Not sure how to approach the UW-Madison essay prompts? With tips from an Ivy League graduate, CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the UW-Madison essay prompts will show you exactly how to write engaging essays for your UW-Madison application and maximize your chances against the UW-Madison acceptance rate.

Want help crafting your UW-Madison essay prompts? Create your free account or schedule a free consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.


UW-Madison Supplemental Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • The UW-Madison acceptance rate is 57%—U.S. News ranks UW-Madison as a competitive school.
  • We recommend answering all UW-Madison supplemental essays comprehensively and thoughtfully.

What is the acceptance rate for the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

According to U.S. News, the UW-Madison acceptance rate is 57%. Last year, over 53,000 students applied to the school, which was a 17% increase over the previous year. While the UW-Madison acceptance rate increased temporarily to about 60%, the normal rate falls near 57%. Like most schools, UW-Madison was test-optional last year in response to COVID. This year, they’ve continued the test-optional policy. Admissions experts believe that changes in testing requirements have caused the spike in applications that most schools have experienced.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, it does indicate that the UW-Madison supplemental essays will be an important part of your application. Without mandatory test scores and given the rise in applications, admissions officers will pay more attention to other aspects of your application.

In other words, for your best chance against the UW-Madison acceptance rate, we recommend that you take time to make sure that your responses to the UW-Madison essay prompts reflect your strengths.

Additionally, remember that the UW-Madison acceptance rate is not the only factor to consider when building your school list. Make sure that you’re looking at schools holistically. For more information on how to evaluate the UW-Madison acceptance rate (and more details on the data behind acceptance rates), read our article.

What is the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s ranking?

The UW-Madison ranking is #42 in National Universities, according to U.S. News.

Other U.S. News UW-Madison rankings: the UW-Madison ranking in Best Undergraduate Teaching is #71; UW-Madison ranking in Best Value Schools is #81; and the UW-Madison ranking in Top Public Schools is #14.

In terms of specific programs, the UW-Madison ranking is #15 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs, and the US Madison ranking is #19 in Nursing.

Finally, the UW-Madison ranking is #64 in First-Year Experiences.

These are just some of the UW-Madison rankings. However, a school’s rankings should not be the only thing you take into consideration when compiling your college list. You should also consider other factors—including the school’s location, programs available, and size—when you look at schools. The UW-Madison rankings are not the only important factor in deciding to apply.

Keep in mind that the best college for you may not be the one you expected! There are a lot of different resources available when it comes to researching colleges; be sure to consult a few to ensure you create a comprehensive list.

Need help creating a college list? Check out our resources on the college list process here.

Does the University of Wisconsin-Madison require essays?

Yes. In addition to the Common App personal essay, there are specific UW-Madison essay prompts. The UW-Madison supplemental essays differ depending on how you submit your application. The Common Application and UW System Application are available for all applicants. You will be required to write a “Why UW-Madison” essay no matter how you submit your application.

Need tips on writing your Common App essay? Check out our blog article.

How many essays does the University of Wisconsin-Madison require?

In addition to the Common Application Personal Statement, there is one required UW-Madison essay that all applicants must complete: the “Why UW-Madison” essay.

However, if you apply through the UW application portal rather than the Common App, you will have to submit a second UW-Madison essay. This second essay functions as a replacement for the Common App essay. If you apply via the UW application portal, give yourself ample to complete both UW-Madison essay prompts.

Does the University of Wisconsin-Madison care about essays?

Yes, all colleges care about your essays, UW-Madison included. The UW-Madison essay prompts are a great chance to show admissions officers something new about yourself. When responding to the UW-Madison essay prompts, you will want to demonstrate that you would be a great fit for their UW-Madison. This is especially true when writing the “Why UW-Madison” essay. This is referred to as demonstrated interest (DI). DI is a tool the admissions officers use to determine how interested a student is in attending their particular school. By writing specific “Why UW-Madison” essays, students can show their DI in attending UW-Madison and increase their admissions odds.

The high UW-Madison ranking indicates that students may apply just because of UW-Madison’s prestige. In response to this, admissions officers will be on the lookout for students whose interest in the school runs deeper than its reputation. For more information on DI and how to use it to your advantage, check out this article from Forbes.

Finally, in light of the UW-Madison acceptance rate, well-crafted responses to the UW-Madison essay prompts will strengthen your application. Don’t underestimate the UW-Madison essays and their impact.

Does the University of Wisconsin-Madison have a “Why UW-Madison” essay?

Yes. This is the classic supplemental essay question, and the UW-Madison essay prompts are no exception—all colleges want to know what makes them special to you. The “Why UW-Madison” essay is your chance to showcase any research you have done about UW-Madison while you’ve been writing your UW-Madison supplemental essay or as you’ve been completing the rest of the application.

Given the UW-Madison acceptance rate, your research will be an important part of acing the why UW-Madison essay. Why? When it comes down to two candidates with similar GPAs and extracurriculars, a strong “Why UW-Madison” essay can be the determining factor in who is admitted.

UW-Madison Essay Prompts – Question 1 (required)

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. (650 words maximum).

How do I write a good essay for UW-Madison?

The rest of this guide will show you how to write engaging UW-Madison supplemental essays.

Let’s start with the first UW-Madison essay, which is required of all applicants. You have 650 words to respond to this why UW-Madison essay, which is the same length as the Common Application’s personal statement. You should be prepared to spend a fair bit of time both researching and writing this UW-Madison essay, considering its length.

For this UW-Madison essay, avoid over-generalizing with statements like “The campus is beautiful” or “I just feel like I belong there.” Instead, offer concrete examples of why you belong there. You should do research into specific aspects of the UW-Madison community that appeal to you.

