Like any experience, college is what you make of it. Your first few years you will be in large lecture rooms 100 – 250+ people; for some that seems overwhelming but you make the class as big as you want it to be. Want to be a wallflower? Sit in the back. Want a small class feel? Sit in the front row.
My experience at the University of Wisconsin was very good. Admittedly, it took me two years to get my act together and really ‘find myself/ place in college’ (major wise) but once I did I had a fantastic time. (Not to say my first two years weren’t good)
I applied to Wisconsin as an after thought, and only because my parents wanted me to apply to a third school. It was neither my first choice (USC), nor my second choice (Cal - Berkley) but after I received acceptance letters and toured all three campus, shadowed a couple of classes, and a spent a weekend on the campuses. I was sold on Madison.
I stayed in the dorms my first year (The Bradley Learning Community on Lakeshore) and made most of my life-long college friends here (the other major group being people in my major). Living in the dorms defiantly opened my eyes to a lot of different people and cultures. Some people I can say that I would really never want to live around again (my roommate is one) but at least I can say I did.
Socially there is a lot to do, mostly drinking related.
Unlike most people, I really made it a point to not hit up the bars with the fake ID or go to house parties my freshmen year (I did go out a few times but at that time I really felt like that wasn’t an interest to me)... in fact I really didn’t start enjoying to drink until my sophomore year. Because of that, freshmen year was kind of rough on the weekends, I spent most of my time hanging out with the other two ‘sober kids’ on my floor after everyone left for the house parties and we spent most of our time finding activities and events that didn’t involve drinking (discussing the age old question “how do we meet girls if we don’t go out to parties?” I still wonder if there was a trio of girls in their dorm room wonder how they would meet boys.)
To be fair there is stuff to do (you have to find it) but lets not kid ourselves – Madison is a drinking town and most of the social scene does evolve around that.
You will thrive at the UW if you are an outgoing person. People are really nice and friendly if you are bold enough to strike up a conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I had a class where you just ask if anyone want to go out and have a beer and half the class takes you up on your offer (actually I can tell you - sixteen times). If I need help in class I would simply ask if anyone wanted to study together. Most people get self conscience and clam up. My advice, ‘man up.’ Worst case scenario they say no.
Academically there are some great classes and some fabulous teachers. Admittedly in those general course classes it can be hard to get face time with a professor but if you take the extra time and go to his office hours it should really not be a problem (nobody shows up for office hours). Once I got into my major and was in my core classes the class size dropped significantly (to about 15 to 20 people) and I ended up on a first name basis with most of my professors (on a few occasion even ended up at a student/professor parties).
Most TAs are fine. They will treat you like a human being if you actually let them know you are one. You have to realize that most of them are only a few years older than you and therefore they still know what you are going through. Later in my college life I would actually meet my TAs at a coffee shop or a bar (mid afternoon) and have a drink with them and talk about the class.
I love sports. I had football, basketball, and hockey season tickets. I would also check out volleyball, soccer, and crew games/events on occasion as well. My advice would be to get season tickets (football) once, even if you are not a sports fan. If you are living in the dorms you will make an instant group of friends because you all walk to the stadium together and end up sitting next to each other plus you have a shared experience to fall back on.
Post-college the University has been absolutely great. I got my interview for my current job simply from the universities reputation (actual line from my boss during the interview, “Normally I wouldn’t have interviewed you because we are looking for someone with more experience but I saw that you went to the University of Wisconsin" - That was a job interview in Virginia).
For me the UW was everything that I expected from college and more. Hope I comments have been somewhat helpful in helping you make your decision.