Nine Examples of the UT Leadership Short Answer

Road trip in Austria’s Tyrol region

Road trip in Austria’s Tyrol region

UT has modified their Leadership Short Answer to expand the definition of leadership and not require students to share explicitly how they seem themselves as leaders on UT’s campus.

Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.

I provide a wide variety of examples that should give you food for thought on possible ways to approach the content and style of this response. There are straightforward examples of extracurricular commitments. I also provide examples of quiet or behind-the-scenes leadership. There are essays regarding being a good friend and listener, and others about making the most of hardship and adversity.

Camp Counselor

“Re-mem-ber Me…” in the familiar melody from the movie Coco, my 40 fifth grade campers lined up in rows on the stage and started their high kick. The audience went wild.

To me, the road to being their choreographer started seven years ago, when I joined the Community Youth Leadership Camp (CYLC) as a camper. Every summer, I would spend a week in leadership classes, team building, and cultural experiences.

After six years, as a sophomore in high school, I received a promotion to an assistant counselor after fierce competition. This year, the director asked me to choreograph for and teach the entire fifth-grade class the final performance.

I poured my years of sweat and hard work from dance into three months of preparation. “Yi Ban, do you want to beat the big kids just like you beat them in chant competition this morning?”

“YES! The campers roared. That was all that I needed. I divided them into six groups and assigned one of my fellow assistant counselors to a group. Every day for two hours, I would show, repeat, stop, give high-fives, and always listened and watched.

Taking in feedback, I quickly removed some hard-to-maneuver moves and added stylistic Latin-inspired twirling and kid-friendly moves. In five days, I lost seven pounds. The big performance day finally came. The stage was theirs! When the music ended, the campers bowed in thundering applause, and my eyes filled with tears of pride.

At UT and McCombs, I see myself as a constructive member of group projects. I hope to establish a new chapter of Girls in STEM. I also plan to apply for the award-winning McCombs “Leadership Program” in November of 2019 to continue enhancing my leadership skills to go from leading fifth graders in a camp to bring about tangible change in the real world.

Commentary

It’s possible to tell a complete story in less than 300 words. This essay does an excellent job illustrating their development from camper to counselor. It’s a thoughtful and interesting piece that demonstrates their increasing involvement and participation over time. No doubt the reviewer can visualize a teenage girl trying to rally a bunch of fifth graders to put in long hours of rehearsal.

My favorite paragraph being at, “Taking in feedback, I quickly removed some hard-to-maneuver moves…” because they capture a lot of growth within a few short sentences. Instead of saying, “we worked really hard,” they prove their point convincingly if somewhat alarmingly losing seven pounds in five days.

Although the new Leader Short Answer does not explicitly request that students share how they see themselves as a leader on campus, I recommend that applicants identity and reference a few UT organizations or efforts that may interest them.

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Central Texas Rock Climbing

Most people know the Barton Creek Greenbelt as a beautiful natural area in the west side of Austin that offers loads of hiking, biking, and many other activities, making it an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. I love it for a different reason; it’s limestone walls carved delicately by the meandering river for over millions of years.

When my friend and I came to Austin during the spring break of 2017 to rock climb, we stayed at Barton Hills near a very small climbing area known as “The Enclave.” Our guidebook simply described the crag as “a camp for homeless gentlemen with very poor sanitary habits,” but we still decided to check out the area for ourselves. When we arrived, it was overgrown and littered with garbage. It saddened me that a place with so much climbing potential seemed discarded and forgotten by the city.

My friend and I spent a few days cleaning the area to make it suitable for climbing. By our last day, we had cleaned up the area, and I marked three new boulder problems in an attempt to make this area appealing to other climbers.

I published our routes on the online guidebook for rock climbing, the Mountain Project. I haven’t been able to go back to The Enclave since that spring break, but a few people have written reviews on my routes. They’ve left positive messages thanking me for my development of the area.

I want to continue my leadership at UT Austin by joining the Campus Environment Center to help reduce UT’s pollution to help keep Austin environmentally sustainable. I’m also interested in joining UT’s Rock Climbing team and bouldering at Gregory Gym.

