What is a Communications Arts Major?

Wait, what are you studying again? What’s your major? I don’t know what “comm arts” is? Ahhh, the tunes I have heard for the past four years. There are many labels for a communications arts degree: mass communication, media studies, strategic communications, and more; the list is endless. Whether you’re an undecided underclassmen or upperclassmen just trying to figure out what your friend has been doing the last couple semesters, let’s break down exactly what UW-Madison’s Communication Arts major is and what you can do with it.

At UW-Madison, the Communication Arts degree contains two tracks; one, Radio, Film & Television and two, Communication Science and Rhetorical Studies. Radio, Film & Television (RTF) “focuses on the history, theory, criticism, cultural uses, and production practices of television, film, radio and digital media.” (Department of Communication Arts). Communication Science and Rhetorical Studies “deals with social, psychological and practical aspects of communication and human behavior.” (Department of Communication Arts) So, that’s a lot of jargon, what do these degrees really mean and what can you do with them? Well, actually quite a lot!

In the Communication Science and Rhetorical Studies track, students study and analyze the ways in which people communicate. In terms of science and theories, this can include learning about interpersonal communication, online interaction, verbal/non-verbal cues and examining conflict. On the rhetoric side, students learn about why words matter and how they can affect us (think: ethos, pathos, logos). For example, analyzing abolitionist rhetoric or political speeches. Some of my favorite classes I have taken for this major include Online Communication and Personal Relationships, Rhetoric of Campaigns and Revolutions, Theory and Practice of Persuasion.

In the Radio, Film & Television track, students not only study history and critique of radio, film and television but also develop skills in production and effective ways to use these kinds of media. For example, students may take a class all about Italian films, the production of podcasts or the history of sports media. There are a plethora of different courses in the RTF track that would interest anyone, even non-majors! I took Survey of Contemporary Media my very first semester as a freshman. This was a fascinating class where I learned that critically studying and examining media is a thing and it sparked my interest in becoming a Comm Arts major!

Vilas Hall, the home to The Department of Communications. Arguably not the most beautiful building on campus, but nevertheless beloved. A maze if you don’t know where to go, but you’ll learn to love it.

While taking classes is great, after a while you will have to hone into a certain field and decide how you are going to use your major after graduation. Communication Arts majors have both the privilege and curse of being able to go into almost any field. Every company has a communications role; there is always a need for strong writers and someone who knows how to use new media and technologies effectively. Graduates of UW-Madison’s Communication Arts program have worked in almost all fields: business, advertising, legal, education, healthcare, human resources and more. 

If you have any interest in how people communicate, media production or why words matter, check out the Communication Arts major. While we are often a forgotten major and yes, have heard every one of your jokes about us, good communication is a lifelong skill that is invaluable in any field you choose.