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College of Letters & Science

Communication Arts

Admission to the Major
Requirements for the Major
Enrollment Information
Honors in the Major
Distinction in the Major
Digital Studies Certificate
Special Facilities

6117 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706; 608-262-2543; commarts.wisc.edu

Professors Asen, Gray, Hilmes, Howard, Jacobs, Kepley, Lucas, Murphy, Pan, Smith, Zaeske; Associate Professors Conway, Mares, Singer, Van Swol, Xenos; Assistant Professors Belodubrovskaya, Chavez, Hoyt, D. Johnson, J. Johnson, Lopez, McKinnon, Morris, Toma

Undergraduate advisors in the major: Mary Rossa, 6068 Vilas Hall, 608-262-0992, merossa@wisc.edu; Amy Schultz, 6072 Vilas Hall, 608-262-2547, aaschultz3@wisc.edu. Advising appointments are scheduled through WiscCal Scheduling Assistant.

Faculty diversity liaison: Karma Chavez, krchavez@wisc.edu

Faculty in the Department of Communication Arts study and teach about the principal modes and media of communication. Areas of research include film, media and cultural studies, rhetoric, and communication science. At the undergraduate level, these four areas are combined into two concentrations: (1) radio–television–film and (2) rhetoric and communication science, with the additional opportunity to gain a certificate in digital studies. Courses deal with a wide range of communicative phenomena and approach them from a variety of functional, aesthetic, and theoretical perspectives. The curriculum is designed to foster understanding of communication processes, improve communication and digital literacy skills, and develop the capacity for critical appraisal and reflection.

Communication arts majors should consult one of the department's undergraduate advisors to discuss requirements and courses each semester. Information about requirements for the major is available on the department website.

Admission to the Major

Students must apply for admission to the communication arts major.

  1. Students must apply during the semester in which they are completing their third communication arts class numbered 200 and above (excluding directed study and UW study abroad) at UW–Madison.
  2. To apply for the communication arts major, students should bring a current, campus copy of their transcript to the communication arts undergraduate office or to a communication arts advisor's office and complete the application form at least one month before enrollment. This procedure is very important; declared majors and applicants have priority enrollment for some courses.
  3. At the end of that semester, applicants with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher in their communication arts courses numbered 200 and above (excluding directed study and UW study abroad) will be admitted to the major.
  4. Admitted, non–L&S students will need to obtain permission from their school or college.
  5. An appeals process, allowing nonadmitted students to petition for an additional semester to achieve the requisite GPA, is available for exceptional circumstances. Information is sent to unsuccessful applicants.
  6. Please note that students may not reapply for admission to the communication arts major, even if they continue to take classes in the Department of Communication Arts, unless they have been granted an additional semester through the appeals process. When an appeal semester is granted, the student has one additional semester to take communication arts courses to try to achieve the B average in communication arts.
  7. Students who have satisfied the requirements for admission to the major, but did not apply while they were completing their third course, should contact a communication arts advisor for additional information.

Transfer students also apply to the communication arts major during the semester in which they are completing their third communication arts class at UW–Madison, regardless of course work completed elsewhere.

Requirements for the Major

Students majoring in communication arts concentrate in either (1) communication science and rhetorical studies or (2) radio–television–film. Students selecting one of the concentrations outlined below should verify with the department the present accuracy of this catalog. Concentrations in oral interpretation, journalism, advertising, and public relations are not offered in this department.

Communication Arts 100, 105, 155, and 181 do not count toward admission to the major or work within the major. Communication Arts 614 and 615, Field Experience in Communication, do not count toward a requirement within the major.

All students must fulfill the L&S requirement of at least 15 credits of upper-level work in the major completed in residence. All communication arts courses designated "I" (intermediate), "A" (advanced), or "D" (intermediate/advanced), with the exception of Com Arts 614 and 615, count toward this requirement.

1. Concentration in Communication Science and Rhetorical Studies

This concentration deals with social, psychological, and practical aspects of communication and human behavior. Students focus on public, mass, organizational, group, and interpersonal communication. They develop qualitative and quantitative research skills, conceptual and analytical thinking, and effective oral and written communication.

