Tips for your Personal Essay
See also College Application Essay handout with the following information.
The schools want to know two main things: 1) who you are and 2) how you write.
You own your essay. Since it is about you, you can take or leave any feedback from peers, teachers, or counselors.
TRY NOT make the essay too personal. Really shocking or traumatic events are not good topics.
TRY NOT to choose a clichéd topic. College representatives read too many essays about: influential grandfathers; tough athletic contests barely won/ lost; trips to foreign countries, especially mission-type trips. Even if the travel experience was eye-opening or transformative for you, it is difficult to say something new about travel that has not been said thousands of time before.
DO be yourself(not your impression of the perfect college applicant) and reveal something about you that the numbers, checkboxes, and lists of activities do not convey.
DO focus in on a particular incident/ activity/ object. Be specific and show rather than tell.
DO be honest.
DO answer the question you have chosen, but don’t restate the question in your essay.
DO take time. After this summer, set the essay aside for a few weeks and then go back to make sure it rings true.
DO get some feedback on your essay, but make sure it still sounds like you.
DO have others proofread your final product to catch errors.
Recommended: DO have something like a thesis statement. This does not have to be as formal as an argumentative or research paper or even a single sentence you can point to. Simply make sure that, somewhere near the beginning, the reader knows where you are headed.
Some Do Not's
DO NOT make things up. Do not fabricate a hardship to provide drama.
DO NOT plagiarize.
DO NOT be afraid to start anew, which is not the same as starting over. Sometime you have to write to see what will work best.
DO NOT try to include everything. The essay is not an autobiography.
DO NOT write a “what the admissions committee wants to hear” essay.
DO NOT write a standard five paragraph essay. Don’t worry too much about paragraphs or sections at first.
DO NOT sabotage your chances by portraying yourself as difficult, uncooperative, or closed-minded.
DO NOT use the essay as a bragfest/ puff piece.
Freshman Application Materials
Take note of our deadlines and decision plans. Submit the following to apply:
1. Admissions Application
Students can apply using either the UW System Application or the Common Application.
UW–Madison does not prefer one application over the other. Please choose only one application and use only that application all the way through to submission.
Please note that we do not start processing fall term applications until September 1.
Applicants will be asked to identify both a preferred and alternate major or field of study when completing the application for admission. If we are unable to offer you admission to your preferred major/field of study, your alternate choice will be considered in our application review to assess interest and preparation. Due to the competitive nature of some of our programs, admission expectations may be different for students pursuing majors in business, engineering, dance, and music. We encourage you to visit our direct entry page to learn more.
2. Application Fee
The application fee is $60.00 US and is non-refundable.
Electronic payment is preferred. If you apply using the UW System Application, the fee can be paid by check or money order, drawn on a US bank and payable to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Send the check or money order to the Office of Admissions and Recruitment. Please include the applicant's name with payment. Do not send cash.
Application fee waivers are available for applicants with financial hardship. Students who apply using the UW System Application can print this form and submit it to their school official for verification of hardship and signature. Send the completed form to the Office of Admissions and Recruitment. Students who apply using the Common Application may request a fee waiver while filling out their application. Your counselor must validate and approve your request for a fee waiver, and then our office will review it and a decision will be made regarding waiver of the fee. If the College Board or the ACT grant you a fee waiver, we will accept it.
3. Official Transcripts
We require transcripts for all high school and college-level work. Official transcripts should be sent directly from each school attended.
Electronic transcripts must be sent through a secure document sending service. Transcripts sent through email, as an attachment, will not be accepted as official. Paper transcripts sent to our office must bear an official school seal or be printed on the school's custom watermarked/security paper.
If you earned your General Educational Development (GED) certificate or a High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED), submit your official score report in addition to all high school or home school transcripts.
Students applying from outside the United States can find country-specific official transcript requirements here.
4. Official Test Scores
Scores from either the ACT or the SAT are required and must be sent directly from the testing agency. We do not require the writing portion of either the ACT or the SAT. Our test code is 4656 for the ACT and 1846 for the SAT. Do not send your results rush (SAT) or priority (ACT); we receive all scores electronically on a daily basis so there is not an advantage to rush or priority delivery.
To assure consideration in our Early Action competition, students are encouraged to take the ACT or SAT no later than the end of September. For consideration in our Regular Decision competition, students are encouraged to take their test no later than the end of December.
Freshman applicants from non-English speaking countries must submit a TOEFL or IELTS score, unless English was the language of instruction for all courses in all years of secondary school. Our TOEFL test code is 1846. TOEFL must be submitted electronically from the testing service. We do not accept the IELTS electronically. Please have a paper copy of your results sent to our office through the mail. If you feel that you qualify for a TOEFL or IELTS waiver, please send an email to our office and a counselor will determine if the waiver criteria are met.
5. Two Essays
If you apply using the Common Application, you will be asked to respond to one of the freshman Common Application essays. If you apply with the UW System Application, you will need to answer the following prompt:
- Consider something in your life you think goes unnoticed and write about why it's important to you.
All applicants will also need to respond to this prompt:
- 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.
Review our list of tips for the essays as you prepare your responses.
6. One Required Letter of Recommendation
We require you to submit one letter of recommendation written by someone who can attest to your academic ability, such as a teacher, school counselor, or faculty member. If you choose, you can also submit another letter of recommendation from an additional source, such as an employer, coach, research mentor, community leader, or clergy. Students with an interest in engineering are encouraged to obtain a letter of recommendation from a math or science teacher. Remember to have a discussion with your chosen recommender first to see if they are willing and able to provide a letter.
We encourage applicants who have been away from formal classroom teaching for an extended period to request a letter of recommendation from someone who can speak to their academic potential, such as an employer, (preferably a supervisor or manager), a program or departmental trainer, or some other individual in an official instructional capacity.
If you apply using the UW System Application, your recommender can use our online recommendation form. Those who apply using the Common Application should request a recommendation through that system. Recommendations that are mailed to our office must include your full name, birth date, and campus ID number (if known). Additionally, letters of recommendation from a school staff member may also be sent through Naviance.
Even after your application is complete we may request additional supporting materials such as self-reported grades, academic performance statements, and course change documentation.
Applicants are expected to self-report their mid-year grades when prompted by email during the application process. To ensure a possible future admit decision is not in jeopardy of being cancelled, applicants must report their grades exactly as they appear on an official transcript or grade report that was issued by their school.
Academic integrity is valued in our community and in the admission process. By signing your application, you certify that it is complete and accurate. We hold you accountable to ensure the authenticity and honesty of your application, essays, and additional materials subsequently submitted.