“Which Dorm is the Best One?” aka University Housing: The Basics

“Which dorm is the best one?” 

This is probably the most frequent question I get asked on tours, and it’s a question I can’t exactly answer in one word. There are nineteen residence halls aka “dorms” on the UW-Madison campus. They may all be unique, but there is certainly no clear winner.


You will read all sorts of things about which residence hall is the best and what type of students live in them. I’m here to tell you to take those hall stereotypes with a grain of salt. No specific building is going to be able to give you the “Wisconsin Experience” or help you meet friends. What will make your first year memorable is the people you meet and the things you do.

From my experience, freshman have the best experiences in halls that have mostly freshman living in them. Everyone has their doors open, are taking the same classes, and are as eager to meet and fit in as you are. Upperclassmen (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) tend to have things more figured out and are less likely to be ready to make a whole new group of friends.

With my spiel out of the way, here’s the low down for those of you who are as clueless as I was.

A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

There are two “neighborhoods” on campus, Lakeshore and Southeast. As the names suggest, Lakeshore is located by Lake Mendota and Southeast is on the southeast part of campus. Both have about the same number of students. Lakeshore has more residence halls packed close together with less students in each building, and Southeast has less residence halls farther apart with more students in each building.


I know there is a huge stereotype that if you want any kind of social life you should life in Southeast. Guess what? The housing assignment process is random, which means that there are going to be as many students in the Southeast that want to go out on weekends as there are in Lakeshore and as many students in Southeast that want to stay in as there are in Lakeshore.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with liking one neighborhood over the other. Just rest easy knowing your Wisconsin Experience will remain intact either way. That’s what I love about UW-Madison the most. There are so many students here you are bound to find exactly where you fit into our large community, no matter where you live.

Learning Communities

A learning community is a tight-nit group of students within the residence halls. A learning community can make up a floor within a hall, a couple of floors, or even the whole building. The students that live in the learning community are all there to explore the topic/theme of the community with each other and other experts on campus.

What’s nice is that you don’t have to be majoring in the topic to live there! A lot of students use learning communities as a chance to learn about something new or keep active in a hobby or interest they have but don’t want to major in.

There are ten learning communities within the residence halls. Find the right one for you!

Psst… Students that rank a learning community as their #1 preference get to select a room online from within that learning community rather than go through the random assignment process. It’s a lot like picking a seat on an airplane.

Res. Hall Insights

Every week I will dedicate a post to explaining the nooks and crannies of one of the nineteen residence halls. What the bathrooms look like, how the rooms are set up, what percentage of freshman live there, and what makes it unique.

This week I’ll be giving you the insight on Chadbourne Hall so stay tuned!

Reader Questions

What stereotypes have you heard about certain residence halls? What is the thing you look for most in a residence hall? If you live(d) in the residence halls what was your favorite thing about them? Leave a comment or tweet at me, @SierraLivesey. I want to know what you think!


Study Spots on Campus Explained with Emojis

The studying reality changes in college. Before I just assumed I would study in my room. I mean, it’s what I did in high school, and it worked pretty well. Then I actually got to college and had my first ever roommate! That’s right folks, I had never shared my room until my freshman year of college.

She was a random roommate, so I didn’t know her that well. We got along, but we certainly weren’t BFF material. Realization set in: it’s hard to study in a room with someone else in it. It wasn’t her fault. My concentration just wasn’t on calculus. It was on the food she was making or the perfume she was spraying.

Luckily, UW Madison does not lack places to study. There’s over forty libraries on campus, plus all the other nooks and crannies you can find. Each study spot has its perks, and it might take a while before you find “the one”. You’ll know the one when you find it.  Time basically stops and you will have gotten more done in an hour than you did the past two days combined.

Here’s a breakdown of the four most popular study spots with each spot’s perks and downfalls explained using everyone’s favorite language, emojis.

1. College aka Helen C. White Library



Sit by the massive windows facing Lake Mendota for some of the best views on campus and to de-stress whenever you look up from your notes.


