PhD – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Make sure to also review the Graduate Application FAQ which covers questions that apply to both PhD and master’s applicants.

You are encouraged to contact faculty prior to applying for admission. However, please make sure that you take the time to familiarize yourself with their latest research. Generic emails to faculty are generally ignored.

To help find faculty members/ research that are a good match for your interests, check out the Research and People links on the academic department webpages, and the Faculty Research Topic Database.

USC tries to fully fund all of its doctoral students. This general consists of tuition, a stipend for living expenses, and a health benefits package.

Admitted students receive information on the funding offer before they have to submit the Statement of Intent.

No, you will not be automatically considered for the master’s program if you are not admitted to the PhD program. To also be considered for the MS program, you will need to add it a a second program in your online graduate application.

Follow the Application Fee Waiver Instructions for Information on how to do this with one application fee.

PLEASE NOTE: Applications submitted for multiple Viterbi School programs without a valid waiver will be charged for each additional program and no refunds will be given.

It is possible to receive an MS degree on the way to completing a PhD program. However, it is not automatic. Students must contact the department PhD advisor (not the faculty dissertation advisor) to initiate this process.
1) 60 units are required for the completion of a PhD program. Students may transfer up to 30 units of applicable master’s coursework into the program upon departmental approval.

2) A cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

3) Successfully completion the department screening procedure. This usually consists of a written and an oral examination administered by the faculty.

4) Successful passing of the Qualifying Examination, which is intended to determine the extent of the student’s knowledge in basic science and engineering areas, as well as the ability to do original and scholarly research. The qualifying exam committee decides the nature of the qualifying examinations (both oral and written portions) according to the policies applicable in each department.

5) Successful completion of an acceptable dissertation based on original investigation and supervised directly by the dissertation committee. The dissertation must show mastery of a special field, capacity for independent research, and a scholarly result.

6) Successful completion of a Dissertation Defense. This is a general final oral examination devoted to the major field and to the topic of the dissertation. The examination is conducted in such a manner as to determine to the satisfaction of the dissertation committee that the candidate has attained the stage of scholarly advancement and power of investigation demanded by the university for final recommendation to the doctorate.

Note: Individual academic departments may have other requirements.

Most PhD candidates complete the program in 5-6 years.