Jun 17, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024

Business Administration (PhD)

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The Doctor of Philosophy program in business administration is designed to produce research-oriented graduates who, from positions in academia, can advance the state-of-the-art of business practice and enhance the contributions that business can make to the larger community. These goals can be advanced through research contributions in theory, concepts, methods and practices, and contributions to the education of the next generation of business leaders. USC Marshall offers the PhD in Business Administration in the following five departments: Accounting, Finance and Business Economics, Data Sciences and Operations, Management and Organization, and Marketing.

All students admitted to the Marshall PhD degree program are supported by graduate assistantships or fellowships that require a full-time commitment to the program. No part-time or evening programs are available. PhD students begin their program in early August and are expected to be in residence 12 months each year throughout the program. Until the time the student is granted permission to take the qualifying examination, successful completion of at least six units per consecutive semester is required.

This degree is awarded under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Students should also refer to The Graduate School  section of this catalogue. All courses applied toward the degree must be accepted by the Graduate School and relevant to the student’s program of study. In most cases, the PhD degree takes five years to complete.


The PhD program in Business Administration welcomes applications from students with high intellectual aptitude who plan to pursue academic careers in research and teaching. Students with strong backgrounds in mathematics, psychology, the social sciences, engineering, computer science and the other sciences are encouraged to apply for admission. A master’s degree or MBA is not a requirement for entry into the PhD program; students may enter with only a bachelor’s degree. Prior academic research experience is desirable.

Students who wish to apply for admission to the PhD program should visit marshall.usc.edu/phd to obtain additional information about the PhD program and an online application. Only online applications are accepted. Students with additional questions that are not covered on the Website may contact the Marshall School PhD Program office at (213) 740-0676 or phd@marshall.usc.edu.

Applicants should secure three letters of recommendation. The PhD committee prefers that all recommendations be written by academics who are familiar with the applicant’s scholastic and research capabilities. An applicant who has been away from an academic environment for a significant period of time may substitute one academic reference with a non-academic reference. Applicants also provide transcripts, GRE or GMAT scores, TOEFL or IELTS scores (if appropriate) and a statement of purpose. Applicants are encouraged to send a statement of research experience and a research writing sample, if available.

Consideration is given to the rigor of the undergraduate and master’s curricula, academic performance, scores on the GRE or GMAT, the quality of the statement of purpose, fit with the department, the applicant’s oral and written communication skills and letters of recommendation.

Campus interviews for top applicants may be initiated by the departments. In cases where in-person interviews cannot be arranged, alternative arrangements will be made.


All admitted students receive a fellowship or graduate assistantship, full tuition, health and dental insurance and payment of mandatory student health center fee for a minimum of five years dependent on continued satisfactory academic progress. This progress is assessed by the PhD program based on students maintaining at least the minimum enrollment, a GPA of at least 3.0, and satisfactory performance in graduate assistant assignments. Teaching and teaching assistant assignments are made only after a student has passed the qualifying examination. For research assistant assignments, students are engaged with a faculty member in a businessrelated, applied-learning, scholarly activity to learn the skills necessary to conduct independent research.

Degree Requirements

The Doctor of Philosophy in business administration is based on a program of study and research culminating in the completion of a dissertation in the major field of study. A minimum of 60 units of course work beyond the baccalaureate is required for the PhD degree, including research courses and a minimum of 4 units and a maximum of 8 units of  GSBA 794a Doctoral Dissertation  GSBA 794b Doctoral Dissertation  GSBA 794c Doctoral Dissertation  GSBA 794d Doctoral Dissertation  and  GSBA 794z Doctoral Dissertation . For students who already possess an advanced graduate degree, a minimum of 40 semester units of course work beyond that degree is required, of which a maximum of 4 units may be GSBA 794a Doctoral Dissertation  GSBA 794b Doctoral Dissertation  GSBA 794c Doctoral Dissertation  GSBA 794d Doctoral Dissertation  and  GSBA 794z Doctoral Dissertation . Doctoral students are subject to disqualification at any time that the Marshall School of Business determines that they are deficient in academic achievement. All students must maintain a 3.0 GPA at all times.

Screening Procedure

In addition to the papers and examinations assigned in first-year courses, a screening process will occur in May. This process will include a review of each student’s grades, an analysis of competence in written communications and reports from faculty members who have had in-class or other responsibility for the student. In most departments, a screening exam is required. The nature of the exam varies by department. Generally, a screening examination or other procedure designated by the department (Accounting, Finance and Business Economics, Data Sciences and Operations, Management and Organization, and Marketing) is to be administered before the student has taken more than 24 units (including research courses). However, the Accounting and Finance and Business Economics departments require their students to take the departmental course requirements until the end of the second year; students must take up to 36 units before the departmental screening procedure is administered. Based upon this review, the PhD committee will determine whether the student should continue in the PhD program. Students who have not performed satisfactorily will be dropped from the program. The review shall normally be completed and results communicated to students by July 1. In some cases a first-year summer project may be taken into account in determining whether a student should continue in the program.

