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How to Write the University of Wisconsin-Madison Supplemental Essays

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, but 300-500 is recommended).

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s supplemental essay is a great opportunity to showcase your voice to the admissions committee and convey your academic passions and knowledge of the school. When writing your UW-Madison supplement, be sure to address both parts of the prompt: explain your interest in the majors you’ve selected and discuss what draws you to UW-Madison. UW-Madison generously provides a word count of up to 650, so you have ample space to elaborate on the past experiences and values that have led you to your area of study, and also write about the school-specific resources at UW-Madison that you would like to take advantage of during your undergraduate career.

Before you begin drafting your UW-Madison supplemental essay, you’ll want to do some “why school” research. UW-Madison offers 20+ schools with many niche majors and certificates; therefore, you’ll want to spend some time on the website to identify the specific program that is the best fit for you. If UW-Madison offers programs that can’t be found at any other universities that align with your interests, you can cite these and make an even stronger case for why UW-Madison is the best school for you! Some particular academic strengths of UW-Madison include its programs in Education, Agriculture, Communication, Biological Sciences, Social Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Economics. You can look through the web pages of specific departments and schools, and see if there are general resources that are well-suited to you. For instance, UW-Madison’s Integrated Liberal Studies programs, Living-Learning Communities, First Year Interest Groups, and Honors programs integrate communal life with academic pursuits in a way that may be appealing to you.

As with any “why school” essay, you’ll want to not only cite school-specific resources, but also share what you know about the school’s values and reflect upon how these values align with your own. UW-Madison often emphasizes the “Wisconsin Idea”, or the idea that a successful state university should inspire its students to seek truth and apply the resulting knowledge to benefit themselves and society. UW-Madison students are highly involved with their communities and the causes that matter to them. In your UW-Madison supplemental essay, you’ll want to explore how your academic and personal journey to date has reflected the principles of the Wisconsin Idea, and discuss which academic course of study, extracurriculars, and other opportunities at UW-Madison will put you in a position to serve others and bring positive change to society.

If you apply with the UW System Application, you will need to answer the following prompt:


This part is all about you. Tell us about something you’ve done—academically or personally—and what you’ve learned from it. Was it a success or a challenge? Did it represent a turning point in your life? How did this particular moment in your life influence you, and how will it continue to influence you as you pursue your college education?

If you apply to UW-Madison through the UW system rather than the Common Application, this is the equivalent of the Common Application’s personal statement. Unlike the Common App, you won’t get a choice of prompts to respond to–you must answer this question, and the “why school” supplement if you are applying to UW-Madison.

For this UW essay, carefully examine the wording of the prompt before you dive into writing. UW admissions readers are looking for you to discuss something you’ve actively done rather than something that’s happened to you, so to select a strong topic, you’ll want to reflect on any memorable accomplishments, initiatives you started, intellectual interests you’ve pursued, or risks you’ve taken in the past four years. These can be in the context of your academics, extracurriculars, or personal life. Then, it’d be best to gravitate towards a specific moment–rather than a story that covers a long span of time–and select one that was highly influential in determining your academic path, personal values, or worldview.

This is a multi-part prompt, so ensure that you are answering each question within the prompt. You should respond directly to all parts of the prompt, including “something you’ve done,” “what you’ve learned,” “how did this particular moment in your life influence you,” and “how will it continue to influence you [in college].” While you don’t need to answer the questions of “success or challenge” or “turning point” in language that’s as head-on (e.g. sentences like “My accomplishment was a success” or “This was a turning point for me”), it should be very clear and obvious to admissions readers whether you’re writing about a success or challenge, and how that event worked as a turning point in your life.

If you have already written a personal statement for the Common Application, you’re in luck if you’ve responded to prompt #2 (“The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”), prompt #5 (“Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”), or potentially even prompt #3 (“Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?”). There is significant overlap between these prompts and UW’s, so it’s likely that you can recycle your Common App essay with some light modifications. In particular, make sure that you add material that addresses the final part of the prompt, discussing how the moment you selected will influence your approach to your journey as an undergraduate. That being said, if you’ve already written an essay for the Common App, we definitely recommend applying to UW through the Common App! Best of luck with your UW-Madison essays!