Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline This program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline This program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Required.*
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

(Program note: Though terminal M.A. degrees may occasionally be awarded, the programs are designed with successful completion of the Ph.D. as the goal.)

Our graduate program considers students for fall semester admission only.

Applications are due December 15.

Applicants must have earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. The Graduate School minimum GPA is 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. The department likes to see at least a 3.25 in courses relevant to the area in which you apply, although successful applicants usually have much higher GPAs.

Within the department, students may apply to only one track of study, which must be indicated on the statement of purpose: Communication Science; Film; Media and Cultural Studies; or Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture.

There are five supporting documents which complete the application:

  1. Statement of purpose clearly telling us what you want to study and why you think you can do it here. Although it cannot be said to be the most important part of your application, the statement of purpose is our introduction to you as a student and as such, you will want it to be as professional and persuasive as possible to put your application in the best light.
  2. Three letters of recommendation, preferably from academic sources. Email addresses of recommenders are submitted within the online application.
  3. Official GRE score sent to us from ETS. The department requires no minimum GRE scores; however, successful candidates typically score well on portions of the examination related to their area of study. We don't set absolute numbers because each year's applicants are judged against all others in that year only. UW–Madison is institution #1846; no department code is necessary.
  4. PDFs of transcripts from all postsecondary schools attended after high school. Official transcripts will be requested upon admission.
  5. A writing sample (in English), 15–20 pages long. The best writing sample is an academic paper you wrote for a class related to the area in which you apply. It should have citations and footnotes. You may send a portion of a longer thesis if you wish, but please select a representative sample no longer than 20 pages. Include a cover page identifying it as a chapter or section of a longer work. 

INTERNATIONAL APPLICANTS: An official TOEFL, IELTS or MELAB score sent to us from ETS is required for all applicants whose native language is not English. UW–Madison is institution #1846; no department code is necessary. The minimum scores are as follows:

  • TOEFL: 92 on an internet-based exam; 580 on a paper-based exam
  • IELTS: 7
  • MELAB: 82

We will waive the TOEFL requirement if you have a bachelor's degree from an English-speaking institution. 

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

(Program note: Though terminal M.A. degrees may occasionally be awarded, the programs are designed with successful completion of the Ph.D. as the goal.)

Beginning graduate students in communication arts receive 10 consecutive semesters of guaranteed funding if they are entering with a bachelor's degree, complete their master's degree, and plan to continue on to the Ph.D. The guaranteed funding package for graduate students includes full tuition remission, monthly compensation, and benefits including health insurance.

Most communication arts graduate students are supported by teaching assistantships (TA). Additional funding comes in the form of research assistantships (RA), project assistantships (PA), Graduate School–supported fellowships, departmental awards, and conference travel awards.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate students who hold an appointment as a TA, RA, or PA will be entitled to remission of tuition in any semester in which their appointment equals at least 33.4% of a full-time appointment for the semester. Graduate assistantships in communication arts are typically offered at the 50% level, which is a full-time appointment for a full-time student. 

Graduate School–Supported Fellowships

A limited number of fellowships are available. All students are considered for fellowships at the time of application; no separate application is necessary. These fellowships may be for terms from one semester to two years and include tuition remission and benefits including health insurance. 

Department Awards

The Department of Communication Arts is pleased to be able to grant yearly monetary awards to graduate students based on scholastic performance. Nominations for the awards are generated by the faculty in the four areas of graduate study. To be eligible for consideration, graduate students must be continuing in the program, must be making satisfactory progress toward their degree, and must not have any incompletes on their transcript. The amount and number of awards vary from year to year depending on funds available. 

Conference Travel Awards

The department provides a once-per-academic-year travel stipend for students to present academic papers at a conference. Students not residing in Madison during the semester in which they present at conference are not eligible for this funding.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions


Minimum Credit Requirement 30 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 16 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (15 credits out of 30 total credits) must be completed graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide (
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required. (see below for GPA requirement of coursework taken within the department)
Other Grade Requirements A cumulative GPA for coursework within the department of 3.5 or above.
Assessments and Examinations To assess satisfactory progress toward the degree and to facilitate determinations of good standing, graduate students must complete a Professional Activities Report (PAR) each spring. A PAR indicates a student's academic and professional activities on and off campus each year. Faculty will use the PAR in their annual evaluations of student progress. A PAR represents one means of communication between graduate students and faculty, providing graduate students with an opportunity to enumerate their activities in a single document. PARS must be completed by April 1 each spring.

