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How to Write Perfect ApplyTexas Essays

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The ApplyTexas college application contains many essay prompts, and each of the most popular colleges in Texas has different requirements for which essays they expect applicants to answer.

So how do you get advice on writing your best ApplyTexas essays, no matter which school you're applying to? Look no further than this article, which completely unpacks all possible ApplyTexas essay prompts. We'll explain what each prompt is looking for and what admissions officers are hoping to learn about you. In addition, we'll give you our top strategies for ensuring that your essay meets all these expectations and help you come up with your best essay topics.

To help you navigate this long guide, here is an overview of what we'll be talking about:

 

What Are the ApplyTexas Essays?

The ApplyTexas application is basically the Texas version of the Common Application, which many US colleges use. It's a unified college application process that's accepted by all Texas public universities and many private ones. (Note that some schools that accept ApplyTexas also accept the Common App.)

The ApplyTexas website is a good source for figuring out whether your target college accepts the ApplyTexas application. That said, the best way to confirm exactly what your school expects is to go to its admissions website.

 

Why Do Colleges Want You to Write Essays?

Admissions officers are trying to put together classes full of interesting, vibrant students who have different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, goals, and dreams. One tool colleges use to identify a diverse set of perspectives is the college essay.

These essays are a chance for you to show admissions officers those sides of yourself that aren’t reflected in the rest of your application. This is where you describe where you've come from, what you believe in, what you value, and what has shaped you.

This is also where you make yourself sound mature and insightful—two key qualities that colleges are looking for in applicants. These are important because colleges want to enroll students who will ultimately thrive when faced with the independence of college life.

 

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Admissions staff want to enroll a diverse incoming class of motivated and thoughtful students.

 

ApplyTexas Essay Requirements

There are four essay prompts on the ApplyTexas application for first-year admission (Topics A, B, C, and D). For Topics A, B, and C, there are slight variations on the prompt for transfer students or those looking to be readmitted. We’ll cover each variation just below the main topic breakdown. There are also several short-answer prompts for UT Austin and Texas A&M, as well as Topic D for art and architecture majors and Topic E for transfer students only. Although there are no strict word limits, colleges usually suggest keeping the essays somewhere between one and one and a half pages long.

All Texas colleges and universities have different application requirements, including which essay or essays they want. Some schools require essays, some list them as optional, and others use a combination of required and optional essays. Several schools use the essays to determine scholarship awards, honors program eligibility, or admission to specific majors.

Here are some essay submission requirement examples from a range of Texas schools:

 

UT Austin

  • You are required to write an essay on Topic A.
  • You also have to answer three short-answer prompts (250–300 words each).
  • If you're applying for a studio art, art education, art history, architecture, or visual art studies major, you'll have to write a short answer specific to your major.
  • UT Austin also accepts the Common App.

 

Texas A&M

  • You are required to write an essay on Topic A.
  • If you're an engineering major, you'll have to respond to a short-answer prompt.
  • Texas A&M also accepts the Common App.

 

Southern Methodist University

  • You must write an essay on Topic A.
  • You may (but do not have to) write an essay on Topic B.
  • You also have to answer two short-answer prompts.
  • SMU also accepts the Common App and Coalition App and has its own online application, so you have the option to pick and choose the application you want to fill out.

 

Texas Christian University

 

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The essays required as part of each admissions application differ from college to college. Check each institution's website for the most up-to-date instructions.

 

 

Comparing ApplyTexas Essay Prompts A, B, and C

Three of the ApplyTexas essay topics try to get to the heart of what makes you the person you are. But since Topics A, B, and C all focus on things that are essential to you as a person, coming up with a totally unique idea for each can be difficult—especially since on a first read-through, these prompts can sound really similar.

Before I dissect all of the ApplyTexas essay prompts, let's see how A, B, and C differ from one another. You can then keep these differences in mind as you try to think of topics to write about.

 

ApplyTexas Prompts

Here are the most recent prompts for Topics A, B, and C on the ApplyTexas application.

 

Topic 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?

 

Topic B

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

 

Topic C

You've got a ticket in your hand. Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

 

How to Tell Topics A, B, and C Apart

One helpful way to keep these topics separate in your mind is to create a big-picture category for each one: Topic A is outside, Topic B is inside, and Topic C is the future.

In other words, Topic A is asking about the impact of challenges or opportunities on you and how you handled that impact. Topic B is asking about your inner passions and how these define you. Finally, Topic C wants to know where you're going from here. These very broad categories will help as you brainstorm ideas and life experiences you can use for your essay.

Although many of the stories you think of can be shaped to fit each of these prompts, think about what the experience most reveals about you. If it’s about how your external community shaped you, that'd probably be a good fit for Topic A. If it’s a story about the causes or interests that you're most passionate about, save it for Topic B. If it’s primarily about an event that you think predicts your future, it'll likely work well for Topic C.

(Note: if you are a transfer student writing the essay variation for Topics A, B, or C, keep in mind that these variations still ask you about the outside, inside, or future respectively.)

 

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Your years-long passion for performing in theater productions is an appropriate subject for ApplyTexas Topic B essays.

 

Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic A

Now, we'll thoroughly deconstruct everything you need to know about Topic A, the first ApplyTexas essay prompt.

 

The Prompt

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

 

What’s the Prompt Asking, and How Should You Answer It?

This prompt wants to see how a particular external experience as a high school student has shaped you. The prompt uses the phrase "your story," signaling that admissions staff want to know what you believe has had the biggest impact on you.

