Carnegie Mellon University
B.A. in Professional Writing

Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing

Professional Writing combines liberal and professional education with a strong foundation in rhetorical studies. While based firmly in the liberal arts tradition, the major has a strong career orientation and is specifically designed to prepare students for successful careers as writers and communications specialists in a range of fields: publishing, government, journalism, law, community advocacy, the non-profit sector, education, corporate communications, finance, and the arts. The major is designed to develop articulate and reflective writing professionals with both the professional skills needed to negotiate current work contexts (including writing for the web and for multimedia) and the analytic and problem-solving skills needed to understand and keep pace with cultural and technological change.

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Professional Writing majors take the English Department core and then a cluster of advanced rhetoric, language studies, and writing courses designed to integrate theory with practice. Through special topics courses—journalism, web design, advocacy writing, document design, science writing, corporate communications, writing for multimedia—students have the opportunity to study with faculty who are practicing professionals in these fields. They also gain experience in working on client-based projects and develop a portfolio of polished writing samples that they can use in applying for internships and employment. Through courses in Rhetoric, Creative Writing, and Literary and Cultural Studies, students gain additional practice in the careful reading, writing, and analysis of literary and non-fictional texts and important insights into how texts function in their historical and contemporary contexts.


While the major appeals to students with strong professional interests, elective requirements encourage writers to develop the broad intellectual background one expects from a university education. In choosing their elective courses beyond Department requirements, Professional Writing majors are encouraged to explore courses from across the university, keeping in mind the very important point that to be effective, writers must have both strong writing skills and in-depth knowledge of their subjects.

While there is no formal requirement for these elective courses, students are encouraged to think about what courses will complement their interest in Professional Writing. Students interested in journalism, for example, are encouraged to take courses in history and political science, while those interested in writing for health-related fields are pointed toward courses in biology, chemistry, and healthcare policy. Other possible elective areas include business, organizational behavior, graphic design, the arts, psychology, economics, modern languages, and computer programming. Because the major in Professional Writing is deliberately structured to allow a broad range of options, majors in Professional Writing should consult closely with their English Department advisors on choosing both elective and required courses and in planning for internships and summer employment. [return to top]

Professional Experience

Various opportunities for writers to gain professional experience and accumulate material for their writing portfolios are available through campus publications, department-sponsored internships for academic credit, and writing-related employment on and off campus. Professional Writing majors frequently write for The Tartan, the student-run campus weekly newspaper, and have served as editor-in-chief, section editors, and reporters. Professional Writing majors can also serve on the editorial staff of The Oakland Review, a Carnegie Mellon journal that publishes work by undergraduate writers from across the US. These publications provide opportunities for students to publish their own written work and to gain experience in skills ranging from editing, to layout, to production, to selling ads or managing business affairs. Students can also write for the faculty and staff newspaper, Focus, under the guidance of the editor, or take a course in editing and publishing with the Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Additionally, the English Department offers student awards in Professional Writing each year. The awards are judged by professionals outside the university and include the Pauline Adamson Awards in non-fiction, The Alan and Gloria Siegel Awards in Professional Writing, and the Dawe Memorial Award to encourage creativity and innovation in publishing. [return to top]

Internships and Senior Project/Thesis

Professional Writing majors who maintain a B average in their English courses have the option of taking writing internships for academic credit during their junior or senior year. Available internships in advertising, newspaper and magazine writing, medical communication, publishing, technical writing, finance, public service organizations, web design, and public relations illustrate both internship possibilities and the kinds of employment that Professional Writing majors have taken after graduation. In addition to providing approximately 120 hours of professional experience, these internships help students establish contacts outside the University and add professional publications to their portfolios. Recent internships have included organizations such as the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Pittsburgh Mediation Center, WQED Magazine, KDKA Television, Pittsburgh Children's Museum, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Creative Non-Fiction (a professional journal), the Heinz Family Foundation, and the Silver Eye Photography Studio.

Seniors also have the opportunity to complete a Senior Project or Honors Thesis in Rhetoric or Professional Writing under the direction of a faculty member. Ideas and guidance for choosing internships, courses, summer employment, and possible career paths are provided through a 3-unit course, 76-300 Professional Seminar, which meets once a week during the fall term and provides majors with the opportunity to meet and network with practicing professionals in a range of communications fields. [return to top]