Commentary

This short answer submission is neat for a few reasons. Immediately, they set to work re-imagining an Austin icon, the Barton Creek Greenbelt. As the student shares, most people love it for the hiking and biking trails, but he identified the potential for bouldering and rock climbing. It is the case that Central Texas is a geologically rich and diverse reason, and it’s no accident the Jackson School of Geosciences is world-renowned.

Their essay is more than just exploration and having fun with friends. Austin also has an endemic homelessness crisis. They could have ignored the trash problem and not cleaned up, but it demonstrates a level of leadership and courage to make an effort to do the right thing to preserve Barton Creek’s beauty.

I also think it’s cool they produced the creek’s first guidebook for other budding rock climbers and boulderers, an increasingly popular sport not just in Austin but across the US. For any park trail or forest route, somebody first had to take the time to identify and demarcate them. The student also fills in gaps that the city was either unwilling or unable to address and leave a mark on a neglected space. They round things out well with how they see themselves contributing to UT’s rock climbing and ecological efforts on campus.

Quiet Leadership Behind the Scenes

Being a leader doesn’t always mean standing at the front of the room or imposing your will on others. It’s important to be a productive group member and being in the thick of things with everyone else. Working towards a common goal is essential to proactive leadership. My experiences in high school band provide me the leadership experience that will serve me well at UT-Austin.

I serve on our band’s equipment crew who are responsible for the setup, transport, and maintenance of over $100,000 of musical equipment. I come late, stay early, and work tirelessly with my teammates to ensure our equipment is organized, transported, and unloaded safely every time we compete or perform at games. Our unit doesn’t have a designated leader. Rather, we take the initiative, anticipate what others may do, and get the job done.

Many times we work with tight deadlines, and cooperating with my teammates often fuels my competitive spirit. It’s fun to solve and troubleshoot problems on our way to success. The band couldn’t function without some of us to do the heavy lifting.

I see leadership discussed in essays, textbooks, and journals, but to me, leadership is something you do every day. It isn’t abstract but practical. It’s the time you dedicate transporting equipment and speakers when everyone else has gone home that matters most. It doesn’t bother me that our equipment crew’s efforts can sometimes seem invisible. I’d rather do than talk.

I know that my teammates, section leaders, and the band director appreciates our efforts. I don’t do the work for recognition though. Equipment crew isn’t glamorous or enjoyable, but it’s the sacrifices of a few that make the lives of the larger group a little less stressful. 

Commentary

One reason that UT adjusted the language of their leadership short answer is because it seemed to prejudice outspoken, charismatic, or heavily involved students over those who have different ways of expressing equally valuable leadership qualities. Now that the topic is more broad, I hope more students feel encouraged to submit essays similar to the above.

Many students undoubtedly write essays about being drum major or section leader. As the student points out, somebody needs to be working behind the scenes to organize and transport equipment that makes rehearsals and competition possible. My favorite part is a direct assessment of this kind of quiet leadership, “I see leadership discussed in essays, textbooks, and journals, but to me, leadership is something you do every day. It isn’t abstract but practical.”

Every community and organization needs people who are willing to put in the hard work that may go unnoticed by others. Leadership means a lot more than being president or captain. A reader would walk away from this prompt feeling that the student will be a valuable contributor to UT communities.

Helping Friends with Prom

I have never been much of an outgoing and outspoken person, especially in school. I find myself typically listening before I speak. Although I may be quiet, I take charge in smaller group settings. Last year, my friends and I wanted a bus for prom. However, most of them didn’t want to take the time to even look into any bus services.

As prom approached, my friend and I did the research and made phone calls to various companies to compare pricing. We managed to book a bus about a week before prom for a great deal, and everyone was thankful that we made an effort to make our night amazing.

I also show leadership qualities within my home and my friendships. At home, I tend to take responsibility for chores around the house, taking care of our pets, or doing the laundry without being asked. Since my sister’s arthritis diagnosis a few years ago, it’s become a habit for me that I do everything I can to help manage our home.

I’m also the person who my friends come to first when they need a friendly listener. They come to me with advice for school, boys, and their families. Being a leader means considering different points of view, listening to concerns, and responding appropriately. I feel that I’m empathetic and in touch with other’s emotions, which are necessary qualities for effective leadership. 

