As the resident of a state with not one, but two Big Ten universities within our borders, I grew up with an understanding of what that type of institution means for not only local residents, but also for those who love all that makes up such longstanding tradition and history. As such, I felt immediately comfortable when I arrived on the campus of UW Madison on a windy, cold April day. The hustle and bustle of students (even on a Saturday morning, when I arrived) and the hum of all-over activity reminded me of Michigan’s land grant institution, Michigan State University.
But UW Madison is also very much its own institution – and rightly so. With a history that dates back to 1848 (North Hall, the original campus building which served as a men’s residence, still stands atop Bascom Hill) and a longtime reputation for strength in research and the sciences, there’s a lot to like about this expansive and populous school.
First thing of note in the interest of full disclosure: Because one of my closest friends has completed coursework at UW and is on staff there, I eschewed the admission office tour and asked him to take me around to where the “real” students can be found. Yes, we also did some of the typical admission tour activities (climbing Bascom Hill is a must – and a workout even for the fittest of people!), but I was also able to gain some insight that I think I might otherwise have missed simply because there is so much to see and do that the admission office can’t possibly cover it all within the window of a tour.
What stood out the most to me as we ambled around campus was the amount of construction and renovation that the university has going on at the moment – and my friend indicated that it’s been a theme that he’s noticed during his time there as well. While many of the buildings are quite old and have a real sense of history and tradition (which befits a university of this type), there is also a real sense that UW is careful to focus on the future and move with the times so that students are able to achieve the best possible education that they can. The consistent upgrading of facilities is fantastic to see – as is the pride that has been taken in the older facilities so that it’s clear that the institution values both the past and the future. (Sometimes that sort of attitude can be rare in higher education so it’s always refreshing to see!)
Engineering, communication, and all of the hard sciences are very popular, as is business. (In fact, as we walked through the Grainger Business Hall – which doubles as a conference center – several different Saturday events, meetings, and student study groups were being held. My friend also noted that it’s not unusual to see students coming in and out of the business building wearing suits and other professional attire as though they are already working in the business world.) In total, the university is home to 39 different departments and five professional schools that both educate students and conduct research in a variety of areas. The graduate programs encompass substantial breadth as well, with programs in environmental studies, veterinary medicine, public health and public affairs, and the law.
Student life is also very active – and with a great location along the shores of Lake Mendota (visible from the top of Bascom Hill!) and a strong Big Ten football team, as well as the capital city of the state of Wisconsin at their fingertips, students have a lot to choose from when it comes to their time outside of the classroom. (Equestrians take note – the UW Hoofer Riding Club has been a part of the UW Madison programming since 1939 and is one of the most active and organized student-run equestrian clubs in the nation. They even maintain their own office space on one of the upper floors of Memorial Union – an honor not bestowed on every club on campus!)
While a large public institution is not the right fit for every student (UW Madison boasts nearly 30,000 undergraduate students enrolled – and yes, parking can be a bit troublesome), the energy and varied opportunities available can be a tremendous fit for someone very self-motivated and who seeks an opportunity to study very deeply in a particular academic area. In addition, after spending the afternoon exploring downtown Madison and its seemingly endless shops, cafes, and chain restaurants (the Starbucks has a second floor to accommodate overflow seating), I could easily see some students loving all of the options and others becoming very overwhelmed.
Could you be the type of student who thrives at UW Madison? Contact me and we’ll find out!