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How to Write the University of Wisconsin-Madison Essays: The Complete Guide

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Wisconsin may not host New York City, but if your heart desires a sprawling campus with countless ways to enjoy the outdoors, look no further than the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

It has an acceptance rate that hovers around 50%.

The university sits on 936 acres – that’s not a typo, folks – it’s really that huge. The campus is located between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.

Beyond a range of academic programs, the university offers extensive opportunities to play sports, join clubs, and participate in on-campus and community activities. Applying to the University of Wisconsin-Madison can be done either through the Common App or directly through the UW website.

What are the University of Wisconsin-Madison essay requirements?

Two essays are required for admission to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If you apply through the Common App, you will have to answer question #2 below, in addition to the first question.

If you apply through the UW System Application, you will need to respond to both of the following:

1 ) Tell us about your academic and personal achievements. What have you learned from your success and/or challenges, and how will this influence you as you pursue your college education?

2) Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, please include why you are interested in studying the major(s) you have selected. If you selected undecided please describe your areas of possible academic interest. (you may enter up to 650 words).

In the UW System Application, the maximum word count allowed is 650 words. However, according to the “Application Tips” page on the UW website, admissions prefers for you to plan for 300-500 words.

Note: If a university publishes an application tips page, follow it precisely. Not only will your application be stronger, but admissions will be able to tell you did your research.

UW Prompt 1: Academic & Personal Achievements

1 ) Tell us about your academic and personal achievements. What have you learned from your success and/or challenges, and how will this influence you as you pursue your college education?

Before writing this essay, it’s important to note that UW isn’t looking for a resume or laundry list. Don’t get trapped into writing a list of achievements.

It’s important to the admissions committee to understand the story of your achievements. In order to tell that story, you must begin to analyze what you’ve accomplished and learned from those achievements.

Therefore, we must identify the two separate pieces to this prompt.

  1. Your academic and personal accomplishments.
  2. Lessons learned from those achievements and challenges.

As you begin to break down your accomplishments, think about the communities, projects, academic pursuits, extracurricular activities, and teams to which you’ve contributed.

Don’t limit yourself to academic or official accomplishments. Also consider your contributions to:

  • Home
  • Religious institution (ex. church, mosque, synagogue)
  • Volunteer organization (ex. Meals on Wheels)
  • Neighborhood/city/county/state

For each of these communities, brainstorm people/places/ideas/events you believe often go unnoticed and are important to you.

Don’t get hung up on language. “Achievements” and “accomplishments” are subjective. You can also write about small personal victories and contributions that led to a greater result. All told, you don’t need to have won a ribbon or trophy to justify your action as an achievement.

When brainstorming achievements, consider creating a bubble map for a visual representation of your ideas. If you’re digitally savvy, you could use a tool like Bubbl.us to create your map.

Once you have a detailed list, start narrowing down your choices by considering what is most important to you.

  • The more you care about a pursuit, the more you will be able to write about it and convey your passion.
  • Again, don’t shy away from topics that are strictly personal to you – that’s what this essay is all about!

Your goal is to find an accomplishment or string of achievements that are closely related.

  • Did you take care of a sick sibling while mom worked to pay the bills?
  • Were you a founder or leader of an extracurricular activity that grew by 15% during your high school career?
  • Did you raise $200 for a political campaign or charity that worked on issues you care about?

Now that you’ve identified achievement(s), it’s time to start drafting an essay. Context is always important when you are writing to strangers.

  • Start your essay by providing some background information, a cold hook, or a quote.

While context is important, do keep it short. You want to save the majority of your word count for explaining why the achievement is important to you.

The second part of the essay is critical:

  • UW – Madison wants to know how you’re a better person for having achieved or struggled?
  • And how will you bring that change to their campus?

Don’t be afraid to talk about your challenges – in life, failure and struggle often the best teachers.

You spent the first part of your essay introducing and describing your achievement. This includes the actions you took to succeed (20- 25% of your essay).

Now, spend close to 30-40% of the essay explaining what you learned from those accomplishments. If you’re having trouble thinking of how you changed, brainstorm these questions:

  • What qualities did I need to display to accomplish this goal?
  • How am I a better person for having gone through this challenge?
  • What qualities of mine can I improve?
  • Were there qualities that I did improve?