At UT Austin, I see myself playing a role in classroom groups or within student organizations who need someone that listens and does the work that others may not be enthusiastic about. I feel like I would belong in an organization like the Orange Jackets because of their dedication to meaningful service and selfless leadership.

Commentary

Like with the previous example regarding quiet leadership, it’s also possible and appropriate to consider yourself a leader at home or in your friend group. Every teenager or parent experiences and remembers the stress associated with prom. It’s a lot to organize and coordinate, and I don’t just mean busses but attitudes and personalities. No doubt her reader could relate to her thoughts. Maybe the reviewer occupied a similar role in their friend group or presently for wedding parties.

Leadership also means being a thoughtful listener and serving as a source for support when others have issues. “Being a leader means considering different points of view, listening to concerns, and responding appropriately.”

With UT’s new leadership short answer phrasing, students won’t be expected to justify behind-the-scenes, informal, or introverted forms of leadership. I encourage anyone who may not think of themselves as a conventional leader to expand their definition of leadership and explore what roles they play with their family or friends.

Need more help exploring the admissions process and writing your essays? Pick up a copy of my admissions guide Your Ticket to the Forty Acres.

Intercultural Community Leader

My teachers and classmates elected me Community Leader, responsible school improvement projects. In our Outdoor Leadership program, I was in charge of meal planning and navigation for the whole group on our backpacking trips. Working at the Texas Rowing Center, I became a shift leader that the owner trusted to close up the dock at night.

However, I think my most natural leadership skill is getting people to work together. Maybe it’s because I’m a middle child accustomed to negotiating with older and younger siblings. Recently, I co-founded the Global Student Initiative (GSI) club to connect my American classmates with our international students. For several years, I have been tutoring classmates from China, South Korea, and Vietnam.

I realized that the biggest issue for our international students was not academics. Rather, they struggled to build the confidence to interact with the rest of the students and teachers. Missing social cues and cultural references were negatively affecting not only their academics but also their sense of belonging at the school. I also realized that our school was missing out on a huge opportunity to learn more about the many cultures represented by these students.

Two classmates and I created GSI to provide both academic support and cultural exchange opportunities. We cook, sing karaoke, and make presentations to the school as one group. We are simultaneously making our international classmates feel part of the school and educating our community about different cultures.

At UT-Austin, I believe I can continue to be a leader in connecting fellow students from different cultural backgrounds. I am particularly excited to learn more about the PALS program, Bridges International, and AIESEC.

Commentary

This short answer response could be appropriate either for a Leadership or a Diversity submission. I’ve shared it here as Leadership because there is a direct relationship between how their efforts help their classmates feel included.

They begin with a brief overview of a few leadership experiences meaningful to them before expanding upon and developing fully their outreach commitments to their international classmates. They identify a key concern with people who change environments. It’s often less to do with classroom or workplace performance and more to do with subtle interaction patterns and social skills.

Their outreach is also a two-way street rather than a self-serving opportunity to assimilate students from different backgrounds. “I also realized that our school was missing out on a huge opportunity to learn more about the many cultures represented by these students.” Their response is never abstract or vague and is rich in specific examples to reinforce their points. They round things out appropriately by visualizing how they see themselves as an intercultural leader on UT’s campus.

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Looking Out for Your Friends

County Route 510, also known as South Orange Avenue, is the closest thing we have to a freeway. It bisects the South Mountain Reservation, a 2,000-acre land reserve plopped right in the middle of my semi-urban New Jersey suburb. My house sits on the corner of Harmon Road, a dead end street, and South Orange Ave.

One night my friends and I were walking down out of the cut through that rests at the back of the cul-de-sac. When we emerged, we saw five deer silhouetted by the street lights of 510. So beautiful. One of my friends began running towards the herd, yelling nonsense, trying to scare them away. The deer ran towards South Orange Avenue and prepared to cross. “Yo!” I yelled in a hushed tone. “Cut it out!” He stopped. I looked to my guys. “Follow my lead,” I whispered.

I ran from the street onto my neighbor's front lawn with my friends in tow. We ran, trying to make as little noise as possible. Once we stepped onto my front lawn, we made a sharp “J” shaped turn and herded the family of deer away from the barreling SUVs and midsize sedans.

