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Best practices for university and program applications: transcripts, personal essays, references and more

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If you have any questions about your university and/or program application(s), reach out to a TeachDFW application coach or admissions staff for support. We’re here for you.


To apply to your teacher preparation program, you will need to submit one or more applications. (Surprised? No, we didn’t think so.) Your application is a one-stop-shop for admissions officers to review your fit for their program.

Common sections include personal information (background and academic history), essay responses (personal statement) and references (letters of recommendation).

In Dallas-Ft. Worth, multiple programs use ApplyTexas.org to make the process simpler for applicants. For example, this applies to you if your checklist is for TechTeach2+1, TWU MAT or UNT Dallas.

University vs. Program Application

Some teacher preparation programs are housed by universities, others have university partners, and some stand alone as independent schools or programs. What does this have to do with your application? You may have to complete two applications—for the university and its program—or just one (expand Application Type by Program below to find out).

In some cases, you will need to apply and be accepted to a university before gaining admission to its teacher preparation program.

Application Type by Program

 University ApplicationProgram Application
Dallas ISD Alternative Certification (Alternative Certification Teacher Academy) 
Dallas Teacher Residency (Residency Program) 
Relay Graduate School of Education (Residency Placement Program) 
Southern Methodist University (Master’s Degree) 
Southern Methodist University (Certification-Only Program) 
Teach for America (Alternative Certification Program) 
Texas Tech University (TechTeach 2+1)
Texas Woman’s University (Master of Arts in Teaching [MAT] Program)
University of North Texas Dallas (Undergraduate Transfer Program)
University of Texas at Dallas (Certification-Only Program)
Urban Teachers Dallas-Fort Worth (Residency Program)


ApplyTexas offers a single application for every Texas public university, plus some private and two-year schools.

To get started, head over to the ApplyTexas website and select Create your account now.

Configure Your Application

ApplyTexas is divided into four sections:

  • My Profile
  • My Applications
  • My Essays
  • My Transcripts

You must first complete the My Profile section before adding program applications.

Personal Information

In your application, you will be required to enter background information. This section commonly includes fields for your name, address, email, phone number, social security number, academic history (GPA, degrees and certain test scores), pre-teaching experience and more.

We know you’re diligent, responsible and capable. ? But rockstar qualities aside, double-check your application form to make sure that there is no missing information. Failing to fill out certain fields could jeopardize the timing or possibility of your acceptance.


When requested, provide your academic transcript as part of your application to a teacher preparation program.

You will need to formally request your official transcripts. Contact the Transcript Office (or equivalent) of the school that has access to the academic record you need to share. Budget at least three to five days for processing. Some schools will send transcripts via mail; others have electronic copies.

In your request, be sure to specify:

  • Your name and/or student ID number.
  • How many copies of your transcript you need.
  • Your signature.

Essay Responses

Your essay response—aka personal essay, statement of purpose, statement of intent, or some combination thereof—is your unique opportunity to tell admissions staff exactly why you are the perfect fit for their teacher preparation program.

Before writing your essay, take a breath. Get up, grab your phone, and call a friend or family member. Explain to them why you’re applying to a teacher preparation program.

Better at brainstorming alone? Make a bulleted list of all the reasons you want to be a professional educator. More of an artist? Draw your feelings around the subject. No joke.

The goal here is to hone your thoughts and feelings around teaching. Once you’re clear on “why,” writing an essay becomes a straightforward task that you can spend time perfecting (rather than stressing over).

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    In your essay, you want to:

    • Consider your audience. Write for your readers. Admissions staffs are unique for each program. Ask yourself: What does this teacher preparation program pride itself on? This is your chance to directly connect with their mission statement and prove you know your stuff.
    • Mention relevant background. Describe why you want to be a teacher, tying in your academic record.
    • Include personal experience. Select one or two examples from your life that underscore how your background and personal experience make you a good fit for this teacher preparation program.

    Some applications break essay responses out into individual parts or questions. When this is the case, remember to choose rationale and examples that directly relate to the topic at hand.

