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Prospective Students

Congratulations on making the wise decision to learn more about becoming a graduate student in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State! Our program offers M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, with an emphasis on preparing Ph.D. students for successful careers both inside and outside the academy. Our graduate alumni include scholars who have shaped the discipline of communication studies, and many of our more recent graduates hold faculty positions at outstanding universities and colleges.

You can learn more about our program by exploring frequently asked questions related to the topics below. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please email us at

What graduate degrees does the department offer?

The Department confers M.A.s and Ph.D.s in Communication Arts and Sciences, with students focusing on a program of study in Rhetorical Studies or Communication Sciences. The Department also offers a Dual-title Ph.D. in CAS and Bioethics.  You can learn more about specific program requirements by exploring Graduate Courses and Degrees in Communication Arts and Sciences.

What is encompassed by the Rhetorical Studies and Communication Science aspects of the graduate program?

Rhetorical Studies encompasses rhetorical criticism, classical and contemporary rhetorical theory, history of public address, political rhetoric, campaigns and social movements, rhetoric of culture and media, rhetoric of film, rhetoric of reform, rhetoric of war and peace, rhetoric of literature, citizen rhetorics, rhetoric of technology, and the rhetoric of democratic deliberation.

Communication Sciences encompasses interpersonal communication, communication across the lifespan, communication in relationships and families, interpersonal influence interactions, health communication, health campaigns, social influence and persuasion, and small group communication.

What is the difference between this Department in the College of the Liberal Arts and the College of Communications?

This Department offers top-ranked educational opportunities emphasizing Rhetorical Studies and Communication Science. The College of Communications emphasizes Mass Communications, Media Studies, Critical and Cultural Studies, Law, Government, and Politics, and Telecommunications. For more information on the College of Communications graduate programs, please visit

What's the combined M.A./Ph.D. Program?

Graduate study in Communication Arts and Sciences assumes an interest in pursuing doctoral-level work for the PhD.  Students who have not previously earned a master’s degree complete an M.A. thesis, receive their M.A. degree and submit an abbreviated application requesting advancement to the Ph.D. Program. This offers both the student and the Faculty a natural point to determine whether or not continuing is in the best interest of the student.  Students advancing to the Ph.D. Program are automatically eligible for continued financial support.  

How do students develop a program of study?

Programs of study are developed by individual students in consultation with their graduate faculty committees. Although academic work in most areas of communication is available, there are no prescriptive programs of study in any particular area.

Typically, each student chooses an academic adviser from the graduate faculty and, in consultation with that adviser, chooses additional faculty members from inside and outside the department to serve as their graduate advisory committee. The student then proposes the course work that will constitute their formal program of study.

In sum, each student nominates his or her own graduate faculty and develops his or her own curriculum. Individual programs of study represent one of the special features of graduate study in communication at Penn State.


How do I apply to the graduate program?

All applications to graduate programs at Penn State are submitted through Penn State’s Graduate School and admission decisions are made by faculty in the Department. The specific application deadline varies from year to year, and is typically late December or early January. For Fall 2021 enrollment, the application deadline is January 10, 2021.  There is not a separate application for funding.

Can I apply to your program if my undergraduate degree is not in a communication discipline?

Yes. Several applicants have degrees in disciplines other than communication studies. Related disciplines include Sociology, English, Family Studies, History, Philosophy, and Psychology, among others.

What is your GRE reporting code?

The school code for Penn State: 2660 
All scores are received electronically at the university level; therefore, no department code is necessary.

Are new GRE scores required if older than a certain number of years?  What are the minimum requirements for GRE scores?

If the GRE data are too old to include the new version of the analytical writing score, you should re-take the exam.  Also, if your combined Verbal and Quantitative score is under 310, you would be well advised to consider retaking it, especially if it is well below that figure.

**Due to the difficulty in accessing testing centers because of the global pandemic, the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State is waiving the requirement to take the GRE exam for applicants who are submitting materials to be accepted into the MA and PhD programs beginning in the Fall of 2021.

Is there a form for the letters of recommendation?

