UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Which University is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a female intern smiling while looking at the camera

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Which University is Right for You?

Choosing the right university to attend is a big decision, and it’s important to consider all aspects of each institution before making a choice. In this article, we’ll be comparing UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison in great detail, examining a wide range of factors to help you decide which university is the right fit for you.

Location and Campus Environment

One of the most significant factors to consider when choosing a university is its location and campus environment. UC Davis is located in Davis, California, a small college town known for its thriving bicycle culture and agricultural focus. The campus is expansive, sprawling over 5,300 acres of land, making it one of the largest campuses in the United States.

Wisconsin-Madison, on the other hand, is situated in the heart of Madison, Wisconsin, a vibrant city with a bustling arts and culture scene. The campus itself is also quite large, covering over 936 acres of land. Both campuses offer their unique advantages in terms of location and campus atmosphere, and ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference.

It’s worth noting that UC Davis is located in close proximity to the state capital, Sacramento, providing students with opportunities for internships and networking in government and politics. Additionally, the campus is surrounded by farmland, providing students with access to fresh, locally grown produce and opportunities for hands-on learning in agriculture and environmental science. Wisconsin-Madison, on the other hand, is located near several lakes, providing students with opportunities for water sports and outdoor recreation. The city of Madison also offers a diverse range of dining options, music venues, and cultural events, making it an exciting place to live and study.

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Academic Programs and Majors Offered

Another crucial factor to consider when comparing universities is their academic programs and majors offered. UC Davis is known for its strong focus on agricultural science, and offers a wide range of programs in this field. However, the university also offers a broad range of majors in many other fields, including engineering, social sciences, and the humanities.

Students outdoors

Wisconsin-Madison, on the other hand, is renowned for its high-quality programs in the sciences, particularly in the areas of biology, chemistry, and physics. However, like UC Davis, the university also offers an extensive range of majors in fields such as business, education, and the arts.

In addition to the majors mentioned above, UC Davis also offers a number of unique programs that set it apart from other universities. For example, the university has a highly regarded program in viticulture and enology, which focuses on the science and business of wine-making. UC Davis also offers a program in sustainable environmental design, which combines principles of architecture, engineering, and environmental science to create sustainable buildings and communities.

Similarly, Wisconsin-Madison offers a number of specialized programs that cater to students with specific interests. For instance, the university has a program in biomedical engineering, which combines principles of engineering and biology to develop new medical technologies. Wisconsin-Madison also offers a program in conservation biology, which focuses on the preservation of endangered species and ecosystems.

Faculty and Teaching Quality

The quality of teaching and faculty is another compelling factor to consider when choosing a university. At UC Davis, students benefit from being taught by some of the world’s leading experts in their fields of study. The university also offers a range of smaller discussion-based classes, providing students with ample opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with their professors and classmates.

Wisconsin-Madison similarly benefits from an outstanding faculty of world-class instructors. The university is also renowned for its collaborative learning environments, wherein students work closely with their peers and professors to solve complex problems and develop innovative ideas.

In addition to the quality of faculty and teaching, another important consideration when choosing a university is the availability of research opportunities. At UC Davis, students have access to a wide range of research facilities and resources, allowing them to engage in cutting-edge research projects alongside their professors. This hands-on experience not only enhances their education but also prepares them for future careers in their chosen fields.

Similarly, Wisconsin-Madison offers numerous research opportunities for students, with a particular emphasis on interdisciplinary research. The university’s research centers and institutes bring together experts from different fields to tackle complex problems and develop innovative solutions, providing students with a unique and valuable learning experience.

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Research Opportunities and Facilities

Both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison are respected research institutions, and as such, offer their students a wealth of research opportunities and world-class research facilities. At UC Davis, students have access to more than 100 research centers and institutes, ranging from the Center for Comparative Medicine to the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

A man holding his thing

Wisconsin-Madison, likewise, offers a range of exciting research opportunities for its students, including the Morgridge Institute for Research and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. With both universities’ commitment to cutting-edge research and innovative applications of knowledge, students interested in research are well-suited to either institution.

Moreover, UC Davis has a strong focus on interdisciplinary research, with many centers and institutes dedicated to collaboration across fields. For example, the Energy Efficiency Center brings together experts in engineering, economics, and policy to develop sustainable energy solutions. Similarly, the Center for Watershed Sciences combines expertise in ecology, hydrology, and engineering to address complex water management challenges.

At Wisconsin-Madison, students also have access to state-of-the-art research facilities, such as the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, which houses cutting-edge equipment for biomedical research. Additionally, the university’s commitment to sustainability is reflected in its research facilities, such as the Wisconsin Energy Institute, which focuses on developing renewable energy technologies and reducing carbon emissions.

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Student Life and Extracurricular Activities

For many students, the social aspects of university life play a significant role in their decision-making process. At UC Davis, students can get involved in over 800 clubs and organizations, ranging from cultural clubs like the Black Student Union to performance groups like the Davis Dance Revolution.

