Jul 18, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Requirements for Graduation

Return to: Graduate and Professional Education  

Catalogue Regulations, Policies and Procedures

In addition to degree requirements outlined below, undergraduate and graduate students are also subject to current catalogue regulations, policies and procedures. Examples include, but are not limited to, the policies on the grades of incomplete (IN), missing grade (MG) and continuous enrollment for graduate students. Unlike degree requirements, changes in regulations, policies and procedures are immediate and supersede those in any prior catalogue.

Graduation Date

A student will be awarded the graduation date for the term in which degree requirements, including submission of supporting documents, have been met. Although course work may have been completed in a prior term, the degree will be awarded only for the term for which all academic and administrative requirements have been fulfilled. Application for the degree is a requirement for all graduate degrees. Students wishing to change the degree date from that indicated on the STARS Report may do so under Other Services in usc.edu/OASIS. Degrees are not awarded retroactively.

Discontinued Degree Programs

Students pursuing major programs that the university discontinues will be allowed to complete them within a specified time limit. The time limit will be specified at the point of discontinuance of a major program and begins at that point. It is determined according to the student’s progress toward degree completion and will not exceed five years for any student.

Closed Record

The academic record of a student who has completed the program of study or ceased attendance is considered closed. Once a student’s record is closed, no further additions or changes may be made. This includes, but is not limited to, such things as registering in additional course work, resolution of marks of incomplete (IN), missing grade (MG), etc.

Degree Requirements

All graduate students must meet both university degree requirements and those degree requirements specific to their program of study to receive an advanced degree. University degree requirements consist of grade point averages, unit, residence and time limit requirements. Degree requirements specific to a student’s program of study consist of course, examination and research requirements. University degree requirements and degree requirements specific to the program of study are collectively defined as degree requirements. Graduate students may elect to follow (a) the degree requirements in the catalogue current for the semester of their admission to the degree program or (b) degree requirements in subsequent catalogues as long as they are continuously enrolled (see Continuous Enrollment). However, they may not mix catalogues. Graduate students who discontinue their enrollment without a leave of absence approved by the dean of the degree program (see Leave of Absence) will be subject to the degree requirements in effect for the semester of their readmission to the program. Students requesting exceptions to the catalogue year should petition the dean of the degree program.

Time Limit for Degree Completion

Students must maintain satisfactory progress toward their stated degree objective at all times. Progress is measured from the beginning of the first course at USC applied toward a specified degree, and all requirements for that degree must be completed within a specified time. The maximum time limit allowed for each degree is considerably greater than what is needed to complete all requirements. Departments may set more stringent time limits than those specified in this section.

The time limit for completing the master’s degree is five years. The time limit for completing the doctoral degree is eight years. For students who earned an applicable master’s degree within five years prior to admission to the doctoral program, the time limit for completing the doctoral degree is six years from the date of admission to the doctoral program. An academic department or program may grant an extension of one semester at a time, up to a maximum of two years. For PhD students all extensions must also have the approval of the dean of the degree program.

In unusual cases, a student’s committee and the department chair or program director may petition the Graduate School for further extensions.

Students who have exceeded the time limit for completing their degree program will not be permitted any further registrations. If granted an extension of time, the dean of the degree-conferring unit will permit registration for the specified period of extension. Approved leaves of absence (up to a total of two years or four semesters) are not counted in the time allowed for completion of degree requirements.

The time limits apply unless otherwise designated by the faculty and previously approved by the University Committee on Curriculum for a particular degree program.

Progressive Degree Programs

Applicants for a progressive degree program will have completed at least 64 total units of undergraduate course work, excluding AP, IB or transfer units earned prior to graduation from high school. Applicants may apply in their junior (recommended) or senior year but no later than the semester prior to beginning graduate course work. Applicants do not have to submit GRE scores but are expected to have at least a 3.0 GPA at the time of application.

The Application for Admission to a Progressive Master’s Program must be approved by the authorized signers of the bachelor’s and the master’s degree-granting schools at USC and submitted to the Degree Progress Department. Refer to the Progressive Degree website for information about how to apply.

