campus encounters

"Get the first-hand scoop about colleges and universities"

University of Wisconsin – Madison

University of Wisconsin – Madison (visited 4/15/15)

~UWM food trucks

Food trucks line one of the streets going through campus.

~UMW dormsUW-M is a typical large, sprawling state university that is integrated into the city of Madison. A current student gave great advice for survival on such a big campus: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself! You can make the campus small but you have to work for it.” Students who do well are willing to stick up for themselves and to think about how to make choices. They have to be able to sort through a lot of options. The university will try to make students aware of opportunities, but the students have to go out and take advantage of them. It seemed that students are taking advantage of things that are there. Students were everywhere (not difficult with an undergraduate population of just over 30,000 students), including hanging out in the union late into Wednesday night, reading, talking, etc.

~UWM 1~UMW balconyMadison has the same college-town vibe as Ann Arbor and some other cities with flagship universities. There’s a lot within walking distance; city streets run through campus. One counselor asked about the school’s party reputation; the tour guide said, “there are students who want to do that. State Street (a 6-block pedestrian area) has a good bar scene and great ethnic restaurants.” There was a definite sense that he was dodging the issue. I asked for the real scoop; he just said, “there’s drinking at any school.” Several of us discussed this later and felt like we were being given the canned, prescribed answer . . . as one counselor said, “Not answering is an answer in itself.” Later in the visit, someone asked another student about the types of discussions people had about a variety of topics, in or out of class. Did it seem like the university, faculty, and/or students want to discuss diversity, typical college topics (like the sexual assaults in the news), etc? Her answer: “It seems that if people want to participate in that discussion, they can, but there’s no real comprehensive discussions about other points of view, wellness, sexual assault, or any of that.”

2 of the dorms buildings

2 of the dorms buildings

Most new students (93%) live in campus housing but are not required to do so; about 75% of all residents are new students. There are 19 residence halls (4 first-year only, 4 upperclass only, the rest mixed years) split into Lakeside (“the peaceful and more traditional side,” said one student) and Southeast Neighborhoods. Ten are Learning Communities, including Women in Science and Engineering, GreenHouse, Open House: Gender Learning, and Career Kickstart. Students in LCs complete a 1-3 credit learning component taught by live-in faculty.

One of the few areas with an expanse of green

One of the few areas with an expanse of green

About 20% of students enroll in a First-Year Interest Group, or “FIG” which includes 3 thematically-arranged classes on one of about 60 tthemes. “I heart FIG,” said one student. “To this day, I have a group of students I keep in contact with. We study together, help each other out, still talk to the professor. He even came to zumba with us.” Clearly the university is doing something right: 95% of freshmen return for sophomore year – although they attract passionate students who are committed to education in the first place.

~UMW sculpturesIn terms of the academics, one student said, “It’s super competitive here. Everyone here was at the top of their class in high school.” Over 4000 courses are offered; 10% have under 10 and another 10% have more than 100. Each college within the university has an Honors program; students admitted to the university will be invited to apply. Like all large universities, there are a ton of options for majors, minors, and certificates across colleges:

  • Agricultural and Life Sciences (notable programs: Ag Business Management, Community and Environmental Sociology, Life Sciences Communication, Landscape Architecture)
  • Business (including Operations and Technology Management, and Real Estate and Urban Land Economics)
  • Education (Notable programs: Rehabilitation Psychology, Athletic Training, and Communication Sciences and Disorders)
  • Engineering (unusual programs: Geological, Naval, Nuclear, and Materials Science)
  • Human Ecology (including Textiles and Fashion Design, Community and Nonprofit Leadership)
  • Letters and Science (unusual programs include Social Work; Cartography and Geographic Information Systems; Medical Microbiology and Immunology; Applied Math, Engineering, and Physics; and History of Science, Medicine, and Technology)
  • Nursing
  • Pharmacy (undergrads can earn a B.S. in Pharmacology-Toxicology)
  • Journalism and Mass Communications
A statue of Lincoln overlooking the original section of the campus. The tradition is to rub his foot for luck and take graduations pictures at the statue.

A statue of Lincoln overlooking the original section of the campus. Students rub his foot for luck and take graduation pictures at the statue.

One of the coolest academic facts is that 87 languages are taught here including several African Languages (Swahili, Zulu, Hausa, Arabic, Yoruba, and more), Ojibwe through the American Indian Studies program, all the Scandinavian languages (including Sami, Icelandic, and Old Norse), and several Slavic languages (Czech, Polish, Russian, and Serbian/Croatian). Students can receive retroactive credit by testing into and taking a higher level class (ie, if they test into 202, they’ll get credit for all 4 classes for taking 202).

There’s a huge sports culture here, as you might guess. The crew team rows right by campus; we saw boats go by from our reception in the union. The students said that the only real traditions they could think of revolve around sports: band performances are huge; they have “5th Quarter” which sounds like an after-game party/event. The only other tradition one student could think of was “Battle for Bascum” which is a giant snowball fight between the Lakeside and Downtown dorms.

~UMW crew teamDespite the number of applicants, admissions is holistic. Because of the competitive, selective nature of the school, “we do have to make split some hairs sometimes when making admissions decisions,” said one admissions rep. Numbers alone do not determine admissibility but do guide the process.

~UMW pedestrian mallThe admissions office believes that the more students do in high school and their communities, the more they’ll contribute to campus. They’re looking for people who have dug deep and found roots – in other words, quality of involvement over quantity. They look at essays to see if students write concisely at a college level. Recommendations are not required, but the most serious students send them (please don’t send more than two!).

They won’t recalculate GPA but don’t hold unweighted GPAs against applicants. They no longer require the writing section of the ACT (and won’t for the new SAT, either).

Scholarship applications are separate and can be found at This must be completed every year that a student wants merit-based aid. Wisconsin and Minnesota grants reciprocity for in-state tuition. However, they have a total allowable non-resident enrollment rate of 27.5%.

UW-M works on Notification Periods, NOT early action! Apply by 11/2, hear by end of January; apply by 2/1, hear by end of March. They may “postpone” (aka defer) during the first round; they will rarely waitlist a student who has already been deferred, but it can happen.

(c) 2015

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