 

Step 1: Describe Your Experience

The first part of the prompt is about identifying and describing specific experiences you've had as a high school student. You don't want your essay coming across too vague, so make sure you're focusing on one or two specific experiences, whether they've been positive or negative. The prompt suggests zeroing in on something "unique," or something that has affected you in a way it hasn't impacted anyone else.

You'll want to choose an opportunity or challenge that you can describe vividly and that's really important to you. In other words, it needs to have had a significant impact on your personal development.

It should also be an experience that has been part of your life for a while. You're describing something that's affected you "throughout your high school career," after all.

 

Step 2: Explain How This Experience Shaped You

You shouldn't just describe your experience—you also need to discuss how that experience affected you as a person. How did this particular opportunity or difficulty turn you into the person you are today?

It's best if you can think of one or two concrete anecdotes or stories about how your chosen experience(s) helped shape you. For example, don't just say that a public piano recital made you a hard-working person—describe in detail how practicing diligently each day, even when you weren't feeling motivated, got frustrated by particular parts of the piece you were performing, and experienced stage fright showed you that working toward your goals is worthwhile, even when it's hard.

 

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Elaborating on how a specific challenge or obstacle that you faced during your high school career helped shape your current perspective and personality is one option for Topic A essays.

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

Admission staff are looking for two main things. First, they want to see that you can be mature and thoughtful about your surroundings and events in your life. Are you curious about the world around you? If you've really reflected on your experience, you'll be able to describe the people, places, and events that have impacted you as a high school student in a nuanced, insightful way.

Second, they want to see how you stand out from other applicants. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: (1) you can emphasize how you are somehow different because of your experience and how it impacted you, or (2) you can emphasize how you learned positive qualities from the event that differentiate you from other students. Basically, how did your experience turn you into a special, interesting person?

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

How can you make sure your essay is really answering the prompt? Here are some key strategies.

 

#1: Pick a Specific Experience

You'll need to select a particular opportunity or obstacle to zero in on. Opportunities include travel, internships, volunteer or paid jobs, academic events, and awards. Challenges might include competitions, performances, illnesses, injuries, or learning something new. Remember, you'll want to focus on one or two particular events or experiences that have truly contributed to your personal growth.

As you're choosing the experiences you want to write about, think about significant things that happened to you in connection with those events. Remember, you'll need to get beyond just describing how the opportunity or challenge is important to you to show how its impact on you is so significant.

 

#2: How Did This Experience Shape You?

You then need to consider what about your experience turned you into a person who stands out. Again, this can be about how you overcame the difficulty or how the opportunity fostered positive qualities or traits in you that would make you an appealing member of the college's student body. You want to make sure you have a clear message that links your experience to one, two, or three special traits you have.

Try to think of specific stories and anecdotes related to the event. Then, thoughtfully analyze these to reveal what they show about you. Important adults in your life can help you brainstorm potential ideas.

 

#3: Think of the Essay Like a Movie

Like a good movie script, a college essay needs characters, some action, and a poignant but ultimately happy ending. When you’re planning out your personal statement, try to think of the story you’re telling in movie terms. Ensure that your essay has the following features:

  • Setting: As you're describing your experience, taking time to give a vivid sense of place is key. You can accomplish this by describing the actual physical surroundings, the main "characters" in your community, or a combination of both.
  • Stakes: Movies propel the action forward by giving characters high stakes: win or lose, life or death. Even if you are describing your experience in positive terms, there needs to be a sense of conflict or dynamic change. In the anecdote(s) you've selected to write about, what did you stand to gain or lose?
  • External conflict resolution: If there's an external conflict of some kind (e.g., with a neighbor, a family member, a friend, or a city council), you need to show some level of resolution.
  • Internal conflict resolution: Inner conflict is essentially about how you changed in response to the event or experience. You'll need to clearly lay out what happened within you and how those changes have carried you forward as a person.

 

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Describing your feelings before, during, and after the opportunity or challenge is a crucial element of a Topic A college essay.

 

#4: Add Details, Description, and Examples

Your essay will really stand out if you add effective examples and descriptions.

For example, imagine Karima decides to describe how learning to navigate public transit as a high school first-year student made her resourceful and helped her explore the city she grew up in. She also discusses how exploring the city ultimately changed her perspective. How should she frame her experience? Here are some options:

Version 1

I was nervous about taking the El by myself for the first time. At the station, there were lots of commuters and adults who seemed impatient but confident. At first, I was very afraid of getting lost, but over time, I became as confident as those commuters.

 

Version 2

I felt a mixture of nerves and excitement walking up the Howard red line turnstile for the first time. What if I got lost on my way to the museum? I was worried that I would just seem like a nuisance to all of the frowning commuters who crowded the platform. If I needed help, would they help me? Was I even brave enough to ask?

When the metal doors opened, I pressed my nails into my palms and rushed in after a woman with a red briefcase. Success! At least for the first step. I found a sideways-facing seat and clutched my macrame bag with my notebook and sketching supplies. A map hung above my seat. Pressing my finger to the colorful grid, I found my stop and counted how many I still had to go. I spent the entire train ride staring at that map, straining my ears for everything the conductor said.

Now, when I think about the first time I rode the El by myself, I smile. What seemed so scary at the time is just an everyday way to get around now. But I always look around on the platform to see if any nervous kids linger at the edges of the commuter crowds and offer them a smile.

