Comprehensive Guide for Applying to UT-Austin Honors Programs

 Early morning at the Louvre, Paris

Early morning at the Louvre, Paris

Many universities have an "Honors College" that houses their best students regardless of their major. UT-Austin instead has ten "honors programs" for students majoring in Liberal Arts, Business, Engineering, Communication, or the Natural Sciences.

In this post, I cover the logistics of how to apply to honors, how the admissions process works, tips and strategies for each program, and a discussion of alternative pathways to honors programs.

How to apply to University of Texas at Austin Honors Programs

Applying to an honors program at UT doesn't require much extra effort. All programs, however, are highly competitive comparable with admission to most selective universities nationwide. 

You must first complete your Apply Texas application for regular admission and check the box "I am interested in applying for Honors Programs." A few days after submitting Apply Texas, you will receive an e-mail allowing you to access the Honors Application on your My Status portal.

One reason UT still has the first and second choice major selection system is to allow students to apply to multiple honors programs. What you select for your majors determine which honors programs you may be eligible.

All honors programs will consider heavily your regular admissions application, resume, and essays to help inform their decision. Because there isn't one Honors College but many different programs, the requirements for each differ some which you can view here.

Most programs require that you submit an expanded resume, some require a recommendation letter, and all of them require one or more short answer responses.

Applying to an honors program in no way influences your regular admissions chances. Regular admissions decisions are made by the Office of Admissions while staff in each Honors Program reviews and determines who they accept.

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The Honors Writing Prompts and Advice

The Honors Programs decide what prompts students must submit. You can visit this link to receive the most updated information on the writing requirements.

In this section, I cover the prompts most applicants must submit. I cover program-specific prompts and advice under their headings.

For any Honors writing prompts, your submission should add new information to your application.

Since reviewers will have access to your Apply Texas submissions, you don't want to repeat anything you've written in Essay A or the Short Answers.

 

Why Honors? Essay

All Honors applicants must answer this question in 250 words: "Briefly describe why you have chosen to apply to the honors program(s) you’ve selected."

Responding effectively requires researching your program of interest. You need to identify specific reasons why the Business Honors Program differs from others you are applying (like Penn's Wharton or Michigan Ross, for example). In addition to highlighting what interests you, it's important that you demonstrate why you are a good fit for the program.

What perspectives or previous experiences will you bring to classroom discussions? How do you hope to contribute to the Honors Community and UT-Austin at large? What Honors resources will help you achieve your future academic and professional goals?

Communicate directly to the Honors committee why they should invest a space in you. Some programs like Communications and Natural Science Honors require an additional essay submission, which I cover under the relevant heading.

 

UT Honors Program Five Sentences Prompt

Most Honors applicants will also need submit answers to a tricky prompt:

"Help us get to know you better. Please write five sentences (numbered 1 – 5) that give us some insight into you, your life, your interests and your experiences. There are no right answers—feel free to be creative and think outside the box."

A lot of students overthink this one. Reviewers are giving you the opportunity to have fun and share something unique or interesting that doesn't fit elsewhere in your application. The number one piece of advice here is - don't be boring. 

There are a lot of ways to approach this - five totally unrelated sentences, a poem, a few quotations important to you, "favorites" like food or hobbies, a unique or quirky talent, etc.

Here's an example:
1.    Ever since I was a kid, I have loved space and exploring different scientific principles.
2.    I love attending football games at Darrell K. Royal Football and people watching on Guadalupe Street.
3.    I have a passion for gaming, and my two favorites are Arkham City and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4.
4.    I enjoy playing football as much as watching the Longhorns. 
5.    I am a big fan of Batman comics, and I especially love Christopher Nolan’s adaptation.

 

Special Circumstances Optional Essay

Applicants also have the option to submit a response discussing special circumstances. You should only submit this information if there is something critical not mentioned elsewhere in your application that you would like to share with reviewers.

Since this is totally optional, don't feel obliged to submit an answer unless there is a significant extenuating circumstance. Honors reviewers will not penalize you for opting not to submit.

"You may want an honors program reviewer to know and consider some information that doesn’t appear elsewhere in your application. If so, write a short response describing that information. It might include hardships or circumstances that affected your academic or extracurricular performance, personal or family responsibilities, or other details that will give a reviewer more insight into your background and experiences."

