university of wisconsin-madison

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”!


Written by Kyra Tyler
Kyra Tyler is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Kyra is a graduate of Harvard University and Northwestern University. Prior to joining College Coach, Kyra worked as a senior admissions officer at Brandeis University. Visit our website to learn more about Kyra Tyler.