Both versions set up the same story plotwise, but the second makes the train ride (and therefore the author) come alive through the addition of specific, individualizing details, such as the following:

  • Visual cues: The reader "sees" what the author sees through descriptions such as "frowning commuters who crowded the platform," "woman with a red briefcase," and "colorful grid."
  • Emotional responses: We experience the author’s feelings: she "felt a mixture of nerves and excitement." She wonders if she's brave enough to ask for help. The train ride was "so scary at the time" but feels "everyday" now.
  • Differentiation: Even though the commuters are mostly a monolithic group, we get to see some individuals, such as the woman with a red briefcase.

 

ApplyTexas Topic A Essay Ideas

There's no one best topic for this essay prompt (or any other), but I've included some potential ideas below to help you get started with your own brainstorming:

  • Describe a time you organized the people around you to advocate a common local cause.
  • Hone in on a particular trip with one or more family members.
  • Identify a time when you were no longer in your comfort zone. Describe how you adapted and learned from that experience.
  • Discuss being a minority in your school or neighborhood.
  • Describe going through a cultural or religious rite of passage as a high school student.
  • Elaborate on how you moved from one place to somewhere totally different and handled your culture shock.

 

ApplyTexas Topic A for Transfer, Transient, or Readmit Students

If you are applying to transfer or to be readmitted, you likely already have some college experience. So in this case, ApplyTexas offers a personal statement option that allows you to write about your life beyond your high school years. This option still asks you to demonstrate what in your experience has turned you into a unique individual. But if, for instance, you left college and now are reapplying, you’ll want to address how some aspect of that experience made an impact on who you are now. Otherwise, follow the advice above for the standard Topic A prompt.

Here’s the current Essay Topic A prompt for transfer applicants:

The statement of purpose will provide an opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances that you feel could add value to your application. You may also want to explain unique aspects of your academic background or valued experiences you may have had that relate to your academic discipline. The statement of purpose is not meant to be a listing of accomplishments in high school or a record of your participation in school-related activities. Rather, this is your opportunity to address the admissions committee directly and to let us know more about you as an individual, in a manner that your transcripts and other application information cannot convey.

 

 

Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic B

Next up, let's go through the same process for ApplyTexas Topic B, taking it apart brick by brick and putting it back together again.

 

The Prompt

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

 

What’s the Prompt Asking?

At first glance, this prompt seems pretty vague. "Tell us about yourself" is not exactly the most detailed set of instructions. But if we dig a little deeper, we can see that there are actually two pretty specific things this question is asking.

 

#1: What Defines You?

This prompts posits that "most students"—which likely includes you!—have some kind of defining trait. This could be "an identity, an interest, or a talent," so you need to express what that defining trait is for you specifically.

For instance, are you an amazing knitter? Do you spend your free time researching cephalopods? Are you a connoisseur of indie movies or mystery novels? Or maybe you have a religious, cultural, ethnic, or LGBTQIA+ identity that's very important to you. Any of these things could plausibly be the main, framing theme of your essay.

 

#2: How Does That Defining Trait Fit Into "You" Overall?

Even though you have some kind of defining trait, that's not the entirety of you. Essentially, you need to contextualize your defining trait within your broader personality and identity. This is where the "tell us about yourself" part comes in. What does your defining trait say about you as a person? And how does it fit into your overall personality, values, and dreams?

 

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In a Topic B college essay, you could potentially describe your knowledge of chess and how it exemplifies your talent for thinking several steps ahead.

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

Admissions staff are hoping to learn two main things:

 

#1: What You're Passionate About

It's essential that this essay communicates genuine passion for whatever you write about. College is a lot of work, and passion is an important driving force when things get busy. Therefore, readers are looking for students who are really engaged in the world around them and excited about specific causes and activities!

 

#2: How You View Yourself (and How Successfully You Can Communicate That)

A strong, well-developed sense of self goes a long way toward helping you weather all the changes you're going to experience when you attend college. Even though you'll change and grow a lot as a person during your college years, having a sense of your own core traits and values will help those changes be exciting as opposed to scary.

Colleges are looking for a developed sense of self. Additionally, they are looking for students who can communicate messages about themselves in a clear, confident, and cohesive way.

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

The challenge with this prompt is giving a complete picture of you as a person while still staying on message about your defining trait. You need to be focused yet comprehensive. Let's explore the best ways to show off your passion and frame your identity.

 

#1: Define the Core Message

First, you need to select that defining trait. This could be pretty much anything, just as long as you're genuinely invested in this trait and feel that it represents some core aspect of you.

It should also be something you can describe through stories and anecdotes. Just saying, "I'm a redhead, and that defines me" makes for a pretty boring essay! However, a story about how you started a photography project that consists of portraits of redheads like you and what you learned about yourself from this experience is much more interesting.

Be careful to select something that presents you in a broadly positive light. If you choose a trait that doesn't seem very serious, such as your enduring and eternal love of onion rings, you risk seeming at best immature and at worst outright disrespectful.

You also want to pick something realistic—don't claim you're the greatest mathematician who ever lived unless you are, in fact, the greatest mathematician who ever lived (and you probably aren't). Otherwise, you'll seem out of touch.

 

#2: Fit Your Message into the Larger Picture

Next, consider how you can use this trait to paint a more complete picture of you as a person. It's great that you're passionate about skiing and are a member of a ski team, but what else does this say about you? Are you an adventurous daredevil who loves to take (reasonable) risks? Are you a nature lover with a taste for exploration? Do you love being part of a team?