College was made for marathon library sessions. Get your mid-afternoon (or midnight) pick-me-up at the cafe located on the first floor they also sell grab-and-go snack items!




Watch your battery life. It’s really hard to find a place to sit that also has a nearby outlet. I expect an outlet war to break out there any year now.


Most sections are designated as loud. If you are trying to read or get some serious work done the temptation to people watch can make it hard to concentrate.


2. The SAC aka The Student Activity Center



The SAC has many different kinds of study areas. You could sit at a table, a desk, a couch, a cubicle, or even on a giant carpeted stair case. Choose your own study adventure.


You can eat at the SAC. There’s even a microwave for you to use on the third floor. Don’t worry if you forgot your own snack; you can get something at the vending machines.




It always seems to be a million degrees. Definitely wear layers in the winter so you can take off your bulky sweatshirt.


It can get really crowded. Like walking around two or three times to find a seat crowded. However, this usually only happens during peak library times.


3. Steenbock Library



There are superb cubbies to submerge yourself in if you like to be isolated when you study. Literally forget everything else but Biology exists for a couple hours.


A computer lab located on the first floor that has (you guessed it) computers, printers, and scanners. The computers have a ton of software downloaded on them you might need for your coursework.




Most sections are designated quiet study areas. No picking up that call from mom in the middle of memorizing your flashcards.


With the comfy cubbies and designated quiet areas dozing off becomes a reality.


4. Memorial Library



Holy outlets, Batman! You will not be left wandering around looking for a spot where you can charge your laptop. Outlets practically grow out of the walls.


I know I already said that Steenbock had great cubbies, but Memorial takes it to a new level. They’re called the “cages”. You can actually lock yourself into them if you please. No external stimuli will be bothering you here.



I’ll admit, I kinda cheated using this emoji. Just an FYI, Memorial doesn’t allow food. Hunger pains may drive you out of the library at any time.


If you are a late-night study-er, maybe skip Memorial. It’s only open until midnight.


Don’t worry if none of these libraries appeal to you. Or if some of the perks are actually downfalls for you, or vise versa. Not every student is going to study great in every environment. Check out some of the other libraries on campus to find the perfect mix of what you need. You can sort by subject, hours, and other features! And let me know if you would like to see any other study spots added to the list! I haven’t even used all the emojis yet.

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familyshellcomputerspeak no evil monkeysleeppluglock


Fall in Love with Wisconsin Winters

I guess you have all figured out that this weekend is Valentine’s Day. Whether you love it, ignore it, or protest its existence by watching Netflix all night, there is at least one relationship you should be working on this month – loving the good ol’ Wisconsin winter. You might not fall in love right away, and that’s okay. It’s probably not going anywhere for awhile.

I wish someone would’ve told me as a young freshman Badger that there are a lot of things to do in the winter! You don’t have to hibernate inside and wait for finals week to disturb your slumber. Don’t let winter bully you around, fall in love with it or, you know, make it fall in love with you.

First off, don’t jump right into it, make sure you have the essentials. Get a good winter jacket and ACTUAL winter boots. None of this, “Oh, I’ll just wear rain boots. They’re warm enough.” Sorry, but this is Wisconsin. Invest in some boots and really commit to this relationship. You’ll also need a hat, some gloves, and a cozy scarf ’cause they’re the best.

How do you fall in love with Wisconsin winters? Let me count the ways…

1. Take a horse drawn carriage ride. 


What’s more romantic? Hoofers with the Wisconsin Union holds a free horse drawn carriage ride every year during Winter Carnival that tours you through the central part of the UW Madison campus. The week of Winter Carnival also hosts a ton of other fun winter events like bonfires on Lake Mendota, broomball, and a snowboarding competition.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Winter Carnival has already passed us by, but be on the look out for 2016!

2. Ice skate under the stars at The Edgewater. 


Every Tuesday night is Badger Night which means you skate free with your WisCard, and since the rink is typically open until 10pm you can skate after dark under the stars. Wisconsin winter might be being too good to you now.

Plus, The Edgewater is close to campus off of Wisconsin Avenue.

