Freshman year of college is different for everyone, but, especially at a school as large as the University of Wisconsin, adjusting to all of the new experiences can be extremely challenging. From missing the bus to sharing a bathroom with 30 people to an overwhelming course load, there’s a lot to be learned during the first year of college. Here are some of the main takeaways that I learned from my freshman year at UW.

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Don’t overload your schedule

One of the first mistakes I made as a freshman was deciding to take 17 credits during my first semester. I came into college completely unaware of what a “credit” actually meant, as the term can be confusing for new students. One credit is equivalent to about 15 hours of lecture for the semester, 15-30 hours of discussion, or 30-45 hours of laboratory. 

Most classes at UW are three to four credits, so if a student takes four classes, they likely end up between 12 and 16 credits. For the first semester, it’s best to aim for around 14-15 credits.

College is difficult and, especially when starting out, it may take a while to adjust to the fast-paced, independent style of learning. 

It takes time to learn how to study for exams, keep up with readings and deal with all of the non-academic aspects of college. There is no need to rush into taking your required classes, so don’t overbook your schedule.

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Get the most out of your dorm experience

Nearly 90 percent of freshmen live in the dorms their first year at UW, and many people find their first friends at college in their dorm. The dorms at UW each carry different characteristics and students in the same dorms can even have varying experiences. It’s all about figuring out how to make the experience work for you.

UW dorms are located in two neighborhoods: Lakeshore and Southeast.  Lakeshore dorms tend to have larger rooms, are quieter, and have great views of Lake Mendota. Unfortunately, they are far from central campus and State Street, so you may have to rely on the bus or a bike to get around campus — unless you don’t mind a longer walk each day. 

Southeast dorms, such as Sellery and Witte, are more traditional high-rise buildings where an entire floor shares two bathrooms — one men’s and one women’s. These dorms can be loud and bustling on the weekends, but the convenience of Gordon Dining Center, East Campus Mall and State Street is a huge plus. 

Dorm selections are typically competitive, but thankfully the University offers the option to change dorms in case you don’t get your top choice. This is a very common thing for freshmen, especially at the turn of the semester.

Living in a dorm freshman year can be an important part of the college experience, but that doesn’t mean you should have to live in a place where you are unhappy. Don’t be afraid to change rooms or dorms. A negative living situation can really impact your college experience, and it’s better to leave a situation when you know it isn’t right for you. 

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Make use of public transportation

Thanks to segregated fees, all UW students have the option to get a free bus pass, which gives students free bus fare on all Madison buses. Even if you don’t get the bus card, there are several bus routes — the 80, 81, 82 and 84 — which circulate around campus and are free to everyone.

Unfortunately, in a city with weather as unpredictable as Madison, the 80 can get very crowded on chilly, rainy or snowy days — which take up most of the year in Wisconsin. Weather can also cause the bus to be delayed, making the schedule unpredictable at times. 

I want to give a quick shout-out to the random guy who sat next to me on the 80 one day and introduced me to the beauty of Google Maps. You can type in any location on campus and it will give you all of the available routes there— campus buses and city buses — as well as a schedule that reflects if the bus is running late or early.

Overall, freshman year can be overwhelming, but it’s also one of the most exciting times in your life. I hope these tips can help incoming Badgers make their first year at UW a little easier. Just remember to enjoy all the highs and lows of the year, and learn something from everything. 

Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and journalism.