Who doesn’t want to attend a school where you can dress like a candy cane all year? Or attend classes surrounded by a neat downtown with lots of options and a gorgeous lake? Where when the weather is just right, it seems you’re bound to have your best day? Exactly. These are just a few of the reasons why people have been flocking to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in droves.
Long known by folks in the Midwest as a strong public university with lots of options, as more from outside the region discovered it, UW-Madison is now a solid player alongside other well-known and respected public universities. As is bound to happen in College-Admissions-Land, once the cat’s out of the bag, said cat will find it harder to get back in three years later. Enter, “How to write effective supplemental responses to the UW-Madison Common App questions.”
UW-Madison’s first essay prompt is, “Consider something in your life you think goes unnoticed and write about why it’s important to you.”
I know…You see this prompt and make yourself crazy thinking, “I’m not different or unique. Why didn’t I collect international Coke bottles so I would have something to write about?!” Nope, don’t go down that dark path of, “I’m boring.” Everyone has something to share and here’s the space to do it. Considering that this is a companion piece to the Common Application’s main essay, feel free to address that subject you didn’t have the room to explore elsewhere. Does your passion for doughnuts fly under the radar? Or you’re a huge reader but haven’t found the opportunity to talk about it as a hobby? The point is, don’t feel obligated to share some big secret. I have found that the “goes unnoticed” part can lead people to think this is secret-sharing time. It’s not. Just write about something in your life that has meaning to you and expand. Also, you don’t have to tie this answer to the University, so please don’t use this space to talk about your interest in UW-Madison as the thing that goes unnoticed. You’ll have that chance in the next prompt. And the tone can be serious or playful so have fun and write! That’s it: easy-peasy.
The next prompt is, “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.”
When students see this prompt, they typically get inspired and go all “Big 10” on it. Think: Badgers! On, Wisconsin! Madison is so cool! Rah-rah-sis-boom-bah! But, take another look at the prompt and you’ll notice it’s asking you for deliberate information. Sure, college is about making memories, but let’s talk about those academic ones, too. One of my biggest frustrations with my students is when they forget that they’re going to college to learn! I can’t stress this enough—and since a college education costs an extraordinary amount, let’s make it count. If you don’t know what you want to study, talk about the academic interests you do have. Don’t just look at a major; delve into the catalog, check out special certificates or interdisciplinary options and make the University of Wisconsin feel like you didn’t confuse them with the University of Michigan. Based on the prompt, you should probably aim for 65% in classroom and 35% out of classroom/extra-curricular stuff.
And remember: No points given for discussing research in a way that says, “I would like to take advantage of undergraduate research opportunities and am confident that I can do so at Wisconsin.” Good for you, but really? Why? In what capacity? Rookie pitfalls in answering this prompt this way are: Believing research only happens in the STEM fields and talking about working in a research environment that is only for Post-Docs, Fellows or professional researchers…Don’t be that person!
Now that you’ve made it through your academic answer, feel free to mention the baby Badger onesie you still sleep with, or how Madison has been your dream school since you were four and saw a hockey game there. These should be like dessert or in UW’s case, cheese curds—not where the real nutritional value lies but fine in measured doses.
“When you say Wisconsin, you’ve said it all”!
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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