

I mentioned earlier that my advice next year, whether there is or isn’t a wait list, is the same: make arrangements to enroll elsewhere, and if the appeals works out, take it as a pleasant surprise. I don’t claim credit for any successful appeals, and I will not participate in the appeals process moving forward.

For students who already received favorable offers at comparable universities have paid your enrollment deposit, it may be fruitful to simply move forward with enrolling at your currently committed school.

I rarely take stands and express my professional opinions on any given admissions policy or outcomes, but I feel compelled to dissent about UT’s seeming mismanagement of this admissions cycle from the perspective of students and families. This isn’t to detract from successful appeals who are delighted to enroll at UT but an overall indictment on the arbitrary way they conduct admissions.

Ethically, I find it ridiculous that UT denies students only to admit them later in large numbers solely when it serves their interests rather than a conscientious consideration of a student, family, and high schools’ well-being. It completely disregards their own stated policy of admitting appeals in exceptional cases who provide “new and/or significant and compelling information.”

At least a waitlist gives the veneer of “you were on the border of gaining admission, and we’d like to wait to assess our needs to determine if and how many students we can invite to enroll based on seeing how many admitted students choose to attend” rather than just arbitrarily granting appeals, rewarding only those students who made the effort to appeal. I’ve already heard that UT intends to build a waitlist next year, so we will see if that happens.

One unintended consequence of admitting so many students on appeal is that, next year, they will create a false set of expectations because students and families will rightly feel justified when saying “but last year a lot of students got in.” Whatever short-term gains UT gets from enrollment management are at the expense of future applicants.

It strikes me as a haphazard and insincere way to recruit and nurture the next generation of Texas and the nation’s top talent. If I were a student or family, I would prefer to enroll at a university that presumably really wants you on campus rather than seeing you as a means to meet enrollment numbers.

Students talk about falling in love with universities; make universities fall in love with you. Nobody likes to be the other person asked to the prom when their first option doesn’t say yes.

  • Kevin Martin