Help Answering UT's Diversity Short Answer
UT-Austin wants to know how you will contribute to their classrooms and communities. Respond to the following prompt in 250-300 words:
Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.
UT had released and retracted last year a more convoluted fourth short answer prompt. This new one is more broad and friendly to answer because although the implied assumption is a discussion of diversity, you don’t necessarily need to stress how you bring a diverse perspective to campus.
I have a feeling a lot of students will overthink this prompt. It’s no secret though that UT wants to enroll diverse classes. I hope these tips will clarify what’s expected and consider different ways to approach your response.
Discuss an interest or talent and share a story
One straightforward way to answer is borrowing from Apply Texas Essay B and the Common Application that offers the opportunity to discuss an interest or talent.
Is there an activity that's central to your identity?
Do you have an interest or talent that exposes you to people who share different perspectives?
Does your talent push you out of your comfort zone or confront adversity?
Is there a particularly memorable moment worth sharing with reviewers?
Does your interest or talent relate to your first choice major, i.e., could you contribute something to classroom discussions?
Once you identify an interest or talent, I encourage you to tie it into UT resources, curriculum, or student organizations that interest you.
Illustrate something unique about your background (religion, race, sexual orientation, heritage, rural, etc.)
Another straightforward way to answer this prompt is to consider anything in your background that may be unique or is marginalized in society.
Do you have particular religious or cultural beliefs and practices central to your identity and community?
Are you African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or of mixed race/ethnicity/heritage?
Are you from a small town or a high school that doesn't send many students to university?
Are you a recent immigrant or come from a family of immigrants?
Do you speak another language alongside English, or have you deeply committed to the study of a foreign language?
Do you identify as LGBTQ or advocate as a straight ally?
Are you applying to a major or program where your identity is historically underrepresented, i.e., women in STEM or men in Nursing, Education, or Social Work?
It's important that you not just identify and answer one or two of these questions. You need to take the next step and say how it contributes to UT's campus and classrooms.
One way to do this easily is identify a student organization, campus or community project, or professor who interests you and relates to your background and where you feel you could contribute.
Understand why UT values diversity
Race in college admissions and university's commitment to diversity is an incredibly complex topic.
I dedicate the middle section and over 50 pages of Your Ticket to the Forty Acres to addressing the intricacies of the legal history of affirmative action, how unequal access to educational resources for urban and rural students prompted legislators to draft the top 10% law, and why UT's challenged for almost ten years the imperative for enrolling a diverse campus.
Whatever your personal feelings or beliefs on these controversial topics, trying to consider different perspectives is critical for writing a thoughtful answer.
With students of color having the police called on them on college campuses for seemingly no reason and racist posters displayed on UT's campus last year, UT wants to enroll students willing to navigate these complex issues.
If you've competed nationally or internationally in something, tell your reviewer.
If you've committed yourself deeply over a long period of time to an activity, sport, or artistic pursuit, and you've received national or international accolades, discuss it.
There are few people of any age who have ever been at the top of anything. It's likely that if you're qualifying for the highest level competitions or tournaments, there are hundreds of people trying for each space.
These are perspectives that will contribute to a diverse learning environment. Let your unique journey shine.
Discuss why you want to enroll at a diverse campus and city like UT and Austin
Similar to understanding why UT values diversity, you could answer "Why UT and Austin" as it relates to their commitment to support people from all backgrounds.
Many students come from homogeneous environments where it's hard to receive let alone live in an environment that fosters different or dissenting viewpoints.
There are a ton of student organizations and events on campus that showcase food, music, dance, and holidays from cultures all over the world. UT has students from almost every county in Texas, every state in the US, and over half of the world's countries.
One of my favorite parts personally about attending UT was meeting people from all over. It really did make classroom discussions better, and I felt continually challenged to reconsider my own beliefs.
An excerpt from my book Your Ticket to the Forty Acres:
I benefited directly from attending a university that makes efforts to enroll and accommodate a diverse student body. Not only did I grow from my initial culture shock of participating in the mostly affluent honors community, some of my first friends at UT came from Nepal, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nicaragua, and tiny Borden County, Texas.
I took courses in African and Latin American history with classmates and professors from those regions. I spent a lot of time with one of the South Asian fraternities freshman year. I befriended military veterans and gay men. Having grown up in a conservative family, I had my beliefs challenged by liberal classmates. I began identifying with libertarian ideology rather than Republicans or conservatives like my family.
I fondly recall an upper-division Government class during my sophomore year on comparative immigration policy. We were learning about two types of visas: the Diversity Visa, commonly called “the green card lottery,” and the Special Immigrant Visa for Iraqis who worked with the American military and government.
One girl raised her hand. “I won the green card lottery. I come from Eritrea, and my country had recently ended a civil war. I didn’t qualify as a refugee, so I applied twice and successfully received the fast track to citizenship on my third attempt.” A middle-aged man followed up about his experiences as an Iraqi journalist and interpreter during the bloody siege of Fallujah. He came to America on the Special Immigrant Visa. Professor Freeman let them lead the class discussion that day.
It is one thing to learn about public policy through books. It is another thing entirely to sit beside people who can share their relevant experiences. Since most students grow up in homogenous environments, they likely have little experience with the benefits of exposure to different perspectives.
It amazed me that UT brought people together from so many different parts of the world. During times of political turmoil and hostility toward immigrants, I remind myself that Texas, for all its fraught history and existing divisions, can be an incredible place to live and grow.
Provide a time where you helped resolve a conflict between two groups or people
The prompt asks about the free exchange of ideas and learning from people different from yourself.
You can answer the prompt directly by illustrating a situation where you helped resolve a conflict and find common ground. Virtues like patience, conscientiousness, thoughtful listening, and remaining calm under pressure are qualities that UT seeks.
If diversity isn't necessarily something you're born with or even something to be acquired, it can be demonstrated by being a decent person who takes a concern for others.
Another variation is similar to the Common Application prompt:
"Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution."
Addressing this question will address UT's new short answer directly as it relates to the promotion of the free exchange of ideas and adding a valuable perspective to classroom discussions.
Supply additional context to one or two activities on your resume
You don't necessarily need to compete at the highest level in an activity or event. Use this new short answer to provide more context to your resume that hasn't been mentioned elsewhere.
The prompt also permits opportunities for cross-cultural exchange.
Have you spent a few years learning a foreign language and made a meaningful effort to practice or explore it further outside of the classroom?
Do you participate or lead in a student organization that promotes or exposes you to cultures different from your own?
Have you gone on an exchange trip or has your family hosted an exchange student?
Do you participate in Spanish National Honor Society, a French club, or any international student organizations?
Use themes of diversity to complement the rest of your application and argue why you deserve a space at UT
Everyone should connect this short answer to their other essays, resume, reference letters, and the remainder of your application.
Each part of your college application should add a new perspective. It's critical that you reference specific examples, experiences, or situations that reflect something interesting about you.
It may be daunting to see Essay A and the short answers as a lot of work. It's also a tremendous opportunity to convincingly argue why you deserve a space in your first choice major throughout your application.
UT is seeking students who are curious, compassionate, understanding, and willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. Make the case that you belong on campus.
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