Applying

Application Deadline: December 15

We are a PhD-focused program and do not accept applications for terminal Masters degrees. Students admitted at the Masters do not need to reapply for the PhD program. Prospective students should apply to the MA level unless they have completed an equivalent MA already. Our graduate program considers students for fall semester admission only.

Our admissions committee employs a holistic evaluation process that considers a wide range of factors when selecting applicants, including a candidate’s statement of purpose and goals, their academic success record (transcripts, GPA, TOEFL scores for international students, etc.), letters of reference, writing sample, previous research and other relevant experiences. No one of these factors outweighs the others.

Please submit your online application and fee (credit card or debit card), including the “Record of Residence” portion of the Graduate School Application for Admission. The Graduate School offers a number of fee waivers for certain categories of students so prospective students seeking a fee waiver should check to see if they are eligible under this policy. Additionally, our department can consider limited requests for application fee waivers for applicants who are from historically underrepresented communities (domestic and international) and first-generation college students. Students from these backgrounds seeking an application fee waiver should reach out to the Graduate Coordinator or Director of Graduate Studies early in the Fall (Sep. or Oct.).

Within the department, students may apply to only one track of study which must be indicated on the statement of purpose:

There are five supporting documents which complete the application. Please see the additional tips below for how we evaluate these materials.

  1. Statement of Purpose clearly telling us what you want to study and why you think you can do it here.
  2. Three letters of recommendation, preferably from academic sources. Email addresses of recommenders are submitted within the online application.
  3. Official GRE results sent to us from ETS.* For international students a valid TOEFL, IELTS, or MELAB score is also required. UW-Madison is institution #1846, no department code is necessary.
  4. PDFs of transcripts from all post-secondary schools attended after high school. Official transcripts will be requested upon admission.
  5. A writing sample showing your research interests and capabilities. Please see the “writing sample” section below for further details.

All “supplemental application” material is uploaded within the online application.

A curriculum vita is welcome but not required; it can be uploaded within the online application.

Your application is not complete until your application fee is paid. Applications that are complete by December 15 are included in the initial review will be automatically considered for a teaching assistantship. There is no separate application for a teaching assistantship.

The Department of Communication Arts is committed to funding all admitted students, generally through teaching, fellowships, or project assistant positions. Thus, there is no separate application for such positions as all admitted students will receive funding.

For additional information, check the Graduate School admission requirements and application checklist.

* Due to COVID-19, there have been challenges for students attempting to take the GRE. For students applying for Fall 2022, the GRE requirement is optional. Regardless of whether GRE scores are submitted, all applications will be held in equal regard.

How We Evaluate Application Materials

While each of the areas in the department uses its own criteria for measuring excellence in an application, there are certain elements that are consistently found among successful applications in students who are admitted to our department. We share some tips for applying below and encourage you to follow up with the Graduate Coordinator or faculty in the area to which you are applying for further guidance.

Statement of Purpose

Your statement of purpose should outline what you want to study, and why that would be best accomplished here. Keep this statement concise (2-4 pages max.) and in language that is accessible to a variety of faculty members’ expertise. It should answer the following questions:

  1. Who Are You? Your statement is a key document for us to understand who you are as a person and scholar. Explain what drives you to apply to our program and to study the things you do. We are first and foremost looking for a straightforward account of your academic background and the type of research and scholarship you would like to pursue in graduate school. You can provide an interesting hook or personal story, but unlike when you were applying to your undergraduate program and writing your personal statements, you should include these in a limited and intentional fashion.
  2. What Interests You? We want to know what research ideas and topics have interested you to date, and what future projects you might work on in Communication Arts. We look for students who are eager to build on their previous interests with new experiences here. We don’t need a detailed research proposal (that will come when you complete your dissertation proposal) but we do want to get some sense of your research interests and your abilities to imagine and complete a long-term project. We expect applicants entering at the PhD level to have more fully developed ideas than students entering at the MA level.
  3. Why Graduate School? Your statement should show that you know what graduate school is for and how it will help your future goals. Your statement should say a few words about what you plan to do after your degree (e.g. academic career, working in the industry, etc.) and how a degree in Communication Arts would help in achieving those goals. Our program is largely designed to train students for academic careers at other universities, so the majority of students we admit share that goal, but if that’s not your goal, share with us why you think a PhD in Comm Arts is necessary to meet your goals.
  4. Why Us? Your statement should indicate the area to which you are applying. Review the area web pages and the profiles of the various faculty members in that area. Who do you want to work with here and why? We don’t typically accept students who want to work with just one faculty member so think about how your work connects with multiple faculty members in the area. Many successful applicants reach out to the Graduate Coordinator or Director of Graduate Studies *before* submitting their applications (the earlier the better!) to get a sense of the department’s different areas of research. Sometimes it can also be good to reach out to specific faculty you’d like to work with.
  5. What Experiences Might Serve You in our Program? If you have previous research or teaching experience, that’s worth sharing in your statement. It is by no means required, but it helps us get a sense that you will be ready for the challenges of graduate work in Communication Arts. We also value other experiences (community service, activist work, media production, etc.) so if some of your personal experiences connect to what you want to do here (e.g. I helped curate a film festival at my high school, I conducted surveys about the impact of media on high school students, etc.) they are useful to include, but there is no need to share experiences that don’t really connect to what you’d be doing here (e.g. I was the captain of my high school badminton team).

Test scores and Transcripts

There’s not much you can do about your test scores and grades at the time of application, since they are what they are. But if you have low scores or irregularities in your transcript, the statement of purpose is a good place to explain any factors that might have led to these results or any circumstances the committee may not be aware of.

Recommendation Letters

Rec letters are almost always glowingly positive, so what we value most are details that help shed further light on a candidate’s statement of purpose. Be sure to share your statement of purpose and research plans with your recommendation writers so that they can see how you are framing yourself and so that they can add to the narrative you are crafting in a complementary way.

Writing Sample

In your writing sample, we are looking to get a sense of both what you study and how you approach and express scholarly ideas. Your sample should show your ability to write and reason in a scholarly fashion, preferably on a topic that’s related to your scholarly interests. You should submit a paper from previous coursework that is relevant. If you submit a paper from graduate coursework, it should 15 to 25 pages in length. If you submit a paper from undergraduate coursework, it should be 8 to 12 pages. If you have a relevant published paper or article, you may submit that instead of a course paper.

Regardless of length, we encourage you to make sure it’s polished and edited and that it is clear, well-organized, and succinctly conveys your argument, the research you completed, your analysis and your imaginative approach to research problems so that we can really appreciate your skills.

Good luck! We look forward to reading your applications!

Application Information

If you have questions or would like more information on the University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Communication Arts Graduate Program, please contact:

Daniel Feuer

Graduate Program Coordinator
Department of Communication Arts
6056 Vilas Hall
821 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706

Phone: 608-262-3398
Fax: 608-262-9953
gradcoordinator@commarts.wisc.edu