This is what we call a “Why us?” prompt. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate—through specific details and examples—why you’re a great match for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and why it’s the perfect school for you. We recommend checking out, paying close attention to the “Why Cornell” and “Why Penn” examples, which are two of our favorites.
A number of schools ask some variation on this question on their applications, so you may be writing more than one of these “Why us?” essays during your college application journey. Here are six common mistakes to look out for, and avoid, when answering:
Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking.
Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit (i.e., “It just felt right”).
Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors, or names of any important people or places on campus.
Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language.
Mistake #5: Describing traditions the school is well-known for.
Mistake #6: Think of this only as a “Why them” essay.
The common theme here is: Do your research. Most of these mistakes are the result of students not taking the time to conduct a thorough dive into a college’s website and available resources. Really take your time with this prompt and find specific clubs, events, professors, classes, etc., that pique your interest. Most importantly, connect those specific opportunities to your specific values (remember the Values Exercise). Remember, this essay is a two-way street. Talk about not just what UW can offer you, but also what you can offer the university.
If you don’t have the time to read the full guide linked above, here’s the SparkNotes version of how to write the “Why us?” essay:
Spend 1 hr+ researching 10+ reasons why UW-Madison might be a great fit for you (ideally 3-5 of the reasons will be unique to the University of Wisconsin and connect back to you).
Make a copy ofto map out your college research.
Create an outline for your essay based on either Approach 1, 2 (recommended), or 3 in the full guide above.
Write a first draft!
Here’s a great sample essay for this prompt:
U Wisconsin Madison Essay Example 2:
When I was young, I drew planes almost everyday. Planes with three, four, or even eight turbines. Planes with multiple wings and two fuselages. My planes were impossible according to the laws of physics, but I tried to create them anyways.
In middle school, I became fascinated with building planes. After watching hundreds of hours of FliteTest on YouTube and building their kits, I was ready to create my own. My first idea started with a single wing. I drew up a 3’ 4” long wing on a sheet of foam board and, after drawing three more prototypes, I assembled it. Then, I wired the two servos and a single 2280kv Radial 2218 brushless motor. On its maiden flight, I threw it into the air and it went straight into the ground. Too much weight in the front, Kanishka. Back to the garage.
In high school, I became captivated with cars, more specifically hydrogen and electric cars. I created a Hydrogen Car team to compete in a hydrogen fuel cell endurance race. I learned how to make a fuel cell more efficient. Ambitious, I worked tirelessly to get to the world finals. I devised a way to use the motor’s thermal energy and convert it into electrical energy, making our car more efficient.
I am a creator. The laws of physics often hinder my creativity, but I keep trying to push the limits of what is possible.
In college, I hope to combine my research in hydrogen fuel cells and airplanes to design a new type of plane that isn’t electric or combustion based. At UW, I want to major in mechanical engineering to accomplish just that.
For me, learning through building is essential. I enjoy applying angular momentum equations from AP Physics C into my coding projects to make a virtual car move. At UW, I am particularly interested in the project-based format of some classes. I’m eager to take Energy Systems Laboratory as it is a unique class to UW that explores different energy conversion systems in a lab-based format. By learning about the different systems, I can explore how they can be combined to achieve maximum efficiency.
Outside the classroom, I want to conduct research on energy systems in the transportation sector. UW’s Energy Institute is perfect for that. I’m intrigued by Professor Xin Wang’s research on ‘Energy Sponges.’ I think that his idea could be used in a lot of transportation sectors and could change the way we use energy. I want to assist him in his research. Further, I want to conduct research on thermoelectric plates and the possibility of making them flexible to accommodate a greater variety of uses.
Throughout high school, racing has been my favorite extracurricular. The drive to create a car that is 12% more efficient while also being 10% faster keeps me thinking of different ways to cut weight or innovate upon the fuel cell. In college, I want to continue racing. As lead engineer of the UW Formula Electric SAE Team, I want to utilize thermoelectric plates and new battery technology to make a faster, more efficient car.
While my future is still unknown, UW will provide me the skills needed to create new technology. Further, I’ll contribute in racing and engineering through meaningful activities and research.
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Tips + Analysis:
Build a personal narrative. The author could have just said, “I like physics and am interested in airplanes.” But we’re glad he didn’t. Because, instead of just telling us about his interests, he builds a vivid picture of himself as an applicant: curious, innovative, pragmatic. Specific details about the length of the airplane wings and his thought process as he watched YouTube videos help us envision what kind of person he is beyond his academic credentials and extracurricular activities. Using stories in your essay can help make you multidimensional, adding details that can allow readers to see you in a more personal and intimate way. Also, notice that, because the author starts with an anecdote from his childhood, he’s able to use the passage of time to show how he’s developed his interests and to expand on the work he’s done since. The first sentence in each paragraph takes us closer to the present, allowing us to see how he’s grown over time. Think of how you too can create a narrative that helps you structure your essay and highlight your unique thought processes.
Connect to university-specific resources. You can tell this student has done his research. After he gives us some background info about his interest in engineering, he tells us he wants to major in mechanical engineering at UW and take some project-based classes (like Energy Systems Laboratory). He takes it to the next level by explaining why the lab-based format of the class is particularly appealing to him, showing that he’s looked into the syllabus and done more than a quick, 5-minute search on the UW website. He names a UW professor (Professor Xin Wang) he’d like to do research with on “energy sponges” and expands on why that work would suit his academic goals. The takeaway here: Do more than the bare minimum in terms of looking into what the school has to offer. And, when you identify university-specific opportunities that you’re excited about, briefly explain why they speak to you, to offer a further peek into what motivates and inspires you.
Vary sentence and paragraph length. If you want to keep your reader engaged throughout your essay, it’s important to think about how you can use structure to pace your writing. Notice how most of this student’s paragraphs are no more than 3-4 sentences max. He doesn’t drone on about one topic for long or try to cram everything into a huge, dense block of text that’s impossible to read. He uses paragraph breaks to delineate between different focuses or resources, intuitively guiding readers through his story. Short sentences and sentence fragments can also be your friend. If used well, they can create impact and help draw the reader’s attention to a specific idea or value. In other words, be intentional with how you write and structure your piece.
With that, you should be ready to start researching and writing your UW supplementals.