UW–Madison welcomes international undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students to study at UW–Madison for one or more terms as a University Special student. University Special students take regularly scheduled courses for credit, which are displayed on an official student record but are not currently earning a degree from UW–Madison. There are four main categories with different learning goals and admissions pathways. 

Formal Exchange Program

The program is available to students attending a university abroad which has a formal exchange agreement with UW–Madison.  Students work directly with their home university's exchange/study abroad office for the admissions and enrollment procedures.  The four exchange offices at UW–Madison are:

All formal exchange students, except those pursuing law studies, are admitted by the Adult Career and Special Student Services (ACSSS) office, which also serves as the academic dean's office. 


The program is available to international students who wish to study at UW–Madison for one or more semesters or a summer term and are not part of a formal exchange program. The Visiting International Student Program (VISP) participants are admitted by ACSSS. Details about the program, admissions criteria, and student experience are provided at the VISP webpage


Capstone certificates reflect a focused collection of graduate-level courses that allow students with a bachelor’s degree to obtain additional professional skills and certification. Capstone programs do not lead to the conferral of a degree, but do appear on a student’s UW–Madison transcript. The availability of a capstone certificate program to an international student varies as follows:

  • The 100% online programs are available to international students who remain abroad.
  • Students already in the U.S. on another visa type (e.g. J–1 scholar, J–2 dependent, H1B) may be eligible for admission to any of the capstone certificate programs.
  • Full-time programs on the university campus require international students to hold an F–1 or J–1 visa to study legally in the United States. The programs approved by the U.S. government for F–1 or J–1 visas include Actuarial Science, Communication Sciences & Disorders, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Fundamentals, and Computer Sciences.

A comprehensive list with details about program content, admissions criteria, and the application process is available at the Types of Study page.


Students who wish to come to UW–Madison on a formal exchange program must work directly with their home school’s exchange/study abroad office to review application deadlines and admissions requirements (including TOEFL score). The exchange coordinator will provide participating students with a direct link to the application which is appropriate for the UW–Madison program. Students seeking admission in the three programs listed here will be admitted as a University Special student with the designation of UNIS on the application and the class roster. 


Any international student who has completed at least one semester of college/university study and meets language proficiency requirements (TOEFL: minimum 80 iBT/550 PBT; IELTS: minimum of 6.5) may apply. Applicants do not need to be currently enrolled in an educational institution.  Students should apply at least three months before the intended start date at UW–Madison in order to complete the entire admission process and visa application (which may require many months to complete). A limited number of spots are available in VISP each semester, so applying early provides the best consideration.

Students are admitted in one of three levels which determines the minimum credit load requirements:

Undergraduate level students: completed at least one semester of college/university study and will not have completed their degree before arriving in Madison. 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. UIUL is the designation on the admissions application and course roster.

Graduate level students: completed an undergraduate degree and may or may not have started a graduate program. UIGL is the designation on the admissions application and course roster.

Dissertator-level students: completed all graduate coursework and are currently working on a dissertation, or have completed a Ph.D. No additional requirements apply for students in these classifications. UIDL is the designation on the admissions application and course roster.

To apply: Students must review eligibility requirements and then follow the application process outlined at the VISP website. VISP coordinators will assist with each step of the process. The coordinators will send an email to confirm the application has been received and to provide details on next steps.