Progressive degree program students must fulfill all the requirements for both the bachelor’s degree and the master’s degree. The total number of units for the master’s degree, however, may be reduced by a maximum of one-third. A minimum of two-thirds of the units required for the master’s degree must be at or above the 500 level. Students will be subject to undergraduate academic progress standards while in undergraduate status and master’s academic progress standards while in graduate status. The degrees may be awarded separately, but the master’s degree will not be awarded before the undergraduate degree. The time limit for completing a progressive degree program is 12 semesters.

Financial aid eligibility differs for students in progressive degree programs. Please visit Financial Aid for Enrollment in a Progressive Degree Program for more details.

Additional information about specific progressive degree programs is listed in the corresponding school section.

Dual Degree Programs

Dual degree programs offer graduate students the opportunity to concurrently complete requirements for two degrees. Students enrolled in dual degree programs must complete all requirements for the dual degree program and then will be awarded both diplomas at the same time. The academic units that offer these programs frequently adjust the requirements for each degree to take into account the correlations between required course work. Students who have completed all the requirements for one of the degree programs and who decide to withdraw from the dual degree program may receive the appropriate single diploma. Students who have withdrawn from the dual degree program to receive the appropriate single diploma and later decide to complete the second degree must apply for admission, be admitted and then fulfill all requirements for the second degree. Detailed information regarding dual degree programs is listed in the appropriate school section.

Grade Point Average Requirement

At no time should the overall GPA drop below 3.0. A minimum grade of C (2.0) is required in a course to receive graduate credit. Work graded C- or below is not acceptable for subject or unit credit toward any master’s or doctoral program. An overall grade point average of at least 3.0 on all units attempted at USC while a graduate student is required for graduation, whether or not all such units are applied toward the degree. In some cases, the University Committee on Curriculum has approved different GPA requirements for professional schools. The university will not deviate from policies governing the calculation of the grade point average through inclusion or exclusion of course work.

Unit Requirement

The course of study for the master’s degree must include at least 24 units in required and elective courses. In addition, students in a program requiring a thesis must register for 4 units of 594ab Master’s Thesis. The minimum unit requirement for a master’s degree is established at the time the program is approved and may not be waived. At least 20 of these units must be completed at USC. The minimum number of units for a doctoral degree is 60, at least 24 of which (exclusive of Doctoral Dissertation 794) must be completed at USC. In addition, at least one-half of the total number of units applied toward a graduate degree must be completed at USC. The minimum number of units for a doctoral degree with Advanced Standing upon entrance is 36. No exceptions are allowed.

A department or school that has a graduate program approved by the university requiring a higher minimum may not waive that requirement. The unit requirement for a dual degree program is established at the time the program is approved by the university and may not be waived.

Regardless of the number of units specified in the university catalogue as required for a graduate degree, at least two-thirds of the units applied toward the degree (including transfer work and not including 594 or 794) must be at the 500 level or higher. Students with Advanced Standing in doctoral programs may not apply additional 400-level course work toward that degree; individual exceptions will not be allowed. Some degree programs, where designated by the faculty and approved by the University Committee on Curriculum, permit a higher maximum number of 400-level units.

Unit credit indicates the number of semester units earned in the course; these units may or may not be applicable to the degree. Degree credit indicates the units are applicable to the degree.

Residence Requirements

A minimum of 20 graduate units of USC course work is required for the master’s degree; 24 units for the doctoral degree.

Each degree-conferring unit may establish a school residence policy. School residence requirements as presented in the USC Catalogue are approved by the University Committee on Curriculum and are to be interpreted consistent with university policies on continuous enrollment, leaves of absence, transfer of credit and time limits for completion of graduate degrees. Individual exceptions must be approved by the Vice Provost for Academic Programs.

Pass/No Pass Graded Work

Graduate students may elect to enroll in courses on a pass/no pass basis with department or program approval. Course work taken on a pass/no pass basis cannot be applied toward a graduate degree. If a student later requires the course for a degree program (because of a change in degree objective or a decision to obtain an additional degree), the degree-granting unit can decide to allow subject credit for the course and require a substitute course for the unit credit. Individual departments may have placed further restrictions on whether a course taken on a pass/no pass basis can be used to fulfill specific requirements.

All students should consult their academic advisers before enrolling in any course on a pass/no pass basis.