Once you’re done with this part, it’s time to move to the last part of your essay: explaining how you’ll implement your lessons learned into your education. Spend the rest of your essay on:

  • Describing how your learning pattern has changed
  • Your newfound appreciation for teamwork
  • Developing a conceptual understanding of a field
  • A budding curiosity of a teaching style
  • Affirmed passion for an educational vector

Whatever you choose, make sure you’re telling UW – Madison that you’re a developing student who is looking forward to implementing your lessons learned on campus.

Why UW – Madison? Expressing Interest and Linking to Future Plans

Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, please include why you are interested in studying the major(s) you have selected. If you selected undecided please describe your areas of possible academic interest. (you may enter up to 650 words).

In the second essay, you will have to address why you applied to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and what you hope to get out of the academic experience.

The first part of this prompt is fairly standard and, if you’re applying to multiple universities, it should start to sound familiar.

However, your response to the question shouldn’t sound familiar to UW’s admissions committee. Instead, your answer must be tailored to you and the University of Wisconsin-Madison specifically.

  • The litmus test for this requirement is to read through your final draft and ask: Could this essay be submitted to any other university other than the University of Wisconsin?
  • If you answered “yes,” you need to revise.

The best way to prepare for this essay is to perform research. This, by the way, is not only beneficial for your essay but will also help you to get an idea whether this school is the right fit for you.

  • First, browse through the University of Wisconsin-Madison website.
  • Don’t stop at the admissions page. Explore the plethora of information on academics, research opportunities, sports, clubs, daily living, and so on.
  • Search for more information about UW on college review websites, which often feature testimonials from current students.
  • If possible, go to the campus for a tour to see in person what the university has to offer.
  • Most important: Research the academic program you’re interested in. Explore professors, projects, fellowships, internships, career counseling, grants, and public-private partnerships.

All of the above research will fuel your essay and give you concrete reasons to help you describe why you are applying to the school. When writing your essay, try to focus on one significant reason or a few reasons instead of just a single superficial idea, such as “academics” or “because I’m receiving a swim scholarship.”

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As a rule, never write about one of the following topics:

  • Location
  • Sports
  • Social life

Then, think about what you want to get out of your college experience and how your future goals are related to obtaining a degree.

When describing your reasons for applying, use detail, and then link those details back to your professional or academic goals.

Admissions officers want to see that their university is an important channel that will help you achieve your college and career goals.

Even if you have yet to decide on a major, you should address this question through the lens of your academic interest(s). Consider both your research and academic/extracurricular history.

  • What majors or academic programs are you interested in pursuing? What you write about now isn’t final, so don’t worry if you waver between different subjects. Choose a subject.
  • Are there research programs or co-ops for which you are interested in applying?

Perhaps you are really interested in medicine and engineering, leaning you toward pursuing biomedical engineering. You could take a look at the senior design courses where you work in a team with a clinician or industry professional to create a product.

When writing your essay, link back to previous ideas and your big-picture goals.

Let the university know that they’re the perfect fit and you are passionate and enthusiastic about their program offerings.

  • Don’t write about what you think they want to hear.
  • Instead, be honest and allow the admissions committee to see your interests and values through your response.
  • Ultimately, what UW – Madison has to offer needs to relate to you.
  • Don’t spend too much time complimenting their academic offerings. Trust me, they know they’re a great school. They want to know why you think you’re a good fit.

We strongly recommend that you include the following elements in your essay:

  1. A short introductory story or hook that explains your interest in the field, major, or program.
  2. Toward the end of your essay, explain your professional ambitions and how you’d use your UW education to contribute to your community, country, or the world.

Here’s an outline of a Why UWW – Madison essay that effectively answers this prompt:

  • Your parents were never interested in community politics and barely ever voted. A few years ago, a local politician approved the building of a large chain store near your home, which lead to increased pollution and traffic in your community.
  • You canvassed to stop the construction, but it wasn’t enough. You didn’t get enough signatures. Still, this process sparked your love for politics. You realize that your parents were mistaken.
  • You want to study in UW – Madison’s political science program because you’re interested in increasing voter turnout. UW has a fellowship and multiple research programs in this vector.
  • After explaining how you’d take advantage of a fellowship and research opportunity, you want to become a community organizer. UW will help you do that.

Conclusion: Writing the University of Wisconsin – Madison Essays

Before submitting your essays, you should definitely check out the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s page of Application Tips. There you’ll learn more about the university’s vision and advice for applying.

In regards to essays, here’s a short list of the university’s advice:

  • Outline
  • Plan for 300-500 words, although the maximum is 650
  • Revise, proofread, and share your writing with a peer/trusted adult
  • Be honest

If you have questions that are particular to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s requirements, they welcome you to contact them directly.