UT Austin Admissions Demystified, Part 1

March 11, 2020

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the new harsh realities facing students applying to The University of Texas at Austin (UT Admissions: The New Reality (2019)). Reflective more of the interest in the topic rather than the quality of the prose, the post went viral and has nearly 100,000 views. At the request of many readers, I have decided to revisit my earlier observations and provide an update to the Fall 2019 admissions cycle. More importantly, I will attempt to simplify the UT Austin admissions landscape as it exists today. This new normal is critical for rising seniors and families as they build their college lists and form their expectations of admission.

I have broken this post into three parts, which I will be releasing over the next three weeks. Part 1 focuses on UT Austin admissions by examining the numbers. Part 2 will review what happens if you don’t get in through regular admissions. Then, in conclusion, Part 3 will share some insights and strategies for admissions into UT Austin given everything learned in Parts 1 and 2.

In my role as a college admissions counselor based in Texas, I get asked over and over again to explain why particular students are being denied admission to UT Austin. That question is followed by a litany of attributes that, on paper, appear to define an ideal candidate: high GPA, rigorous course selection, high test scores, incredible extracurricular activities, etc. After announcing my standard caveat that I don’t know the student, I don’t know their first-choice major, and I haven’t read their recommendations or their essays, I conclude that unfortunately the student is likely a victim of the new reality of UT Austin admissions: There’s just too many quality applications for too few spots.

Of course, despite being honest, that is not a satisfying answer. So, I decided to study the numbers and present this new reality in a simple format in hopes to head off unfounded optimism and to encourage students to invest time in discovering good-fit alternatives to the Forty Acres.

So, how many spots are we talking about?

The first thing to determine when evaluating your chances of being admitted to UT Austin is which group of students you will be competing with: 1) Top 6% Texas Resident Auto Admits, 2) Non-Top 6% Texas Resident Applicants, or 3) Out of State/Out of Country Applicants. Based on the Fall 2019 numbers, the 17,029 admits (out of 53,525 applications) handed out by UT Austin are broken down as follows:

Using the admissions alchemy of legislative mandates, historical application rates of auto admits, and actual yield rates of those offered admission, UT concluded that those 17,029 admits would result in 7,600 fall enrollees—the optimal class size as stated by President Fenves. The actual Fall 2019 enrollees were 8,190.

Now that we have defined the different types of applicants that make up UT Austin’s admission class, let’s take a closer look at each.

Top 6% Texas Resident Auto Admits

As the infographic illustrates, the Top 6% Texas Resident Auto Admits make up, by far, the largest segment of annual freshman admittees. For the Fall 2019 class, this group represented 62% of all admitted students. Recall, the State of Texas, beginning in Fall of 1998, implemented HB 588, which permitted any resident student in the Top 10% of their high school class as of the time of application to be automatically admitted to any state public institution, including UT Austin.

In an effort to better manage enrollment, UT Austin petitioned and implemented legislation, SB 175, for the Fall of 2011. The new provisions allow UT Austin to reduce the automatic threshold from 10% to any number that in their good faith will result in 75% of the university’s freshman resident enrollment capacity to be automatically admitted. This has seen the 10% threshold decrease over the years to its current 6% level.

FYI…there were approximately 375,000 high school graduates in Texas in 2019. By definition, the number of students eligible for auto admission to UT Austin was 22,500. However, historically, only about 50% of those eligible actually apply!

If you recall, UT Austin is striving for a class size of approximately 7,600 freshmen each year. That number includes not only top 6% students but also non-top 6% Texas residents and some portion of out-of-state/country students. So, you might ask if 10,542 students are automatically admitted, how is there room for anyone else? Well, the folks in the admissions office know that historically the number of admitted students in the top 6% who actually enroll at UT Austin is about 50%, otherwise known as the yield. For the Fall of 2019, 4,908 top 6% admittees enrolled, or 47% of those admitted. If that yield rate were to materially increase in any one year, UT Austin would have a serious capacity issue, as exemplified in 2018, when total enrollment reached 8,900 students.

While automatic admission guarantees enrollment in UT Austin, it does NOT guarantee enrollment in any particular major. All major decisions are made after a holistic review of the entire application.

So, if you are fortunate enough to be in this coveted group, you will be admitted to UT Austin upon application, but you will have to compete for a particular major based on all of the elements in your application. Year after year, we see students who know they will be automatic admits but fail to put in the work on their essays, expanded resume, and standardized test scores. Their initial excitement of gaining admission, is often eclipsed by their later disappointment that they will not be admitted into the program they want to pursue.

Now, let’s look at the next group of students—the group with the most applicants and the lowest admit rate.

Non-Top 6% Texas Resident Applicants

The Non-Top 6% Texas Resident Admits made up 21% of total admits for the Fall 2019 class. In raw numbers, that represented 3,508 students out of a total of 24,000 similarly situated applications, which equated to a 14.6% admission rate. This segment is even more competitive than the out-of-state/country pool, which I will discuss later. As a counselor, this is the group we hear from the most. The stories of incredible in-state candidates being rejected all come from this segment.

If you are applying to UT Austin as a Non-Top 6% Resident, statistically you are more likely to be admitted to such elite schools as UC Berkeley, Notre Dame, University of Michigan, Georgetown, UVA, and Emory!

The numbers simply do not lie. Why is it so hard for Texas kids to get into UT Austin who are outside the top 6%? After backing out the number of spots for auto admits and out-of-state/country students, there just isn’t much room left compared to the demand. So, everyone in this category is competing for about 3,500 spaces. For every 100 students applying in this group, 86 will be denied. That is a REACH for anyone outside the top 6%.

Applicants in this category are reviewed holistically by the admissions office, which includes transcript rigor, grades, test scores, essays, extracurricular activities, resumes, first-choice major, counselor letters, recommendations, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and social background (UT’s Holistic Review). Not only do you need to be academically qualified, you need to fit the profile in demand by a particular program that particular year. Suffice it to say, predicting the outcome of any application in this pool is foolhardy. In Part 3 of this series, I will share some insights on how to improve your application if you find yourself fighting for one of these limited spots.

Non-Texas Resident Applicants

If you were an out-of-state/country applicant for UT Austin’s Fall 2019 incoming class, then you were one of 18,983 students competing for 2,979 spots. Surprisingly, you had a better chance, albeit slim, of being admitted than in-state non-top 6% applicants—15 .7%. Of those admitted in this category, 923 students actually enrolled, which is a yield of 31%.

The non-Texas resident enrollees came from 49 states and 51 countries. It is yet to be seen how the Fall 2020 foreign admits/enrollees will be impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.

I know I have thrown a lot of numbers at you. I think it is important to shed some light on the reality of the admissions situation as it relates to UT Austin. While these numbers are public, finding, organizing, and correlating them is no easy task. This gives us a foundational understanding of why it has become such a struggle for so many to be future Longhorns. It’s less about being qualified and more about the crowding out effect by those in the top 6% and out-of-state/country categories.

In Part 2, I will review alternative ways that initially rejected students find themselves back at UT Austin. Get ready for some acronyms, such as CAP and PACE, and the appeals and transfer processes. Just to give you a preview, each year nearly 3,000 students gain admission through these secondary routes. Stay tuned!