Get ahead with Summer Term, a campus tradition

Summer Term students studying on the terrace from the 1970s

So many reasons to celebrate this summer! 

UW–Madison turned 175 years old in 2023, and Summer Term’s 140th anniversary is in 2025. Yes, that’s right – “Summer Sessions” started in 1885. Since then, students have stayed on campus during the summer season (and more recently learned online from wherever they are) in order to meet their academic goals.

You can celebrate by being part of a longstanding UW–Madison tradition and enrolling now for Summer Term 2024.

Where it started

“Summer Session” kicked off in 1885 with the Stager Summer College of Languages, one of the earliest summer schools by a U.S. public institution. Leo Andreas Stager came from the east coast promising to “carry culture” to the west, i.e. Wisconsin. His six-week sessions ushered in the university’s first summer term.

Check out a few more historical facts and reasons to celebrate:

  • If you attended a summer session in the early 20th century, you might have slept under the stars. The “Tent Colony ” started in 1913 at the far western end of campus along the lakeshore in response to student requests. It provided “rough-and-ready living accommodations for eight families.” The university supplied drinking water, sanitary facilities and a pier; residents supplied camping gear. The cost was “less than one-half of what it would have been to live in town, and the area, although infested with mosquitoes and poison ivy, housed a unique recreational and school experience.”*
  • Men out-numbered women in early summer sessions, but numbers increased with new programs just for women. In 1924, the university introduced the Florence Simms Industrial Scholarships and the Summer School for Women in Industry, which became the present day School for Workers, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year.
  • Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Division of Continuing Studies emerged as a new university unit in 1994 and began administering the Summer Session, now known as Summer Term. From 45 students enrolled in the summer of 1887*, Summer Term welcomed 18,000 students in 2023.

This summer, we’ll share more Summer Term history and cool photos from the past.

How it’s going 

Today, there are endless ways to design a Summer Term that lets you meet your academic and career goals while still allowing you flexibility to savor the season. Most Summer Term course sessions are 3, 4 or 8 weeks long and start as early as May 20. Choose from more than 1,000 courses, with hundreds available online.

With the Undergraduate Scholarship for Summer Study and Summer Finish scholarships, you can apply for a Summer Term scholarship to assist with the costs of your summer study.  If you’re staying on campus, the Summer Housing Boost program may help you cover the cost of living in residence halls during Summer Term. And to help you gain real world experience, you can apply for a Summer Internship Scholarship for students participating in unpaid or underpaid internships for credit.

But act fast – the deadline to apply for Summer Study, Summer Finish and Housing Boost is April 7. The Summer Internship application is due May 1.

To start planning your perfect Summer Term, connect with your advisor, browse courses and visit the Summer Term website, where you can chat with Bucky bot. Email Summer Term questions to summerterm@wisc.edu.

And don’t forget to follow and use #MyBadgerSummer to share your summer story and see what your fellow Badgers do to make the most of Summer Term 2024!

*From the publication Education in Summer: 100 Years at UW–Madison, Summer Sessions 1885-1985, a compilation of papers and conference proceedings; published by the former Division of Summer Sessions and Inter-College Programs; publication coordinator, Susan Disch.

Image above from the University of WisconsinMadison Archives: Students studying on the Terrace, ca. 1970-ca. 1985.