Best Practices for Writing ApplyTexas Essays and UT Short Answers


The college admissions season is upon us, and as more colleges turn to test-optional admissions (i.e., making scores from SAT/ACT exams optional), other parts of the college application become more important. And one major component that will surely play an increased role in determining acceptances is the college admissions essay.

So, let’s discuss how best to plan and write the essays for ApplyTexas (used for multiple colleges in Texas, including UT Austin) and the UT Austin Short Answers. First we’ll consider the general best practices and then we’ll review a sample strategy for a prospective pre-med / biology student, using the specific prompts for this admissions cycle.

General Best Practices for Writing ApplyTexas Essays and UT Short Answers

1. LENGTH

For ApplyTexas Essay Prompts A, B, and C, write a response that’s 650-750 words.

For the UT Short Answers, write 250-300 words (as suggested).

Don’t let the length suggestions fool you. There is a huge difference between a wordy, repetitive, and overall vague 650 words that you blast off in 30 minutes and a well-crafted, revised, and informative essay drafted over several hours and even days.

2. TOPICS

Write about as many unique topics as possible across the essays and short answers.

Trust me, you will definitely have an opportunity to write about your desired major and related background. The strategy here is that you want to present yourself as having multiple dimensions and interdisciplinary experiences that will contribute to your desired major’s studies.

3. CONTENT

Construct your essay as a hybrid essay-story, focus the narrative on yourself, and include personal reflections.

The college admissions essay is unlike any other type of essay you have written in high school (most likely). It requires a blend of essay writing, as the name suggests, which usually means you need an introduction (with a thesis) and a conclusion.

It also requires a narrative that basically serves as the essay’s “support.” And unlike the formal tone of academic essays, the college admissions essay is best written in a personal voice.

4. DRAFTS

Plan on writing at least three drafts for every essay / short answer submitted to a college.

The minimum three drafts include the following:

(1) Rough draft -- Write “without stopping” based on your brainstorming. This should take 30 minutes - 1 hour.

(2) Second draft -- Delete wordy language and unnecessary content; add more relevant details and personal reflection. This should take 1 - 2 hours.

(3) Final draft -- Rephrase statements to reduce length, check grammar and punctuation, read for flow, and make sure the introduction and conclusion are strong. This should take 1 - 2 hours.

At the very least, you should expect a good college admissions essay to take 3 hours to write, and that is if you are really confident in your writing. Likely, it will take double that amount of time, but that’s if you want to write an impressive one (which hopefully you do).

The short answers may take a little less time, but the point is that even those short prompts should be considered crucial parts of your application.

Basically, any time you are writing directly to the admissions officers, you should take the process seriously -- this is where the human behind the application gets a voice, and a unique, personable voice really can make all the difference.

Sample for Writing ApplyTexas Essays and UT Short Answers (Pre-Med / Biology Major)

Now, let’s get into the fun part -- an example of how you can plan out your essay topics and present yourself in the most diverse way. I’ll be using pre-med / biology as the sample’s prospective major since it is quite popular.

Before you get too deep into planning out these essays, you need to “inventory” your high school career from freshman year to the summer after junior year (rising into senior). Ideally, you have a solid resume of extracurriculars, volunteering, and work/internships. But, of course, there are probably some gaps, which is something you shouldn’t overly stress about.

First, you are looking for crucial experiences related to school and your potential major -- let’s say, “academic and professional experiences.” Classes, clubs, research camps, internships...that kind of stuff.

You are also looking for fundamental moments during high school when you experienced personal growth. Usually these experiences fall outside of the standard academic settings -- let’s call them “personal experiences.” Volunteering, travel abroad, family issues, personal struggles...you get the idea.

You want to take the best and most meaningful and most essay-prompt-relevant of these experiences -- from both “categories” -- and include them in your essays and short answers. Basically, you should write beyond purely academic experiences and reveal as much as you can about your personality and background.

Here is what the “experience inventory” looks like for our prospective pre-med / biology major:

Academic experiences--

  • Clubs: HOSA

  • Volunteering: St. David’s Medical Center, church food drives

  • Research: UT Austin College of Natural Science with Professor Jane Doe

Personal experiences--

  • Personal: jazz band ensemble

  • Family: family trips abroad to see relatives

  • Hobbies: assembling World War II-era model planes

Now we will match prompts and experiences so that we get the most unique coverage in topics for the essays and short answers.

For this last part, I will suggest which experiences would make good topics for the different prompts and write additional suggestions on how to approach the topics.

Apply Texas Prompts (Summer 2021, Fall 2021, and Spring 2022 Admissions)

Essay A: Tell us your story. What unique opportunities or challenges have you experienced throughout your high school career that have shaped who you are today?

Recommended topic:

  • Researching at UT Austin (challenge during research)

Essay B: Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.

Recommended topic:

  • Assembling WWII-era model planes

Essay C: You’ve got a ticket in your hand – Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

Recommended topics:

  • Since the prompt is hypothetical, it is best that you be more creative, so here are some possibilities to see just how far you can take the question:

  • A literal and meaningful place -- e.g., your grandparents’ house (I’d go with a more “interesting” approach, but you may have a meaningful place in mind like this that doesn’t require the razzle-dazzle of some of these other ideas)

  • A literal yet exotic place -- e.g., Antarctica

  • A figurative place -- e.g., the “heart”

  • An imaginary place -- e.g., Hogwarts

  • Most Texas colleges will not require this prompt, so it is more like a bonus entry, which is why I recommend you have fun with it (but still make it worth the admissions officer’s time to read it).

UT Austin Short Answers (Summer 2021 and Fall 2021 Admissions)

Required Short Answer 1: Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?

Recommended topics (either or combined -- really, it’s best that you summarize the general interest and overall how you learned about the subject but then spend the short answer focusing on the “pivotal moment” that convinced you to pursue the major):

  • HOSA

  • Volunteering at St. David’s Medical Center

Required Short Answer 2: 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.

Recommended topic (either or combined -- you identify your leadership style and demonstrate how it plays out in one or two situations):

  • Church food drives

  • Jazz band ensemble

Required Short Answer 3: 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.

Recommended topic:

  • Traveling abroad to see relatives (opportunity to visit important cultural sites or whatever else)

Optional Short Answer: Please share background on events or special circumstances that you feel may have impacted your high school academic performance, including the possible effects of COVID-19. Please limit your response to 250-300 words.

Usually people ask about whether to submit “optional” essays. The answer is usually yes, if you want to ensure you’ve done the most to improve your admission chances. In this particular case, the essay topic is truly optional because it is meant for students who had major complications that negatively affected their grades, GPA, and/or class rank.

So, unless you have a sincere explanation for a drop in grades or a poor academic performance, you probably shouldn’t submit this optional essay. This is not a “tell me how COVID-19 affected you” essay.

This concludes the sample topics and strategy for the ApplyTexas and UT Austin Short Answers.

* * * *

Now you should have a good idea of how to generally write your college admissions essays, inventory your academic and personal experiences, and then match these experiences to appropriate topics.

Time to get writing. Good luck!

Need help planning or revising your ApplyTexas and/or UT Austin Short Answers? Check out our College Admissions Services (CAS) for essay editing. Meeting times are flexible and editing can be synchronous (tutor and student together in a live meeting) or asynchronous (tutor reads and edits the essay). Whatever works best for you!

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