Many prospective Honors students hire me to help. Interested in building your best application and maximizing your Honors admissions chances? Complete my questionnaire for a free consultation.

McCombs School of Business Honors Program (BHP)

I cover regular and honors admissions extensively in this post.

Applicants interested in applying to Business Honors should prepare their application early because the application requires both the expanded resume and one recommendation letter.

Reviewers are seeking students who demonstrate not only that they will be a leader in their program. They also want to know why you are choosing BHP. What makes it different from other top programs nationwide like Penn Wharton, NYU Stern, Michigan Ross, or Berkeley Haas?

It's especially important in your Honors essay to identify resources, student organizations, career counseling, and professors/courses/study abroad that will help you achieve your long-term academic and professional goals.

Turing Scholars Honors

I discuss Computer Science and Turing Scholars Honors application tips and admissions statistics in this post.

Similar to BHP, competitive applicants for Turing Scholars rank at the very top of their class and score nearly perfect on the SAT/ACT. Turing denies 85% of valedictorian applicants. That means it's especially important that you demonstrate a breadth and depth of commitment in computer-related activities.

Turing requires you to submit a 100 word response on the following.

"Describe your significant activities, employment and achievements. Be sure to include information that is relevant to the study of computer science. For example, you may describe classes and programming activities, other science and math activities, honors and awards, and other activities that demonstrate leadership potential."

It's critical that you choose your most proud or relevant accomplishment not mentioned in any of your essays. You will be competing against highly talented and accomplished students, so it's necessary that you stand out in a crowded pool.

Plan II Honors

There are two honors programs within the College of Liberal Arts: Plan II and Liberal Arts Honors. Each program has similarities but also crucial differences. There is a lot of useful information on each of their websites that will help you determine which program is the right fit for you. I entered into UT-Austin as a Liberal Arts Honors student.

You can apply and gain admission to both programs, but you can only participate in one. Many students in each pursue studies outside of Liberal Arts like Business, Communications, and Engineering. Indeed, these programs attract students from every academic discipline.

Unlike other honors programs, you do not need to select Liberal Arts as your first choice. Plan II even recommends putting Liberal Arts as your second choice, so you can have consideration for your first-choice major if it is something outside of Liberal Arts. Like Business Honors, each program recommends that you apply early since admissions decisions are rendered on a rolling basis.

According to the 2016 incoming class profile accessed on Plan II’s website, they received 1473 applications with 484 admissions offers yielding a 32.9 percent admissions rate. Two-thirds of applicants are female, and 195 students enrolled.

Plan II Admitted Applicant Profile:

Fifty-one percent of admits come from the top 5 percent of their class and 11 percent are valedictorian. The average applicant has 1386 on the SAT and the typical admitted student scores 1466. The middle 50 percent SAT score range for admits is 1410–1550. The ACT equivalent is a 32–35 for admitted students.

Plan II takes a radical approach to their admissions process. Successful applicants are superior academically; however, the program also heavily weights a student’s essay submissions.

From the Plan II website:

What is less cut-and-dried and will be evaluated on a more subjective level is the degree of sophistication and maturity we see in the essays of successful applicants. We also see a depth and richness in their non-academic activities and leadership experiences that combine to give an applicant an intangible ‘sparkle.’ Great essays and those intangible qualities are what set the successful applicants apart from the unsuccessful applicants who may have similar, perhaps even higher, grades, ranks and test scores.

Forty percent of Plan II admissions criteria are the essays, 20 percent examines the program fit through “Plan II-ness,” 20 percent is the Academic Index, and 20 percent is Personal Achievement and the resume.

They are looking for mature, quirky students with varied interests and dedication to learning for its own sake. Academically stellar students often do not gain admission while exceptionally talented students outside of the top 10 percent can find success.

Liberal Arts Honors (LAH)

Liberal Arts Honors (LAH) has a similar admissions process to Plan II with an emphasis on writing and leadership.

An email from former LAH Director Dr. Larry Carver in November 2016 to alumni presents their student profile.

