UT Honors - How do they decide?
Honors and regular admissions decisions are totally separate processes. Regular admissions decisions are controlled and administered entirely within the Office of Admissions. They decide for students in all disciplines whether it is Social Work, Communications, Engineering, and so on.
However, honors programs control their own admissions decisions. This means staff in BHP and Turing Scholars decide which honors business and computer science students they want. Distinguishing between where admissions decisions are made is important in understanding the psychology behind the decision-making process.
Very much like most selective or Ivy League institutions, honors programs have full discretion on which students they choose to admit. They can "craft a class" that isn't bound by automatic admissions laws or having a certain number of students from the state of Texas. Since these programs are much smaller, they have a vested interest in handpicking the students that best fit their program needs and values.
Each program makes decisions very differently. Plan II, for instance, puts a full 40% of its admissions criteria on the student's essays. Engineering honors, on the other hand, is most concerned with having the strongest academics possible. BHP looks for strong academics and a demonstrated record of leadership, so the resume is particularly important for them. Turing Scholars wants to see particularly rigorous STEM classes and places a lot of weight on the quantitative sections of standardized tests.
Honors programs will use your performance on AP and SAT II Subject tests as additional measures for academic excellence. These are important, but not as important as a strong performance inside the classroom on your transcript and the SAT and ACT. Submitting AP and subject tests scores are optional.
It is important to note that, since these processes are separate, there is no disadvantage to applying to an honors program. Be realistic with your expectations realizing that nobody is guaranteed a spot, even if you have a 36 and are number 1 in your class. (Plan II actually boasts about the number of valedictorians they deny.)
My best advice, then, is you start early, research the program(s) that interests you, and put forward your best effort. UT admits about 7,200 students each year, and these are the top 500 or so students. Treat this application as you would other most selective universities.
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In my next post, I will discuss Plan II admissions as they are the most distinctly different from the others.