M.A. comprehensive examinations or theses are generally done in the student's fourth semester of study. To take comprehensive exams or complete a thesis, a student must be in good standing, and must have completed the basic and specific area course requirements. Additional requirements vary by area of study. They are as follows:

Communication Science students must complete and defend an M.A. thesis. In rare exceptions, students admitted to the graduate program may decide to leave with only an M.A. In that case, they may complete the non-thesis, terminal option. In lieu of the thesis and oral defense, two of the courses in Communication Science must be at the 800 level or above, and students must pass a four-hour written comprehensive examination which covers communication theory, research methodology, and a topic area of the student’s specialization.

Film students' Comprehensive Exam consists of six hours of writing and an oral defense. The writing portion is divided into three two-hour sittings concentrating respectively on the areas of film theory, film history, and film analysis and criticism. The oral defense—affording students an opportunity to correct, inflect, or expand upon their written answers—takes place a week or two later and typically runs about an hour. There is no option to write a thesis in lieu of the comprehensive exam.

Media and Cultural Studies students' comprehensive exam, consists of six hours of writing, normally distributed across four questions, followed by an oral defense. Exam areas are drawn from the coursework the examinee has taken in media and cultural studies. Reading lists are determined in consultation with the student’s advisor and core faculty members. There is no option to write a thesis in lieu of the comprehensive exam.

Rhetoric, Culture, and Politics students must complete and defend an M.A. thesis. In rare exceptions, students admitted to the graduate program may decide to leave with only an M.A. In that case, students may complete the non-thesis, terminal option and take a comprehensive exam consisting of three, one-hour written exams addressing theory, critical method, and public discourse.
Language Requirements Students interested in writing a dissertation on a national cinema other than the U.S. are expected to complete two years of foreign language study.

Required Courses

Successful completion of the master’s degree requires a minimum of 30 credit hours, which includes coursework, independent study, and research credits. This requirement stipulates that at least 50 percent of these credit hours must be received in courses specifically designed for graduate work, which the Graduate School defines as:

  • courses numbered 700 and above;
  • courses numbered 300–699 that are specifically designed for graduate students in a graduate program;
  • courses numbered 300–699 that assess graduate students separately from undergraduate students;
  • courses numbered 300–699 that have a graduate student enrollment greater than 50 percent in a given semester.

The department requires that a minimum of 16 credit hours must be completed in residence.

Each area of graduate study has further specific requirements for the completion of the M.A:

Communication Science Track1

COM ARTS 760 Advances in Communication Theories3
COM ARTS 762 Communication Research Methods3
Four additional Communication Science courses numbered 500 or above 212
At least one course in statistics (see below for options)3-4
COM ARTS 904 Communication Science Colloquium 34
Two additional courses6
Total Credits30
Statistics Course options
ED PSYCH 760 Statistical Methods Applied to Education I3
ED PSYCH 761 Statistical Methods Applied to Education II3
ED PSYCH 762 Introduction to the Design of Educational Experiments3
ED PSYCH 763 Regression Models in Education3
ED PSYCH 773 Factor Analysis, Multidimensional Scaling and Cluster Analysis3
ED PSYCH/​CURRIC/​L I S  803 Computational Research Methods3
ED PSYCH 871 Test Theory II3
ED PSYCH 960 Structural Equation Modeling3
ED PSYCH 964 Hierarchical Linear Modeling3
ED PSYCH 965 Applied Bayesian Statistics for Education Research3
SOC/​C&E SOC  360 Statistics for Sociologists I4
SOC/​C&E SOC  361 Statistics for Sociologists II3
SOC 362 Statistics for Sociologists III3
SOC 952 Seminar-Mathematical and Statistical Applications in Sociology3
PSYCH 610 Design and Analysis of Psychological Experiments I4
PSYCH 710 Design and Analysis of Psychological Experiments II4
POLI SCI 812 Introduction to Statistical Methods in Political Science3
POLI SCI 813 Multivariable Statistical Inference for Political Research3
POLI SCI 818 Maximum Likelihood Estimation3

Film Track1, 2

Production Course
COM ARTS 355 Introduction to Media Production3-4
or COM ARTS 609 Special Topics in Production
Required Courses
COM ARTS 454 Critical Film Analysis3
COM ARTS 669 Film Theory3
National Cinema Courses6
Select two of the following:
French Film
The American Film Industry in the Era of the Studio System
Special Topics in Film (Japanese Cinema or South Asian Cinema)
Modes-and-Practices Courses6
Select two of the following:
History of Documentary Film
Global Art Cinema
Avant-Garde Film
Contemporary Hollywood Cinema
Special Topics in Film (Gender and Film)
One 900-level seminar3
Film Colloquium
COM ARTS 902 Film Colloquium 34
Additional Coursework12
Total Credits40-41

 Media and Cultural Studies Track1,3

All students are required to complete at least 24 credits at the 600 level and above.

