Distant Revisit: University of Wisconsin-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the few flagship state universities that is considered an “academic” school, a “party” school and a “sports” school. It’s been a popular option for college-bound students from practically anywhere in our country for many years.

Thirty years ago, Wisconsin accepted over 70 percent of the students who applied for admission to the freshman class. Fast forward to 2018. Just over half (52%) of the applicants were accepted. The average high school GPA for the current freshman class was just under 3.9. Most took the ACT. The middle 50 percent scored between 27 and 32.

It’s become tougher to get into Wisconsin, but the freshman classes have grown by 800 students since 2008, from 5,800 to 6,800. But Retention rates have gone up, too, from 94 to 95 percent. The improvement in the four-year graduation rate is more impressive. Wisconsin graduated 54 percent of the freshmen who arrived on campus in 2008. The university graduated 66 percent of the students who arrived in 2014.

What have I liked most about the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

The campus is beautiful and lively.

  • Wisconsin has one of the most pedestrian and bicycle friendly college campuses around. You might freeze during the winter, but you can canoe, paddle boat or sail on Lake Mendota during the early fall, late spring and summer.
  • The university’s Memorial Union, located along the lake, is the second-oldest student union in the country, after Harvard’s. There is so much to do on campus, including more than 800 clubs and organizations, that its easy for any student to find a group of friends with shared interests.
  • Sports Illustrated has recognized Wisconsin as the school that provides the best game day atmosphere on football weekends, and the program has been one of the more successful on the field in the Big Ten, and the Kohl Center (pictured) is one of the best venues for indoor college sports. But Greek life is not as important here as it is at other “sports schools.” Only ten percent of the undergraduates belong to fraternities or sororities. 

The community is also beautiful and lively.

  • One of the more educated places in the country, Madison is a popular stop for visiting politicians, lecturers and entertainers.
  • It’s easy to walk downtown and trek to the state capital if you are interested in politics or protest.
  • Madison also has over 200 miles of biking and hiking trails and over 6,000 acres of parkland.
  • You don’t need a car to survive socially at Wisconsin. Public transportation is taken quite seriously here.

The Wisconsin Experience is voluntary but effective.

Wisconsin does not have a “discovery” learning requirement, but it does a great deal to encourage students to take on a capstone project, research assignment, internship, service project or study abroad for academic credit.

Ninety-two percent of the Class of 2018 took advantage of at least one of these opportunities. Seventy-eight percent took on at least two. Over half did a senior capstone. These are  phenomenal numbers for a school that grants over 7,000 bachelors degrees each year.

Student government really matters.

Wisconsin is the only school that I have visited where students can intern with campus government for credit. Those chosen as interns work on issues that can actually be resolved by student leaders, faculty and administrators within the campus community.

Through the intern program and grassroots originating on campus, the Associated Students of Madison have achieved some noteworthy accomplishments, including caps on tuition increases. They also manage a budget of over $50 million for student activities. 

But no school is perfect, including Wisconsin:

Freshman merit scholarships are few. The university reports that “typically 75 Letters & Science scholarships are awarded to a class of over 3,000 incoming freshmen” and that scholarship opportunities are very limited for non-residents.

If you come from anyplace outside of Minnesota, your total cost of attendance would exceed $54,000. That might be less than the University of Michigan, UC-Berkeley or UT-Austin, but its still beyond the reach of many families.

Undergraduate housing is limited after the freshman year and the off-campus options get pricy.

The university has 7,200 beds in 19 residence halls. Rutgers-New Brunswick has more than twice as many residence hall and apartment beds to support the same number of undergraduates as Wisconsin. There are many nice apartment complexes near campus, but the best option for the cost conscious is to share a house. 

This is no place to have a car.

The university issues student parking permits only for extraordinary cases such as disabilities or family obligations. Either you live on or near the campus and walk everyplace you want to go or ride the bus. 

Few flagship state universities have the combination of academics, college town atmosphere and athletic success that can be found at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But the experience could be expensive if you don’t come from Wisconsin or Minnesota. 

Report Card: University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
  • Freshman Retention: A
  • Costs: B
  • Community: A
  • Curriculum: A
  • Comforts: B
  • Connections: A

Need more help in considering and comparing colleges? Contact me at stuart@educatedquest.com or call me at 609-406-0062


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