University of Wisconsin Madison University of Wisconsin Madison Crest






Welcome to FIGs!

Each FIG is a learning community that complements the classroom experience. Being in a FIG allows new freshmen to meet other students with similar interests. FIG students also get to connect with faculty in a small seminar environment. Working and studying together allows students in FIGs to share ideas, discover new insights, and develop lasting friendships.

The integration of the courses within each FIG helps students discover how disciplines relate to one another, thus creating a richer educational experience. As a result, students in FIGs generally experience greater academic success (higher grade point averages) and higher retention rates.

Download FIGs Student Orientation

FIGs in the Press


FIGs Add Spice to UW's Freshman Menu

Campus Conections
UW-Madison School of Education
Winter 2004

Students Get Rare Glimpse into Mental Illness

Wisconsin Week
November 6, 2002

Exploring Bruce Springsteens's America

Huffington Post
March 19, 2012

Tasty Teaching

OnWisconsin Magazine
Summer 2012


What a FIGs experience sounds like...

"Being in a FIG helped me to take my work seriously and learn how to really engage in classroom discussions...It helped me not to fail. The study groups were a gift from heaven..."
"Being in a FIG made a giant campus seem a little smaller and more comfortable. It made my transition to college a lot easier. I don't know how I would have survived without the FIG."
"I got to know the people in my FIG really well and built strong friendships...The people in my FIG were so awesome! They became my brothers and sisters."


Frequently Asked Questions

From a Seniors Perspective

Four years later, senior who had enrolled in FIGs in their freshmen year were surveyed and asked to reflect on the impact their FIGs may have had on their experiences as students at UW-Madison. Here is a sampling of their responses...

"...the professors in my FIG were the most influential and challenging professors that I have had at this university…these were classes and experiences I never would have had if I wasn't part of a FIG, and these were experiences that have shaped my perspective, my academic experience, and who I am now."
"The FIG introduced me to classes that I probably would not have thought to take and helped me link classes to make my education a fuller experience. It also helped me realize that taking classes with different backgrounds can help round out your education and allow you to see different aspects of the same subject."
"Looking back, I think that some of the best classes I ever took were in the FIG. I always think about and remember what I learned in those classes. The subject matter was so challenging and intimidating for a freshman that I would have never otherwise signed up for those classes. But we all ended up getting good grades because of all the time we spent together in study groups. We all ended up taking another course together the next semester"
"The FIG made me more comfortable with college and made me feel as though I could talk to my professors, especially those in bigger lectures. It gave me the confidence and courage to keep going here at UW-Madison."
"My FIG influenced my class choices, my friends, my world view…that's a lot!"
"I think my FIG helped to reinforce the idea that things tie together. It helped me realize how interconnected so many things are in this world."
"I find myself looking for connections in all of the classes I take. I have purposefully taken classes that have a common theme so as to recapture the organic nature of my FIG semester."
"I think the FIG group helped me to transition easily into college, which took some of the stress away from the first semester. Because of this I was able to focus on elements of college which enabled me to have a better experience."


What exactly is a FIG?

First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs) are designed to help first-year students make the transition to UW-Madison, both academically and socially. A FIG is a “learning community” of about 20 students with similar interests who are enrolled in a cluster of classes together. The courses in a FIG are linked by a common theme, and the faculty member teaching the main seminar course of the FIG helps students discover the interdisciplinary connections between and among the classes.

What are the advantages of being in a FIG?

There are a number of advantages to enrolling in a FIG:

  • It makes registration easy: you can register for most of your classes all at once
  • You will meet other new students with interests similar to your own
  • You will have the opportunity to connect with a faculty member in a small class environment
  • FIG students often create study groups that not only allow for the sharing of ideas and insights, but also lead to academic success. Generally, students in FIGs earn higher GPAs than their peers who are not enrolled in FIGs
  • Some FIGs are designed for students interested in specific majors, while others are designed to give students the opportunity to explore interesting topics and disciplines while fulfilling various degree requirements./li>

Do FIG courses meet graduation requirements?

FIGs will include courses that meet various degree requirements. Some FIGs will include courses that meet the University’s requirements for general education, some will include courses that meet degree requirements in various breadth categories (such as social sciences, humanities, and sciences), and others will include courses required for entry into specific majors.

Do I have to take all the classes in a FIG?

Yes, if you are interested in enrolling in a FIG, you would need to take all the classes that are part of that FIG. The professor who is teaching the main course in the FIG has carefully selected the courses so that there generally will be some interconnectedness and overlapping of material to make for a full FIG experience.

How do I enroll in a FIG?

When you come to SOAR to meet with advisors and choose your classes, you will receive more information about FIGs, and if you would like to enroll in a FIG, you will do it during your SOAR session. Most FIGs are open to all new freshmen, but a few are limited to students who plan to enter specific degree programs. Your scores on Placement Tests in English, math, and foreign language may help determine which FIGs are most appropriate for you.

Will I be able to take classes other than those in my FIG?

All students must be enrolled for at least 12 credit hours to be considered full time; most first-year students enroll for 12 to 15 credits during their first semester. Generally, your FIG schedule will provide you with between 8 and 13 credits, so most FIGs students enroll in one or two more courses outside of their FIGs.

What if I want to drop a course in my FIG?