Select at least two or three positive messages you want to communicate about yourself in your essay about your key trait.

 

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In a Topic B essay, a student could connect their long-time passion for cooking to their penchant for adding their unique touch to every project they take on.

 

#3: Show, Don't Tell

It's much more interesting to read about things you do that demonstrate your key traits than it is to hear you list them. Don't just say, "Everyone asks me for advice because I'm level-headed and reasonable." Instead, actually describe situations that show people asking you for advice and you offering that level-headed, reasonable advice.

 

#4: Watch Your Tone

It's important to watch your tone as you write an essay that's (pretty overtly) about how great you are. You want to demonstrate your own special qualities without seeming glib, staid, self-aggrandizing, or narcissistic.

Let’s say Andrew wants to write about figuring out how to grow a garden, despite his yard being in full shade, and how this desire turned into a passion for horticulture. He could launch into a rant about the garden store employees not knowing which plants are right for which light, the previous house owner’s terrible habit of using the yard as a pet bathroom, or the achy knee that prevented him from proper weeding posture.

Alternatively, he could describe doing research on the complex gardens of royal palaces, planning his garden based on plant color and height, using the process of trial and error to see which plants would flourish, and getting so involved with this work that he often lost track of time.

One of these approaches makes him sound whiny and self-centered, whereas the other makes him sound like someone who can take charge of a difficult situation.

 

ApplyTexas Topic B Essay Ideas

Again, there's no single best approach here, but I've outlined some potential topics below:

  • Are you known for being really good at something or an expert on a particular topic? How does this impact your identity?
  • Discuss how you got involved in a certain extracurricular activity and what it means to you. What have you learned from participating in it?
  • Describe something you've done lots of research on in your free time. How did you discover that interest? What have you learned as a result?
  • What's your most evident personality trait? How has that trait impacted your life? (You can ask friends and relatives for help with this one.)
  • Relate the importance of your LGBTQIA+ identity.
  • Discuss your religious or cultural background and how this defines you.
  • Describe your experience as a member of a specific community.

 

ApplyTexas Topic B for Transfer, Transient, or Readmit Students

The ApplyTexas variation on Topic B is specifically designed for two different possible application situations. The first is for people who are applying as nondegree-seeking or postbaccalaureate students (aka “transient students”). In this case, they ask you to discuss the courses you want to take and what you hope to accomplish if you are admitted. That means they still want you to focus this essay on what you are passionate about, as mentioned above, but they expect that passion to be based on courses the university offers more directly.  

The second is for students who are reapplying after being suspended for academic reasons. In this situation, they ask you to describe any actions you have taken to improve your academic performance and to give them a reason why you should be readmitted. You’ll still need to focus on your positive traits in this variation, so this can be a tricky task. As in the example above, you’ll need to watch your tone and not come across as whiny. Instead, confront the cause of your academic suspension and what you learned from that experience; then, turn it into a newfound strength. Maybe you learned new study habits you can describe for them. Maybe working full-time while you were suspended improved your work ethic. Whatever you choose, show how a negative situation changed into a positive learning experience for you, and focus on the better person you are now because of it. 

Here’s the current prompt for Essay Topic B for transfer applicants:

If you are applying as a former student and were suspended for academic reasons, describe briefly any actions you have taken to improve your academic abilities and give reason why you should be readmitted. If you are applying as a nondegree-seeking or postbaccalaureate application, briefly describe the specific objectives you wish to accomplish if admitted, including the courses in which you would like to enroll.

 

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Using a college essay to explicate in a clear, persuasive way what you've learned from an academic suspension can impress admissions counselors with your seriousnsess, motivation, and growth.

 

Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic C

Now, we can take apart Topic C to get a good handle on how to tackle this future-facing essay.

 

The Prompt

You've got a ticket in your hand—where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

 

What’s the Prompt Asking, and How Should You Answer It?

If ApplyTexas Topic A and Topic B were all about your past experiences, Topic C wants you to give readers a glimpse of your imagined possibilities.

There are basically two potential approaches to this question. We'll break them down here.

 

Option 1: Describe Your Long-Term Goals

One approach to this prompt is to use your essay as a chance to describe your long-term goals for your career and life.

For some students, this will be a straightforward endeavor. For example, say you’ve always wanted to be a doctor. You spend your time volunteering at hospitals, helping out at your mom’s practice, and studying biology. You could easily frame your "ticket" as a ticket to medical school. Just pick a few of the most gripping moments from these past experiences and discuss the overall trajectory of your interests, and your essay would likely be a winner!

But what if you’re not sure about your long-term goals yet? Or what if you feel like you really don't know where you're going next week, let alone next year or 10 years from now? Read on for Option 2.

 

Option 2: Demonstrate Thoughtful Imagination

Although you can certainly interpret this as a straightforward question about your future, you can also use it as a chance to be more imaginative.

Note that this entire question rests on the metaphor of the ticket. The ticket can take you anywhere; you decide. It could be to a real place, such as your grandmother's house or the Scottish Highlands or the Metropolitan Museum. Or it could be somewhere fantastical, such as a time machine to the Paleolithic.

The important point is that you use the destination you select—and what you plan to do there—to prove you're a thoughtful person who is excited about and actively engaged with the world around you.

 

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The destination you choose to write about, whether realistic or fantastical, should be clearly linked to a specific goal or set of goals that you wish to pursue or are currently pursuing.

