Why Bigger is Better: Address to Admitted Students

April 15, 2021

Thank you, Andre, and thanks to you and your team for bringing us all together today.

I want to welcome all of the students, parents, and families who are joining us from Wisconsin and more than a dozen other states around the country – I hope you’ll take a moment to type your location into the chat.

Students, congratulations on your admission to UW-Madison!  We think you will make a great addition to this university, and we invited you to this special gathering to tell you personally that we want you here.

I know some of you have already decided to be part of the Class of 2025.  If you already know you want to be a Badger, I invite you to share one thing about yourself in the chat – where you grew up … what you’re thinking about majoring in … your favorite Badger sport … whatever comes to mind.

Whether or not you’ve made up your mind, you can feel good about your admission to UW-Madison.  This was the most competitive year in our history – we had 54,000 applications for about 7,500 spots in the freshman class.  That’s a new record for applications and a double-digit increase from last year.  Students really want to come to this university.

We have applicants from all over the country and more than 100 nations around the world.

Those of you here in Wisconsin might feel like you already know this campus pretty well – maybe even a little too well.  But I want you to be careful not to underrate us just because we’re nearby.  UW-Madison is one of the top public universities in the country – and you can come here at in-state prices and have a world-class experience.

Why bigger is better

This university has a breadth and scope that is hard to find anywhere else.  You can choose from nearly 130 majors – and we’ve added some new ones that we’re really excited about, including:

  • A BS in Global Health
  • A BS in Data Science
  • And a BBA in Supply Chain Management

The Data Science major is in our School of Computer, Data and Information Sciences that we opened two years ago in response to enormous growth in the number of students majoring in computer science – it’s now the #1 major on campus.

No matter what you major in, you may want to take a course or two in computer science or even earn a certificate.

We have more than 70 certificate programs that will allow you to earn an additional credential in a wide range of areas – from Environmental Studies to Entrepreneurship to Video Game Design.

Last year, more than half of our students graduated with degrees in one of the STEM fields – but I don’t want you to think we’re only a STEM school.  After computer science, the next three most-popular majors right now are economics, business, and psychology.

And we have:

  • One of the top-rated history departments in the country
  • An excellent group of social science departments
  • A great communications and journalism program
  • A top-ranked School of Education
  • And a new music school with a performing arts center that opened in fall of 2019.


One of the wonderful things about UW-Madison is the breadth of academic fields:

  • We teach 58 languages
  • We offer nearly 7,000 different courses every year
  • And you can design your own honors program where you’ll be part of a smaller group of students working closely with faculty mentors.

Lots of liberal arts colleges promote themselves by claiming that ‘small is beautiful.’  But when it comes to universities, I truly believe that ‘bigger is better.’

The student experience

Those of you from outside of Wisconsin might be worried that our campus will feel a little too big.  I want to assure you that you will make friends and find your place here, and we have a number of programs specially designed to help you do that.

Those of you from Wisconsin might be feeling like UW is … just a little too close to home – but let me assure you of two things:


  • First, even if some of your high school friends (or non-friends) are coming to UW, you don’t ever have to see them or hang out with them once you’re here. We’re going to help you connect with new friends from all over the state, the country, and the world.


  • Second, even if you’ve been at the Union, or at Badger games, I assure you that being on campus is a lot different than visiting You will find lots here that is new to you.

Let me tell you about some aspects of this campus you might not know about.


UW-Madison is one of the top 10 research institutions in the country.


That matters to you because, as undergraduates, you will have opportunities to work alongside our faculty and staff on all sorts of fascinating research.  Nearly 40% of our undergraduates work on faculty research projects during their time here.


Our students are involved in projects like growing human spinal cord tissue to help people with debilitating injuries or exploring how ‘big data’ can help improve how elections are run.


No matter what your major, we want to be sure we give you all of the skills you will need to be successful in your career – which means learning to write and communicate effectively, to analyze and work with numbers, to speak another language, and to know something about history and music and art.


We have a record-high retention rate.  More than 95% of UW freshmen return for their sophomore year.

That tells us that the investments we’ve made in undergraduate education are paying off.   We been ranked one of the top public universities in the nation for our commitment to undergraduate teaching.

It also tells us that our students are having a great time here.

There is so much to do on this campus that your biggest problem might be knowing where to start.  We have 1,000 student clubs and organizations … a study-abroad program that sends students to 60 countries around the world  (we are the #2 university in the nation in terms of the number of students who spend a semester abroad)… and of course, Badger game days.

Campus has felt very different this year, but we are gearing up for a normal semester in the fall (though we might still be asking you to do things like wear a face covering).  I’m really excited to welcome all of our students back in person. 

Student story – Claire Evenson

Let me close by sharing a bit of advice from one of our top students who graduated in 2020.

Claire Evenson majored in biochemistry and math.  She grew up just outside of Madison and did really well in high school.  She had her choice of colleges but she loves Madison for its music scene and food, and the lakes … and she wanted to avoid taking out student loans.

When she arrived as a freshman, she asked her advisor right away about how to participate in faculty research projects and her advisor connected her with one of our professors who does DNA research.  She worked with him for the rest of her time here.

She also wanted to find a group to play music with, and to take clarinet lessons at our music school – she figured out how to do those things, too.

And then – as is true for many of our freshmen – Claire realized she’d taken on too much, too soon.  As she puts it:


I found the sheer number of opportunities overwhelming and I thought that I had to do everything at once. I’m all for getting involved, but I definitely overloaded myself.

She ended up dropping a handful of clubs she’d joined and backing out of a few things she’d committed to.  That was hard, but it was also smart.  It enabled her to focus on her academic work and a small number of things she was really excited about.

She went on to win two highly competitive national scholarships, and she was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.  She is now working on a master’s degree at the University of Oxford in the U.K.

She asked me to share two pieces of advice with you:

First, if you come here next fall – and we hope you do – explore every organization and opportunity … but be very selective.  Don’t take on more than one or two extra things in your first semester.

Second, apply for campus scholarships.  Claire was surprised by the number of scholarships she found just by letting faculty and staff know she was looking.

And she wanted me to let you know that it really is possible to get through school with zero student-loan debt.  Last spring, 57% of our seniors graduated with zero student debt. Claire was one of them.



UW-Madison is a place where you’ll work harder than you might have imagined you could, alongside some of the world’s leading scholars … meet lifelong friends … and – let’s not forget –have a lot of fun, too.

And on that first game day, when you Jump Around in Camp Randall Stadium with 50,000 or so fellow Badgers … you will know that you are exactly where you belong.

I hope to see every one of you next September at Convocation.  Thank you for joining us, and I am happy to take your questions – either raise your hand or post in the chat.