Substitution of Course Requirements

Students admitted to graduate degree programs are expected to complete the degree requirements listed in the USC Catalogue. A maximum of 25 percent of the stated degree course requirements (exclusive of 594 Master’s Thesis and 794 Doctoral Dissertation) may be approved for waiver or substitution by other USC course work, directed research or transfer course work. Substitution of courses with the same prefix are exempted from this limit, as are transfer courses in the same discipline and graduate degree programs with three or fewer specified required courses as part of the entire degree program.

Individual academic programs/departments may approve substitutions and waivers within this limit for their programs. In rare instances, the program or department can request approval of additional substitutions from the dean of the degree program. Waivers or substitutions of over 25 percent should be very rare and will be periodically reviewed by the Vice Provost for Academic Programs.

Programs establishing a lower maximum substitution limit may waive their own policy by approval of the dean of the academic school. Waiver or substitution of course requirements does not reduce the minimum number of units required for the degree.

Second Master’s Degree

A “second master’s degree” is any master’s degree pursued after a first master’s degree is earned at USC. The maximum number of units that may be applied toward the second master’s degree for course work taken from a first master’s degree at USC is no more than 25 percent of the minimum units required for the program. Second master’s degrees are not allowed in the same program of study for students who earned their first master’s degree at USC.

For students who earned their first master’s degree at another institution, no course work may be repeated from the first program of study and no unit credit from the first program of study may be counted toward the second master’s degree. Subject credit could be awarded if approved through a petition process to the dean of the degree program. Program exceptions require approval of the University Committee on Curriculum and are listed in the departmental sections of this catalogue. No individual exceptions are allowed.

Enrollment Status

To be considered full time, a master’s level student must be enrolled in a minimum of 8 units of 400- and 500-level course work, and a doctoral level student must be enrolled in a minimum of 6 units of 500-level and above course work. All graduate assistants are classified as full-time students during the semester(s) of their appointments as long as they are enrolled for the minimum units required for their assistantship. In order to make normal progress toward the timely completion of course work for a graduate degree, most students will be enrolled for 12 units; 16 units will constitute a maximum load. Students wishing to carry more than 16 units must have prior permission from the degree-conferring unit; such permission will be granted only in exceptional circumstances.

A student who has completed all course work for the master’s degree will be considered full time when properly enrolled in either 594 Master’s Thesis or GRSC 810 Studies for Master’s Examination .

A student who has completed all course work for the doctoral degree (except dissertation registration) will be considered full time during the semester in which the student is preparing for the doctoral qualifying examination, provided the Appointment or Change of Qualifying Exam or Dissertation Committee form has been submitted and approved for that semester and the student is enrolled in the course GRSC 800a  GRSC 800b  GRSC 800z  Studies for the Qualifying Examination. Students should not enroll in more than two semesters of GRSC 800a  GRSC 800b . Students who need an additional semester — GRSC 800z  — will receive a warning letter that includes clear conditions for continuation in the program, including benchmarks and deadlines. If these conditions are not met, the student may be dismissed. Doctoral students who have been advanced to candidacy, that is, who have completed all course work and have passed the qualifying examination, will be considered full time when properly enrolled in 794 Doctoral Dissertation. In addition to GRSC 800a  GRSC 800b  GRSC 800z  /GRSC 810  and 594 Master’s Thesis and 794 Doctoral Dissertation, there are several other courses and programs as determined by the Registrar of Academic Records and Registrar for which enrollment confers full-time status. Students should consult their academic unit for this information.

International students on student visas must be enrolled as full-time students or must receive authorization from the Office of International Services to enroll in fewer than the minimum units. Such students are not eligible to be considered students without formal registration and are in violation of immigration laws when not properly enrolled. Any international student having questions about his or her registration should consult the Office for International Services.

Continuous Enrollment

Students are considered to be pursuing advanced degrees only when they are formally enrolled. Students admitted to a graduate degree objective are required to be enrolled at USC for fall and spring semesters each year until all degree requirements have been satisfactorily completed within the time limit. Enrollment in graduate-level course work is necessary to meet this requirement. Graduate students who fail to register are no longer considered to be enrolled in a graduate degree program. After an unauthorized absence, formal readmission is required. Students who have been granted a leave of absence do not need to apply for readmission following the approved leave. Where appropriate to the design of a given academic program, the faculty of the program may obtain the permission of the University Committee on Curriculum for a different definition of continuous enrollment.

