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Wisconsin Academic Experience

Founded in 1981, the Wisconsin ESL Institute (WESLI) has earned an excellent reputation among universities, colleges, and businesses for equipping international students and employees with skills to succeed in competitive academic and professional environments. Students from all over the world have had satisfying, memorable cross-cultural experiences at WESLI and in Madison.  WESLI has a long history of a family-like atmosphere, as teachers and staff care about students personally while they assist them academically. WESLI is accredited by the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation, the recognized body for language program accreditation by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The Wisconsin Academic Experience is designed for students who wish to participate in the nondegree Visiting International Student Program (VISP) at UW-Madison, but don’t quite meet the required minimum English proficiency of 80 on the TOEFL (iBT)/6.5 IELTS necessary for admission.

Students in this program will be able to focus on improving their English proficiency in preparation for taking one, two, or even transitioning to fulltime academic classes at UW-Madison though VISP.

Classes taken, credits earned, and grades received at UW-Madison will appear on your official UW-Madison academic transcript of record.

Program Overview

Step 1: Intensive English Instruction

Students begin the Wisconsin Academic Experience with 2, 4, or 6 months of fulltime intensive English as a Second Language instruction before their intended start term in the Visiting International Student Program. ESL classes run approximately 28 hours per week, plus homework and program activities.

2, 4, or 6 Months of Fulltime ESL Preparation 

You can choose from 2, 4, or 6 months of fulltime ESL preparation before your UW-Madison class(es) begin. With each month of fulltime WESLI ESL instruction, students can expect to climb 5-6 TOEFL score points. This focused instruction will allow you to jump 10, 20, or possibly even up to 30+ points on the TOEFL iBT exam.

Step 2: UW-Madison Academic Class with ongoing ESL Support

Students then enroll in a regular UW-Madison academic course through the nondegree Visiting International Student Program once sufficient progress has been made towards their English proficiency. The WESLI support will continue throughout your UW-Madison term to help you succeed in your academic coursework.

Academic Calendar

  • Fall semester (September – December)
  • Spring semester (January – May)
  • Summer term (8-week session from mid-June to early August)

Step 1: Sample schedule for fulltime ESL Instruction at WESLI
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Step 2: Enroll in 1, 2 or more regular UW-Madison academic courses


Ongoing ESL coursework and academic support from WESLI to help you succeed.

Student Support

From the time you apply to the end of your stay, the VISP staff will be there to assist you. During the WESLI portion of the program, you’ll be invited to our VISP events each month to get to know students who are already taking UW-Madison classes fulltime with VISP. You’ll receive advising support to help you select your UW courses.

During your time taking UW-Madison courses you have full access to all campus academic and student support services, libraries, computer labs, clubs, and sports facilities as well as our ongoing VISP social & cultural events. Upon completion of the Wisconsin Academic Experience, you will receive a certificate of participation as well as an official transcript of record showing the UW-Madison courses taken and grades received.

Program Eligibility

Students must have had at least one semester of college/university study prior to joining this program. Students must be in good academic standing with a minimum grade point average (GPA) equivalent at home university of a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. View this international grade conversion guide and contact us if you have any questions.

Our fulltime VISP program requires a minimum English proficiency of 80 on the TOEFL (iBT)/6.5 IELTS necessary for admission. With each month of fulltime WESLI ESL instruction, students can expect to climb 5-6 TOEFL score points. Depending on your intended duration of study, students should have between a 45-70 TOEFL (iBT).

Academics & Course Offerings

The University of Wisconsin-Madison academic programs are ranked among the best in the nation with more than 5,000 courses taught in over 230 Academic areas across 13 Schools and Colleges. From Engineering to Anthropology or Mathematics to International Business, you are sure to find courses of interest during your time at UW-Madison.

Participants of this program will receive in-depth academic advising from our VISP advisors to help you select courses that will be the right fit for you.

Cost of Attendance

WESLI offers a flat-fee model of $3,270 per month, which includes instruction, housing (optional), health insurance, and a city of Madison bus pass.

UW-Madison tuition & fees are billed separately. Students will pay on a per-credit basis for their courses. Those transitioning to fulltime enrollment with VISP will move to the standard VISP estimated cost of attendance.

WESLI Housing Options

WESLI offers homestays with local, vetted Madison residents. Alternatively, students can choose to find their own private housing options. For more information about housing options for WESLI participants, visit their accommodations website or contact

Application Instructions & Program Deadlines

Please apply through WESLI for admission to this program by visiting  Applications should be submitted no later than three months before the start of your WESLI session. Contact for session start date information.

Questions? Please contact the VISP coordinators.