UW–Madison has a long-established apartment community with services and programs for graduate students and their families. Together, the areas of Eagle Heights, University Houses, and Harvey Street Apartments are referred to as University Apartments.
Residency priority for Eagle Heights and University Houses is given first to student families (with or without children). Single graduate students, postdocs, academic staff, and faculty also live there. Single graduate students can live in the Harvey Street complex. All University Apartments are easily accessible from campus via bus or bike.
Madison faces a shortage of housing options, and finding a rental near campus can be competitive. Some students sign leases up to nine months in advance. Many property owners start advertising vacancies for the fall semester as early as October and November, especially in locations close to campus. Most leases near campus run from mid-August to mid-August.
Locations further from campus usually have leases that start in July or January, with some available at other times of the year. These properties are usually advertised four to six months before the lease begins.
Because of the shortage of housing compared to the number of students and residents in Madison, renters tend to sign leases soon after a property is listed as available. If you see a location that interests you, reach out to the property manager sooner than later to arrange a showing or ask about virtual showing options.
Keep in mind that if you are not able to find an ideal rental during your first year in graduate school, you can plan ahead for your second year and begin your search earlier. Once you have lived in Madison, you will also have a better idea of which neighborhoods fit your preferences and how long it would take you to travel to and from campus.
How to find housing and roommates in Madison
UW–Madison’s Campus Area Housing Listing Service maintains up-to-date listings of private housing vacancies, including apartments, houses, roommate options, and cooperative living arrangements.
While there are plenty of rentals available for single students, many students choose to lower their living expenses by renting with a roommate or roommates. You can reach out to other students in your program/department, or across different communities that you plan to join on campus, to ask whether someone else is also looking for a roommate.
Once you have access to your NetID login, you can also sign in to the Campus Area Housing Roommates board to look for potential roommates. Make sure to vet potential roommates, and never send someone money or accept payment from them before getting to know them first.
There is some risk involved in renting with people you do not know. When you sign a lease with a roommate or roommates, every person who signed the lease is responsible for the costs agreed to in that lease, both as a group and individually. This provision in your lease, called joint and several liability, makes it important to rent with people that you believe are responsible individuals. The Tenant Resource Center also recommends creating roommate agreements to help prevent conflicts.
Madison is home to over a dozen cooperative houses. In co-op housing, the residents of the house own and collectively manage the house, often sharing cooking and cleaning responsibilities. Co-op housing is a very good way to meet engaging Madisonians, build community, and live economically in the process. At some downtown co-ops, you can participate in the house’s meal program without living there. To find out more, contact Madison Community Cooperative.
Search Smart: Tips when looking for apartments online
Craigslist is a popular resource for finding housing and roommates in the Madison area. Many of the major rental companies in Madison use it to list their available rentals. Though it can be a great resource, use caution when doing business over the web, and be especially skeptical of anyone asking you to send money before meeting the property owner and viewing the property. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of a particular listing, you can contact Campus Area Housing for feedback.
You should visit a prospective rental in person before signing a lease. There are many things that photos and floorplans don’t convey, including size, odor, noise, cell service, and more. If you absolutely can’t visit yourself, send a trusted friend.
Tenant rights and responsibilities
You have legal rights and responsibilities as a renter in Madison. The Tenant Resource Center of Madison offers assistance with landlord-tenant disputes and understanding tenant responsibilities under local law. Additionally, the UW–Madison Neighborhood Law Clinic is a great resource if you run into problems. Being an informed renter can help protect you and your finances.
Renter’s insurance covers the value of your personal property. Before signing any lease, make sure you understand what it says about liability. The university, a property owner, a neighbor, or University Housing is not liable if your property is lost, stolen, or damaged. Usually, your insurance agent can assist you with rental insurance while you’re in Madison.
Not all utility companies service all areas. Check with the property owner about companies that service your new home. Factors such as the quality of insulation and windows, and whether appliances are designed to consume less energy, can affect the utility bill you’d see as a renter. You can find out the cost of energy bills for an apartment using energy cost estimation tools from the two main companies that provide gas and electricity in Madison: Madison Gas and Electric, and Alliant Energy.
The Vilas neighborhood is a quiet residential area near the UW Arboretum and Henry Vilas Zoo. This neighborhood is home to a good mix of UW undergrads, graduate students, and staff, and attracts more families with small children than some of the areas closer to downtown. Nearby Monroe Street is home to several eclectic shops with a number of coffee shops and restaurants.
Lots of older rental properties and a healthy number of small parks, bike paths, and coffee shops make this area attractive to many grad students. Though both sides of the isthmus are well-served by public transportation, the Mendota side (Johnson and Gorham Streets) is on several particularly high-traffic bus routes, making for easy travel to campus and around Madison. Closer to Lake Monona, the Williamson and Jenifer Street areas are within easy reach of two Madison food co-ops and numerous restaurants and coffee houses. The Atwood area, which is a little beyond Willy Street and somewhat quieter, is another popular area with shops, entertainment, and restaurants.