There is no official recommendation form. We ask that recommendation letters be written by individuals familiar with your professional and educational qualifications, and who can assess your promise as a scholar. Individuals listed in your application as agreeing to submit a letter of recommendation will be instructed (via the e-mail address you provide in the electronic application) to upload their letter via the Graduate School's Reference Submission Portal. Three letters of recommendation are required; additional letters may be beneficial.

What are the guidelines for the Statement of Purpose?

In the statement of purpose, an applicant needs to make clear (a) why he or she is applying for admission to the Ph.D. program, (b) his or her career objectives, and (c) how he or she sees successful completion of the degree requirements as contributing to fulfillment of those objectives.   The statement should be approximately two double-spaced pages.

Are there any special requirements if I am an international applicant?

We do not make a distinction between domestic and international applicants.  In addition, we do not admit applicants to whom we cannot offer funding.

International students are required to present minimum TOEFL scores of 600 for the paper-based test, or a total score of 100, with a 19 on the speaking section for the internet-based test (iBT). Alternatively, international students may present a minimum IELTS score of 6.5.

**Due to the difficulty in accessing testing centers because of the global pandemic, the Graduate School is also temporarily accepting the following English proficiency tests:

TOEFL iBT @Home (total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section)

TOEFL ITP Plus for China (score of 627 or higher)

IELTS Indicator (score of 6.5 of higher)

International applicants are exempt from the TOEFL requirement if they have received a Baccalaureate or a Master’s degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following regions:  Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States and Wales.

Once a student has accepted his/her offer of admission and the Penn State record has been updated to reflect this, the Directorate of International Student Advising (DISA) will send the student instructions and a link to enter immigration information and upload financial documentation directly into an electronic file within DISA’s database.


What do I need to submit with my application?

Admission is granted jointly by the Graduate School and the Communication Arts and Sciences program.  All applications are processed online through the Graduate School.

If you are ready to proceed to the application but have NOT read the Graduate School requirements, please visit that website at

If you have read the Graduate School and program requirements and are ready to apply, you may proceed to the application at

Important: Please make sure that you are interested in Communication Arts and Sciences before proceeding.  If your interests are in the academic study of such media as Journalism, Broadcasting, Film, Advertising, or Public Relations, you should visit the College of Communications website.

Applications should be submitted electronically through the PSU Graduate School portal no later than January 10, 2020. We do not admit students in the spring or summer semester.

The following application materials are submitted electronically.  To manage and upload your documents go to:

  • Curriculum Vitae

  • Statement of Purpose

  • Writing Sample

Three letters of reference (individuals listed in your application as providing a letter of recommendation will be instructed to upload their letter via the Graduate School's Reference Submission Portal)

Please submit the following support materials for your application:

Complete the Online Graduate School Application.  Please refer to: for the non-refundable application fee.

Beginning November 10, 2014, copies of transcripts, degree/study certificates and diplomas in the language of instruction from all institutions of higher education attended, both undergraduate and graduate, should be uploaded online as part of the Graduate School Application. If English is not the language of instruction, copies of all transcripts/documents in the English translation also must be uploaded.

Beginning November 10, 2014, applicants recommended for admission will be notified by the Graduate School that official/original transcripts/documents and their official English translation must be sent from the originating institutions for review by the Graduate School, in order to finalize an admission decision. Notarized copies are not sufficient. This step is only required after the appication has been reviewed and if the applicant is offered admission.

Official scores from a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) taken within the last five years (PSU school code 2660). Official scores are sent directly from ETS. If your GRE score is older than five years, please get in touch with graduate program staff or the Director of Graduate Studies.

**Due to the difficulty in accessing testing centers because of the global pandemic, the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State is waiving the requirement to take the GRE exam for applicants who are submitting materials to be accepted into the MA and PhD programs beginning in the Fall of 2021.

Official scores from a recent Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination (International Students Only) (PSU code 083). Official scores are sent directly from ETS.

Materials without paid applications cannot be processed.

Additional Provisions:

Additional materials from applicants (e.g., term papers, research reports, recommendations, or evidence of other scholarly and professional development) may be requested at the discretion of the Graduate Officer for the purpose of reasonably evaluating an applicant’s suitability to the graduate program.

Applicants lacking certain academic experience may be required by the Graduate Officer to complete academic work specific to relieving deficiencies.

