Student Life

Before and after the Pandemic

Some things changed. Amazingly, others didn’t.

Wisconsin Union staff clean and sanitize tables and sunburst-designed chairs in between patrons enjoying physically distanced, reserved-table seating with food and drink service at the Memorial Union Terrace

Seating at the Memorial Union Terrace went from 1,400 chairs in 2019 to 400 in 2020. Jeff Miller

The 2019–20 and 2020–21 academic years at UW–Madison couldn’t have looked more different. In spring 2020, a predominantly offline university went online practically overnight. This past year, students returned to the residence halls, and the university offered a combination of in-person and remote courses. But some campus staples, such as in-person tours and Rathskeller gatherings, remained a thing of the pre-pandemic past. The result, at times, was an unrecognizable campus.

For all the upheaval, what didn’t change was the students’ dedication to learning and to the university. In the middle of a pandemic, the UW enrolled and taught a record number of students and received a record number of freshman applications for the next year.

Here’s a sample of what changed during the pandemic — and, against all odds, what remained largely the same.


2019: 45,941
2020: 53,800

Total student

Fall 2019: 45,317
Fall 2020: 45,540


Fall 2019: 134
Fall 2020: 116

student tours

2019: 48,202
2020: 5,885

Seating on
the Terrace

2019: ~1,400 chairs
2020: ~400 chairs

Course sections

Fall 2019: 8,476
Fall 2020: 8,664

In-person instruction

Fall 2019: 96%
Fall 2020: 19%

Regular-season football,
basketball, and hockey games

2019-20: 141
2020-21: 100

Published in the Summer 2021 issue


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