What is it Like to Attend University of Wisconsin-Madison?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Jason is a New York City tutor specializing in Writing tutoring, ESL tutoring, Elementary Math tutoringMiddle School Math tutoring, and more. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Russian from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Check out his review of his alma mater:


VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Jason: The University of Wisconsin-Madison (a Big Ten school) is a beautiful, sprawling campus located on the shore of Lake Mendota, the largest of five lakes in Madison. The student union has a patio right on the lake, with a shore path that leads along the lake toward a point about a mile away. It is also just a few blocks to the state capital building, and right next to the several block-long State Street, the downtown business district for the city (over which the campus has a huge influence). Bus service is fantastic, though most of the campus is very walkable. Madison also boasts (at least in my day) more bikes per capita than any other U.S. university, very bike-friendly roads with separated lanes everywhere, and even buses that have bike racks on the front for passengers. It consistently ranks in the top 25 public universities in the nation (10th place in the 2012 U.S. News and World Report rankings), and places very high on world rankings.

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

Jason: The university is vast – 40,000 students (30,000 undergrad), so it’s hard to generalize. But my feeling is that learning is very highly respected, professors are leaders in their field, and the commitment to learning is high. In addition, there many, many support activities (groups, clubs, events, etc.) that support learning in every field.

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

Jason: Dorm life, like all dorm situations, is going to be what you make of it. In addition to the university dorms, private dorms and off-campus living is plentiful. There are many dining options. The campus has plan and a la carte options, both student unions have cafeterias, and there are many healthy, interesting dining options around the campus.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Jason: I wish I could say ‘all of them!’ But what comes to mind for me specifically are the sciences, the life sciences and humanities, the business school and the agricultural school. I am always surprised at how often I read newspaper articles where the quoted expert is faculty from the UW. I myself studied Russian, where Madison has a very well respected Russian program. I decided to major in it because after exploring several possible options, Russian remained the one that provided me with a window to exploring the world that appealed to my love of language and sense of adventure. And I was able to include minors in International Business and Integrated Liberal Studies. I do feel supported by the university – native speakers were plentiful. The university had many travel programs and access to private programs as well, with many activities (Russian tables, movie nights, etc.)

VT: 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?

Jason: Making friends can be easy; there are many ways to pursue interests and get out to meet people. Campus mixers, of course, but also a full range of sports. There’s a sailing club, other athletic groups (running, yoga, etc.), intellectual pursuits and museums, and so on. The list is really long. There is a strong Greek system, with most national fraternities and sororities represented and having their own house on “fraternity row,” but they do not at all play any kind of ‘dominate’ role in the overall social life of the campus. And I have to say, by and large, the majority are friendly, normal social clubs and buck the fraternity stereotype.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Jason: The Career Center is very helpful, and there are many support services. Because of the size of the school, most opportunities are found through the individual colleges instead of a centralized university office, but the resources are tremendous. Company recruiters visit the campus all the time.

One story I’d like to share: Just a couple of weeks ago, I called the Registrar’s Office to follow up on a residence question I had. This is now many years after I’ve graduated. Not only did they resolve my question immediately (and it was not a usual question), but my call was answered by a person. No ‘option tree,’ no recording, no ‘if you know your party’s extension.’ Real person – Ring, ring – “Office of the Registrar, how can I help you?” I was amazed.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Jason: No matter what your study method, you can find an environment to suit you and options run the gamut. From the Helen C. White Library, open 24 hours with talking and food allowed, to Memorial Library with quiet area individual study carols (some of which can be rented by the semester), to dozens of coffee shops and the two student unions. When you need to study, you can find your place.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Jason: The population of Madison is about 250,000. The city has a rich progressive history. The downtown area starts right where the quad (Student Union, Memorial Library, Wisconsin Historical Society, and University Book Store surrounding) ends, and runs straight up several blocks to the Capital. The Capital has a farmer’s market, several movie theaters, restaurants, cafés, and bars. There are two large shopping malls both on the east and west side of town, which are about a 20-minute bus ride. Living on or near campus, ‘going downtown’ is a matter of walking down the block. Outside the city, there are many natural areas including an arboretum, and many sleepy ‘typical midwestern’ small towns. The Wisconsin Dells (about and hour and half away), Milwaukee (an hour), and Chicago (three hours) are common destinations with easy roads and frequent bus service.

It’s a very friendly place, and if you’re familiar with the Midwestern temperament, you’ll find lots of it in and around Madison. For example (I don’t know if they still do it), I have seen, on many occasions, a bus driver radio ahead to another bus driver to say that there was a passenger that needed to make a transfer to another bus. The other bus driver would then wait for that passenger at the connecting stop. Who does that?!

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

Jason: The class sizes range, from popular liberal arts 101 classes numbering in the several hundred students, to rapidly shrinking as you got down to the 200-300 level classes and 300-400 level classes which are often just a dozen or so students. Although many classes seem large, I never felt isolated or left out – questions and discussion are supported and encouraged, and professor office hours were always available.

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

Jason: One professor in particular stands out: Lydia Kalaida (Lydia Borisovna to us), our 210 Conversational Russian instructor. A native speaker from the Former Soviet Union, she was tough as nails with a heart of gold. She had no problem getting tough with a student who was slipping, but always did it in the same way – “Mr. Gondo, we all love you dearly, but if you don’t start getting to class on time, your language is simply never going to improve.” I know I upped my game soon after rather than facing her ‘wrath!’


Check out Jason’s tutoring profile.

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