Jun 21, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 
USC Catalogue 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

American Studies and Ethnicity (PhD)

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Master of Arts

The department does not accept applicants for a Master of Arts degree. All graduate work in American Studies and Ethnicity at USC is taken as part of a PhD program, and the MA in American Studies and Ethnicity is intended only as a transitional degree in the process of completing requirements for the PhD, although in some cases students may be invited to attempt a terminal MA

After completing at least 30 units, taking AMST 500 and at least one research seminar, maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0, making successful academic progress and taking the qualifying exam, students will either be granted a transitional master’s degree and continue on towards the PhD or be granted a terminal master’s degree.

Doctor of Philosophy in American Studies and Ethnicity

Application deadline: December 1

Students may earn the PhD in American Studies and Ethnicity by successfully completing the following requirements.

Total Units Required

The student’s course work must total at least 64 units. No more than 8 units of 794 Doctoral Dissertation and no more than 4 units of 790 Research may count toward the 64 units.

Course Requirements

AMST 500 Introduction to American Studies and Ethnicity   is required of all doctoral students, and it is highly recommended that students complete this course in the first year of residence. Two 600-level graduate seminars are required for the degree, with at least one of these being an interdisciplinary seminar offered by American Studies and Ethnicity. The second 600-level course must be approved by the director of graduate studies.

Foreign Language Requirement

PhD students are required to demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language. This requirement must be met before a student is eligible to take the qualifying examination. Competency may be demonstrated by completing a course in the literature of that language at the 400 or 500 level (with a grade of B [3.0] or better), or by passing a foreign language exam that tests proficiency in reading comprehension and translation.

Methods Requirement

Students are required to show competency in two theoretical methodologies from a list approved by the American Studies and Ethnicity department. In most cases, competency is established by successfully completing one course concentrating in a specific method offered by a department or school, although more advanced courses in that method may be suggested by a qualifying exam committee. The following methodologies fulfill the methods requirement: literary/textual analysis; historical/archival analysis; ethnography; cultural/visual analysis; spatial practices and analysis; and, quantitative analysis.

Disciplinary Requirement

The department of American Studies and Ethnicity believes that the strongest interdisciplinary research is conducted alongside a strong background in at least one disciplinary field by successfully completing at least four graduate courses in one discipline. These four courses must include at least one methodology course, one 600-level or above advanced seminar and two graduate reading courses at the 500- or 600-level. Each of these courses can also fulfill other requirements in the PhD program, particularly the methods requirement and the course requirements listed above.

Screening Procedures

The performance of every first-year doctoral student is formally assessed by the director of the program and the student’s assigned adviser at the end of the spring semester and before a student has completed 24 units toward the degree. Unsatisfactory progress toward the degree requires either remedy of the deficiencies or termination of the student’s graduate program. After successfully passing the assessment procedures, each student will be encouraged to establish a qualifying exam committee.

At the end of the second year, student progress will be evaluated and each student will formally establish the members of his or her interdisciplinary examination committee from faculty he or she has worked with during the first two years. A meeting of the director of the program, qualifying exam committee members and potential members of this examination committee will take place directly after the second year to identify remaining deficiencies in a student’s training and identify solutions before the qualifying examination process begins.

Qualifying Examination

Following completion of course work, the student must sit for a qualifying examination at a time mutually agreed upon by the student and the qualifying exam committee. Students seeking the PhD will select four fields for examination. Every student must be examined by faculty from at least two different disciplines, as well as having one outside member on his or her examination committee.

This five-person examination committee will direct the student toward his or her qualifying examination, which will consist of both written and oral parts, in the third year. Examinations are graded honors, pass, low-pass or fail. The qualifying examination has two phases: written examinations in each field followed by a single oral examination on all four fields. Students with one fail, a low-pass in their dissertation field or more than two low-pass grades will not be permitted to enter the oral phase of the examination process. The qualifying exam committee determines whether the candidate may retake any exam graded low-pass or fail.


After the qualifying examination has been passed, an interdisciplinary dissertation committee of at least three faculty members from the examination committee must approve a dissertation prospectus before full-time research commences. Only at this point is a student admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree and will thereafter concentrate on the dissertation. After students become candidates for the PhD degree, they must register for 794 Doctoral Dissertation each semester thereafter until the dissertation is completed.

The final state of the program is the submission of a dissertation that makes an original and substantial contribution to its field of study. The final copy of the dissertation must conform to the regulations of the Graduate School.


Upon entering the program, each student will be assigned an academic adviser from among the faculty closest to the student’s own academic interests. Students should seek advice on their program of studies from this academic adviser, the director of the program and the director of graduate and professional studies.

Once a student formally establishes an interdisciplinary examination committee, the chair of this committee becomes the student’s main academic adviser, along with other members of this qualifying exam committee. The committee must be in place and approved by the Graduate School at the time the student schedules a qualifying examination.

The dissertation committee becomes the student’s main advising unit after the qualifying examination, with the chair having the principal responsibility of advisement. At all stages of the student’s progress through the program, the director of the program and the director of graduate and professional studies will be available for advisement and counsel as well.

Transfer of Credit

A transfer of credit statement is prepared by the Degree Progress Department for students admitted to full graduate standing. The application of any available transfer credit is contingent on successful completion of the screening exam and is determined by the director of the program no later than the end of the second year according to the following guidelines: credit will only be allowed for courses (1) from accredited graduate schools; (2) of grade B (3.0 on a four-point scale); (3) constituting a fair and reasonable equivalent to current USC course work at the graduate level and fitting into the program for the degree; and (4) approved by the Graduate School. Graduate transfer credit will not be granted for life experience, credit by examination, noncredit extension courses, correspondence courses, thesis course supervision or creative writing courses.

The maximum number of transfer credits which may be applied toward the MA degree is four units, and a maximum of 24 units of transfer credits may be applied toward the PhD degree. The Graduate School stipulates that transfer units must have been completed within 10 years of admission for the doctoral program to be applied toward the degree.

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