How to Ace the University of Wisconsin-Madison Essays | Guide & Examples, 2022-2023
Don’t you find this question rude?
Why are you applying to the University of Wisconsin–Madison?
As college admission essay coaches, we see students struggle with these “Why Us” essays all the time.
It seems almost invasive to answer what’s really sending you to the school — generally, a complex mix of: (1) where you think you can get in, (2) price, (3) what your parents want, and, (4) maybe, how you liked the campus when you visited? You yourself might not be fully sure.
Well, relax. You can ace this type of essay with an easy formula that will convince UWM that you will fit right in on their campus and do well there.
In addition, we’ll show you how to do a spectacular job of the UWM “personal statement” question if you’re not applying with the Common App.
Meet us below the table of contents to see how it’s done.
(For help with all aspects of your college application, head to our College Essay Help Center.)
Q1 — UWM wants to know if you’ll be a good fit for their campus and likely enroll
The question is:
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).
Note: UWM recommends aiming for 300-500 words.
This is a classic “Why Us” prompt. UWM is digging for two simple answers: will you be a good fit for their campus + will you likely enroll. In fact, we’ve written everything you need to know about these types of essays here: The Simple “Why Us” Essay Strategy that Works. Go read it now. You’ll be in strong shape for UWM.
Note that this isn’t a “Why major” essay (even though it looks like one). Why Majors want to know if you can cut it academically in your major. By contrast, Why Us prompts want to know if you’re going to succeed academically at that particular college. Given how short the recommended word count is for this question, it clearly falls in that category.
With that out of the way, here are the three steps for acing a Why US essay (though, again, reading our comprehensive guide is best).
- (1) articulate your college-related interests and
- (2) show how they match what’s available at UWM (aka research).
- (3) Write it all up straight-forwardly.
In addition, since what you’re aiming for is to show you’ll likely enroll at UWM if admitted, be sure to read up on Demonstrated Interest: Why Showing Colleges You Like Them Gets You In.
Step 1: Brainstorm detail on your academic and non-academic interests
Close read of the prompt: See that phrase “in addition”? That tells you that UWM wants to see that you’re drawn to the school for more than just your intended major.
Therefore, we recommend brainstorming two separate lists: Non-major and Major (or main academic interests).
Again, we go into more detail in our “Why Us” article, but you should spend time brainstorming and researching your own interests, in UWM’s case, extracurricular and academic.
Aim to think deeply about 3-5 of these interests — which can also include career-related aspirations if you have them (it’s fine if you don’t). For each interest, develop granular detail (aka essay-fodder), by asking yourself questions such as:
- What most interests you about the thing?
- What first got you interested in it?
- How does this interest relate to your career ambitions (if any)?
- What big questions do you have about this interest?
- What are you most curious about within this interest?
- How would you like to pursue this in college?
Note that you can organize your thoughts for free in the Dashboard at our guided Why Us Brainstorming module (after creating an account).
At the end of this process, you should have 2-3 great interests with lots of detail that you can use as fodder for this essay. Again, make sure you have at least one academic and one extracurricular interest for this essay.
Step 2: Figure out what UWM has to offer that matches your 2+ identified interests
Remember, the goal is to show you’ll be a great fit on UWM’s campus. So the next task is to see what UWM has going on that will match with your interests.
The more research you do (on a campus tour, UWM’s website, their news service, their student newspaper, or just by talking to a student or alumni), the more specific you’ll be able to be about what UW Madison offers, and the more your essay will stand out.
Again, you want two lists here: Non-major and Major (or main academic interests).
In the Non-major list, write down everything about UWM that connects to your passions and interests apart from your major (if you’re undecided, substitute your main academic interests instead). This might include clubs, the structure of classes, campus housing, the school’s emphasis on community service. Make sure the features you mention aren’t too general; they should be specific to UW Madison. Then include specific examples from your life illustrating why these aspects of UW Madison excite you.
In the Major list, write down specific resources (classes, faculty, study abroad opportunities) at UW Madison that will help you pursue your major or main academic interests. However, notice that the prompt asks “why you are interested” in studying your major. So you’ll also want to write down the events, people, books, classes, teachers, films, etc. that inspired you to pursue this subject.
For your academic research, your most rewarding source will likely be the department website for your major or field(s) of interest. Look at courses that are more advanced, as these tend to be more distinctive than entry-level courses. Look at the opportunities in your field.