The LAH Class of 2020—155 students chosen from 1143 applications (our largest applicant pool ever!)—has just three more weeks in their first semester as Longhorns. Fourteen come from out of state, 111 are female, 44 male, and 8 are Valedictorians, 4 are Salutatorians. We have one set of twins and two siblings of current LAHers. Forty-five hail from non-ranking schools, 14 from private schools, and 95 from schools greater than 200 (Allen High School remains the largest High School with a graduating class of 1533). Fifteen are from schools smaller than 200. The average ACT is 31; the average SAT, 1355. Stacey, Linda, and I are delighted by their enthusiasm, energy, talent, and the many ways they are already participating in the LAH community.

Keep in mind that the 155 chosen students represent the enrolling freshman class. LAH admits about 400 students each year yielding roughly a 33 percent admissions rate. Admission to LAH is slightly less competitive than Plan II, but average LAH admitted student is substantially more credentialed than the typical admitted student to the College of Liberal Arts.

Keep in mind that LAH and Plan II are friendly rivals of sorts. It's possible to craft your Honors essay to fit both programs. Here, it is okay to leave open the question of which program is your best fit.

For me, when I was applying, LAH appealed more because it was less structured and had fewer rigid requirements. Since Plan II is a major, there are required courses each year. I knew I only wanted to pursue studies in the Liberal Arts, so Plan II's multidisciplinary emphasis on both the arts and the sciences wasn't a good fit.

Cockrell School of Engineering Honors

There is little information available publicly about how Engineering Honors admits their students or their admitted student profile. Competitive applicants to Engineering programs tend to come from the top 10% of their class scoring around 1400 on the SAT.

Some programs are more competitive than others, however, so what you select as your first choice will influence your regular admissions decision. I provide Engineering applicant and admitted student admissions data in this video.

Regardless of which program you wish to enroll, Engineering Honors admits students from all Engineering departments. I've been told, but I don't have any links to support this observation, that their admissions process is largely driven by a student's class rank and test score.

They do not require an expanded resume or a recommendation letter. Unlike other honors programs that begin their review process as they receive their applicants, I'm informed that Engineering Honors waits until the Office of Admissions makes their decisions. Then, they select their honors students from the pool of admitted students.

In practice, admitted Engineering Honors students rank at the very top of their class scoring nearly perfect on the SAT/ACT especially on the math section. It also seems that, of the admitted Engineering honors students, the top third or quarter will also receive scholarships.

Unlike Plan II and Business Honors which are majors, Engineering Honors does not have many course requirements. Honors provides resources to supplement the Cockrell School's already extensive support services. 

If you are choosing to apply to both Engineering and Plan II Honors, you should spend most of your Honors essay discussing why you're a good fit for Plan II. Engineering Honors doesn't seem to place much or any emphasis on the Honors essay.

Moody College of Communication Honors

Communication Honors is the newest program. They just admitted their first class of students with Fall 2018. There is little information about how they admit their students. Similar to Plan II/Liberal Arts Honors, they are looking for diverse students who bring more than just strong academic credentials.

A high level of scholastic aptitude is beneficial, but far from the only trait that defines a Moody Honors student. We look for applicants who are capable of critical and independent thinking, with intellectual curiosity, creativity, and a variety of experiences and backgrounds. Preference is given to freshmen applicants who select Moody College as their first choice in their admissions application.

Even though it is a new program and Communications is a little less competitive than other colleges and schools, Moody Honors is highly competitive admitting less than 10% of their applicants. It's a small program so there are few spaces available.

Moody Honors requires students to take 15 hours of honors coursework, so it is more permissive than majors like Plan II or BHP. Honors students are required to have a Communications major like Public Relations or Corporate Communications, so honors supplements your main area of study, There is a capstone project requirement for graduation.

Moody Honors requires a short answer submission on the following topic in addition to the Why Honors short answer prompt.

"It’s been said that knowledge is power, but it could also be said that communication is power. Discuss an example from history, current events, a book or film, or from your own life that supports this perspective. Please limit your response to no more than 250 words."

This is undoubtedly a tricky prompt, and it's clear that the admissions committee put a lot of time and thought to crafting their question. It's critical that you submit a thoughtful response. Considering their cohort is so small and space is limited, this essay will play a role in your decision.

One way to approach this essay is to discuss an instance where you were involved in a conflict with a friend or group and how you resolved the issue through open and honest discussion. If there is a film, movie, or novel that you feel could answer the question, consider sharing.