This UW-Madison essay prompt has two parts. First, the prompt asks why you decided to apply to UW-Madison. Then, it asks why you are interested in your chosen academic field. You’ll want to ensure you respond to both parts of the question. If you are undecided in your major, you will still want to address your academic interests and explain how attending UW-Madison would help you to hone these interests and discover a major that excites you.

Do your research

Before answering the first part of this UW-Madison essay prompt, do some reading. For example, you can look into extracurricular activities, research, or travel opportunities that only UW-Madison offers to its students. You might also review the calendar of student events. The list of student organizations on their website can be a great resource to find campus organizations you’d like to join.

If you want to get your finger on the pulse of student life, check out UW-Madison’s student publications. Additionally, leverage the alumni network to ask questions about previous students’ experiences. This can help you learn about student-specific traditions and events that you can’t read about on the website.

Start free-writing

If all of these options seem overwhelming, try starting with a structured free-write session. Take about 15-20 minutes and create two lists. Under one, list every reason why you want to attend UW-Madison. Under the second list, list every reason why you selected your major. If you’re unsure of your major, list every area of academic interest that you may want to pursue. Then, take an additional 15 minutes and draw connections between the two. Perhaps you listed that you want to participate in UW-Madison’s DSE Mentorship Program for undergraduate engineers. If you also engineering as a possible major, that’s a great connection to highlight in your essay.

The second part of this UW-Madison essay prompt is a great way to demonstrate your academic and intellectual goals. Take a look at their list of 9,192 courses and 288 undergraduate majors and certificates. Pick three courses that look interesting and explain why each of those courses appeals to you. How would you benefit from taking these courses? How do your previous academic experiences set you up for success?

Avoid statistics

You want to avoid listing out numbers and statistics that admissions officers already know. For instance, instead of spending words talking about how the average class size is 31, explain specifically which professors you would be excited to learn from in such a personal teaching environment. If you are interested in two contrasting majors, you should support both of them with anecdotes about your academic experiences.

This is the space to show off your expert investigation skills and name-drop courses, clubs, professors, and research opportunities only available at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Colleges can tell when you swap out their name for another University and submit the same “Why here?” answer. Your application will be stronger if your answer to this “why UW-Madison” essay could not be swapped with any other schools’ applications.

UW-Madison Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Do you prove that you’ve done research on the school?
  • Do you explain what unique opportunities UW-Madison would provide you that you could not get anywhere else?
  • Does your draft provide specific details about what you hope to do while on UW-Madison’s campus?

UW-Madison Essay Prompts – Question 2

If you apply using the Common Application, you will be asked to respond to one of the freshman Common Application essays. If you apply within 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 your education? (650 words maximum).

Who completes this prompt?

Not everyone applying to UW-Madison will complete this UW-Madison essay. If you are applying to UW-Madison through the Common App, you will not need to respond to this UW-Madison essay prompt. If you are applying through the UW Systems Admissions Application then this UW-Madison essay will be the substitute for your Common App personal essay. This means you will want to spend a fair amount of time drafting your response to this UW-Madison essay prompt, since UW-Madison will not read your Common App personal essay if you apply through their college-specific portal.

There are several different parts to this UW-Madison essay prompt. At first glance, it may seem quite general. “Something you’ve done” is a pretty broad topic. However, the follow-up questions might qualify your chosen topic a bit more. You’ll need to describe how you learned from the situation. Was it something you succeeded in or was it a challenge you overcame? Did you find it to be a turning point that pushed you into a new phase of your life? You should be sure to address the final part of this UW-Madison essay prompt—about the event’s influence—and discuss how it will influence your education moving forward.

Avoid cliches

For this UW-Madison essay prompt, you could expand on something that is already present in your application. However, make sure that your topic is proportional to the length of this UW-Madison supplemental essay. For example, if you decide to write about an extracurricular, you will want to select something that you have a large role in. You should then discuss an anecdote that really challenged you, and as a result, prompted you to grow. Topics such as scoring an A on a big exam or winning an important sports game can be a little clichéd. Try to think of a unique situation that you overcame and the skills that you gained from that experience.

One of the most important parts of this UW-Madison essay is how your topic will impact your education. Make sure you discuss how you will contribute to academic life at UW-Madison. However, don’t repeat anything you already said in your “Why UW-Madison” essay. Overall, you want to make sure this UW-Madison supplemental essay shows who you are as a person and how you have grown. Given the relatively low UW-Madison acceptance rate, you should present detailed, well-written answers to the UW-Madison essay prompts.

UW-Madison Essay Prompts: Final Thoughts

Completing the UW-Madison essay prompts can seem daunting in light of the UW-Madison acceptance rate and high UW-Madison rankings. However, you shouldn’t let that discourage you from applying. The UW-Madison supplemental essays are a great opportunity to introduce yourself to UW-Madison admissions officers. With the lower UW-Madison acceptance rate, these UW-Madison essay prompts can boost your application if you have a lower-than-average GPA or SAT score.

Use this guide as a step-by-step aid when approaching the UW-Madison supplemental essays, and start earlier than you think you should. Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions from someone; it’s helpful to have another set of eyes checking your UW-Madison supplemental essays for grammatical errors, tone, and clarity. Good luck!


This 2021-2022 essay guide on UW-Madison was written by Laura Frustaci, Harvard ‘21. For your best chance against the UW-Madison acceptance rate, and more CollegeAdvisor.com resources, click here. Want help crafting your UW-Madison supplemental essays? Create your free account or schedule a free consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.