Graduate Degrees

Ph. D. Degree

USC Earth Sciences offers a 5-year, fully funded Ph.D. program. Support includes tuition and a yearly stipend funded by a combination of research assistantship (RA), teaching assistantship (TA), and, in some cases, fellowships. The number of students accepted in any one year depends on the number of qualified applicants, available space in the department, and acceptance for advisement by one or more professors.

Ph. D. Requirements

  • 40 units for students who have earned a masters degree. No more than 4 of these units may be earned in 794 Doctoral Dissertation.*
  • 60 units for students who have not earned a masters degree, including a maximum of 8 units of 794 Doctoral Dissertation.*

    *The guidance committee may require additional course work to ensure sufficient background in the students area of specialization.
  • Two-thirds of total units (minimum) must be 500 level or higher.
  • GPA - Although the official minimum GPA for all graduate work attempted at USC is 3.0, the department does not consider a doctoral candidate in good standing unless the graduate GPA is considerably higher than the minimum (approximately 3.25 or above in graduate courses taken within the department).
  • Screening before the 25th unit - Screening consists of a review of the students progress and is usually done by the chair following a written recommendation by the students advisor(s).
  • Committee formation - The doctoral guidance committee is formed after the student has passed the screening procedure. The committee is appointed by the department with the advice of the students research advisor. The five-member committee consists of the advisor, a minimum of three other members from the Department of Earth Sciences, and one from outside the department.
  • Qualifying Examination - This examination consists of two parts: written and oral. The written exam, which precedes the oral, includes questions submitted by committee members on cur-rent geological problems and theory. The oral portion of the exam consists of the defense of two propositions written by the candidate prior to the oral exam. In addition, general questions are posed to test the students breadth of scientific and earth science background. The students performance is evaluated by the guidance committee, with a pass based on not more than one negative vote or abstention.
  • Dissertation and Defense - When the candidate has passed the qualifying examination, a dissertation committee replaces the guidance committee. The former is appointed by the advisor and guidance committee in conjunction with the student. The dissertation committee administers the final defense of the dissertation, which takes place after the dissertation is substantially complete, and upon unanimous approval by the dissertation committee. It is conducted in the form of an open departmental seminar, but is evaluated by the dissertation committee alone.

M.S. Degree

The Department of Earth Sciences also offers a Master of Science degree, but funding is offered for M.S. degrees only when completed en route to the pursuit of a Ph.D.

M.S. Requirements (also applicable to the Progressive Degree Program)*

  • 24 units of course work plus at least four thesis units
  • 16 units (minimum) must be 500 level or higher
  • 8 units (maximum) can be 590 Directed Research
  • 4 units (maximum) may be transferred from an accredited graduate school
  • GPA - Students are required to have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 (A = 4.0) in all graduate work.
  • Seminar attendance - Students are also required to attend a series of departmental seminars.
  • Thesis - Students should arrange for the appointment of a thesis advisor and committee after the first semester, or, at the latest, after the first year of graduate work. The thesis committee should consist of the advisor plus two other faculty members, all of whom are generally selected from the department faculty. Once the committee is arranged, the student may make formal application to the Graduate School for the M.S. degree.

* Funding is offered for M.S. degrees only when completed en route to the pursuit of a Ph.D. degree.


  • Zumberge Hall of Science (ZHS)
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0740
  • Phone: (213) 740-6106
  • Email: earthsci@usc.edu