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How to Write the University of Wisconsin-Madison Essays 2016-2017
Sporting an expansive campus, diverse and energetic student population, and overall strong academic programs, it’s no wonder the University of Wisconsin-Madison prides itself as a top-tier public institution. The campus is bordered by two lakes, surrounded by over 1200 acres of nature, and connected to the comfortable, lively Midwest college town of Madison by State Street.
Despite the well-known parking problem on campus, Badgers have a lot to pride themselves on. Madison is viewed as the #1 college football town in America, and there is a great amount of badger pride for the D1 Big Ten athletics, especially football and basketball.
On the academic side, Wisconsin is considered one of the “Public Ivies” — there are over 230 majors to choose from, 20 schools and colleges to apply to, and an average class size of 29 students. Emphasis is placed on academic growth and research, and the school boasts exceptional programs in nuclear engineering and risk management business.
The Wisconsin Idea guides the school: “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every home in the state.” Students aim to solve real-world problems and have a broad-reaching impact on all people through the work done at the university.
Despite the school’s size (which makes it easy to get lost in the massive lecture halls), professors and TAs are very accessible. Students’ issues with diversity and on-campus food have been strongly addressed and corrected in the past few years. No matter where you are from, there are always options, especially with student organizations.
Wisconsin boasts an enrollment of around 43,000 and acceptance rate of 47.5% as of 2014. To be competitive in this large applicant pool, it’s important to understand what makes the University of Wisconsin unique.
Focus on being specific and personal
Consider something in your life you think goes unnoticed and write about why it’s important to you. (650 words)
When answering this prompt, students may default to thinking about the “unnoticed marginalized people of this world” or “of the climate change that is going unnoticed.” While those are important issues, they are global topics that, contrary to the prompt, are indeed noticed, and thus probably won’t make for a good response here.
There’s a reason why the question asks for “something in your life” and “why it’s important to you.” Rather than talking about something of global relevance, take this opportunity to get personal and write about something that is of particular importance to you, even if it may appear irrelevant to the reader at first glance.
This is your chance to bring the reader into your world, using your perspective and feelings to convey what is important to you. A cliché to avoid, however, is talking about how your parents care for you, i.e., talking about how your mom’s care for you often goes unnoticed and is important to you. Since that is such a commonly used trope, unless you take an extremely unique approach, it will be difficult to stand out.
Two Ways to Work Through this Essay
There are two ways to approach this supplement: things that go unnoticed to you that you are now reflecting on (e.g., you never noticed how beautiful the parks near your house were because you would always drive by, busy with errands and life, instead of walking through and enjoying the sites), or things in your life that you either do or happen that generally go unnoticed by others (e.g., you always clean up after your younger sibling at the dinner table, even if he doesn’t seem to appreciate it, so that your parents don’t get angry).
It could be how the garbage man takes extra effort for your block in the mornings, but no one is awake to notice until one morning you did. It could be how the cat that visits your house every evening unknowingly helps you de-stress from homework. Or maybe the two-hour commute your coach takes to come and train you every day, but never mentions or complains about.
When writing, in order to take a unique approach, try starting with an anecdote or narrative that subtly introduces your topics, rather than immediately stating to the reader that X or Y is going unnoticed. Follow the thematic concept of “show” over “tell.”
Tonal variety is also important. Reveal your thought processes and perspective, using descriptive language and connotation to put the reader in your shoes. In this, avoid using passive language, and instead write a narrative that transports the reader into the present before zooming out, looking at the big picture, and highlighting how the story of this unnoticed thing is important and vital to your development as a human being.
Be detailed about your college choice
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. (650 words)
This is a standard “Why this school?” essay mixed in with a little “Why this major?” This is your time to reveal why you believe you are qualified for that school and why you’re applying. Do your research: talk about specific academic, extracurricular, public service, and research opportunities you will take advantage of (such as WISCIENCE and SROP or Badger Volunteers); why you want to pursue those opportunities; the names of professors and classes you’re interested in; and how you will benefit from these and contribute to them, etc.
It goes without saying that you should delve into the details and talk about the opportunities at Wisconsin in your response. However, often times students forget to be specific and generalize, referring to “the tennis club team” and “the universities renowned labs” — statements that can be applied to almost any other university and don’t show that you’ve done your research on Wisconsin in particular. In order to get their attention, you want to show that you know about this school and are applying with a purpose.
For the second part of the prompt that asks about any personal circumstances, don’t feel compelled to write something. Use more space to write about the first part of the prompt.
However, if there are any circumstances that could impact your involvement, i.e., a physical impediment or inability to participate in a certain activity, do mention that. Be humble and honest in why it may hamper you, how you plan on working around it, and how the resources that Wisconsin provides may even help you overcome that challenge. This is a subtle opportunity to reveal what is unique about you and how you are able to handle whatever Wisconsin might throw your way.
Bring out what makes your activity unique
Briefly explain (in 50-100 words) which activity you entered in the Common App Activities section is the most important to you.
This is a simple question, so you can just use a brief narrative and explanation to explain an activity. This could be a sport you’ve done for years, an instrument you play, participation in theater, etc.
Note that the prompt asks which activity is “the most important to you,” not “most impressive;” this way, you have a chance to personalize your response. Talk about the activity that you have the greatest personal connection to and investment in, and why it’s that important to you.
It could be tied into your major, the career you have planned, etc. No matter what activity you choose to write about, focus on giving some background and personal information and demonstrating why this activity in particular is worth highlighting. Additionally, keep the word count in mind as you write, and strive to be concise.