Each FIG is a carefully designed cluster of courses. To take full advantage of this opportunity, it is necessary for you to be enrolled in all of the courses in the cluster. If you decide to drop a FIG course prior to the beginning of the semester, you will need to drop all the courses in that FIG. Once classes begin, if you feel you need to drop one of the FIG classes, you should first confer with either the FIGs Director, Greg Smith, or the FIGs Coordinator, Kari Fernholz.

What do I do next?

You should browse through the descriptions of the FIGs that will be offered (see “FIGs Search” on the home page). Make a list of the FIGs that are of interest to you, and bring that list with you when you come to SOAR. Representatives from FIGs – including peer advisors who had enrolled in FIGs as new students -- will be on hand to answer any further questions you may have and to help you enroll.

for faculty

Impact of FIGs on Faculty

FIGs have positive impacts on student performance, retention, and campus involvement. In addition, FIGs have had positive impacts on faculty who sometimes rediscover the joys of classroom teaching. A few faculty members have been awarded research grants based on work that began with their FIGs courses and students. Faculty who have taught FIGs have repeatedly commented that "FIGs students are not like regular UW-Madison students; they are much more engaged." They report that their FIGs students rarely if ever miss class; they are enthusiastic contributors in class discussions; and they usually perform better on exams and class assignments than other students.

A number of FIGs faculty have been able to develop collaborative relationships with instructors teaching the "linking classes" in their FIGs, and these individuals have described the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary teaching as "unmatchable" and "the most memorable part of the experience."

Other benefits to faculty include...

  • Service to the department and the campus
  • Contributing directly toward diversity and retention efforts
  • The opportunity to teach a small class section
  • The chance to develop a new course or a new approach to teaching an established course
  • Collaborations with colleagues in other disciplines

Resource List for FIGs Faculty

Download the resource list for FIGs faculty

What other faculty have said about FIGs...

"It's been a good experience for me, and the FIG idea is one of those things that makes UW-Madison such a great school! I would definitely do it again."
Mark Harrower, Geography
"After being retired for two years, I returned to campus to teach a FIG on serious mental illness to eighteen year-olds. These freshmen barely looked old enough to tie their shoelaces! What happened in the next fourteen weeks 'blew my mind.' Why? Because it was a profound learning experience for all concerned."
Mona Wasow, Social Work
"The FIG program is a fabulous way to make interdisciplinary connections for both faculty and students. I gained new perspectives on my work, new colleagues and friends, and renewed commitment to help students synthesize their learning."
Barbara Clayton, Theatre and Drama

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FIGs Proposal Form


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Supplemental Funding Request



What is a FIG? How is it structured?

A First-Year Interest Group (FIG) is a cluster of interrelated classes (typically three) in which a small group of students (usually no more than 20) enroll together. The classes can be built around a very general or a very specific topic or theme. Each FIG includes a small enrollment "synthesizing" seminar that actively integrates and synthesizes the material from the other courses in the FIG. This is the class that sets the theme or topic of the FIG. It can be a course that already exists in the University catalog, or it can be a special topics course created by the faculty member who is proposing the FIG. Most FIGs are offered in the fall semester, when new students most need the kind of peer and faculty support that a FIG can offer, although a few FIGs are now offered in the spring semester.

Whats the point?

Since the first FIGs were offered at UW-Madison in 2001, students enrolled in in the program have consistently outperformed their non-FIGs peers in terms of GPA as well as retention and graduation rates. In their responses to surveys and in focus groups, students have credited FIGs with providing a smooth transition to the University while at the same time offering them interesting and challenging curricula. Over and over, students have told us that they have valued the peer relationships that they developed with their FIGs classmates, the connections they have made to faculty, and the interdisciplinary learning that is inherent in the structure of FIGs. The deliberate attempt to create an "integrative learning" environment is one feature that sets UW-Madison's FIGs program apart from similar programs elsewhere. The integration of content from the various courses in a FIG makes the experience intellectually satisfying for both students and faculty.


How do we know that FIGs works?

FIGs have operated for over two decades at a number of institutions, including the Universities of Washington, Oregon, Hawaii at Manoa, Missouri at Columbia, Indiana-Bloomington, and Michigan-Ann Arbor. All of these campuses report that FIGs have a substantial impact on improving freshman achievement and retention. Our own annual assessments since 2001 confirm that FIGs have a positive impact on student achievement. Faculty who have taught FIGs comment on the high levels of engagement and participation in class, and they frequently remark on the fact that their FIGs students almost never miss class. FIGs students often form study groups, enhancing their academic experience. The GPAs for each FIGs cohort are substantially higher than the GPAs of the peer groups, even though their academic profiles (average ACT scores, average class rank, etc.) are virtually identical.

What's in it for me?

FIGs faculty have the opportunity to develop a new and exciting small, interdisciplinary courses, to work with committee faculty, colleagues, and staff, to teach interested and engaged students, and to be part of a high-profile program. Some faculty have reported substantial increases in the number of majors in their departments as a result of their teaching FIGs. In addition, faculty FIG leaders receive a supply-and-expense stipend.

What's my role?

A FIG leader's responsibility entails scanning the first-year curriculum outside his or her own academic department to find other courses that can be integrated with the main course. Ideally, the courses in a FIG should fulfill breadth requirements, general education requirements, or requirements for entry to a major or program. The FIG director can be of assistance to faculty in identifying appropriate linking courses. The FIG leader should discuss the main theme of the FIG with the instructors of the other courses, and together they should discuss ways to integrate content from their courses if possible. The "FIG leader", the individual teaching the main seminar, is responsible for submitting the on line FIG proposal.