That’s the kind of person I’d be at The University of Texas at Austin. I’m no Aggie majoring in shepherding, but if a fellow Longhorn finds themselves caught up in something like drugs or alcohol, like a deer in the headlights, I won’t turn the other way. I’ll be there, by their side, either bringing them drinking water as they hug the porcelain pony, or making sure they get home safe.

Whether volunteering for UT’s Sure Walk or simply living my daily college life, I’d be a stand-up, caring, appreciative, loving Longhorn – a role model for my future peers.

Commentary

Like the example with prom, this submission is a perfect presentation of being a great friend who makes an effort to do the right thing. There is no mention of community service, extracurricular organizations, or anything related to a resume-focused definition of leadership. They tell a thoughtful and interesting story that connects to larger character traits and themes.

Outstanding essays often start immediately with the action. What’s notable here is they waste zero time apologizing for discussing a non-conventional leadership anecdote. Great stories often take moments to establish the setting so the reader knows where they are and why it’s important. Illustrating the setting sets up the conflict later on between their friends and ushering the deer to safety. If the reader didn’t know this was a somewhat rural setting in a nature preserve, they would have no idea why the story has significance to the student.

Although not necessary, the applicant made an effort to identify a UT organization that does exactly what he and his friends did that night - serve as a source of support and security for people who may need help crossing the road. It’s also no secret that college students party, and having a friend there if you get too drunk or in trouble is valuable in any dorm or house party - your reviewer obviously would understand this.

Sports After Injury

In the early spring of my sophomore year, I broke my finger and had reconstructive surgery. The recovery left me out for the entire season. My injury forced me to reconsider what softball means to me.

I became the second manager and helped mentor the freshmen manager. I taught her that we can contribute to the team even if we aren’t playing. Before I got her involved, she wouldn’t socialize with anyone. We got to know each other well, and she started breaking out of her shell and being more assertive as the year progressed.

My head coach promoted me to first base coach, and I kept team statistics. I did little things to help out my teammates like filling up water bottles, putting in and picking up the bases, and scouting the opposing team during warm up. In some ways, it was humbling to go from one of the best players to helping on the sidelines.

Since my injury, I’ve learned that leadership can mean different things. My assertiveness as an assistant manager gave me the confidence to speak up in class discussions and help my friends who struggle with their classwork. Teachers took note of my efforts, and I received a nomination for Texas Girls State after a lengthy application and rigorous interview process.

I was one of six girls selected to represent my school. At Girls State, I ran for office a few times. Although I didn’t win, I felt proud to take myself out of my comfort zone by standing up and giving speeches in front of people I didn’t know. Later that week, I helped with speechwriting and campaigning for my friends running for state positions, one of whom won.

At UT I hope to be very active and involved in campus clubs and activities. Some organizations that stuck out to me were the University Filmmakers Alliance, Women in Cinema, and Texas Student Media.

Commentary

I appreciate the themes of redemption and meaning when life tosses you a rough hand. It cannot be easy suffering an injury after competing at a high level and having to practice humility on the sidelines. Instead of dwelling on the unfairness of their accident, they transition immediately to how they’ve made the best of their situation. Like with the band organizer in an earlier example, all teams and organizations need people working behind-the-scenes or on the sidelines to help coordinate the efforts of others.

They take their essay a step further by pursuing a valuable opportunity, Girls State, that may not have been available had they continued participating exclusively in softball. They may not have had the opportunity to focus more in school or earn the notice of teachers. Moreover, they didn’t merely attend Girls State, but made an effort to deepen their commitment by occupying leadership positions.

This submission is also a great example of using two examples to illustrate your point rather than focusing solely on a single activity or experience.

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Asylum Seeker Turned Community Leader

I'm a firm believer that growth happens when you are uncomfortable. I used to be a very shy person, terrified at the thought of speaking in front of a crowd. Joining my school's debate club in ninth grade was my way to overcome my fear. My hard work paid off, and I eventually became the club's president responsible for all aspects of competing, practicing, and arranging logistics like transportation and overnight dormitories. Despite being a freshman, we nearly qualified for elimination rounds in the national tournament.