Qualifying Exam Committee and Dissertation Committee

Students are responsible for finding a qualifying exam committee chair among the student’s home department faculty by the fall semester of the second year. The qualifying exam committee should be established within the student’s home department at least two semesters prior to taking the qualifying examination and after the student has passed the screening procedure. The qualifying exam committee comprises a minimum of five tenured, tenure-track and non-tenure track USC faculty, three of whom must be from the student’s home department. At least one faculty member from the home department must be tenured. One member must be from outside the student’s home department (within or outside of Marshall). The qualifying exam committee advises the student on courses during the first two years and oversees and grades the qualifying examination.

Within 90 days of passing the qualifying exam, the dissertation committee chair must be identified. The dissertation committee must be appointed within six months after the qualifying examination has been passed and a dissertation topic approved. The committee should be appointed at least one month before the dissertation defense. The appointment of dissertation committee form, available on the Graduate School Website, is used to establish the dissertation committee. The dissertation committee is normally composed of three members, although additional members may be included at the student’s and committee chair’s discretion. The committee chair and at least one additional member must be affiliated with the student’s home department. Faculty eligible to serve as committee members include tenured and tenure-track faculty, and nontenure track faculty of outstanding stature who have a documented record of exceptional expertise and superior achievement in a field relevant to the dissertation. At least two members of the committee should be tenured or tenure-track, including the committee chair.

The Marshall School of Business PhD program requires an outside member for both the qualifying exam committee and dissertation committee. The outside member may be a faculty member from another department within Marshall or from another school within USC. Students may also include a person from a different university as an additional member with the permission of the associate dean; however, this person cannot substitute for the required outside member.

Course Requirements

Each student must successfully complete one course in microeconomics or behavioral sciences, one course in statistics and one course in research design plus the core courses in his or her field of specialization. Advanced course work is specified by the student’s guidance committee in preparation for the qualifying examinations in the area of specialization. The areas are: accounting, data sciences and operations, finance and business economics, management and organization, and marketing.

Qualifying Examination

The examination qualifying a student for candidacy may be comprehensive in nature. It is designed to determine the student’s competence in the area of specialization.

The qualifying examination consists of two sections: written and oral. The written section must be passed before the oral section; if a student does not pass the written examination, the oral examination need not be administered.

In preparing for the qualifying examination, students form a qualifying exam committee. This committee helps the student prepare for the exam and also administers the written and oral section of the examination. See also The Graduate School  section of this catalogue.


The final phase of the program is the completion of a dissertation. The dissertation must be based on an original investigation that makes a substantive contribution to knowledge and demonstrates the student’s capacity for independent, scholarly research. The quality of the dissertation should meet the standards for publication in leading academic journals in the field.

Typically, research in business administration involves studies that advance the body of knowledge concerned with issues and solution of problems confronting managers and administrators. As a result, a dissertation will (1) develop or extend theories, techniques or models relevant to managerial problems; (2) demonstrate original applications or adaptations of existing theories, techniques or models to managerial problems in a specific area; (3) develop innovative formulations and analyses of complex managerial problems and propose creative approaches to their solution; and/or (4) employ scientific research methodology to test empirically the validity of existing theories, techniques or models and their application to specific types of managerial problems.

A dissertation committee chair shall be requested by the student and appointed by the dean of the PhD program within 90 days after the student has passed the qualifying examination. The remaining faculty on the dissertation committee shall be appointed within six months after the student has passed the qualifying exam.

The dissertation committee must consist of at least three tenured or tenure-track faculty, two of whom must be from the student’s home department. At least one faculty member from the home department must be tenured.

One member must be from outside the student’s department and the Marshall School of Business. Students may add additional faculty to the committee, especially those who might provide valuable expertise that improves the dissertation. It is important that the student select faculty members who are committed and interested in serving on the committee, since a quality dissertation requires extensive interaction with and a sizable time commitment from individual faculty members. See also the Qualifying Exam Committee and Dissertation Committee section above for further details.

Defense of the Dissertation

When the dissertation committee agrees that the candidate has essentially completed the research and a satisfactory draft of the dissertation has been written, a final oral examination is held. This examination is open to all members of the faculty of the school and the university. Final judgment of the dissertation and the oral defense is rendered by the members of the dissertation committee. The dissertation must be accepted unanimously by the dissertation committee. Further information on procedures is contained in the The Graduate School  section of this catalogue.


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