A master’s candidate who is writing a thesis and has completed all course work for the degree must enroll in the appropriate thesis registration until the thesis has been approved. A doctoral candidate who has passed the qualifying examination must enroll each fall and spring semester in 794 Doctoral Dissertation until the dissertation has been approved. It is expected that students will enroll in no more than eight semesters of 794 Doctoral Dissertation. Please note that some courses with no academic credit require payment of tuition. Most classes with course numbers ending in z (e.g., 594z and 794z) require payment of 2 units of tuition.

Exceptions to continuous enrollment are subject to policies governing leaves of absence and readmission.

Leave of Absence

Interruptions of enrollment can cause problems in the continuity of course work within a student’s graduate program and, therefore, leaves of absence are generally discouraged.

A student in good standing and making satisfactory progress toward a degree who must interrupt studies for compelling reasons may petition for a leave for a stated period, usually one semester. Students with serious medical conditions should consult the Medical Leave policy, which is not the same as a general leave of absence. Students who find it necessary to be excused from registration must request a leave of absence by the last day to drop or add courses. The request should include a plan for academic progress upon return. A leave must be requested before the drop-add deadline and approved by the dean of the degree program, the committee chair and the department chair or program director, if applicable. During the period of leave, a student is not entitled to assistance from the faculty or use of university facilities. If granted, the leave is recorded on the student’s transcript and the period of leave is not counted in the time allowed for the completion of degree requirements. Within the degree time limit, a leave of absence may be allowed for one semester at a time, up to a maximum of four semesters. A student who does not return to enrolled status at the end of an approved period of leave is no longer considered to be pursuing an advanced degree. Students who fail to apply for a leave of absence or for whom a leave has been denied (or has expired) are subject to policies governing continuous enrollment and readmission.

Financial aid recipients considering a leave of absence should be aware of the financial aid implications. For more information, refer to the Withdrawal Implications for Recipients of Financial Aid section in Financial Aid for Graduate Students .


A student who leaves the university without obtaining a formal leave of absence from graduate study is not automatically readmitted. A student wishing to apply for readmission to a graduate degree program must first get the recommendation of the department chair or program director and submit an Application for Readmission to the dean of the degree program. However, if the cumulative GPA is below 3.0, or if readmission is sought after more than two years of an unapproved absence, the Application for Readmission must be sent to the Graduate School for approval. The readmission approval process must be completed by the first day of classes for the term in which resumption of graduate studies is sought. Approvals are to be based on the academic merits of the student’s request and the likelihood of academic success and completion of the degree. If readmitted, the student will be subject to all of the current University Catalogue requirements for the degree in effect at the time of readmission. Individual exceptions to the Catalogue year require the approval of the dean of the degree program. Students seeking readmission after an absence of more than 10 years may be required to re-apply to the university.

A student may not be readmitted into a program of study that has been terminated. The student must either be subject to retroactive enrollment or admission to the new program of study with the corresponding catalogue requirements.

Comprehensive and Qualifying Examinations

In graduate degree programs that require a comprehensive examination and for all doctoral qualifying examinations, a student who fails the examination may be permitted, at the discretion of the faculty, to take it a second time. For time limits on retaking the comprehensive examinations, consult The Graduate School  section of the Catalogue.

Requests for exception must be approved by the Graduate School.

A student may not take the comprehensive or qualifying examination more than twice and must be appropriately enrolled at USC during the semester in which any such examination is taken or retaken. A student who fails the comprehensive or qualifying examination a second time may not continue in the degree program after the end of the semester in which the second examination was taken. No exceptions are allowed.

Application for Graduate Degrees

Application for the degree is required for all graduate degrees. Application for the master’s degree should be made in the student’s academic unit in the semester preceding the one in which the student hopes to graduate and prior to enrolling in 594a. Application for the PhD should be made when the student has passed the qualifying exam and been admitted to candidacy. At least one semester prior to expected graduation, the student must contact his or her academic adviser and have the application submitted online. When the application is received by the Degree Progress office, a STARS report will be issued to the student. The degree cannot be conferred if no application has been submitted.

Theses and Dissertations

See the Theses and Dissertation section in The Graduate School  section.