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

If you're on a direct path to a specific field of study or career, admissions officers definitely want to know this. Having driven, goal-oriented, and passionate students is a huge plus for any college. If this sounds like you, be sure your essay conveys not just your interest but also your deep love of the subject, as well as any related clubs, activities, or hobbies you’ve done during high school.

If you take the more creative approach to this prompt, however, realize that in this essay (as in all the other ApplyTexas essays), the how matters much more than the what. Don't worry that you don't have a specific goal in mind yet. No matter where your eventual academic, career, or other pursuits might lie, every activity you've done up to now has taught you something, whether that be developing your work ethic, mastering a skill, learning from a mentor, interacting with peers, dealing with setbacks, understanding your own learning style, or persevering through hardship. Your essay is a chance to show off that knowledge and maturity.

So no matter what destination you choose for your ticket (the what), you want to communicate that you can think about future (and imagined!) possibilities in a compelling way based on your past experiences (the how).

Whether you take the ideas of "where you are going" and "what you are doing" in a more literal or more abstract direction, the admissions committee wants to make sure that no matter what you study, you'll be able to get something meaningful out of it. They want to see that you’re not simply floating through life on the surface but are actively absorbing the qualities, skills, and know-how you'll need to succeed in the world.

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

Here are some ideas for how to show that you have thoughtful and compelling visions of possible futures.

 

#1: Pick Where You're Going

Is this going to be a more direct interpretation of your goals (my ticket is to the judge's bench) or a more creative one (my ticket is to Narnia)? Whichever one you choose, make sure that you choose a destination that is genuinely compelling to you. The last thing you want is to come off sounding bored or disingenuous.

 

#2: Don’t Overreach or Underreach

Another key point is to avoid overreaching or underreaching. For instance, it’s fine to say that you’d like to get involved in politics, but it’s a little too self-aggrandizing to say that you’re definitely going to be president of the United States. Be sure that whatever destination you select for your ticket, it doesn’t come off as unnecessary bragging rather than simple aspiration.

At the same time, make sure the destination you've chosen is one that makes sense in the context of a college essay. Maybe what you really want is a ticket to the potato chip factory; however, this essay might not be the best place to elaborate on this imagined possibility.

While you can of course choose a whimsical location, you need to be able to ground it in a real vision of the kind of person you want to become. Don't forget who your audience is! College admissions officers want to find students who are eager to learn. They also want to be exposed to new thoughts and ideas.

 

#3: Flesh It Out

Once you've picked a destination, it's time to consider the other components of the question: What are you going to do once you reach your destination? What will happen there? Try to think of some key messages that relate back to you, your talents, and your goals.

 

#4: Ground Your "Journey" in Specific Anecdotes and Examples

The way this question is framed is very abstract, so ground your thoughts about your destination (whether it's more straightforward or more creative) in concrete anecdotes and examples that show you're thoughtful, engaged, passionate, and driven.

This is even more important if you go the creative route and are writing about an unusual location. If you don't keep things somewhat grounded in reality, your essay could come across as frivolous. Make sure you make the most of this chance to share real-life examples of your desirable qualities.

Imagine Eleanor’s essay is about how she wants a ticket to Starfleet Academy (for the uninitiated, this is the fictional school in the Star Trek universe where people train to be Starfleet officers). Which essay below conveys more about her potential as a student?

Version 1

My ticket is to Starfleet Academy. There, I would train to become part of the Command division so I could command a starship. Once I was captain of my own starship, I would explore the deepest reaches of space to interact with alien life and learn more about the universe.

 

Version 2

I've loved Star Trek since my dad started playing copies of old episodes for me in our ancient DVD player. So if I could have a ticket to anywhere, it would be to Starfleet Academy to train in the command division. I know I would make a superb command officer. My ten years of experience in hapkido have taught me discipline and how to think on my feet. Working as a hapkido instructor in my dojo the past two years has honed my leadership and teaching qualities, which are essential for any starship commander. Additionally, I have the curiosity and sense of adventure necessary for a long career in the unknown reaches of space. Right now, I exercise my thirst for exploration through my photography blog. Using my DSLR camera, I track down and photograph obscure and hidden places I find in my town, on family trips, and even on day trips to nearby cities. I carefully catalogue the locations so other people can follow in my footsteps. Documentation, after all, is another important part of exploring space in a starship.

 

Both versions communicate the same things about the imagined destination, but the second essay does a much better job showing who Eleanor is as a person. All we really learn from the first excerpt is that Eleanor must like Star Trek.

We can also infer from version 1 that she probably likes leadership, exploration, and adventure because she wants to captain a starship, but we don't really know that for sure. Admissions officers shouldn't have to guess who you are from your essay; your essay should lay it out for them explicitly and articulately.

In the second essay, by contrast, Eleanor clearly lays out the qualities that would make her a great command officer and provides examples of how she exemplifies these qualities. She ties the abstract destination to concrete activities from her life, such as hapkido and photography. This provides a much more well-rounded picture of what Eleanor could bring to the student body and the school at large.

 

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Eleanor's essay about her desire to explore the final frontier creatively illustrates her curiosity and leadership potential.

 

ApplyTexas Topic C Essay Ideas

I've come up with some sample essay ideas for the two different approaches to this prompt.

