Eight Tips for Your First-Choice Major UT-Austin Short Answer

Projects from my Malaysian students, 2014

Projects from my Malaysian students, 2014

UT has substituted their previous Career Short Answer with a direct request to discuss why you want to study what you want to study.

Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?

I appreciate the change in prompt because students need to cover less territory. Before, in order to discuss your career ambitions, you necessarily needed to discuss how UT will help further your academic knowledge and skills in the meantime. Now, students have the option to discuss their career ambitions, for example.

You do not need to reference your second choice major at all because, in the vast majority of cases, UT will not look at nor offer your second choice major. Regardless of your major, writing style, life story, or your other essays, there are a few things that your First Choice Major Short Answer needs to address.

UT Wants you to Choose a First-Choice Major

I know that it can be frustrating that UT requires students to select a first-choice major so early in their career and makes it rather difficult to change between colleges and schools once you arrive. It’s their system though, so I encourage you to approach this prompt with an open mind and articulate to the best of your present ability why you feel drawn to your desired area of study. Your reviewers understand your goals may change, so focus on getting into UT and figuring out what to do after you arrive on campus.

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.

The university pigeonholes students into majors because it increases four-year graduation rates. Internal transfers are less likely to graduate on time, so they’re more willing to admit and hopefully enroll students who are more likely to complete the degrees within which they enroll.

The new prompt places less stress on students to need to have everything figured out and a five or ten year plan laid out. In the past, I always advised students to cite specific reasons why they’re choosing their major and how a UT education can help them achieve their goals. Instead of splitting up a discussion of future studies across different essays, students can develop their points fully in one prompt.

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.

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Cite a Specialty Within your UT Major

Its obvious that you need to say directly your desired first choice major, preferably in the first paragraph. What’s less obvious is almost all UT programs have specializations and subfields that may interest you. These are not necessarily programs you will select on Apply Texas, but curriculum options to inform yourself.

One way to discuss “Why X University or Y Program” 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 program apart?

You can view the complete list of UT majors here. You can also find the specific curriculum and four year plans for all majors on the department website to give you an idea of particular courses involved in completing your degree.

Let’s look at a few examples. Biology, the most popular major in the College of Natural Sciences, has nine tracks or specializations including botany, marine biology, ecology, and so on. Aerospace Engineering has two tracks, atmospheric and space flight. All students apply Undeclared to McCombs, but you should have an idea of the program that may eventually interest you like accounting or supply chain.

I suggest going directly to the website of whatever your first choice major. They will have more information about curriculum and resources. Finding a specialization that interests you will help link together your previous interests and future goals. It will also make it easier to cite specific reasons Why UT is a great fit for you.

Reference Specific Previous or Current Experiences

It’s critical that you include examples from your academic, extracurricular, professional, or independent studies experiences that influence your first-choice major. It isn’t enough to discuss vaguely your academic ambitions because you will be competing for spaces with students who have decent ideas where they have come from and where they want to go.

Consider developing lessons you’ve learned in a specific course or from a teacher who has influenced your future goals. If you have participated in an internship, discuss your roles and responsibilities and how the opportunity helped you explore and refine your interests. Particularly with STEM, if you’re competing in robotics, engineering, or science fair competitions, discuss your most memorable events or projects.

Many students also pursue their interests independently of the classroom or student organizations. If there is a topic or theme where you find yourself losing track of time or you voluntarily pursue certificate programs, this can be a great opportunity to share with your reviewer experiences that may not appear on your transcript or resume.

Locate UT Professors and Courses that Match Your Interests

Go beneath the surface of discussing rankings or career placement. One way to demonstrate how UT uniquely can help you explore your interests and achieve your goals is to identify a professor and expand upon how their research interests coincide with yours. All UT departments have a list of faculty, their CVs, research interests, and courses they teach. You can often find their syllabi.

Spending even a little bit of time digging deeper about opportunities within your major will go a long ways towards demonstrating interest in your major. Citing a professor or course that interests you may also connect with research opportunities or labs that provide undergraduate research possibilities. Undergraduate research is a cornerstone of the UT experience. If you want to dive really deep, you could find relevant articles, podcasts, or essays they have published.

Whether you end up working together with a professor or taking their course is less important than demonstrating that you’ve made at least a little bit of an effort to see what’s out there. You can also view a list of research labs like here for Computer Science, which also does you the favor of listing relevant courses. Exploring research opportunities can help articulate your interest in a subfield that goes beyond the general and broad major categories.

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Find Related Student Organizations or Academic Resources

Like in high school, the college experience is not confined to the classroom. Most students pursue extracurricular activities or student organizations that may or may not relate to their academic pursuits.

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.

Instead of speaking generally about student 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.

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 Minor 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.

Share Relevant Personal or Family Circumstances

Oftentimes, students have personal reasons for choosing their first choice major that go beyond professional prestige, money, academic interests, or hobbies.

Common cases include students who have experienced illness or injury or support a loved one living with chronic conditions or substance abuse. One client of mine, for example, struggled with anxiety and depression. She and a friend started a student organization to provide a resource for their classmates who may also struggle or are living in abusive relationships. Their personal experiences and interning at a counseling center informed their first choice major of studying psychology.

Family concerns may influence studies in Education, Psychology, Nutrition, Social Work, Speech Language Pathology, or any number of different programs where you feel a special connection. Some student-athletes suffer from serious injuries and may want to study Applied Movement Science before pursuing graduate studies in occupational or physical therapy. Others may have a passion for cell biology or organic experimental chemistry following a grandparent’s cancer diagnosis.

If you have compelling personal reasons for choosing your major, by all means include them especially if you haven’t mentioned them in your Essay A or other short answers. There are no sob stories in college admissions, and I encourage you to be open about any adversity you’ve experienced particularly if it influences your future academic goals.

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Kevin MartinEssays