Over time, seeking discomfort allows me to be more confident in group environments. Despite moving to Texas with a new language, culture, and education system, I’ve made an effort to commit myself to school and community activities like Business Club, SkillsUSA, Muslim Student Association, Police Club, and the French Club.

Serving as Debate Club President in Turkey gave me the confidence to contribute to organizations in Texas. I served as the French Club historian, and I currently am the Treasurer. I manage all of our money and coordinate our t-shirt fundraiser. I’m Parliamentarian for SkillsUSA where I’ve placed at the state tournament as part of the quiz bowl team. I also among enjoy connecting with other Muslim students as secretary for Muslim Student Association.

At my cultural center, the Raindrop Foundation, I am involved in project management, planning meetings, inviting guest speakers from the North Texas Turkish community. I’ve created an initiative to help our members with presentation and public speaking skills. I created a group chat and handed out fliers to generate interest in a Congressional Awards organization to compete for medals in volunteering, fitness, and personal development recognized by the US Government. I’m currently a Silver Medalist, and I am aiming for the Gold Medal whose recipients are invited to Washington D.C.

At UT, I see myself organizing groups and engaging with local community organizations. I look forward to meeting other Turkish students and eventually occupying leadership positions in the Undergraduate Business Council and exploring opportunities abroad through AIESEC.

Commentary

This student experienced some of the most severe hardship of anyone I’ve worked with. It’s one thing to emigrate to another country. It’s another to be forced out of your home country and moving to a totally unfamiliar place where you do not speak the language as a high school sophomore. That experience alone, and how they are a source of strength for their family whose father is currently imprisoned, would be grounds alone for a leadership essay.

It’s remarkable that, after moving to Texas, they progressed from remedial to AP English, ranked in the top 10%, and scored around 1400 on the SAT. They provided this context in other essays, and that makes their extracurricular commitments all the more impressive. Instead of dwelling on the substantial barriers they needed to overcome to simply attend class and get through the day, they focus on the constructive aspects of how they have made the most of an extremely challenging situation.

This student gained admission to McCombs with a scholarship, deservedly so and in no small part due to them maximizing the resources in their environment and discussing it thoughtfully in their leadership short answer. They obviously seem like the kind of person who can thrive in any environment and possesses the resilience and critical thinking skills necessary for entrepreneurship.

Cheerleading and Service

I see myself as a leader, but that hasn’t always been the case. When I started competitive cheerleading in the 7th grade, I mostly listened and remained in the background. I noticed that there wasn’t a single person on the team who everyone listened to and respected. I realized someone needed to emerge as a leader. I took the lead by encouraging my teammates and giving “hype speeches” before competitions. I also consoled the girls who were having a rough time. In eighth grade, I officially became captain and have been ever since.

I find that positivity is the most important quality a leader can possess. I’d always assumed cheerleaders were having fun and being happy and peppy, but those seventh-grade girls could be really mean. Even the captains didn’t want to participate. After becoming captain, many girls joined the team who otherwise hadn’t considered participating. I accepted that our school team wouldn’t be the most impressive, but we had a lot of fun. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?

My leadership abilities are most evident in Girl Scouts. Completing the Girl Scout Gold Award was one of the most difficult things I’ve done because I had to lead many groups and organize many different projects to reach my goal. Following my Gold Award, I created a non-profit organization and school club that raises money and collects bicycle donations to donate to young women living in Southeast Asia.

Women living in poverty need bikes to get to school and eventually a job to support their family. In addition to joining a sorority or women’s service organization, I would also like to bring my Bikes for Change club to UT. Eventually, I would love to take Longhorns with me to Southeast Asia to personally deliver the bikes.

Commentary

This essay is a straightforward example of two activities that they enjoy - cheerleading and Girl Scouts - and specific ways they have demonstrated their leadership. Not all essays need to illustrate detailed narratives about growth and hardship. It’s perfectly appropriate to share a few experiences or commitments that are meaningful to you.

One thing I appreciate about their essay is it isn’t focused exclusively on winning or excellence in competitions. “I accepted that our school team wouldn’t be the most impressive, but we had a lot of fun. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?” Their response is relatable and undoubtedly resonated well with their reviewer. It also connected with other parts of their application demonstrating maturity and conscientiousness.

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Kevin MartinEssays