 

Possibility 1: Your Concrete Goals

  • Describe your goal to pursue a particular academic field or career and discuss how specific classes or extracurricular activities ignited that passion
  • Discuss how your plans to pursue politics, project management, or another leadership role were fostered by a first experience of leadership (this could be a straightforward leadership position in a club or job or a more indirect or unplanned leadership experience, such as suddenly having to take charge of a group).
  • Discuss how your desire to teach or train in the future was sparked by an experience of teaching someone to do something (e.g., by being a tutor or by helping a sibling deal with a particularly challenging class or learning issue).
  • Describe your goal to perform on stage, and discuss how your past experiences of public creativity (e.g., being in a play, staging an art show, performing an orchestra, or being involved in dance,.) led you to this goal

 

Possibility 2: Creative/Abstract Destination

  • What would you do if you could visit the world of a favorite childhood book, movie, or TV series? What qualities does that show about you?
  • Is there a relative or friend you would like to visit with your ticket?
  • Is there a particular historical period you would like to time travel to?
  • Is there a destination you've always wanted to go to that you've read about, heard about, or only conjured up in dreams or in a moment of creativity?

Remember to tie your imaginative destination to concrete details about your special qualities!

 

Topic C for Transfer, Transient, or Readmit Students

ApplyTexas offers a Topic C alternative in case there is personal information you want them to consider along with your application, such as why you are transferring to a new school. They still want you to focus on the future, but they encourage discussing any hardships, challenges, extenuating circumstances, or opportunities that have affected your abilities and academic credentials (in a positive way). They also want you to discuss how these circumstances can help you contribute to a diverse college community. In this case, this variation is not fundamentally different from the ticket question; it just asks for a more specific focus. So if this variation applies to you, use the advice above for question C option one. 

Here’s the current prompt for Essay Topic C for transfer applicants:

There may be personal information that you want considered as part of your admissions application. Write an essay describing that information. You might include exceptional hardships, challenges, or opportunities that have shaped or impacted your abilities or academic credentials, personal responsibilities, exceptional achievements or talents, educational goals, or ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.

 

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Would you use your ticket to visit Renaissance Italy, a journey you metaphorically hope to take as a history major?

 

Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic D

If you're applying to one of several fine arts fields, you might have to write this essay.

 

The Prompt

Personal interaction with objects, images, and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (architecture, art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image, or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?

 

What’s the Prompt Asking?

If you’re applying to study architecture, art, or art history, one of the essays you will likely have to write is this one. This essay topic is trying to ask as broadly as possible about an experience with art that has moved you in some way. This means that your options for answering the question are quite varied. So what are the two different parts of this prompt? Let's take a look.

 

Part 1: Observation and Reaction

Think of a time you experienced that blown-away feeling when looking at something human made. This is the reaction and situation the first part of the essay wants you to recreate. The prompt is primarily interested in your ability to describe and pinpoint exactly what quality made you stop in your tracks. The huge set of inspiring object options the prompt offers tells us that your taste level won't be judged here.

You can focus on a learning experience, which includes both classes and extracurricular activities, or you can focus on a direct experience in which you encountered an object or space without the mediation of a class or teacher. The only limit to your focus object is that it is something made by someone other than you. Your reaction should be in conversation with the original artist, not a form of navel-gazing.

The key for this part of the essay is that your description needs to segue into a story of change and transformation. What the essay topic is asking you to show isn’t just that you were struck by something you saw or learned about, but that you also absorbed something from this experience that impacted your own art going forward.

 

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Did seeing the Angkor Wat Temple during a trip abroad with your family foster your intellectual passion for Southeast Asian art or religious monuments?

 

Part 2: Absorption

This brings us to the second part of the essay prompt: this is where you need to move from the past into the presentand then at least gesture meaningfully toward the future.

It’s one thing to look at a piece of art, such as a sculpture or architectural form, and feel moved by its grace, boldness, or vision. But it’s a sign of a mature, creative mind to be able to take to heart what is meaningful to you about this work and then transmute this experience into your own art or your interpretation of others' creative works.

This essay wants to see that developing maturity in you; therefore, you should explain exactly how your own vision has changed after this meaningful encounter you've described. What qualities, philosophy, or themes do you now try to infuse into what you create or how you analyze art?

More importantly, this essay prompt asserts that being affected by something once isn’t enough. That’s why in this second part of the essay, you also need to explain what you’ve been doing to keep having similarly moving encounters with other creative works.

You have some choice, too, when it comes to answering, "What have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?" For example, you could describe how you’ve sought out other works by the same artist who moved you the first time. Or you could describe investigating new media or techniques to emulate something you saw. Or you could discuss learning about the period, genre, school, or philosophical theory that the original piece of art comes from to give yourself a more contextualized understanding.

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

If you’re planning an academic career in the visual arts or architecture, then you’re entering a long conversation started by our cave-painting ancestors and continuing through every human culture and society since.

This essay wants to make sure that you aren’t creating or interpreting art in a vacuum and that you have had enough education and awareness to be inspired by others. By demonstrating how you react to works that move you—not with jealousy or dismissal but with appreciation and recognition of another’s talent and ability—you're proving that you're ready to participate in this ongoing conversation.

At the same time, this essay is asking you to show your own creative readiness. For example, describe not only the work you have produced but also your ability to introduce new elements into that work—in this case, inspired by the piece you described. This way, you can demonstrate that you aren’t a one-note artist but are mature enough to alter and develop what you make. Or if you want to major in art history or art education, relate how your perspective on a particular piece of art or architecture is shaped by your unique perspective, based on your experiences, education, and cultural identity.

 

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A student might write their Topic D essay on how Michelangelo's Madonna della Pietà has influenced their own artistic renderings of youth and beauty in grief.

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

What are some best practices for teasing out the complexities of art in written form? Here are some helpful tips as you brainstorm and write your essay.