Rentals closer to State Street and the Capitol tend to attract more undergraduates, but there are still plenty of graduate students who enjoy being centrally located. Many find the area just south of the Capitol near Bassett Street convenient – it feels residential, but is still a short walk from the university.
Newer housing and more of a suburban feel characterize the city’s west side. The Hilldale Shopping Center is nearby, and there are great restaurants and shops in the area. Lots of engineering, medical, and veterinary students, who spend the bulk of their time on the west end of campus, like living in this neighborhood.
You can find lots of affordable housing along the various offshoots of Park Street as you head south. This part of town may look tame at first, but it is home to many ethnic supermarkets, Mexican eateries, and a couple terrific coffee shops. It’s popular among grad students, young professionals, retirees, and young families who want to live close to downtown, in a quiet neighborhood, and on a budget. It is also close to the UW Arboretum and Monona Bay, which make for great running or biking routes.
Getting around without a car is easy in Madison, which is great for students, since parking on and around campus is limited and expensive. Madison is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. For longer trips within the city or on cold days, you’ll have access to a student bus pass for the Madison Metro system.
Madison Metro Transit
The Madison public bus system, Madison Metro, is one of the most commonly used resources among students. Madison Metro route and schedule information is available on the city’s Metro Transit website and in Google Maps.
Anyone can ride the UW–Madison campus-specific bus routes fare-free, including non-students. Route 80 is the main loop, stretching from the east end of campus to the Eagle Heights community in the west. Other UW Campus routes provide both daytime and evening service.
Note: Madison Metro Transit will update all routes and schedules on June 11, 2023. New route information is available on the Transit Network Redesign webpage.
Student bus pass
As a student at UW–Madison, your segregated fees help pay for a Student Bus Pass. The bus pass is available to you each semester at no additional cost, and gives you unlimited rides on any Madison Metro bus at any time.
You get a new bus pass each fall and spring semester, starting a week or two before classes. The spring semester bus pass is also valid through the summer. You’ll need to present your Wiscard to pick up your bus pass. If you lose your bus pass, you can buy one replacement each semester.
Bus tickets for non-students
Nonstudent bus tickets cost $2 per ride, which can include a maximum of three transfers within 2 hours. Riders who plan to transfer should ask for a transfer ticket when paying their ticket fare. Non-students planning to travel regularly on the Metro bus may want to buy monthly passes or 10-Ride Cards.
Planning your trip
Accessible Circulator Shuttle
The Accessible Circulator Shuttle provides supplemental service to the campus bus for those with mobility issues. Shuttle service is intended to supplement campus bus and paratransit service for those with mobility issues, whether temporary or permanent. Service is available to UW employees, students, visitors, and affiliates.
UW–Madison has more than 200 buildings spread out over more than 900 acres. Most of your campus travel will be on foot. Walking is a terrific way to get around. Plus, it’s the best way to experience the State Street pedestrian mall or cut through Library Mall to the Memorial Union Terrace.
Madison is a very safe city, but you can take some precautions to help keep yourself safe. When walking in the dark, use one of the well-lit Lightway walking paths that run throughout the campus, marked with reflective logos affixed to light poles. Don’t walk with headphones on. Avoid being immersed in a smartphone while walking. Keep an eye on your surroundings whether walking at night, or crossing an uncontrolled intersection during the day.
If it is dark and you have to walk somewhere on campus, find a friend or two to accompany you. If you cannot find a walking buddy, call SAFEwalk at 608-262-5000 for free walking escorts to any location on campus except the far west side (UW Hospital and Eagle Heights).
Biking is a great way to get around Madison. The city maintains over 100 miles of recreational and commuter trails, plus bike-friendly roadways. Madison bike routes are supported by Google Maps. You can also get a bike map at any public library.
Madison B-cycle is an urban bike-sharing program designed to encourage short trips by bike. As a student, you can join for a discounted rate.
The Red Bikes Project, run by Budget Bicycle Center, loans refurbished used bikes to UW–Madison students, faculty, and staff for free. A cash deposit or credit card imprint is required for a bike and lock. You can pick up a bike from the 930 Regent St. location in the spring and use it all season until late November. If you return the bike by the due date, your cash deposit will be refunded. While you have the bike, any required maintenance is provided free of charge.
The Wisconsin Bike Fed is a statewide, nonprofit bicycle advocacy organization involved in legislation, education, and bicycling promotion efforts. Its website includes info on big rides and several links to other organizations, trail maps, and a variety of bicycling resources.
Biking safely and legally
Wisconsin law recognizes bikes as vehicles with the right to use most roadways. With this right comes the same responsibility as other drivers to obey traffic laws. Be predictable, visible, and aware of traffic hazards. Madison has a number of one-way bike lanes, so be sure to go in the right direction.
