A Guide to the Colleges in Texas

Padya Paramita

A Guide to the Colleges in Texas

So, you want to attend college in Texas. Whether you’ve grown up in the Lone Star State your whole life or you want to move south because you love warmer weather, the area has numerous options when it comes to undergrad institutions. But the question is, how do you look through the 143 colleges in Texas and decide which ones to put on your school list?

You might be drawn in by the UT Austin football stadium, or you’re possibly more interested in checking out the undergraduate engineering school at a private university like Rice. You could also be wondering what other institutions are out there, especially given that there are so many Texas schools that they’ve even got their own separate application system! To help guide you through the choices that lie ahead, I’ve outlined the acceptance rates at a few of the top colleges in Texas, explained the different types of schools that exist, gone over academic opportunities at these institutions, and finally provided some application tips as you navigate the process.

List of Top Colleges in Texas

As expected from a large state, Texas is home to a range of schools that vary in size and offerings. The following table features the top 10 colleges in Texas according to the US News National University Rankings. I’ve also included the cities where they’re located and the acceptance rates:

School City US News Ranking Acceptance Rate
Rice University Houston 17 9%
University of Texas - Austin Austin 48 In-state: 48.5%; Out-of-state: 25.9%
Southern Methodist University Dallas 64 48.9%
Texas A&M University - College Station College Station 70 67.2%
Baylor University Waco 79 38.9%
Texas Christian University Fort Worth 97 41%
University of Texas - Dallas Richardson 147 80.8%
University of Houston Houston 185 62%
Texas Tech University Lubbock 218 71%
University of Incarnate Word San Antonio 272 91.9%

Alongside these, Texas is also home to private liberal arts colleges such as Trinity University in San Antonio, which sits at #1 among the Best Regional Universities West rankings. If you’re wondering whether your numbers are on par with these schools, check out their median scores below:

School Median SAT Score
Rice University 1535
University of Texas - Austin 1360
Southern Methodist University 1370
Texas A&M University - College Station 1170
Baylor University 1215
Texas Christian University 1175
University of Texas - Dallas 1325
University of Houston 1215
Texas Tech University 1155
University of Incarnate Word 1056

Understandably, you should check whether your SAT scores align with those of admitted students when making your school list. If your scores are near the low 1400s, Rice might not be a wise choice, but you’d still be a very competitive candidate for the other universities. Admissions factors can also be affected by whether or not an applicant is from Texas when it comes to public universities, where selectivity and other advantages vary depending on your residential status.

The Different Types of Colleges in Texas

The UT System

When you’re thinking about which of the colleges in Texas to apply to, you should also keep in mind whether campus and size may play a role in the matter. Many of the larger schools in the state fall under the University of Texas (UT) umbrella, making up one of the largest public university systems in the US. The UT schools are:

  • The University of Texas at Arlington
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • The University of Texas at El Paso
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio
  • The University of Texas at Tyler
  • The University of Texas of the Permian Basin

One-third of students who graduate from Texas universities every year receive their degrees from one of the UT schools. It’s also one of the largest employers in the state. If you’re someone who’s suited to a large public university setting, consider looking into the different UT campuses. These come with in-state benefits for Texans. For example, UT Austin offers automatic admission to freshman applicants who are at the top 6% of their Texas high school. Students at the top 10% of their Texan high school are automatically admitted to UT Dallas. 

As you saw previously, UT Austin is also far more selective when it comes to admitting out-of-state applicants. In-state benefits are also applicable for tuition at all public Texan universities. The in-state tuition for Texas A&M is $10,862 while the out-of-state cost is $37,890. Meanwhile, residents pay $11,320 at Texas Tech per year, which is much lower compared to the nonresident tuition cost of $23,770.

Private Colleges

Schools such as Rice University, Texas Christian University, Trinity University, Baylor University, and Southern Methodist University are all private colleges in Texas. While they don’t offer specific advantages for in-state candidates, they do still provide strong academic options, along with smaller classes and close-knit communities. Rice University, in particular, is one of the most prestigious colleges in the country and is known for its engineering, music, and architecture programs. Baylor University is also home to one of the best medical schools. So, if you’re pre-med, you could have opportunities to network with current medical students as well as doctors in its affiliated hospitals, and maybe even find research or shadowing opportunities.

Unique Opportunities at the Different Texas Colleges

You may also be curious to learn about what awaits you once you’re at these institutions and why you should be motivated to apply in the first place. Below I’ve outlined unique academic and campus opportunities at some of the top Texas institutions. 