 

#1: Pick One Piece of Art or Learning Experience

Once you’ve chosen between these two contexts, narrow down your selection even further. If you're writing about an educational encounter, don’t forget that it can come from an informal situation as well. For example, you could write about something you learned on your own from a documentary, a museum visit, or an art book.

If you're writing about a direct experience with art, don't necessarily fixate on a classic piece. Alternatively, you could discuss a little-known public sculpture, a particularly striking building or bridge you saw while traveling, or a gallery exhibition.

Whatever you end up writing about, make sure you know some of the identifying details. You don’t need to know the answers to all the following questions, but do your best to research so you can answer at least two or three of them:

  • Who is the artist?
  • Where is the piece on display?
  • What kind of work is it?
  • With what materials was it made?
  • When was it made?

 

#2: Figure Out Why You Were Struck by This Particular Work

The make-it-or-break-it moment in this essay will be your ability to explain what affected you in the object you're writing about. Why is it different from other works you’ve seen? Were you in the right place and time to be moved by it, or would it have affected you the same way no matter where or when you saw it? Did it speak to you because it shares some of your ideals, philosophies, or tastes—or because it was so different from them?

Be careful with your explanation because it can easily get so vague as to be meaningless or so obscure and "deep" that you lose your reader. Before you start trying to put it down on paper, try to talk out what you plan to say either with a friend, parent, or teacher. Do they understand what you’re saying, and do they believe you?

 

#3: Make a Timeline of Your Own Creative Works

When you think about what you've been making or thinking about making during your high school career, what is the trajectory of your ideas? How has your understanding of the materials you want to work with or study changed? What message do you want your works to convey, or what message in others' works most resonate with you? How do you want your works to be seen or engaged with by others? What is the reason you feel compelled to be creative or involved in the arts?

Now that you’ve come up with this timeline, see whether your changes in thought overlap with the art experience you're planning on describing. Is there a way you can combine what was so exciting to you about this work with the way you’ve seen your own ideas about art evolve?

 

#4: Use a Mix of Concreteness and Comparisons in Your Description

Just as nothing ruins a joke like explaining it, nothing ruins the wordless experience of looking at art as talking it to death does. Still, you need to find a way to use words to give the reader a sense of what the piece that moved you actually looks like—particularly if the reader isn't familiar with the work or the artist that created it.

Here is my suggested trick for writing well about art. First, be specific about the object. Discuss its colors, size, what it appears to be made of, what your eye goes to first (e.g., bright colors versus darker, more muted ones), what it represents (if it’s figurative), where it is in relation to the viewer, whether or not you can see marks of the tools used (e.g., brush strokes or scrapes from sculpting tools).

Second, step away from the concrete, and get creative with language by using techniques such as comparative description. Use your imagination to create emotionally resonant similes. Is there a form of movement (e.g., flying, crawling, or tumbling) that this piece feels like? Does it remind you of something from the natural world (e.g., a falling leaf, a forest canopy being moved by wind, waves, or sand dunes shifting)?

If the work is figurative, imagine what has been happening just before the moment in time it captures. What happened just after this point? Using these kinds of nonliteral descriptors will let your reader understand both the actual physical object and its aesthetic appeal.

 

 

Dissecting the UT and Texas A&M Short-Answer Prompts

Both UT Austin and Texas A&M require short answers as part of their first-year applications. For both schools, some prompts are required by all applicants, whereas others are required by those applying to certain majors or departments.

We'll go over the UT Austin prompts, followed by the Texas A&M prompt.

 

UT Austin Short-Answer Prompts

UT Austin requires three short answers from all first-year applicants and also offers an optional prompt. Each short answer should be approximately 250–300 words, or one paragraph.

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

Short Answer 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.

Short Answer 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.

Optional Short Answer: Please share background on events or special circumstances that may have impacted your high school academic performance.

 

What Are These UT Austin Short-Answer Prompts Asking?

Obviously, these short-answer prompts are asking four different things, but they do have some similarities in terms of their overall goals.

These prompts basically want to know what you can offer UT Austin and why you'd be a great fit as a student there. They also want to know why you chose UT Austin and your specific major.

In other words, all these prompts essentially work together as a "Why This College?" essay.


 

How Can You Give UT Austin What They Want?

Admissions officers will be looking for evidence that you're genuinely interested in the school, the major you've chosen, and the career you want to pursue. Make sure to identify features of the program that appeal to you. In other words, why UT Austin? What makes you a good fit here?

Be as specific as possible in your responses. Since you won't have much room to write a lot, try to focus on a particular anecdote, skill, or goal you have.

Admissions officers also want to see that you have an aptitude for your chosen career path, so if you have any relevant work, research, or volunteer experience, they definitely want to know this! It's OK to take a broad view of what's relevant here.

Finally, they're looking for individuals who have clear goals as well as a general idea of what they want to do with their degree. Are you interested in working with a specific population or specialty? Why? What led you to this conclusion?

 

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Texas A&M Engineering Prompt

All engineering applicants to Texas A&M must submit an esssay responding to the following prompt:

Describe your academic and career goals in the broad field of engineering (including computer science, industrial distribution, and engineering technology). What and/or who has influenced you either inside or outside the classroom that contributed to these goals?

 

What Is This Texas A&M Engineering Prompt Asking?

