UT-Austin competitive admission gives no advantage to ESL students

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Manuel Flores entered the UT English as a Second Language program in 2017, aiming to apply to UT’s petroleum engineering graduate program. However, because of UT’s competitive admission, Flores now attends the University of Houston instead. UT requires international students to reach a certain level of English proficiency before they are accepted, because the University has limited enrollment. Some Texas schools, however, allow conditional admission based on enrollment in ESL classes.

“We have many highly qualified international applicants but we have limited space,” said Deana Williams, associate director of international admissions. “If we were an open-ended admission school, where we could admit all the qualified students,
there might be more ability to guarantee them a space.”

Schools such as Texas State University, UT-Arlington and UT-San Antonio provide a way for students to be admitted on the condition they attend ESL classes to improve their English.

However, students who have completed the UT ESL program are given no advantage when it comes to their applications for undergraduate or graduate school, and are considered equal with other international applicants, Williams said.

International students from a non-English speaking country need to submit a Test of English as a Foreign Language or International English Language Testing System score, certifying the students’ English proficiency before being admitted as part of their application.

While schools like UH and West Texas A&M University provide TOEFL waivers for students who have completed their ESL program, UT does not. Michael Smith, director of ESL Services, said the ESL department provides free institutional TOEFL testing for full-time ESL students. This is accepted by UT admissions as official TOEFL scores.

The ESL department also provides support, such as inviting guest speakers from the admissions office, for ESL students applying to UT and other universities, Smith said.

“Since there is no conditional admission, they know they’re gonna have to go through the application process just like any other student,” Smith said. “We know UT’s admission process really well so we can give them good advice on what kind of things to highlight (in their applications).”

Flores said UT’s competitive admission policy requires students to prepare more to meet the University’s admission standards. After being rejected by UT, some ESL students choose to stay and continue to improve their TOEFL, IELTS, GRE or SAT scores. But for Flores, going to UH was the better option because he wanted to start graduate school as soon as possible.

“If you have more time then you keep on working to improve, and you (will) manage at the end to get acceptance if you meet their standards,” Flores said. “But I have some other friends ... who applied to UT and they didn’t get accepted and they said, ‘I’m gonna continue improving my English and improving my GRE and then I’ll apply again.’”

Although Smith said UT ESL was never created to be a fast track to getting a degree at the University, students in the programs still contribute to the University.

“Even though they’re not matriculated students, they add a lot diversity to the campus … and provide a way for us to connect (ESL) students with U.S. citizens who may not get the chance to interact with many international students,” Smith said.