The biggest open house in Texas
Future students, parents, school children and teachers from across the state discover the university’s research, art, traditions and resources at Explore UT
Feb. 27, 2012
Travis Imken, an aerospace engineering major and member of the Longhorn Band, is looking forward to graduating this May from The University of Texas at Austin. It’s been a long road to this milestone — one that began before he even applied to the university.
As a junior in high school, Imken joined thousands of visitors at Explore UT, the annual open house held each spring at The University of Texas at Austin. It was the first time he was able to truly experience the university and its offerings, and for Imken, Explore UT made his decision to go to The University of Texas at Austin easy.
“Growing up, I always had a passion for atmospheric and space flight, and the only two schools in Texas that have aerospace engineering programs are UT Austin and A&M,” said Imken. “I decided to visit both universities and compare their programs.
“The atmosphere at Explore UT was warm and friendly, and I was able to tour their laboratories, speak to student organizations, and interact with students and advisers who could answer all my questions about college life and their aerospace engineering program. The culture at UT was extremely inviting, and I knew immediately it was the place for me.”
Imken’s experience epitomizes what Explore UT is about. This year’s open house — featuring activities, events and exhibits that highlight outstanding teaching and research on campus — will be held Saturday, March 3, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
While the day’s events are intended to entertain and engage all who traverse the campus, the belief that “What Starts Here Changes the World” drives the event organizers to educate and inform students about a potential future in higher education.
Over the years, as attendance has increased and diversified, organizers have focused more on using Explore UT as a recruitment tool. Two years ago, the UT VIP program was added, targeted specifically to high school students who have been admitted to the university but have not yet committed to attending.
“The program is meant to create an Explore UT-like experience for top admitted students, but one that is focused on their specific needs,” said Caroline Enriquez, associate director for the Office of Admissions.
Individual schools and colleges on campus are able to choose a select number of newly admitted students to invite to the UT VIP program. The criteria used by each school or program differs based on their priorities.
Last year, seven colleges and schools participated, and 419 prospective students attended the UT VIP program. Of those students who attended the program, 77 percent accepted admittance to the university, compared with only 40 percent of those who did not attend the program.
In the week following Explore UT, the acceptance rate for attendees went up 6 percent compared with the previous week, while the acceptance rate of non-attendees went up only 1 percent.
“After last year’s success, we’ve grown to having 11 colleges and schools participating this year,” said Enriquez. “The numbers indicate that being a part of the UT VIP program likely has a direct effect on a student’s decision to enroll at the university.”
The UT VIP attendees begin the morning with a plenary session where they are welcomed to the university by the director of admissions, the president of Student Government, the provost, a representative from Texas Exes and the Longhorn Band and cheerleaders. This year, state Sen. Kirk Watson will also address the attendees. In the afternoon, sessions will be offered for students and parents on issues such as housing and financial aid.
A special program is also being introduced this year for Longhorn Scholars attending the UT VIP program. The scholarship is offered to students who are graduating from high schools that are historically underrepresented at the university.
Explore UT is one of only three mega open houses offered by universities in the United States. The program, in its 13th year, provides a plethora of learning opportunities for schoolchildren, parents and teachers during its spectacular 400-plus event day. Nearly 400 school buses will bring in middle and high school students from across Texas to experience the Forty Acres.
The day promises a galvanization of the mind and the senses, broadening the boundaries of learning through hundreds of events focused on culture, science, engineering, health, music, art, dance, cooking, technology, performance, architecture and politics. Tens of thousands will roam the campus partaking in lectures, performances, tours and hands-on activities.
It also offers a taste of college life. For many visiting students, this might be their first time on a university campus, and their perceptions and misconceptions of higher education are addressed in workshops and lectures focused on the college experience.
For those with lifelong dreams of becoming a Longhorn, there are tours of all the residence halls, presentations on various degrees and programs, and information sessions on majors, scholarships, living on campus, study abroad and future careers. The Office of Admissions will host walking tours of campus led by current students.
For others who might be contemplating higher education and need a primer to get them started, the “Hooked on College” series offers general information about the college admissions process, paying for college and life as a college student.
“High school and middle school teachers and school administrators are building a college-going culture at the grass roots, and Explore UT gives their students a first-hand experience on a university campus,” said Barbara Langham, K-12 outreach coordinator for Explore UT.
“Schools are hosting ‘College Days,’ education fairs and other events to encourage students to aspire to college. Explore UT fits in perfectly with those efforts.”
Sara Turner, a now-retired teacher from Flower Mound, Texas, northwest of Dallas, brought her fourth- and fifth-grade gifted and talented students to Explore UT several years ago.
“I’m convinced that many of my former students will consider The University of Texas at Austin as one of their top college choices,” Turner wrote in a letter to Explore UT organizers. “Not only were the students amazed and fascinated by the opportunities presented, but also the parents along for the trip were equally impressed. I cannot begin to capture the follow-up remarks and discussion we had in class the week after our trip to Austin.”
Regardless of whether students want to enjoy an afternoon of free activities, are interested in learning more about higher education or are a UT VIP program attendee, Explore UT has something for everyone. And if the past is any indication, middle or high school students who come to campus for the event could find themselves back here someday learning how to “Hook ’Em” and sing “The Eyes of Texas.”
“Explore UT made all the difference for me,” said Imken. “It was a great way for a prospective student like me to see what university life is really like and what to expect. I know that it has been just as inspiring and motivating for countless other students over the years.”
Join Explore UT’s Social Media Experience
- Follow The University of Texas at Austin and Explore UT on Twitter and tweet your favorite moments, photos and short videos from the day.
- Use the Twitter hashtags #ExploreUT, #UTVIP and #hookedoncollege, and follow the Explore UT experience throughout the day.
- Like The University of Texas at Austin on Facebook, get the latest updates from Explore UT and post your favorite photos and short videos from the day.
By Amy Crossette
School of Architecture
School of Information