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Navigating the General Education Requirements

All students entering UW-Madison as freshmen or undergraduate transfer students must satisfy the General Education requirements. Students should always check with their advisers to see if their school or college has additional requirements that go beyond the basic ones, or whether specific programs will require them to fulfill requirements with specific courses or in a particular order. The fundamental goal of these requirements is to produce an individual that has attributes appropriate for a university-educated person, such as competence in communication, critical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to investigate issues raised by living in a culturally diverse society, that has been cultivated by breadth of study across the humanities and arts, social studies, biological and physical sciences.

The basic General Education Requirements are described in the Guide, under “General Education Requirements.” Schools and colleges may require students to meet these requirements in a particular way. The best place to find this information is by contacting your advisor, looking at school/college advising resources (see below), and by reviewing the Guide.

All students can find information about their requirements, and the courses that can meet them, in the Guide. Students are also encouraged to meet with their academic advisor to discuss requirements, and how to best navigate them. In some schools/colleges, general education courses are best met with particular courses. Below is a list of advising resources for students in each area:

Undecided students should contact Cross-College Advising Services.

College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Advising

School of Business Advising

School of Education Advising

College of Engineering Advising

School of Human Ecology Advising

College of Letters and Science – Pre-declared students should contact L&S Academic Advising Services

College of Letters and Science – Declared students (or students who are close to declaring) should contact the primary adviser in the department they have chosen. Students can find program advisor information in the Guide

School of Nursing Advising

School of Pharmacy – Pharmacology and Toxicology information 


Each student comes to UW–Madison with a unique set of skills and academic preparation, and placement tests provide students and their academic advisors with tools that help determine in which courses students should enroll. Placement tests are required of all incoming freshman and some transfer students depending on their prior college-level course work.  The Office of Admissions and Recruitment notifies students after admission about which placement tests are required. These tests help to ensure appropriate placement in courses so that students are prepared for success at UW-Madison.

Placement tests for Math and English help advisors determine which University General Quantitative Reasoning and/or Communication courses students should take, or if the student may satisfy these requirements by demonstrated proficiency in these areas. As a result, nearly all first-year and many transfer students are required to take the following examinations:

  • UW Math Placement Exam; and
  • UW English Placement Exam or UW English as a Second Language Assessment Test (MSNESLAT)

Because English is the official language of instruction at UW-Madison, students are assumed to have or acquire proficiency in spoken and written English to participate fully in UW-Madison courses.

The MSNESLAT is designed to evaluate English language proficiency, and to place students into English as a Second Language courses that help students improve skills in the written and spoken English used in academic contexts. Students who take the MSNESLAT and obtain a score that does not exempt them from ESL 118 must still satisfy the university’s expectation of college-level English language proficiency. This can be done by taking ESL 118 or by achieving a score of exempt on the MSNESLAT. For students who are placed into ESL, and who need to complete the Communication Part A requirement by taking a course, ESL 118 also satisfies that requirement.