How to Write the University of Wisconsin-Madison Application Essays 2017-2018
The University of Wisconsin–Madison (the official state university of Wisconsin) is a public university that was founded in 1848, directly following Wisconsin’s acquisition of statehood. Wisconsin is well known not only for its excellent academics, but also for its hugely successful NCAA athletic teams. The 936-acre campus is located right next to downtown Madison, which is consistently ranked as one of the best college towns in the country.
With nearly 5,000 unique courses and over 200 distinct majors, it’s no wonder that the University of Wisconsin–Madison attracted 32,887 applicants to the Class of 2016. The 52.6% acceptance rate necessitates strong supplemental essays, and we at CollegeVine are here to help you break them down step by step!
Students can apply online, using either the Common Application or the University of Wisconsin Application System. Both application options require two supplemental pieces of writing: a short prompt and a long prompt. Below, you’ll find the two prompts along with our take on the best way to tackle the essays, as well as some tips on what you should (and shouldn’t) include in your supplements.
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University of Wisconsin Application Essay Prompts
Short Essay Prompt
Briefly explain which activity you entered in the Common App Activities section is the most important to you. (50-100 words)
This prompt shouldn’t be too difficult — with a limit of 100 words, you’re going to be writing no more than a few sentences. While you should use this short essay as an opportunity to elaborate on the activity that portrays you in the best light, make sure that the selected activity is actually “important to you.” If the extracurricular that you select appears impressive (think three-time section leader in your all-state band, or coordinator of a peer tutoring program that works with nearly one hundred kids), but you’re not able to articulate why it’s relevant to your life and your journey through high school, the admissions committee won’t be impressed.
Don’t feel like the activity you write about needs to be one in which you held leadership; while leadership in the activity is of course looked highly upon, the genuine story you tell about its importance to you is key.
Take this scenario: You were elected student body president as a junior and presided over all student council meetings. While you enjoyed the position, you’re planning on majoring in biology and not government. Last summer, you were one of the few interns at a local research hospital, where you helped discover a previously unknown bacterium. Even though you’ll likely put “student body president” as the first item on your activity list, you may want to write the short essay about your experience at the hospital, which led you to decide on a biology major.
If you participated in any type of volunteer work, at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, and feel that those experiences had a profound impact on you, you could write about the volunteer work. That being said, you don’t necessarily need to write about volunteer/community service activities! If you were the president of your high school’s school store, or the captain of your town’s travel soccer team, and that significantly defined your past few years, you can absolutely choose it as your activity. The key is just to make sure admissions officers get a more in-depth look at who you are through the lens of the activity.
Whichever activity you choose, be sure that your writing is clear, concise, and effective. There’s no need for complex metaphors, nor overly intense descriptions. As long as it’s evident to the reader that your activity had a meaningful impact on your development as an individual, you’ve done your job!
Long Essay Prompt
Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In addition, share with us the academic, extracurricular, or research opportunities you would take advantage of as a student. If applicable, provide details of any circumstance that could have had an impact on your academic performance and/or extracurricular involvement. (80-650 words)
In the long essay prompt, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is looking for a modified version of the “why us” supplement. Even if Wisconsin isn’t your top choice, for the purposes of this essay, you should put yourself in the shoes of a student that’s wanted to attend Wisconsin for the past few years. If you have family ties to the university, or live in Wisconsin and have grown up rooting for the Badgers in sporting events, don’t hesitate to mention it! The admissions committee wants to see commitment and genuine interest in the school—they should instantly feel your passion for Wisconsin as they read through your essay.
While the prompt appears to pose two questions: “Why Us?,” and “What opportunities would you take advantage of as a student?” you should be blending the two questions together throughout your supplement. Show your passion by mentioning specific courses, clubs, or programs that you are interested in. The university website will be your greatest resource for this — there’s a wealth of information available!
Explain how your experiences throughout high school qualify you for admission to the University of Wisconsin. Articulate how those experiences demonstrate, in the words of the admissions website, “leadership, concern for others and the community, and achievement in the arts, athletics, and other areas.”
Try to provide an example of each of those three areas (or, better yet, find an activity that combines multiple). Serving as the captain of a school athletic team demonstrates both leadership and athletic achievement while selling handmade crafts at charity auctions demonstrates concern for community and artistic achievement. Don’t try to make the entire essay just about these three facets of your personality, but do make sure that you adequately explain how your activities exemplify each character trait.
Also, don’t be afraid to talk about experiences unrelated to your major: If you’re applying to the School of Education, you can absolutely bring up an organization in the School of Business that focuses on entrepreneurship, like the WAVE or WEB program, or a research opportunity, like the Grainger Institute in the School of Engineering — the more well-rounded your interests are at Wisconsin, the more likely you are to be accepted.
The last, and optional, component of the prompt asks you to explain any “circumstance that could have had an impact on your academic performance and/or extracurricular involvement.” Be very careful with what you write here, and remember that it’s completely optional. If you choose not to include it, there’s really no harm done (and, if anything, it eliminates the possibility of writing something that could decrease your chances of admission). If there was a situation throughout high school that was thrust upon you (think family/personal medical emergency or moving schools), you can absolutely write about that, as it will help to establish sympathy with the reader.
If you’ve had any experiences that could reflect negatively on you, including them in the essay may not be wise. Writing about depression, drug/alcohol use, or criminal activity could raise red flags and prevent you from being accepted. If you feel strongly about including one of these topics (or something similar), definitely reach out to a guidance counselor, teacher, or trusted adult to ensure that you’re crafting your message in the best possible way.
We hope our analysis of the two supplemental essay prompts has helped you to fine-tune your plans for your Wisconsin-Madison application!
Best of luck with your application, and GO BADGERS!
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