    Visit your teacher preparation program’s website and social media profiles. You can get a good sense for what the program values (and what you might speak to in your essay) by doing a little recon.

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    Your personal essay is an opportunity to be creative—to a point. It’s vital to make an impression through a demonstration of your relevant skills, experience and vision.

    Pay close attention to the word count for your personal response. (It’s never been a better time to make friends with an editor.)

    Suggested Outline

    Here’s our recommended outline for your personal essay. Just remember: You’re the expert on you! Take what works; revise what doesn’t.

    • Introduce yourself. (1 paragraph)
      • Hook. Grab the admissions officer’s attention with a strong statement that speaks to your interest in this teacher preparation program specifically.
      • Connect. In one or two sentences, give an overview of what your essay response seeks to achieve, as a whole. In other words, write a thesis that connects the next two sections up front.
    • Get personal. (2-3 paragraphs)
      • Background. Briefly summarize the parts of your educational background that relate directly to your ambitions of becoming a professional educator. If you know what grade level(s) or subject area(s) you want to teach, this is a good time to make that known. (Hint: If there’s anything on your resume or transcript you’re not proud of, consider addressing it here to use it to your advantage.)
      • Anecdote. Tell your story. What made you want to become a teacher? What inspires you about the profession? How have events in your past—including pre-teaching experience—inspired you to pursue this career?
    • Seal the deal. (1-2 paragraphs)
      • Validate. We could easily call this step “Connect again.” Revisit your thesis and make sure you’ve proved what you set out to. In other words: What about your background and personal anecdote make you a good fit for this particular teacher preparation program?
      • Conclude. Reaffirm your passion for teaching, including the grade level(s) and subject area(s) that excite you most, if you know what they are.
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    Phrases to Avoid

    When writing your essay, stay away from these sayings and clichés:

    • "I want to make a difference.”
      • Doesn’t everyone want to make a difference? Get more nitty-gritty than this catch-phrase. Consider how teachers uniquely provide a vital social service, and what about the profession resonates with your own mission.
    • “While this isn’t my first choice program…”
      • While honesty is usually the best policy, you don’t need to reveal to admissions staff that their program might not be your #1 choice. Instead, focus on the parts of the teacher preparation program that are most compelling to you.
    • “I’ve always wanted to work in education.”
      • Prove it! Use your personal anecdote to show that you’re the right person to assume a teaching position.
    • “I love working with children.”
      • While we’re sure that’s true, focus instead on the specific rewards (and challenges) of working with students of a certain age.


When it’s time to submit references, aka letters of recommendation, choose your recommenders wisely. Your references have the power to give your application a major boost. (You know how the best compliment is the one you overhear? This is like that, but staged, eloquent, and directly tied to your academic and professional ambitions.)

You will typically need two to three references from people can who can attest to your skill sets, strengths and fit for a career in education. Common types of recommenders include employers, supervisors, teachers and professors.

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    Give your recommenders plenty of time to reflect on your accomplishments and to write the letter. Some programs recommend asking at least 30 days in advance.

    Don’t assume that someone will have the time or be willing to recommend you for a teacher preparation program. Make your request far enough in advance to allow for any necessary course-corrections.

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    To make it easy on your recommender, provide them with as much of the following as you can:

    • An explanation of what you’re applying for and why you’d like them to recommend you. Consider including your personal essay(s), if you’ve completed that task.
    • The deadline for their letter. (Bake in one week’s wiggle room.)
    • A copy of your official or unofficial transcript.
    • Your resume/CV.
    • Instructions about how to submit your letters of recommendation. Some programs require recommenders to use a web submission form or program-specific email address.

    If your recommender is a past instructor, include the grade(s) you received in their course(s) and any sample work you completed for them. This will remind them of your performance and fit.

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    Make sure to get confirmation from your recommender once your letter is submitted.

    Once you’ve received confirmation of submission, give your recommender a big thank you in the form of an email, phone call or card. Just like you, recommenders have a day job, and providing a reference is a favor to you (that’s how great you must be!). Not only is this polite, but it will encourage your recommender to support you in the future.

    If you are accepted to your teacher preparation program, let your recommender know! It takes a village.