Media Production Elective
COM ARTS 355 Introduction to Media Production3-4
or COM ARTS 609 Special Topics in Production
Three 900-level MCS Seminars 2
COM ARTS 903 Media and Cultural Studies Colloquium 44
At least 400 level and above. At least 9 credits must be in MCS (in addition to those listed above). Students may take COM ARTS 609 as an elective if it was not taken as a Media Production Elective.
Total Credits40-41

Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture Track1, 2

COM ARTS 570 Classical Rhetorical Theory3
COM ARTS 571 Contemporary Rhetorical Theory3
or COM ARTS 969 Seminar: Contemporary Rhetorical Theory
COM ARTS 976 Seminar in Rhetorical Criticism3
COM ARTS 905 Rhetoric Colloquium 34
Electives (300 level and above)21
At least two courses must be in COM ARTS.
At least two courses must be at the 700 level and above.
At least one course must have primary content focused on issues of race and ethnicity.
Total Credits34

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a Master’s degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 7 credits of graduate coursework taken as a UW–Madison undergraduate student. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 15 credits of graduate coursework taken as a UW–Madison Special student. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.


All graduate students must stay "in good standing" in the department to be eligible for teaching assignments, awards, and fellowships, and in order to be considered to be making satisfactory progress in the program. Students whose progress is rated unsatisfactory by their faculty may face loss of funding and/or dismissal from the program.

The department's minimum criteria for good standing are:

  1. Timely progress through the program, consisting of successful completion of M.A. requirements and compliance with coursework, advising, and thesis/comprehensive exam expectations.
  2. A cumulative grade point average for coursework within the department of 3.5 or above.
  3. No grades of Incomplete on the student’s record.
  4. Fulfillment of responsibilities for teaching/project assistantships or lectureships.

Students are expected to carry a full load, defined as three courses (nine credits) plus colloquium (one credit) per semester, unless a student's advisor recommends an exception.


Although an initial faculty advisor is assigned to each student during the summer prior to matriculation in the graduate program, students should seek out regular advisors by the end of their first year in residence. The regular advisor should be a faculty member whose research interests and methodological expertise match closely to those that the student intends to acquire. While no faculty member is obliged to accept a student's request to serve as advisor, invitations are usually accepted except where the faculty member judges that a different advisor would serve the student's needs and interests better.

Early in the semester in which the comprehensive exam/thesis will be completed, students will form an M.A. defense committee consisting of three to four faculty members, one of which is their advisor. In the case of comprehensive examinations, all committee members will write exam questions, read the answers, and sit on the M.A. defense. In the case of a thesis, all committee members will read the manuscript and sit on the M.A. defense. 


10-credit maximum unless additional credits are approved by faculty advisor, up to 15

Time Constraints

Master's degrees are generally expected to be completed within five semesters of matriculation.

Grievances and appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.


Incoming M.A. students are generally offered five academic years (fall semester and spring semester) of support in the form of teaching assistantships, project assistantships, fellowships, and lectureships. Incoming Ph.D. students are generally offered three years of support. This support includes a stipend, tuition remission, and benefits.

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

Graduate students should consider opportunities for professional development as they begin their programs of graduate study. As students plan programs of study, participation in campus and disciplinary organizations, scholarly presentations at academic conferences, and potential outlets for publication of research, they should consider the ways that these activities begin to establish areas of scholarly and pedagogical competence, connections with other researchers and teachers in the field, and audiences for their scholarship. Some of the best resources for professional development are the people—both faculty and other graduate students—in the Department of Communication Arts. These people may serve as sources of valuable advice and information, and their actions may provide examples of practices that promote professional development. Further, campus-wide resources are available to enrich students’ graduate studies and enhance their professional skills.

department resources for professional development

Two important departmental resources for professional development are a graduate student’s advisor and the department colloquia.