You can also take small steps to stay safe while biking. You should always wear a helmet. If you ride at night, you must have a forward-facing white light and a rear-facing red reflector. More lights and reflectors are always recommended. BikeMadison has more safety tips for bicyclists.
Prevent bike theft
Following a few precautions will minimize the chance of having your bike stolen.
- invest in a high-quality bike lock and use it whenever you leave your bike unattended
- lock your bike to a rack located in a populated and well-lit area
- remove expensive items such as bags and lights prior to leaving your bike
- avoid leaving your bike locked in one place for extended periods, except outside at designated overnight storage racks. Your bike could be considered abandoned and be impounded if it is left unused in one place on campus.
- lock your bike to a rack through the frame and front tire. Using a sturdy U-lock with a thick cable extending through the rear tire can help you keep your quick-release wheels.
Racks are located near most buildings on campus and at many local businesses. A free bike shelter with high-density bike racks and a fix-it station is also located off Elm Drive near the Lakeshore residence halls, and is accessible with a Wiscard. Only park your bike at these designated racks; locking your bike to trees or stairways is not permitted. During the winter months, some campus bike racks are off-limits to assist with snow removal.
Cars and parking
If you do have a car, you’ll be better off biking, taking the bus, walking, or carpooling when heading to campus or downtown. Parking downtown is limited and costly, and you will most likely have to park far from your destination. However, some street and metered parking spots are free before 8 am and after 6 pm on weekdays. Street parking is often free on Sundays. Check any posted signs or the information on a parking meter before you park to know for sure.
Most rentals around the campus area do not include parking, or may charge extra for a parking space. If you need parking, be sure to ask about it during your housing search. For another solution, the Campus Area Housing parking module tracks parking spots available to rent both on and off campus.
You don’t need a permit to park on the street in Madison, but there may be parking limits posted on one or both sides of a street. If you live in an area with parking limits, you can purchase residential parking permits to extend how long you can park on streets in your area.
From November 15 to March 15, the city enforces winter parking rules to keep the roads clear for emergency snow plowing. If a major snowstorm is in the forecast, you may be asked to move your vehicle so the city can plow the streets. If snow is forecast, keep an eye on local media and the City of Madison website to hear about special restrictions.
Parking on campus
Student parking on campus is somewhat limited. UW Transportation Services offers reduced-cost parking options for graduate and professional students. Students and employees are eligible for reduced-cost parking options based on their income.
For students who only occasionally need to drive to campus, there are a limited number of full- and half-day visitor parking permits for some lots on campus. They can be purchased at one of the Transportation Services offices.
Other options for drivers
If you commute to campus from outside the Madison metro area, the City of Madison offers a rideshare program that students can use to offset some of the financial and environmental costs of driving. The State of Wisconsin also has a van-pooling system for passengers who commute to Madison from outlying areas.
Zip Car offers different arrangements for residents who would like to use a car occasionally. UW–Madison students are eligible for a discount on a Zipcar membership.
Other short-term solutions like rideshare services and taxicab companies also operate in Madison.
UW rental fleets
UW–Madison students can rent UW cars or minivans for university travel needs. You have to become a university-authorized driver before you can drive a UW fleet vehicle. This is a cheaper option for academic travel needs than car rentals.
Mopeds and scooters
Mopeds and scooters are another way to get around campus and save money on gas. While scooters and mopeds are fun to ride and fuel-efficient, riders need to understand the Wisconsin moped rules and regulations. Moped drivers must register their mopeds and, if they wish to park on campus, obtain a moped parking permit. Ultimately, mopeds are motor vehicles and should follow the same laws as other vehicles, or else be subject to tickets.
Also, since you will be operating a moped on city streets, it is important to drive your moped safely. Wear protective headgear and eyewear to avoid injury. Note that it is illegal to ride a moped with a passenger, which can result in a hefty fine.
Travel out of Madison
Long-distance bus services
- The Van Galder Bus Company operates daily buses from the UW–Madison campus to Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports and downtown Union Station (Amtrak).
- Badger Bus provides regular transportation to and from Milwaukee and Mitchell Airport, and weekend transportation to and from other UW universities and the Minneapolis area during the fall and spring semesters.
- Jefferson Lines serves the UW–Madison campus to destinations throughout the greater Midwest.
- Mega Bus offers low-cost daily express bus service throughout the U.S. and Canada.
- Greyhound Bus Lines serves Madison and various metropolitan areas (Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, etc.).
The Dane County Regional Airport offers direct flights to a good number of U.S. cities and connects to Chicago O’Hare and many other gateway cities. If you wish to save money on a taxi, you can take the Madison Metro Route 20 from North Transfer Point to get to the airport. Dane County Regional Airport is small, and ticket prices may be higher than those at larger airports. If you have enough time, it is sometimes cheaper to travel to Chicago or Milwaukee by bus and take a flight from there.