Test scores are officially required again on the 40 acres!

Last week, The University of Texas at Austin reinstated SAT and ACT requirements as part of the first-year admission process. UT is just one in a growing list of selective universities to require test scores again after most went test optional as a result of COVID-19.

In this week’s blog, Laura Rich, a Director of College Advising at International College Counselors and a former Admissions Counselor at UT Austin, shares her expertise with us.

UT has always reviewed students holistically, considering both their academic and personal achievements. Academic Achievement includes their GPA/class rank, rigor of curriculum, and test score, while Personal Achievement considers essays, activities, and letters of recommendation.

Because UT admits by academic major, a major part of the holistic review focuses on fit for the selected first-choice major. While many of these factors are scholastic, there is a keen focus on activities and experiences that correlate to a student’s interest in their major, as well as how they convey that interest and preparation in their “why that major” short answer response. Showing this in an authentic and compelling way is one of the key pieces in getting that final YES.

As a former UT admissions counselor, I feel the test score has always played an important role, especially in the pool of automatic admits, when determining whether or not a student will be successful in their selected major.

For my readers not familiar with UT admissions, state law mandates that any student in a yearly pre-determined top percentage of their graduating class from a Texas high school will be automatically admitted to the university. Because the law states that no more than 75% of the incoming class can be automatically admitted, that percentage can change each year, but for the past few cycles, it has been the top 6%. While students in the top 6% are guaranteed a spot in the first-year class, they are still holistically reviewed for their selected major.

Automatic admits are the only applicants who are reviewed for their second choice major.

Academic readiness in the automatic admit pool varied greatly based on a student’s high school rigor offerings and resources. Some students in the automatic admissions pool were not calculus ready and lacked college-level writing and language skills. When reviewing transcripts, the disparity in GPAs for students across the state in the top 6% was eye-opening, with some achieving as high as almost 5.0 on a 4.0 scale with over a dozen plus AP classes, while others barely broke the 3.8 mark and had limited rigor. Therefore, test scores were an important metric in determining students’ success, especially for the more rigorous majors like engineering, natural sciences, and business. Test scores ultimately allowed the university to advise these students on the best academic options and support services that would allow them to be successful. After the launch of a new student success program in 2012, which used standardized scores as a predictor, UT has seen its graduation rate jump from 52% in 2013 to 74.5% in 2023.

Per UT: (Copied directly from the UT Austin News release)

  • 42% of the nearly 73,000 freshman applications for Fall 2024 asked to have their standardized scores considered in a holistic review (to “opt in”), while 49% of students applying under the state’s auto-admit rule (in the top 6% of their high school class) made that request.
  • Those who opted in had a median SAT score of 1420, compared with a median of 1160 among those who did not.
  • The higher standardized scores translated on average to better collegiate academic performance. Of 9,217 first-year students enrolled in 2023, those who opted in had an estimated average GPA of 0.86 grade points higher during their first fall semester, controlling for a wide range of factors, including high school class rank and GPA. Those same students were estimated to be 55% less likely to have a first semester college GPA of less than 2.0, all else being equal.

But the reinstitution of test scores aren’t the only changes on the 40 acres!

UT will turn its 11/1 Priority Deadline into a 10/15 Early Action Deadline. Students who meet the Early Action deadline are guaranteed a decision by January 15. December 1 will remain the Regular Decision deadline with a February 15 regular decision release date.

I know all students (and counselors!) will breathe a sigh of relief when reading that UT’s robust application writing requirements will now be reduced from three required short answer responses to two. One prompt will be the same major-related prompt, while the new prompt will allow them to highlight a specific activity. This is a common prompt in many college applications. UT will also keep its long essay requirement but allow for flexibility when it comes to topic choice.

UT discontinued its Waitlist some years back but will introduce the Waitlist again for the 2024-2025 cycle. The waitlist will, of course, not include automatic admits. Students may be notified as early as March 1 if they are admitted from the waitlist. UT has not released any further details about its waitlist policy, but in the past, there was no particular order to the waitlist, and decisions all came down to space availability in academic majors.

While letters of recommendation have always been optional at the University of Texas at Austin aside from several honors programs that require them, we always encouraged students to consider someone, usually not a teacher, who could shed light on new and valuable information that was not in the admissions application. UT has now doubled down on this to lessen the load of high school teachers and counselors and put more focus on what they consider to be more impactful application items and is recommending students submit a letter of recommendation from someone who knows them outside of the classroom.

That’s all for now! Hook ‘Em!

Laura Rich spent two years as an Admissions Counselor at the University of Texas at Austin where she read over 6,000 applications for both first-year admissions and honors programs. She also acted as an “Essay Expert” for the Texas Association for College Admissions Counseling (TACAC)’s “Camp College.” Laura now serves as a Director of College Advising at International College Counselors where she expertly helps students navigate UT admissions as well as dozens of other colleges in the U.S. and abroad.

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