The advisor is concerned with a graduate student’s academic progress as well as with the professional development of advisees. Throughout a graduate student’s residence in the program (and often beyond), an advisor will discuss and answer questions and concerns about professional development. For instance, as submission deadlines to academic conferences approach, an advisor may discuss with a student potential submission options and the appropriate venues for these submissions. If a student is working on revising a seminar paper for potential publication in an academic journal, an advisor will often guide the student through the revision process. When a student is applying for jobs, an advisor will often edit application materials. When a student is interviewing for a position or negotiating a job offer, an advisor will often provide tips for how to proceed.

The department colloquia offers additional resources for professional development. The four areas of study (Communication Science; Film; Media and Cultural Studies; and Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture) hold individual and joint colloquia on most Thursday afternoons during the academic year. Often, these colloquia are devoted to research presentations from department faculty and graduate students as well as campus visitors. Sometimes, the colloquia will address issues of professional development. Colloquia topics on professional development include practicing conference presentations; preparing a teaching dossier; practicing job talks; negotiating the revise and resubmit process in journal publishing; and networking. Colloquia on professional development engage graduate students in discussion on professional topics, workshop materials, and offer advice on best practices.

faculty reviews of graduate student teaching

Since most Communication Arts Ph.D. students pursue academic careers, developing teaching skills constitutes an important aspect of professionalization. Some colleges and universities may ask a student to prepare a teaching demonstration as part of the on-campus interview process, or otherwise seek evaluation and evidence of a graduate student’s teaching abilities. To facilitate the development of graduate student teaching, faculty will provide reviews of teaching assistants (TA) in courses in which they have worked directly with graduate students in the classroom. Graduate students should expect these reviews in every semester in which they serve as a TA in one of these faculty-led courses (e.g., a lecture-discussion section course taught by a faculty member). These reviews are intended to help students identify strengths in their teaching as well as areas in which they may improve. In relevant courses, faculty will deposit an electronic copy of a teaching review with the graduate coordinator no more than two weeks after a semester has concluded. The graduate coordinator will maintain files of teaching reviews for each graduate student in the department. The graduate coordinator will send a copy of the review to the student’s advisor. Faculty also will share a copy of the review with the student reviewed, who may wish to incorporate favorable reviews and quotations into a teaching dossier. Graduate students should feel welcome to discuss all reviews with their supervising faculty members. Graduate students should note, too, that these reviews will assist faculty in addressing matters of pedagogy when preparing letters of recommendation for academic employment, which will benefit students in their job searches. 

travel to meetings and conferences

The Department of Communication Arts provides a once-per-academic-year travel stipend for those students who will be presenting a paper at an academic conference. Students who are not residing in Madison during the semester in which they present at a conference are not eligible for this funding.

Instructional Media Center

Located on the third floor of Vilas Hall, the Instructional Media Center (IMC) provides media and technology services for the entire department. The IMC houses the Hamel Family Digital Media Lab, the Walter Mirisch Seminar Room, and Communication Arts media production classrooms. The IMC circulates laptops, video projectors, and other equipment to graduate students for instruction and short-term use. The IMC also maintains a media library containing thousands of DVDs and blu-rays of films, television shows, video games, and off-air recordings. Graduate students may check out any item not reserved for classroom use for their research. IMC staff can assist graduate students with their research needs. Upon request, the IMC can provide film to video transfers, media creation (files, DVDs, blu-rays), and video capture, as well as training in these areas. The IMC provides assistance for the Center for Communication Research. The IMC is staffed by individuals with a wide range of media knowledge and skills to assist graduate students. 

  1. Articulates, critiques, or elaborates the theories, research methods, and approaches to inquiry or schools of practice in the field of study.
  2. Identifies sources and assembles evidence pertaining to questions or challenges in the field of study.
  3. Demonstrates understanding of the primary field of study in a historical, social, or global context.
  4. Selects and/or utilizes the most appropriate methodologies and practices.
  5. Evaluates or synthesizes information pertaining to questions or challenges in the field of study.
  6. Communicates clearly in ways appropriate to the field of study.
  7. Recognizes and applies principles of ethical and professional conduct.


Professors Kelley Conway (chair), Robert Asen, Jonathan Gray, Robert Glenn Howard, Lea Jacobs, Derek Johnson, Marie-Louise Mares, Zhongdang Pan, Jeff Smith, Lyn Van Swol, and Michael Xenos

Associate Professors Eric Hoyt, Jenell Johnson, Lori Lopez, Sara McKinnon, Jeremy Morris, Ben Singer, and Catalina Toma

Assistant Professors Jason Lopez, Allison Prasch, and Lillie D. Williamson