College of Natural Sciences Honors Programs

There is little information about either their admissions process or admitted student data. I recall from my time at UT that some of these programs, especially Health Science and Dean Scholars, have the lowest admissions rates across the university. They are also the smallest honors programs.

Considering that over twelve thousand students applied for the College of Natural Sciences in 2016, you can imagine the selectivity of their process. There are no secrets to success other than being extraordinarily talented and a little bit lucky. 

Like Business Honors, Natural Science Honors programs require an expanded resume and a recommendation letter from a math or science teacher. Consider choosing a reference who you've taken multiple courses with or is also an extracurricular activity sponsor.

Natural Sciences Honors Writing Prompt

Applicants to Dean's Scholars, Health Science Honors, and Polymathic Scholars must submit a 250 word response to the following.

"Today we are exposed to an abundance of information described as scientifically based, but some of it is not based on good science. Have you ever been persuaded that something supposedly grounded in science was true, only to realize later that you were wrong? If so, explain how or why you were mistaken, and how you realized your error. If this has not happened to you, explain how you’ve managed to guard yourself against faulty or misrepresented evidence."

You need a clear and organized strategy for answering this prompt. There are a lot of things you need to address in a small space. Break down the prompt into the following steps.

1. One issue that supposedly had scientific backing was X.

2. I also believed X to be true.

3. However, after further research, I questioned my belief about X because of Y and Z new information/data/studies.

4. Identify counterexamples and doubts. You should provide balance and nuance to your argumentation.

5. If your misconception is relevant to your future studies, you can identify how UT-Austin will help you explore further your interest.

Here is a simple example from my own life.

"Some people suggest that the salt Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) produces harmful side effects. I used to believe this until I looked for peer-reviewed research. It turns out that dozens of studies find no adverse effects from consuming MSG. In fact, tens of millions of people have been consuming what is simply a salt for generations. The concern over MSG originated in a 1980's newspaper review of a Chinese restaurant. The journalist mis-attributed correlation (eating MSG) with causation (feeling ill). Many restaurants promote that their food does not contain MSG. It turns out the journalist simply ate way too much food. You can never prove a negative, like cell phone signal radiation not causing cancer, or in this cause MSG has zero negative effects; however, I will continue to consume this delicious seasoning.”

Alternatives to Freshman Honors

UT-Austin Honors programs provide academic, social, and financial benefits to their students. Especially since neither of my parents are college-educated and I came from a high school where few of my classmates enrolled at four-year universities, the intimate Honors community provided the support I needed.

I enjoyed taking small courses starting my first semester in philosophy, politics, and history. My favorite part was living in an Honors Residence Hall, Blanton, with students from all of UT's honors programs.

Honors is just one way among many to succeed. Honors also isn't a guarantee of success. UT-Austin is a world class institution where you can receive a great education that opens doors for your future. The effort you put in, your motivation to push your boundaries, and the network you create matter more for your success and well-being than whether you're in honors or not.

If you are not offered admission to a Freshman Honors program, there are many options after you arrive on campus especially when you finish your first year.

Admitted Natural Science students can submit an application for the Freshman Research Initiative.

Depending on your first choice major and application, if you are admitted, you may be invited to apply for or join other programs that offer similar benefits to Honors. These are not things you can select on Apply Texas.

There are dozens of minors and certificate programs that offer small courses with highly talented professors. You can pursue coursework related to your major or something different. Check out this list.

One of my favorite programs, Bridging Disciplines, was instrumental to my success as a student. It's open to any current student. It allowed me to combine interdisciplinary coursework with fieldwork.

All majors allow for research and the writing of a thesis. You can graduate with honors by completing a capstone project. There are also ways to complete Upper-Division Honors departmental coursework. Consider Sociology Honors, for example, open to all Sociology students with high grades interested in research.

There are a number of Honors societies and organizations open to all students, which you can view here.

Depending on how you progress in your studies, you may be able to take Graduate level coursework as a junior or senior.

All students should also consider studying abroad. Completing Business Law coursework in Scotland and Human Rights fieldwork in Bosnia and Rwanda were instrumental in informing my future goals.

As you can see, there are nearly limitless ways to have a productive and fruitful experience on the Forty Acres.

Many prospective Honors students hire me to help. Interested in building your best application and maximizing your Honors admissions chances? Complete my questionnaire for a free consultation.

Kevin MartinHonors, Essays