Fundamentals (1 course): 260
Core Courses (2 courses): 360, 370, or 372 and 361 or 368
Applied Communication (1 course): 262, 263, 266, 272
Theory–History-Criticism (3 courses): 325, 345, 360, 361, 368, 370, 371, 372, 374, 402, 470, 472, 476, 478, 509, 522, 525, 560, 562, 565, 570, 571, 575, 576, 577, 610, 612, 616, 617, 667, 671, 674, 675
Radio–TV–Film (1 course): Any course from the radio–TV–film concentration
Electives (2 courses): Any two communication arts courses numbered 200 and above (excluding 614, 615)
Total: 10 courses, 30 credits

2. Concentration in Radio–Television–Film

This concentration focuses on the history, theory, criticism, cultural uses, and production practices of television, film, radio, and digital media. While there is no production major, students are required to take a media production course in order to gain a concrete understanding of the possibilities of this medium. Emphasis is on critical analysis, creative expression, and an understanding of how media functions in our society.

Fundamentals (1 course): 250
Radio–TV–Film Core (2 courses): 350, 351
Production (1 course): 355, 465, 466, 467, 609, 651, 659
Theory–History–Criticism (3 courses): 346, 347, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 419, 420, 448, 450, 451, 452, 454, 455, 456, 458, 459, 460, 462, 463, 540, 552, 556, 557, 558, 608, 613, 655, 662, 663, 664, 665
Communication Science and Rhetorical Studies (1 course): Any course from the communication science and rhetorical studies concentration
Electives (2 courses): Any two communication arts courses numbered 200 and above (excluding 614, 615)
Total: 10 courses, 30 or 31 credits

Enrollment Information

Priority enrollment for majors and applicants usually involves several days when non majors/applicants will receive ineligibility messages when they try to enroll in certain communication arts classes. Important information about enrollment, instructors' course consents, and course authorizations will be sent to majors and applicants by email or posted on the department website.

Honors in the Major

Students who wish to pursue Honors in the Major in Communication Arts must first declare communication arts to be their major and then apply for admission to the department honors program. To be accepted into the honors track, students must have at least a 3.5 grade point average in their communication arts course work at the end of the semester in which they complete their third course.

In order to graduate with honors in communication arts, students must complete a set of four advanced courses within their chosen concentration and write a senior thesis. The exact specification of these advanced courses will be based on the particular area of study in which the student wishes to write his or her senior thesis (rhetoric, communication science, film, or media and cultural studies). After completing a certain number of these advanced courses, and maintaining a 3.5 grade point average in their communication arts courses, students must obtain the consent of a faculty member in their chosen area to serve as the senior thesis advisor. Students must obtain a thesis advisor no later than the end of the junior year. During the senior year, students pursuing Honors in the Major in Communication Arts must enroll in Com Arts 681 and Com Arts 682 in order to receive credit for work on the senior thesis.

Please note that students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.3 in all courses completed at UW–Madison at the time of graduation to earn an honors degree.

Students should not assume that the requirements specified in this catalog are complete or fully described. Students should check with the department honors advisor at least once a year to make sure that requirements have not been modified, as well as to seek guidance about planning the Honors in the Major curriculum that best reflects their special interests.

Distinction in the Major

Students not enrolled in the honors program who have earned a 3.75 or higher GPA within their communication arts courses are eligible for Distinction in the Major. Consult the department website for further information.


The Department of Communication Arts encourages students to apply the knowledge and skills they attain through course work to professional settings. Internships and part-time jobs at television networks, nonprofit organizations, talent agencies, magazines, radio stations, advertising agencies, production companies, government agencies, and other communication-related businesses help students gain work-related experience and explore career options. Declared majors and applicants may earn one credit for their internship experience through Com Arts 614 and 615.

Com Arts 614 and 615 do not count as part of the minimum 30 credits required within the major for graduation.

Digital Studies Certificate

The digital studies certificate allows students seeking more experience with digital media and other technologies to select courses from across several departments, including communication arts, to create their own individualized digital curriculum. See the Digital Studies section in this catalog for requirements and course options.

Special Facilities

Information about the Center for Communication Research, the Instructional Media Center, and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research is available on the department website.