Carnegie Mellon University

When you are looking at the top Rhetoric programs in the country, finding the best program is often a matter of finding the best personal fit for your and your aspirations. So to help you make the best decision for you, we asked our recent M.A.s:

  • Why did you decide to come to CMU?
  • What did you actually find when you got here?
  • And what does it take to be successful at CMU?

This sample can't capture the diversity of people or the reasons they choose a Rhetoric M.A., but these students offer some good insight into what mattered.

For more information, read the complete MA FAQs [.pdf].

The Top Ten Reasons

  1. It is a one-year program.
  2. No teaching or thesis requirement—students can focus on coursework/research.
  3. CMU offers a partial tuition scholarship for the M.A.
  4. This program offers a multi-disciplinary focus on "Rhetoric" (vs. "rhetoric and composition," "professional communication," etc.).
  5. Its different approaches are a good prep for a PhD—for exploring options and finding your own path.
  6. Its diversity offers a real "tool kit" for many different careers.
  7. Its faculty were names I had heard of or read in undergraduate courses. 
  8. People reached out to me. Cared about my interests.
  9. The prestige of the University—CMU's name opens doors. 
  10. Pittsburgh—it's walkable, bikeable, green. A big city—but has a 'small-town vibe.'

Many entering students didn't get to take rhetoric courses as an undergraduate. They tell us, "my conception of Rhetoric as a discipline was a little vague." So they are often surprised to discover all the different ways people at CMU do rhetoric.  For example:

Theory, Methods, Explore


"There's a unifying thread [in the department] in that they're all studying language and how it's used, but also, you have a person doing environmental rhetoric, a person doing science, a person doing war."


Many students found things that rather surprised them: rhetoric is "action-oriented, interested in social change"; rhetoric lets you focus on the "art" of persuasion compared to some other kinds of writing: "it is artistically and intellectually stimulating"; rhetoric is about how to "direct a dialogue"; "avoiding the easy answers"; "projects you are passionate about."

Some expectations got scuttled—including ones about student/professor relationships.

"One of the rumors I heard when applying to grad schools is that Master's students basically get the short end of the stick in terms of communicating with professors and getting their time. . . .  That was the expectation I was coming in with, and I don't think it's really held up. I'm on good terms with folks in the Ph.D. program, our lounge is nicer than theirs (*laughs*), the folks on the administrative end are super friendly and always willing to help, and I've never had trouble making an appointment [with a faculty member]. I've talked more with my professors in the past two months [in the M.A. program] than I did through three and a half years at [my undergraduate alma mater]."

"Everybody's talking to everybody else, it seems. I don't feel limited in the areas I'm allowed to explore . . . For example, I feel like I could approach – and I'm actually planning on approaching – someone in the LTI (Language Technology Institute) for help with a rhetoric project."

"In [my past experience as an international student], the relationship between student and professor is not as close [as it is at CMU]. We don't get to talk to the professors much [back home]. But here, professors give immediate feedback, and that's very helpful.

It's not all roses.

"The transit system is okay, but not nearly as good as in Japan.  And it's cold."  For all the support, another said: "the volume of work was still a big shock."  Or, "I came thinking I wanted to do a Ph.D., and that has completely changed [good]. And people were willing to meet me halfway and hold my hand developing my corporate career interests [also good]. So [the challenge is] you have to make that extra effort to make the material click for you."

People seem to agree: it starts with open-mindedness—and depends on self-motivation and determination.

"Naming that quality? . . . maybe intellectual curiosity . . . an awareness that I didn't know a lot about [rhetoric], and a willingness to dive in without acting like I already know what it is or what I want to research."

"From what I've observed, the people who do well become aware of what they don't know . . . they're willing to explore some different things, different styles. I think it's an advantage that our faculty have a lot of different styles—you can try some of those out. It's a good to have some ideas of what you want to research . . . but one of the advantages of this program is that you can actually explore a few and figure out what it is that you want to do."

"To get a lot out of the program, you want to take advantage of multiple opportunities and try to explore what rhetoric is in a lot of different ways."

Successful students, they tell us, have the ability to establish relationships with faculty and other students quickly, to take criticism, and to seek out help when they need it. They have the drive (and develop the ability) to formulate a path and execute a research agenda. And in this community-oriented department, they reach out to faculty, rely on Ph.D. students, and find the people they can network with.


So here is just a sample of the range of issues students were raising and theories they were engaging in papers they wrote in their M.A. courses.

  • Mythologizing the Past: Folklore and the Role of Truth in Identity-Constituting Narratives. J.M.
  • What's that?: Definition, Narrative, and Disability. M.G. 
  • Representing the Culprit in Greenpeace: The Role of Identification in Campaign Design. A.M. 
  • Habitual Shamming or Pedagogical Technique? A Rhetorical History of Socratic Irony. C.C.
  • Deconstructing the Urban Frontier: An Analysis of the Role of Media Discourse in the Revitalization of Braddock, PA.  A.T.
  • How Websites Participate In Identity Construction: The Case Of Facebook's User Interface Design Changes. W.P.
  • Looking @ Live Chat: The Value of Challenge and Debate for eDemocracy. C.W. 
  • Picturing Prisms: The Visual Rhetoric of Newton's Opticks. C.C. 
  • Argumentative Aspects Of The Creation And Deployment Of Scientific Terminology. W.P.
  • Disability Identity in Legal Discourse: Rowley Revisited Again. M.G.
  • Creating Presence in Verbal/Visual Argumentation: An Analysis of the "My American Story" Public Service Announcements. A.T.
  • Escaping the Deductive Cage: the Development of the Modern Sentence and Paragraph. C.C. 
  • Is Literacy Liberating?: A Critical Inquiry. M.G.
  • Leading a Sinking Ship: Rhetorical Leadership in Crisis Situations. J.M.
  • Jovenes sin Nombres: A Study of the Activities of a Counterpublic. D.T. 
  • Performing "Service": An Inquiry into the Literacy Practices of Restaurant Servers. E.F.
  • "I think you could use a gay dad": A Multi-Voiced Inquiry into the Practice of HIV Rapid Testing. R.M.
  • Medical Discourses in Public: An Intertextual Analysis of the Role of the Medical Model of Disability in a Public Forum. E.F.
  • Constructing Global Community through Appeals to Sympathy: A Multimodal Analysis Of The Role Of Pathos In The Rhetoric Of The Humanitarian NGO, Every Mother Counts. A.T.  
  • Rogue Dialogue in a Setting that Discourages Dialogue.  S.C. 
  • Dangerous Discourses: Cognitive Metaphor and the Negotiation of HIV Stigma in the Gay Community. R.M.
  • Finding Common Ground over Cultural Cuisine: An Inquiry into the Potential for Negotiated Meaning Making in Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen. A.T.
  • City and Symbol: Pittsburgh's Civic Arena. J.M.