3. Battle for Bascom Hill.


In a less romantic, more adrenaline inducing event, join the annual campus wide snowball fight where the Lakeshore and Southeast side of campus pummel each other with snow for the glory of being the last standing on Bascom Hill. Pack snow balls, build forts, or generally roll around in the snowy goodness. Lakeshore has remained undefeated since 2011.

Take a look pictures and video from the 2015 Battle for Bascom on Twitter and begin to plan your snow ball strategy for 2016.

4. Go Sledding!


Grab a sled or the nearest dining tray and head for Observatory Hill. It’s practically tradition. Nothing will make you fall in love with Wisconsin’s winter faster than a face full of snow and smiles.

5. Learn how to snow kite.


It’s okay if you don’t know what snow kiting is, I didn’t really know what is was until earlier this week while I was studying at College library. Well, I wasn’t really studying, I was staring out the window at this guy on a snowboard attached to a colorful parachute thing. He was more entertaining than any philosophy homework could ever hope to be.

So that’s what it is. You snowboard or ski on a frozen lake attached to a large kite, and guess what? You can learn how. Apparently, Hoofer’s sailing instructors need something to do in the winter too.

Check it out on Hoofer’s website.

Now that your disinterest in Wisconsin winter is a budding crush…

I will leave it up to you to further develop the relationship. Falling in love is inevitable as long as you remember to get some real winter boots and get out there.

Stubbed Toes and Introductions

You’re probably sitting at your desk with your legs crossed and your hand on your face wondering, “Who is this lady, and why does she think she knows more than me!?”

I’m here to tell you that I don’t know more than you, or at least I didn’t.

I started my college career as a lowly first-generation college student. Which means my mom and dad didn’t go to college, so they had no idea what this whole “college” thing was about. Don’t get me wrong, they did the best they could. Yet, my experience getting to and through college was a lot like when you wake up to get a glass of water in the middle of the night…but are a little too stubborn to turn the light on.

I don’t know more than anyone. I simply stubbed my toe on enough bedside tables obstacles to figure out what gets you to your goals and what gets you cursing. I’ve failed a class. I’ve hated my roommates. I’ve gained the freshman fifteen twice.


Somehow I’ve also been on the Dean’s List, loved my roommates, and lost the freshman fifteen each time.

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I just LOVE my job.

My tour guide job at University Housing was one of the biggest things that helped me get on track. Because UW Madison is such a large university, my job requires me to interact with many different offices and departments. Suddenly I was aware of all the resources that can sometimes seems hidden as a new student. Most of them I ended up using myself to get help academically, mentally, and financially.

I also get to interact with all kinds of students everyday: high schoolers just checking things out, transfer students hopeful to get accepted, and students from other countries who have heard about us from far away. Chances are I’ve heard and tried to answer almost every question you -or even your mother- could think to ask. I’ll give you some examples.

  • “Is there anything for freshman to do in Madison besides drink?” Quick answer: duh.
  • “Does it snow all the time in the winter?”
  • “Can I hang a hammock in my dorm room?”
  • “Is it easy to make friends?”
  • “What major will guarantee me a job?”
  • “Do I really have to walk everywhere?”
  • “Why are people in Wisconsin so nice?”

Throughout the years, I’ve built up an arsenal of these responses, and I will be explaining many of them to you eventually.

And I LOVE Madison.

I was born and raised in Madison, dreaming of being a Badger. Now that I am in my last semester of my senior year I hope that sharing about the opportunities and adventures I have had here helps others have the chance to experience the same.

My blog posts will give you a heads up on what I wish I would’ve known before and during my first couple years at UW Madison as well as information about resources I have used/learned about from my job. Perhaps, “What to do when you get homesick,” “How to not rip your pants when climbing into your loft,” or “Which dorm is the best one?”

Stay tuned for those answers, and others ranging from transportation, picking a major, (maybe more importantly) picking a roommate, study spots, advising, everything University Housing (dorms), and making friends.

Please remember that the views expressed on UW Badger Hints are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Wisconsin–Madison or University Housing.