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In 1883, the 221 students and eight teachers who made up the newly established University of Texas in Austin had to meet in makeshift classrooms in the town's temporary capitol. At the time, the 2 million acres of dry west Texas land that the higher educational system had been granted barely brought in 40¢ an acre for grazing. Now, nearly 50,000 students occupy 120 buildings on UT's main campus alone, and that arid West Texas land, which blew a gusher in 1923, has raked in more than $4 billion in oil money -- two-thirds of it have gone directly to the UT school system.

The Texas Union Information Center, on the West Mall (tel. 512/475-6636), is the easiest place to get information about the campus; it's open Monday through Friday from 7am to 3am (really), Saturday from 10am to 3am, and Sunday from noon to 3am. There's also an information desk on the ground floor of the Main building/UT Tower (near 24th and Whitis). Here you can get information about tours up to the top of the tower. Down the hall from the information desk is the admissions office, which hands out brochures for a self-guided tour of campus.

Guided tours of the campus are free and start at the Visitor Center, which is at the corner of Guadalupe and West 25th Street (405 W. 25th St.; tel. 512/471-1000), about 3 blocks from the tower. These tours are for prospective students and their families, but anyone can come. These leave weekdays at 10am and 2pm (only at 2pm in Dec and May) and Saturday at 10am. It's a lot tougher to get on the free Moonlight Prowl Tours, packed with amusing anecdotes of student life and campus lore, because they're held only a few evenings a month and they fill up quickly; but if you want to give it a try, log on to www.utexas.edu/tours/prowl and fill out the registration form.