Optionally, you can also list your future goals—what will you do with this specific degree? By connecting your intended major to your past life experiences, current passions, and (optionally) future goals, you’ll show how your academic interests represent a vital part of who you are.
Step 3: Put your two pieces together using a straightforward, clear style (Example)
As you likely know, a 300-500 essay is not the place for clever metaphors or philosophical musings. Your goal is to share your academic and non-academic reasons for applying to UWM. That’s really as simple as this should be.
But being clear isn’t necessarily easy, which is why we highly recommend having someone review your work for clarity only (not content - you know what content to include from this article). Obviously, a college essay coach is the best person to look your essay over and provide substantive guidance, but a well-trained adult can step in, too.
Again, the prompt is:
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.
I decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison once I got the strong sense that it would be a nurturing, challenging, and exciting fit for my nature-loving soul.
I’ve been hiking and exploring nature my whole life, but particularly as a high school student, when I started hiking and mountain climbing every weekend, sometimes with friends and sometimes solo.
This commitment to being in nature fed my desire to find a career that would help reduce global warming. Two summers ago, I was an intern for a solar energy company, and mostly just got to learn about the business model involved in trying to expand the number of customers who rely on the sun instead of fossil fuels for energy. Last summer, I was given much more responsibility at the same company: I got to go on sales visits and talk to customers, and was responsible for a project mapping out twenty potential institutional targets and ranking them on a number of factors for sales potential.
In addition, I love leading the Green Newton club, which finds ways to make our high school more sustainable. Thanks to our efforts, our school has committed to expand its solar energy consumption by 30% by next academic year and also replaced plastic knives and forks with compostable wooden ones.
At UWM, I’d want to be part of the GreenHouse learning community. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that was a possibility. I love the idea of working to make a living situation as sustainable as it can be while taking advantage of seminars, field trips, and volunteer opportunities to learn more about how we can build a more sustainable world. Of course, if I didn’t get into GreenHouse, there’s so much more I’d be interested in: BioHouse and StartUp would both be amazing for my interests in eventually working in a business focused on sustainability.
For my major, I cannot wait to begin exploring Biological Systems Engineering. Science has always been my strongest subject, and I’d love to keep pushing in that direction. I would want to specialize in the Natural Resources and Environmental Engineering Option because it’s exploring how science can help us steward the natural world with imagination and knowledge.
Outside of class, you’ll be able to find me at the King Student Farm — in fact, I spent much of my campus visit there and became friends with a number of the students who work it as part of the Sustainable Agriculture organization.
- This is 414 words.
- The essay has lots of specificity, mentioning specific clubs, areas of study, and houses that the student would like to engage with. It also is specific about what the student has done that matches with those resources.
- The essay shows a dynamic student who would contribute a lot to the campus and fit well with it.
- The essay demonstrates enthusiasm about attending the college.
- Note that while the students’ academic and extracurricular interests in this essay are similar, that’s not necessary — they can be quite different and still form a great “Why Us” essay.
Q2 — Ace the “personal statement” essay by focusing it on your very best high school experiences
What about the other UW Madison essay? Well, that depends on which application you use:
- If you choose to apply to the University of Wisconsin through the Common App, you'll have to submit a personal statement and activities list. We definitely recommend this route if you are applying to any other Common Application schools.
- If you do apply through the Wisconsin application, this will be your required “personal statement” 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? (250-650 words)
Well, this is going to be a short section because, to ace this question, you need to know a lot about writing a great college essay — your most important essay: the personal essay. And we covered everything you need to know about personal essays in better detail than we can here.
Even though this article is about the Common App personal statements, we promise that it will 100% apply to this UWM personal statement. (And take out a lot of agonizing you’d otherwise suffer through!)
Helpful info on all the “other” stuff you’ll consider as you apply to U-Washington (and other schools)
A few helpful resources for the non-supplement parts of your application:
- Common App: If you decide to use it, first read our guide to acing everything to do with writing your Common App application.
- Whether to submit test scores: UWM is test-optional through 2025. Read our test-optional article to learn how to think about submitting scores or not.
- Early options: UWM has an Early Action option. Read our Early Admissions article so you know how to approach this decision.
BTW, here’s our guidance for approaching any college supplement + here’s where you can find our guides for almost every college’s supplements.
Feeling inspired? A great place to start is at our College Essay Help Center.
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