Two women walking and talking outdoors. Pro-track student Cathleen Draper interviews a source for a story for the J-School’s Curb magazine.

15 months to a master's degree

Degree Requirements

Most students complete their 30 credits of coursework in three semesters. Here’s how your 15 months in the J-School would look.

Before the Program

Your professional development begins before you even start your first semester. In the spring, you’ll get a reading list of books, materials and warm-up reporting exercises to prepare you for the program. As part of our orientation week activities, pro-track students will receive specialized training to get ready for your first courses in journalism.

Program Proposal

During your first semester in the program, you’ll work with your advisor to develop a proposal for the program you’ll design for yourself. It will include an outline of the courses you want to take, as well as laying out the initial steps you’re taking to get a job when you’re finished.

When you’re developing your program proposal, you’ll meet with Pam Garcia-Rivera, the school’s career adviser, who can help you look for internships or connect you to UW-Madison alumni working in the field. She also helps guide students in developing a strong resume and portfolio of work to share with prospective employers.


Master’s professional-track students must complete 30 credits, but are encouraged to expand their timeline to fully develop a specialty by taking advantage of the school and the university’s resources. These credits include the minimum of 12 core skills credits, at least seven journalistic concepts credits, and at least six credits in electives outside of the school. Students are expected to maintain a 3.25 cumulative GPA in all graduate work.

Core Skills Requirements

Twelve credits come from skills courses offered by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, helping you develop special expertise in certain areas of writing and reporting. You may take more than 12 credits. In consultation with an advisor, you may be allowed to take eight credits in this section, avoiding J335.

Otherwise, the only required course is J335: Principles and Practices of Reporting, a foundational course where you’ll learn the basics of reporting and structuring a news story, which you will take in your first semester. In general, pro-track students will take J335 from the director of the pro-track program or a member of the SJMC’s pro-track Committee. Courses that qualify for the other eight credits include: (all courses are four credits)

  • 401: In-Depth Reporting
  • 404: Interpretation of Contemporary Affairs
  • 405: Creative Nonfiction
  • 411: Multimedia Design
  • 417: Magazine Publishing
  • 420: Investigative Journalism
  • 453: Media Relations Practice
  • 455: Emerging Media and News
  • 456: Long Form Video
  • 475: Topics in Advanced Concepts and Skills

Journalistic Concepts Requirements

You’re also required to take another seven credits in concepts courses that help you understand the context for the reporting and writing you’re learning to do and stress the relationship between journalism and major social institutions and publics. These courses will be selected with consideration of your specialty. Examples of concepts courses include 500- and 600-level courses like the following, as well as 800-level graduate seminars:

  • 560: History of Mass Communication (cross-listed with History): 4 cr.
  • 561: Mass Communication and Society: 4 cr.
  • 563: Law of Mass Communication: 4 cr.
  • 564: Mass Media and the Consumer: 4 cr.
  • 565: Effects of Mass Communication: 4 cr.
  • 616: Mass Media and Youth: 3 cr.
  • 618: Mass Media and Political Behavior: 3 cr.
  • 620: International Communication: 3 cr.
  • 658: Research Methods: 3 cr.
  • 662: Mass Media and Minorities: 3 cr.
  • 669: Literary Aspects of Journalism: 3 cr.

Track of Specialty Study

You’ll begin to develop expertise in certain coverage areas or skills through courses you take outside the department. Our program requires that pro-track students complete at least six credits in other departments. If you’re interested in covering sustainability, for example, you’d look for courses in UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. If you’re interested in writing about arts and culture, you’d look for opportunities in the communication arts or art departments. Other pro-track students have taken courses that have helped support their professional skill development, such as learning how to do things like fly drones, create maps or take photographs. A list of sample courses is available for our department’s core specialties, including science, health and technology reporting, political and civic journalism, and international reporting. You are not limited to these topical areas and can devise your own specialty.

Professional Development

The school offers a range of professional practice opportunities. All students receive a travel stipend to attend professional-development conferences such as those offered by Investigative Reporters and Editors or the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. You can also take advantage of the steady stream of reporters and journalists who visit campus to give talks and meet with students. Whenever possible, the program offers special sessions for you to meet with visiting journalists to learn about their experiences in the field and what they’ve learned in their careers. The pro-track master’s curriculum also requires you to take a one-credit professional development course to build a portfolio and gain career knowledge from media experts.


All professional master’s students are required to do an internship in a journalism related media company during their time in the program. Credits and grades will be determined by the student’s advisor, in conjunction with formal letters from the internship supervisor at the media company.

Everyone is guaranteed an unpaid internship working for Madison Commons, the school’s hyperlocal news site. However, the school encourages you to look for other internship opportunities in organizations that might help you develop certain skills or lead you toward a job after graduation.

Students funded through the David Maraniss Fellowship are eligible for a paid summer internship ($6,000 for the summer) with the Capital Times.

Students from underrepresented groups are eligible to apply for a paid summer internship ($6,000 for the summer) with the Wisconsin State Journal.

Students may also obtain, in consultation with the student’s advisor, an outside internship at a media company.

Final Portfolio

Instead of writing a master’s thesis, you’ll complete your coursework by presenting a portfolio of your work to representatives from the school. You’ll assemble a portfolio of five pieces of which you are most proud from classes, independent projects, freelance work or internships — stories, blog entries, videos, audio pieces, graphics or photographs — and which are of publishable quality for any news organization. In a presentation to faculty and students, you’ll talk about your portfolio, what you learned from creating your top pieces and how you think your work has prepared you for the career you’re pursuing after graduation.

Program Timeline

  • Program proposal due end of first semester of coursework
  • Portfolio due at end of coursework, typically 3-4 semesters

Criteria for Satisfactory Progress

  • Master’s students must earn a minimum 3.25 cumulative grade point average by the end of the second semester in residence and must maintain that GPA for the duration of the degree program. Grades in courses numbered 300 and above count toward the GPA.
  • Master’s students who earn grades of incomplete must remove those grades in the semester following their occurrence. A request for a waiver of this rule may be granted in rare cases. Waiver requests should be submitted to the Journalism and Mass Communication Graduate Committee.
  • Master’s students must maintain steady progress toward completion of the degree.  Full-time master’s students can expect to spend 1.5 to 2 years earning the degree. The time to degree completion varies for part-time students.
  • Master’s students must satisfy all Graduate School degree requirements.

The Journalism and Mass Communication Graduate Committee constitutes the review board for the M.A. degree. The review board is charged with final decisions regarding satisfactory progress. A review is made of each student’s progress at the end of each semester and, in cases where student performance has not met satisfactory progress criteria, a letter is sent to the student and faculty advisor. Students who receive this letter have a maximum of four weeks to provide a written response concerning any special reasons or circumstances relevant to their failure to meet the satisfactory progress criteria. The review board will examine all cases involving lack of satisfactory progress to determine appropriate action. A finding of unsatisfactory progress by the review board may be grounds for a one-semester probation, suspension of funding (if applicable) or dismissal from the graduate program, at the review board’s discretion.

Please review the M.A. Handbook for specific policies and procedures.