Jul 19, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2024-2025 
USC Catalogue 2024-2025

Cinema and Media Studies (PhD)

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Cinema and Media Studies is administered through the Graduate School. The PhD program is tailored to the individual student’s particular needs and interests. The overall course of study will be designed by the student, the student’s designated adviser and, following the screening procedure, the student’s qualifying exam committee chair (see Screening Procedure under Media Production and Practice Courses).

Degree Requirements

Each PhD candidate must complete 68 units beyond the bachelor’s degree, 43 of which must be at the 500 level or higher. (Up to 30 units may be transferred from graduate work completed at other institutions.) Dissertation units are not counted toward the 68-unit total. The required units will include seven to 12 courses in cinematic arts and 8 to 16 units in the minor area. The minor will be chosen by the student in close consultation with the adviser and will be in an academic field that supports the student’s dissertation topic. Each student must complete the following course work toward the 68-unit total. 

These courses should be taken before the screening procedure.

Media Production and Practice Courses

Each candidate for the PhD must complete one of the following 4-unit courses with a grade of C or better. If the student enters the program with a master’s degree in cinematic arts and possesses production experience, the student may request a waiver of this requirement. The waiver requires passing a written examination and submission of films/videos to the production faculty for review. This course should be taken before the screening procedure.

Screening Procedure

The Graduate School requires that programs administer an examination or other procedure at a predetermined point in the student’s studies as a prerequisite to continuation in the doctoral program. This procedure is designed to review the student’s suitability for continuing in the chosen PhD program. The School of Cinematic Arts has determined that this procedure will occur no later than the end of the student’s third semester of graduate course work at USC beyond the master’s degree. The screening procedure process will include the following steps:

  1. If the faculty has determined during the admissions process that a comprehensive examination will be required as part of the screening procedure, an examination will be administered as appropriate. If the examination is passed to the faculty’s satisfaction, the student may proceed to the next step in the screening procedure process. If the student fails to pass the examination, the faculty will determine if the student will be allowed to retake the examination the following semester before proceeding to the next step in the screening procedure process.
  2. The student will be interviewed and his or her progress in the program will be reviewed by the faculty to determine if the student will be approved for additional course work. If approved to continue, a qualifying exam committee chair will be selected by the student, with the approval of the faculty, who will serve as the student’s adviser. It is strongly recommended that full-time study be pursued following the successful completion of the screening procedure.

Qualifying Exam Committee

Following a successful screening procedure, the student, in consultation with the qualifying exam committee chair and the Cinema and Media Studies faculty, will formally establish a five-member qualifying exam committee. The composition of the qualifying exam committee will be as specified by the Graduate School. For the PhD in Cinema and Media Studies, the committee is ordinarily composed of four Cinema and Media Studies faculty members and an outside member from the candidate’s minor area.

Foreign Language Requirement

The Cinema and Media Studies faculty will advise each student as to whether or not a foreign language is required. This requirement is determined by the student’s dissertation topic. The requirement must be met at least 60 days before the qualifying examination.

Dissertation Proposal Presentation

Working closely with the qualifying exam committee chair, the student will prepare to present his or her dissertation proposal to the full faculty. This will be a formal written proposal that will include a statement of the proposed topic, four fields for examination derived from the general dissertation topic area (including a field from the minor area), a detailed bibliography, and an appropriate and comprehensive screening list of film/television titles. Formal presentation of the dissertation proposal will occur no later than the end of the semester prior to taking the qualifying examinations. The qualifying exam committee must approve the dissertation topic. Once the dissertation topic has been approved, the student will complete the Request to Take the PhD Qualifying Examination form available from the program coordinator.

Qualifying Examinations

Written and oral examinations for the PhD are given twice a year, in November and April. Questions for the written portion of the examination will be drafted by members of the qualifying exam committee who will also grade the examination. The qualifying examination comprises four examinations administered one each day for four days during a five-day period.

The oral examination will be scheduled within 30 days after the written examination. All qualifying exam committee members must be present for the oral portion of the qualifying examination.

Admission to Candidacy

A student is eligible for admission to candidacy for the PhD degree after: (1) passing the screening procedure; (2) presenting the dissertation proposal and having it approved; (3) satisfying the language requirement, if applicable; (4) completing at least 24 units in residence; and (5) passing the written and oral portions of the qualifying examination. Admission to candidacy is by action of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committee is composed as specified by regulations of the Graduate School. A dissertation based on original investigation and showing technical mastery of a special field, capacity for research and scholarly ability must be submitted.


CTCS 794

Registration for dissertation units, CTCS 794a  and CTCS 794b , in the two semesters following admission to candidacy is the minimum requirement. These units cannot be applied toward the required 68 unit total. The student must register for CTCS 794a , CTCS 794b , CTCS 794c , CTCS 794d , CTCS 794z  each semester after admission to candidacy until the degree requirements are completed. No more than 8 units of credit can be earned in CTCS 794a , CTCS 794b , CTCS 794c , CTCS 794d , CTCS 794z .

Defense of Dissertation

An oral defense of the dissertation is required of each PhD candidate. The dissertation committee will decide whether the examination is to take place after completion of the preliminary draft or the final draft of the dissertation. The oral defense must be passed at least one week before graduation.


The following policies apply to each student admitted to the PhD program.

Residency Requirements

At least one year of full-time graduate study (24 units excluding registration for CTCS 794a , CTCS 794b , CTCS 794c , CTCS 794d , CTCS 794z ) must be completed in residence on the main USC campus. The residency requirement may not be interrupted by study elsewhere. Residency must be completed prior to the qualifying examination.

Grade Point Average

An overall GPA of 3.0 is required for all graduate work. Courses in which a grade of C- (1.7) or lower is earned will not apply toward a graduate degree.

Leaves of Absence

A leave of absence may be granted under exceptional circumstances by petitioning the semester before the leave is to be taken. Refer to “Leave of Absence” in the Graduate and Professional Education section.

Changes of Committee

Changes in either the qualifying exam or dissertation committee must be requested on a form available from the Graduate School Website.

Completion of All Requirements

Everything involved in approving the dissertation must be completed at least one week before graduation. Approval by the dissertation committee, the Office of Academic Records and Registrar, and the thesis editor must be reported and submitted to the Graduate School by the date of graduation.

Time Limits

The maximum time limit for completing all requirements for the PhD degree is eight years from the first course at USC applied toward the degree. Students who have completed an applicable master’s degree at USC or elsewhere within five years from the proposed enrollment in a PhD program must complete the PhD in six years. Extension of these time limits will be made only for compelling reasons upon petition by the student. When petitions are granted, students will be required to make additional CTCS 794a , CTCS 794b , CTCS 794c , CTCS 794d , CTCS 794z  registrations. Course work more than 10 years old is automatically invalidated and cannot be applied toward the degree.