Minimum 2.50 GPA is expected for coursework outside the department.

You may check the status of your application at any time at


How does the admission process work?

The Department typically receives 100 or more completed applications each year.  On average, we admit 12 students, and this figure can be lower or higher in any given year as a result of the qualifications of applicants, departmental needs, and acceptances of offers.  The Committee reviews students on the basis of perceived fit with our program, strength of the application, GRE scores, GPA, and letters of recommendation, as well as other evidence of promise. Applicants are encouraged to identify clearly their area(s) of interest in the statement of purpose. Although the Graduate Admissions Committee makes final decisions concerning admission and funding, all faculty members are involved in the process. Generally, the Committee tries to balance the number of students admitted across the areas of faculty expertise.

What information concerning prospective students receives most attention?

We are looking for the best qualified students whose research interests match with our ongoing projects and faculty interests. Each aspect of the application materials is important, and we consider all of them in assessing an applicant’s promise to excel in a premier doctoral program. Thus, it is important that a student have a strong academic record, evidence that he/she is productive, high GRE (and TOEFL, if appropriate) scores, are strong, a high GPA, a well-articulated, specific, and focused statement of purpose, and informative letters of recommendation from sources qualified to judge academic competence and promise.

What are the average GPA and GRE scores of admitted applicants?

For the entering class of Fall 2014:

  • the average GPA was 3.78;
  • the average GRE Verbal score was 163.5;
  • the average GRE Quantitative score was 155.6; and
  • the average GRE Analytical Writing score was 4.88.

Should I visit the Penn State campus?

Applicants who are admitted to our graduate program will be invited to campus for a visit, usually in the month of March.  Coming to campus as part of our Welcome Weekend is a great way to meet current students, faculty, and other applicants who might become your classmate.  You are also welcome to visit campus any other time of year. If you are interested in visiting campus, send an inquiry to


What funding is available to support graduate students?

The Department offers funding to every graduate student that we admit to the program, and have deliberately chosen as a department not to admit students whom we cannot fully fund.  In addition to a tuition waiver and health care benefits, our department provides a stipend of $21,555 for a half-time, 9 month appointment. Summer funding and academic year awards are also available, which can add substantially to the amount that students receive each year. In return for this funding support students either teach in the department as TAs (3 courses over the 9 month academic term – a 1/2 or 2/1 load) or they act as research assistants on funded projects.

What funding opportunities are available?

How are assistantships and other funding opportunities awarded, and what are the qualifications needed to receive such funding?

The Graduate Committee will review your application and decide whether or not you have appropriate qualifications. If the Committee determines that you do, the members will then consider you for an assistantship and, if appropriate, may nominate you for other funding opportunities.  Although preliminary admission decisions are made separate from funding decisions, final admission for full-time status requires that the applicant also be accepted for funding.

What type of assistantship is the most common? Are there research assistantships?

The most common type of funding is a half-time teaching assistantship.  A half-time teaching assistant is responsible for 3 sections of courses over two semesters (rather than the typical 4 course teaching load at other communication programs). Students typically start teaching our public speaking course.

We also have a small number of research assistantships supported by external grants; the specific number of these assistantships varies according to the status of faculty projects. Students funded as research assistants either receive a reduction in teaching or are released from all teaching responsibilities during the time of their funding as a research assistant. Of course, many students work informally with faculty, either as part of research teams or independently. We have a strong culture of collaboration, both among our graduate students and between our students and faculty.

Does the Department provide support for student research?

We realize that the continued strength of our Department is tied, in part, to the ability of our students to excel as scholars. Consequently, we offer a variety of research support, including funding awards for specific projects, dissertation-related releases from teaching, travel grants, generous access to office supplies and photocopiers, and access to computer and research equipment. Graduate research awards of up to $1500 and dissertation research awards of up to $3500 are two of the specific awards we make to support student research. The Department also has a Communication Research Laboratory available for use by both faculty and graduate students.

Does the Department provide support for students traveling to professional meetings?

We provide our students with full travel funding for attending two international, national, and regional conferences each year. Our expectation is that students will present their research at one of these conferences (though exceptions will be made for students new to the program). In addition, the College of the Liberal Arts makes travel awards available on a competitive basis.