The engineering prompt wants to know two essential things:

  • What are your future goals for your specific field of interest (i.e., the kind of engineering field you want to go into or are considering going into)?
  • What environmental or external factors (e.g., a person, a mentor, a volunteer experience, or a paper or book you read) contributed to your development of these goals?

 

How Can You Give Texas A&M What They Want?

Be as specific as possible in your response. For the engineering prompt, what admissions officers want to know is simply what your biggest engineering ambition is and how you came to have this goal.

You'll want to be as specific as possible. Admissions officers want to see that you have a clear future in mind for what you want to do with your engineering degree. For example, do you plan to go on to a PhD program? Why? Do you have a particular career in mind?

In addition, make sure to specify the main inspiration for or motivation behind this goal. For instance, did you have a high school teacher who encouraged you to study engineering? Or perhaps you decided on a whim to take a computer science class, which you ended up loving.

Remember that the inspiration for your engineering goals doesn't have to be limited to something school-related. If you get stuck, think broadly about what initially got you interested in the field.

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Briefly: ApplyTexas Essay Topic E (Transfer Students)

US transfer students and international transfer students must typically submit an additional essay responding to the following prompt (or must submit an essay on one of the topic variations listed above).

 

The Prompt

Choose an issue of importance to you—the issue could be personal, school related, local, political, or international in scope⁠—and write an essay in which you explain the significance of that issue to yourself, your family, your community, or your generation.

 

What's the Prompt Asking?

This prompt, which is intended for transfer students, essentially wants to know what hardship, challenge, or social issue has affected you on a personal level (or a larger group you're part of) and why you think this particular issue is so important to you.

For example, maybe you identify as LGBTQIA+ and have personally experienced discrimination in your local community because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Or perhaps you grew up in a wealthy family but have begun to see recently how widespread the issue of homelessness really is and now are making a more conscious effort to find ways to remedy this problem in your own community.

The issue you choose doesn't have to relate to a wider social issue; it could be a learning disability you have, for instance, or the fact that you no longer share the same religious beliefs as your  family.

The most important part of this question is the connection between the issue and yourself. In other words, why is this issue so important to you? How has it affected your life, your goals, your experiences, etc.?

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

This essay is a way for admissions officers to get to know you and what matters to you personally on a much deeper level than what some of the other essay topics allow, so don't be afraid to dive into topics that are very emotional, personal, or special to you.

Furthermore, be sure to clearly explain why this particular issue—especially if it's a broader social issue that affects many people—is meaningful to you. Admissions officers want to know about any challenges you've faced and how these have positively contributed to your own growth as a person.

 

The Bottom Line: Tips for Writing ApplyTexas Essays

The ApplyTexas application contains four essay prompts (Topics A, B, C, and D), with different schools requiring different combinations of mandatory and optional essays. There are also short-answer prompts for UT Austin, as well as a Topic E only for transfer students.

One way to keep these three similar-sounding essay topics (A, B, and C) separate in your mind is to create a big-picture category for each one:

  • Topic A is about your outside.
  • Topic B is your inside.
  • Topic C is about your future.

Now, let's briefly summarize each essay topic:

Essay Topic A

  • Overview: Describe any unique experiences you've had as a high school student and how these have shaped who you are as a person.
  • Tips:
    • Pick a specific aspect of your experience.
    • Describe how it made you special.
    • Describe the setting, stakes, and conflict resolution.
    • Add details, description, and examples.

Essay Topic B

  • Overview: Describe a defining trait and how it fits into the larger vision of you.
  • Tips:
    • Define the core message.
    • Fit that core message of yourself into the larger picture.
    • Show things about yourself; don’t tell.
    • Watch your tone to make sure that you show your great qualities without seeming narcissistic, boring, glib, or self-aggrandizing.

Essay Topic C

  • Overview: Describe "where you are going" in either a literal, goal-oriented sense or a more imaginative sense.
  • Tips:
    • Pick where you’re going, but don’t over- or underreach.
    • Flesh out your destination. How does it relate back to you?
    • Ground your “journey” in specific anecdotes and examples.

Essay Topic D

  • Overview: Describe being affected by a work of art or an artistic experience to make sure that you are ready to enter a fine arts field.
  • Tips:
    • Pick one piece of art or one specific experience of learning about art.
    • Figure out exactly why this work or event struck you.
    • Examine your own work to see how this artwork has affected your creativity or engagement with art or art history.
    • Use a mix of concrete descriptions and comparisons when writing about the piece of art.

Short-Answer Prompts

  • Overview: Specific to UT Austin applicants
  • Tips:
    • Describe your relevant experiences and interests up to this point.
    • Describe what about the program appeals to you and how you will use your degree (i.e., your future goals).
    • Treat the prompts as parts of a "Why This College?" essay.

Essay Topic E (Transfer Students)

  • Overview: Specific to US and international transfer applicants
  • Tips:
    • Pick an issue that means a lot to you and has had a clear effect on how you see yourself.
    • Emphasize how this issue or how you've treated this issue has ultimately had a positive impact on your personal growth.

 

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What's Next?

Curious about the other college essay choices out there? If your target college also accepts the Common Application, check out our guide to the Common App essay prompts to see whether they would be a better fit for you.

Interested to see how other people tackled this part of the application? We have a roundup of 100+ accepted essays from tons of colleges.

Stuck on what to write about? Read our suggestions for how to come up with great essay ideas.

Working on the rest of your college applications? We have great advice on how to find the right college for you, how to write about your extracurricular activities, and how to ask teachers for letters of recommendation.

 

 

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Dr. Anna Wulick
About the Author

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.



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