Wisconsin-Madison similarly boasts an active and engaged student body, with over 900 student organizations to choose from. Notably, the university is also home to one of the most storied college sports programs in the country, with the Badgers excelling in football, basketball, and hockey.

Aside from clubs and sports, both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison offer a variety of other extracurricular activities for students to enjoy. UC Davis has a thriving arts scene, with multiple galleries and performance spaces on campus. The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts hosts a variety of events, from classical music concerts to contemporary dance performances.

Wisconsin-Madison also has a strong arts community, with a number of student-run theater groups and a renowned film festival. The Wisconsin Film Festival, held annually in the spring, showcases independent and international films and attracts filmmakers and cinephiles from around the world.

Housing Options and Cost of Living

The cost of living and housing options can significantly impact a student’s university experience. UC Davis offers a range of on-campus housing options, including dormitories, apartments, and theme housing. The cost of living in Davis is relatively high, with the average cost of living off-campus coming in at around $1,500 per month.

Wisconsin-Madison similarly offers a range of on-campus housing options, including traditional dormitories and apartment-style living. The cost of living in Madison is somewhat lower than in Davis, with the average cost of living coming in at around $1,100 per month.

Portrait of happy student girl with cellphone and workbooks walking in college campus and smiling at camera

It is important to note that both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison offer off-campus housing options as well. Off-campus housing can often be more affordable, but it may also require a longer commute to campus. Students should carefully consider their options and budget before making a decision.

Additionally, both universities offer resources to help students find affordable housing options. UC Davis has a Student Housing and Dining Services office that provides information on housing options, roommate matching, and financial assistance. Wisconsin-Madison has a Housing and Dining office that offers similar resources, as well as a Rent Smart program to help students navigate the rental process.

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Admission Requirements and Application Process

When it comes to the admission requirements and application process, both universities have a range of application materials needed. For UC Davis, applicants must submit transcripts, test scores, and essays through either the Common Application or the University of California Application.

Wisconsin-Madison, on the other hand, requires applicants to submit standardized test scores, academic transcripts, and several essays as part of their application. Both universities place a high emphasis on academic achievement and extracurricular involvement in their admissions decisions.

In addition to the required application materials, UC Davis also offers an optional interview process for prospective students. This interview can be conducted in-person or virtually and provides an opportunity for applicants to showcase their personality and interests beyond what is included in their application.

Similarly, Wisconsin-Madison offers an optional alumni interview for applicants. This interview is conducted by a university alumni and provides a chance for applicants to ask questions about the university and gain insight into the student experience.

Financial Aid and Scholarships Available

For many students, the availability of financial aid and scholarships can heavily impact their decision to attend a particular institution. Both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison offer a range of financial aid packages, including scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities.

At UC Davis, in-state students are eligible for the UC Davis Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which covers tuition and fees for families earning under $80,000 per year. Wisconsin-Madison offers a similar aid package for in-state students called the Bucky’s Tuition Promise, covering tuition and fees for families earning under $60,000 per year.

Additionally, both universities offer merit-based scholarships for students who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement. UC Davis offers the Regents Scholarship, which covers tuition, fees, and provides a living stipend for four years. Wisconsin-Madison offers the Chancellor’s Scholarship, which covers full tuition and fees for four years.

It’s important to note that financial aid and scholarship opportunities vary by state and individual circumstances. Students should research and apply for all available options to ensure they are receiving the maximum amount of aid possible. Both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison have dedicated financial aid offices to assist students in navigating the process and finding the best options for their unique situation.

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Career Services and Job Placement Rates

Ultimately, the goal of attending university is to prepare students for their future careers. Both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison offer robust career services and a range of resources to assist students in finding internships and job opportunities.

According to data from UC Davis, 84% of graduates found a job or entered a graduate program within six months of graduation, with a median salary of $55,000. Wisconsin-Madison graduates similarly enjoy a high job placement rate, with over 90% of graduates finding employment within six months of graduation.

Focused pretty college student girl with backpack taking textbooks from shelf in university library

Additionally, both universities have strong alumni networks that provide valuable connections and networking opportunities for current students. UC Davis has an active alumni association with over 250,000 members, while Wisconsin-Madison has a network of over 400,000 alumni worldwide. These networks can be a valuable resource for students seeking career advice, mentorship, and job opportunities.

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Alumni Network and Connections

The alumni network and connections afforded by a particular university can also be a significant factor in its appeal. UC Davis boasts an extensive alumni network of over 260,000 graduates, providing students with ample opportunities to connect with successful individuals in their desired fields.

Wisconsin-Madison similarly benefits from a vast alumni network of over 440,000 graduates, including notable figures such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Alec Baldwin, and Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin’s first female senator.

