I don’t have to tell you that colleges are not on the hunt to accept just anybody who applies—indeed, the admission process alone is evidence of that. No, colleges want the best and the brightest; they want the unique; the stand-outs, and the best way they can find them is through the essay questions and short answers. Whether you thoroughly enjoy writing (like I do) or you’d rather wait in line at the DMV, what will separate you from the crowd is your writing. Tens of thousands will have your exact GPA, or have the same score on the SAT, but nobody will have your story.
So then, how can you make your answers to this year’s supplements raise eyebrows and crack smiles? I’m so glad you asked.
1) Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?
Right off the bat, we know: UT is heavily career- and major-oriented. Your answer to this question should reflect that value. Be sure to relate back to the major you’ve chosen, but don’t simply refer to it; tell them why this major is a good fit for you. Like, really, why. Simply saying, “I really liked chemistry in high school” or “Robotics is cool” won’t cut the mustard, unfortunately. There’s a two-pronged approach here: 1) Take the opportunity to dive deep into the things in your major that are riveting, and 2) Why it must necessarily be done at this university. You can take biochemistry at Rice or Baylor; why must it be UT?
(“But DD,” you say, “what if my major is accounting or business management? What is riveting about that?” To you, I say: Bring the thunder! Numbers are fascinating, and being an effective businessperson is nothing to sneeze at. There are ways to make it riveting, trust me.)
2) Describe how your experiences, perspectives, talents, and/or your involvement in leadership activities (at your school, job, community, or within your family) will help you to make an impact both in and out of the classroom while enrolled at UT.
Here’s another two-parter. They not only want to know your experiences; they want to know how those experiences will positively impact others (You can be one heck of a student, but be a terrible person outside the classroom, and I’m pretty sure they try to avoid those people like the plague). Let’s establish though – there are different types of leadership. Not everyone is captain of the football team or president of the class. Besides, those are really kind of garden-variety things anyway (this is not to detract from captains of football teams or class pres’s).
Did you work backstage during theatre productions? Do you care for your grandmother or a younger sibling? Do you have a job alongside your schooling? Do you volunteer outside of school? Taking on responsibilities is inherently a form of leadership. In the verbiage of my father: “Them’s leadership skills.”
Now, here comes the crucible: How will this experience make an impact? How have your experiences made you fit for leadership? Has raising up younger siblings given you empathy or shown you how to manage your time and prioritize others’ needs? Has working backstage shown you the rewards of humility, or the ocean of preparation and coordination to make a finished product shine? This is another chance to give your answers depth and weight, to make your experience truly unique.
3) The core purpose of The University of Texas at Austin is, “To Transform Lives for the Benefit of Society.” Please share how you believe your experience at UT-Austin will prepare you to “Change the World” after you graduate.
This is a “tell me what you like about me” type question. They want to know: Why their school and not another? It may be a good idea to grab examples of past students who have gone on to do great things in the major you’re applying for. However, a who’s who, hall of fame type list is really only secondary to what they’re looking for. For this question, the school’s culture is the main thrust. The attitude of the other students around campus, the emphasis on this or that, the air of excellence that everybody breathes on campus, the prestige of the faculty–that kind of thing. They want to know if the school’s culture will make you a better you. “Both the call and the challenge inherent in the call itself will transform me into the best me.”
It would be a good idea to search the school’s website or social media accounts (of which, I’m quite certain, there are many) to see what kinds of things they’re up to, or things that they’ve done that caught your attention. Have they put on clinics recently? Or did they publicize a big project? Remember: identifying reasons why this school is the right fit for you is just as important as why your major is the right fit for you–it’s not just about the apple, but the tree you got it from as well.
(“But DD,” you say again, “How is accounting going to change the world?” To you, again, I say: “Even something as behind-the-scenes as an accountant can have an impact because of your time at UT.”)
4) 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.
Now this one is totally wide open. Make this your own–but do so in a way that follows the same logic as your other three questions. There has to be a point, an end goal, that says, in essence: “And this is why I am a perfect fit at UT” (but don’t actually say those words, verbatim).
If COVID made your life a living hell, say so! Now’s your chance! Show how you’ve met with adversity that impacted your academics. If your grades sagged because some event shattered your world, let them know it. You can address things that may have impacted your school performance or your home life or your relationship with friends. This is the place for unique factors that have made life particularly difficult or have forged you into who you are.
Texas A&M Supplements
1) Tell us about the person who has most impacted your life and why.
This question is a little tricky. Yes, it technically is about the person who impacted your life, but only inasmuch as they have impacted you, meaning: When you’ve finished writing your answer, the reader should know more about you than this most-admired person. I would recommend making the portion about said person no more than a third of your answer. Identify the person and the characteristic/quality/event that impacted you, and spend the rest of the time delving into the impact it has had.
Did a coach or teacher help you understand the value of self control? Did watching a family member juggle two jobs and still make time for others teach you about hard work and diligence? Did your best friend’s parents model what commitment and grace toward others really looks like? Or maybe someone in your life was the antithesis of good values, and you learned how not to be–and this is a totally acceptable response; nobody’s life is a Disney movie.
Once you’ve nailed down the starting point, expand on how the impact has directly affected you. How will the impact continue to affect you? Three quick things, if you do decide to write about the negative experience:
- Make sure you don’t make it about them; this isn’t the proper place to give full vent to your thoughts and emotions.
- It needs to end on a good note. How is your experience with this negative person leading you to a healthy place?
- Write with ownership. In most cases, it is appropriate to say, for example, “I became an angry person,” instead of, “They made me an angry person.” You own who you are and remove any notion that they have power over you.
2) Texas A&M University believes that diversity is an important part of academic excellence and that it is essential to living our core values. Describe the benefits of diversity and inclusion for you and for the Texas A&M campus community. Please share any personal experiences that have shaped your views.
Don’t get lost in the jargon here: true diversity of thought is crucial to critical thinking and progress, and true inclusion possesses real benefits to the whole, but your responses will be wholly your own; respond how you see fit. There is more to diversity and inclusion than race and culture. You’ll have to expand your thinking and get outside the very loud, very small box of our present time.
Consider writing about a time when your values or your understanding was challenged, and how that has been a benefit to you. Did it strengthen your values and understanding? Did it reshape them? Did it shatter them altogether? In all three cases, it was of immense value, was it not?
3) Describe a life event which you feel has prepared you to be successful in college.
This response is similar to your response to the first question, in that you’ll want to focus on the “how” and “why”more than the “what.” You should come up with a relatively recent, specific event–it won’t do to write about a lifestyle (“I’ve always been interested in robots”) or a distant memory (“When I was nine, I went to a camp and it changed my life”). It could be a coming-of-age situation, or a major jump in maturity. Or maybe it was the moment you realized, “Oh my gosh, this is my passion; I want this to be my job forever.”
Whatever you choose, as with the most-admired person, you want to focus on this event for a third of your response at most. The bulk of your answer should be the “how” and “why.” Coming of age brought on new responsibilities and a desire to take them on; that major jump in maturity gave you a new perspective on life and an ambition to do hard things; that ‘aha!’ moment fortified your determination to learn everything there is to know about your passion. Plug in how this prepares you for collegiate success, and voila! You’re finished!