School Unique Opportunities
Rice University Separate undergraduate schools in engineering, social sciences, natural sciences, music, architecture, and humanities; unique majors such as Sports Management, Kinesiology, and Managerial Studies; sense of community ingrained through the residential college system - students are assigned a college in their freshman year where they continue to live and grow through their time at Rice
UT Austin Specific undergraduate schools in architecture, business, communication, education, engineering, fine arts, geosciences, liberal arts, natural sciences, nursing, pharmacy, social work, and undergraduate studies; specialized majors such as Petroleum Science, Hydrogeology, and Arts and Entertainment Technologies; programs geared towards helping freshmen adjust to the large student body, such as 360 Connection or a first-year community, and First-Year Interest Groups of 18-25 first-year students who take two to four classes together during their first fall semester at UT
Texas A&M Specialized undergraduate colleges in agriculture and life sciences, architecture, business, education and human development, engineering, geosciences, liberal arts, nursing, public health, sciences, veterinary medicine; quirky majors such as Ocean Engineering, Construction Science, and Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences; one of the largest research universities in the country, with plenty of opportunities for undergraduates
Baylor University Undergraduate courses in arts & sciences, business, education, engineering & computer science, health & human sciences, museum studies, music, nursing, and social work; unique courses include Apparel Design and Product Development, Aviation Sciences, and Poverty Studies and Social Justice; average class size of 26 allows for more interaction with classmates and professors
Trinity University Six curriculum requirement (The First Year Experience, Approaches to Creation and Analysis, The Core Capacities, The Interdisciplinary Clusters, The Major, Fitness Education) creates a solid foundational base for students; unique programs include Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Business Analytics & Technology, and Human Communication; different centers dedicated to help particular student interests: Student Success Center, Center for Experiential Learning and Career Success, Center for International Engagement, Center for the Sciences & Innovation, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Of course, where you apply depends on your priorities. If you value a college with plenty of funding allocated towards research, look more into Texas A&M, while if you want smaller class sizes, Baylor or Trinity may be more of the right path for you. As you work on your list, remember that research is absolutely key in this process. Look through the websites, read brochures, and talk to people so that you can discover which of the colleges in Texas has programs, courses, and resources that can help you reach your goals. 

Applying to Colleges in Texas

Different colleges in Texas use different centralized application systems. 53 universities use the ApplyTexas portal, including all of the UT and Texas A&M campuses, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, and Baylor University. Some overlap with other application systems as well, for example, Texas A&M University uses both ApplyTexas as well as the Coalition App. Baylor also lets you apply through the Common App. Meanwhile, Rice University is notably missing from ApplyTexas and can be found on the Common Application. But if you’ve got your eyes on multiple colleges in Texas, chances are that you’ll have to use ApplyTexas. 

ApplyTexas starts off by inquiring about your family and educational background to provide the schools with more context on where you come from and how you’ve challenged yourself in the classroom. This portal also includes 10 slots for your extracurricular activities and 8 spots each for your volunteering efforts, employment opportunities, and awards. These all convey your interests to admissions officers so that they understand how you’ve pursued your passions. 

When filling out these application systems, remember to prioritize your most impressive achievements first. Think about activities where you’ve held leadership positions, made tangible achievements, and showed impressive commitment to over the years. Colleges in Texas don’t just want to see good grades and SAT scores - you need to show that you’ve actively pursued your interests outside the classroom as well.

Required Essays for Colleges in Texas

You also have to write a personal essay between 500-1000 words, along with answering school-specific questions where applicable. The questions are:

Essay 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?

Essay B

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

Essay C

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

The prompts that are required depend entirely on the school, although most require at least Essay A. Texas A&M requires Essay A and B, while UT Austin only requires Essay A (but has three smaller custom questions). Carefully read the instructions for each of your schools before writing your responses. Think about what makes your story unique, because it’s all about distinguishing yourself from other applicants! You can learn more about how to tackle each of these prompts here

Essays for Rice University

If you’re applying to Rice University or one of the other colleges in Texas that uses the Common App, you’ll have to write a 650-word personal statement, as well as answer school-specific questions. These essays help admissions officers understand why you have chosen their institution, how you will contribute to the college community, and what makes you a unique applicant. 

Rice is also famous for its signature supplemental prompt, “The Box,” where you have to include a photo of something that “appeals to you,” without any space for an explanation using words. For such a question, you have to think about how to choose a photo that can best demonstrate your personality, interests, and aspirations. It doesn’t have to be extremely deep, but it should still convey a meaningful message.

No matter where your interests lie, there’s probably one or more options for you as you look through the colleges in Texas. Carefully weigh your options as you uncover more information and continue doing research. And if you want your application to shine, make sure you work hard in your classes and take on leadership roles in your extracurriculars. If you’re a strong applicant, your application will stand out as memorable to admissions officers, which is absolutely essential during this process.

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