Moreover, both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison offer various programs and events that facilitate alumni-student interactions. For instance, UC Davis hosts an annual alumni career fair, where students can network with alumni from different industries and learn about job opportunities. Wisconsin-Madison, on the other hand, has a mentorship program that pairs students with alumni mentors who provide guidance and support throughout their academic and professional journeys.

Campus Safety and Security

Campus safety and security are essential considerations for students and their families. Both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison have extensive security measures in place to ensure that their campuses remain safe places to live and learn.

At UC Davis, the police department operates 24 hours a day, with emergency call boxes located throughout campus. Similarly, Wisconsin-Madison’s police department operates 24 hours a day, with regular patrols of both the campus and surrounding neighborhood.

In addition to the police department, UC Davis also has a Campus Safety Escort Service, which provides free walking escorts to students, staff, and faculty who feel unsafe walking alone on campus at night. This service is available from dusk until 2 a.m. every day of the year.

Wisconsin-Madison also offers a variety of safety resources, including a mobile safety app that allows students to quickly and easily contact campus police, report incidents, and receive emergency notifications. The app also includes a safety map that shows the locations of emergency phones, AEDs, and other safety resources on campus.

UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison: Athletics Programs and Fan Culture

Finally, for many students, the athletics programs and fan culture of a particular university can significantly impact their decision. UC Davis is a member of the Big West Conference and NCAA Division 1, boasting a strong athletics program in a range of sports, including basketball, volleyball, and football.

Wisconsin-Madison is a member of the Big Ten Conference and NCAA Division 1, with one of the most successful athletics programs in the country. From football to basketball to hockey, Wisconsin-Madison athletes and fans alike take great pride in their athletic achievements.

Additionally, both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison offer a variety of opportunities for students to get involved in athletics and fan culture. UC Davis has over 25 club sports teams, allowing students to participate in sports such as ultimate frisbee, rugby, and lacrosse. The university also has a strong marching band and cheerleading squad, adding to the excitement of game days. Similarly, Wisconsin-Madison has over 40 club sports teams, as well as a renowned marching band and cheerleading squad. The university also has a tradition of tailgating before football games, bringing together students, alumni, and fans to celebrate and support the team.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Campus

Finally, it’s important to consider the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of each institution. Both UC Davis and Wisconsin-Madison are committed to creating inclusive and welcoming campus environments, with a range of programs and initiatives in place to support diversity and equity.

Female and male students thumb up in the camera.

UC Davis offers numerous programs to support students from diverse backgrounds, including the Multicultural Center and the Women’s Resources and Research Center. Wisconsin-Madison similarly has a range of programs and initiatives to support students from diverse backgrounds, including the Office of Equity and Diversity and the LGBT Campus Center.

Additionally, both institutions have made efforts to diversify their faculty and staff. UC Davis has implemented a Faculty Diversity Initiative, which aims to recruit and retain a diverse faculty. Wisconsin-Madison has a similar initiative, the Faculty of Color Reception, which aims to support and celebrate faculty of color. These efforts not only benefit the campus community, but also contribute to a more inclusive and diverse academic environment.

Reputation and Rankings of UC Davis vs Wisconsin-Madison

Finally, it’s worth considering the reputation and rankings of both universities. According to U.S. News & World Report, UC Davis is ranked as the 39th best public university in the United States, with its agricultural and environmental sciences programs ranking 1st in the world. Wisconsin-Madison, meanwhile, is ranked as the 13th best public university in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, with its biology and biochemistry programs ranking 7th in the country.

However, it’s important to note that rankings and reputation are not the only factors to consider when choosing a university. Other factors such as location, campus culture, and available resources should also be taken into account. It’s important to do thorough research and visit the campuses before making a decision.


Ultimately, the decision to attend either UC Davis or Wisconsin-Madison comes down to personal preference and priorities. Both institutions offer students a wealth of academic, social, and extracurricular opportunities, as well as a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Whether you’re drawn to the agricultural focus of UC Davis or the strong emphasis on science at Wisconsin-Madison, both universities have much to offer aspiring students.

Students are walking into the universities.

It’s important to consider factors such as location, cost, and campus culture when making your decision. UC Davis is located in Northern California, close to the Bay Area and Sacramento, while Wisconsin-Madison is located in the Midwest, with easy access to Chicago and other major cities. Additionally, UC Davis has a reputation for being a more laid-back and outdoorsy campus, while Wisconsin-Madison is known for its spirited sports culture and lively social scene. Ultimately, it’s important to visit both campuses and get a feel for the environment before making your final decision.

If you’re set on getting into a world-class college but aren’t sure how to make it happen, we can help! AdmissionSight is a leading college entrance expert with over a decade of experience helping students just like you get into the schools of their dreams.

At AdmissionSight, we focus on offering a wide range of services, all aimed at helping students perfect their applications to catch the attention of admissions officers. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about what we offer.

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