A Student Perspective on University of Wisconsin-Madison

Rachel earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish, international studies, and global cultures in 2009 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She specializes in Spanish tutoring, English tutoring, and math tutoring, among other subjects. Below she shared her experience as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Rachel: Although the campus is in an urban setting, it is full of gorgeous trees and landscaping. It has a mixture of older and newer buildings, a working dairy, a functional observatory, and several natural areas and gardens. It is adjacent to lake Mendota and downtown Madison. Private businesses and restaurants are right next door to campus buildings.

Generally, the campus feels safe. However, it is smart to avoid certain areas at night and have a buddy to walk with at night as well (or just take a bus or taxi).

There are various ways of getting around campus. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of the main campus to the other. There are also city buses that run on campus, and each student receives a free bus pass. Students can use other forms of transportation such as mopeds, bicycles, or skateboards. Parking is very limited, so I would recommend leaving your car at home.  

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Rachel: Even though the University of Wisconsin is a very large school (about 30,000 undergraduate students), professors, advisors, and TAs are still willing to assist any student who reaches out to them for help. Some have drop-by office hours, while others are available by appointment only. I was able to receive assistance from my professors, advisers, and TAs in person and through email. Most professors seemed to especially enjoy discussing course topics and other related material with students. Attending office hours or reaching out to your teachers is also a good way to build relationships with professors or TAs who may serve as a reference or recommender for graduate school or a job.

How would you describe the dorm life—rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Rachel: The campus has two sections of dorms: the lakeshore dorms tend to be quieter, while the southeast dorms are louder. There are a wide variety of room set-ups and sizes, depending on the dorm in which you live. You may live alone or with up to two other roommates.

There are many dining locations across campus, including cafeterias, pizza pubs, coffee shops, and convenience stores. Dining halls are located close to students’ residence halls and several are even located within them. There are many types of food, and students pay for each food item individually, allowing them to choose how much and when they want to eat without feeling like they are wasting money.

There are numerous opportunities in the dorms to meet and socialize with other students. Residence hall associations and “houses” within the dorms provide ample activities to help get students involved. I highly recommend that all freshmen and transfer students live in the dorms, as it is a great way to get acclimated to the campus and make new friends.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported?

Rachel: The university has 13 schools and colleges which support over 200 majors. Students are able to be “undeclared” for quite some time while they fulfill general requirements. Students are also able to change declared majors, even if that means they must switch schools/colleges. I began as an elementary education major within the School of Education, but after determining that that was not the right path for me, I switched to Spanish, international studies, and global cultures within the College of Letters & Sciences because I love traveling and experiencing and learning about other languages and cultures. As an elementary education major, I was on track to finish school in five years (this is typical for that major, but not all majors), and I was able to finish in that same amount of time even after switching majors and schools/colleges.

There were many opportunities for me to attend extracurricular events and activities related to my majors, and my academic adviser was supportive. Although I learned a lot while at school, the university’s career services were not very helpful in preparing me for the working world; they did not do a good job in helping me figure out what kind of jobs I could do with my degree and how to find them.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Rachel: I made friends within my dorm and through student groups on campus. I also made some acquaintances through class. Thankfully, I was successful at making friends because I searched out opportunities to do so. One could easily get lost in the sea of students and be lonely if they did not actively try to meet other people.

Greek life does play a significant role in the campus social life. UW Madison has over 50 fraternities and sororities and about 13% of the student body are members in a fraternity or sorority.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services?

Rachel: As I mentioned previously, I was not impressed with the career center for my particular college, as they were unable to help me find any pertinent job opportunities. However, I was able to receive useful tips on building my resume and preparing for interviews. Each of the different schools and colleges have career fairs with reputable and relevant companies. There are ample opportunities for you to get your resume in the hands of employers and make a good impression on recruiters.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Rachel: The campus is chocked full of places to study. There are dozens of libraries with varying hours and types of places to study: computer labs, plushy chairs, tables, group rooms, stacks, quiet study areas, etc. The unions, dorms, and academic buildings have plenty of places to study as well. Generally, the dorm study rooms tend to be less crowded.  

Describe the surrounding town.

Rachel: Madison is a beautiful, clean city; it has nice foliage and several lakes and parks. It is the seat of the state’s government with a capitol modeled after our nation’s capitol. The campus is located in downtown Madison, which makes it a really fun place to be. While students participate in numerous activities on campus, they often frequent the areas of the city that surround the campus too. There are all kinds of activities always going on, and students can visit escape rooms, museums, farmers’ markets, concert halls, restaurants, and shopping establishments. State Street is a very popular and eclectic place to be; it is full of neat shops, restaurants, etc.

How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Rachel: The student body is huge! Class sizes vary and depend on the type of class and subject. For example, all of my Spanish grammar courses had around 20 students in them. On the other hand, some of my survey lectures had as many has 400 students! Most large lectures have discussion sections in which students can discuss the class material in a smaller group led by a TA. This really gives students the opportunity to ask any questions they have and understand the material better.

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Rachel: As a Spanish major, I was able to take other Romance languages and have a certain number of credits count toward my degree. So, I decided to take Portuguese. The TA did such a good job of teaching me the language and making it enjoyable that I decided to take more Portuguese classes even though none of the credits would count toward my degree or credit total (I did not need any more credits in order to graduate). Since, I have enjoyed speaking to others in Portuguese and using it in my jobs! I’m so grateful for that TA and glad that I decided to study Portuguese!


Check out Rachel’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.