Graduate Admission FAQs


Please see International Student FAQs for additional information.


Please see Student FAQs for additional information.


Q: How do I apply for Graduate Admissions?

A: You will apply online through Graduate Admissions using their ApplyYourself system. The Department of Physics and Astronomy uses the University online application system to review applicants for admission and financial support as a Teaching Assistant.

Q: What are the Admission Requirements?

A: The prerequisite for admission to the doctoral program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy is a bachelor's (or master's) degree in physics or related field. All applicants for admission must take the Graduate Record Examinations, including the Physics Subject Test. Transcripts of undergraduate records as well as transcripts of any graduate-level courses are required. The TOEFL is required of international students applying for a teaching assistantship and is strongly advised for those applying for admission only. Applicants may be admitted to the program at the beginning of the fall or spring semester.

Q: What is the admission rate into the Physics Ph.D. program?

A: It depends from year to year but historically we have admitted 15-20% of applicants.


Q: What is the application deadline?

A: The University deadline is December 1. Priority consideration for Fellowship funding will be given to those applicants who submit all required materials by such date. Fall Teaching Assistantship financial support applications will continue to be received until January 1.

Q: What is the application fee?

A: $85 for each program submission, up to 5. The application fee must be paid in full before USC will proceed with their review.The fee is the same for domestic and international students.

Q: Can I apply for a fee waiver?

A: Fee waivers are granted only under the following conditions:

  • You are a full-time USC employee, or dependent of a full-time USC employee;
  • You are a U.S. citizen/permanent resident, and paying the fee would cause financial hardship. We do not accept tax returns or any alternate type of documentation to substantiate financial hardship. Only a letter from the financial aid office of your previous school is acceptable. Once your online application has been submitted, you will receive an automated e-mail with instructions on how and where to send the appropriate waiver documentation. Please do not send us any waiver documentation until you have received this e-mail.
  • You are a USC student or alumnus/alumna;
  • You are a McNair Scholar;

***International students are not eligible for application fee waivers.***

Q: How is my application reveiwed and evaluated?

A: Applications are reviewed and evaluated based on transcripts, test scores and letters of recommendation. Until the Admissions Committee has the documents from all the applicants your chances can not be evaluated.

Q: What do I include in my Personal Statement?

A: Describe your scholarly and professional plans, as well as your interest in a specific area of emphasis within the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Q: What is the required GPA?

A: The University requires a 3.0 GPA.

Q: How do I apply for a Ph.D. in Astronomy?

A: There is no formal Astronomy Ph.D. program but, as in many other Universities, the Astronomy and Physics departments are combined. You will formally get a PhD in Physics, but in practice it can be as much astronomical as you wish. The number of genuine astronomy professors is rather low (Ed Rhodes and Werner Dappen); they both do their research on the Sun. Prof. Rhodes is a helioseismology observer and Prof. Dappen a theorist. However, we also have one full-time cosmologist, Prof. Elena Pierpaoli, and of course collaborations with the Jet Propulsion Lab close to USC are also possible and encouraged. We also have particle and mathematical physicists (string theory) who have a strong component in Cosmology (Nick Warner, Itzhak Bars and others). Your degree would be a PhD in physics with preparation for a later career in astronomy research.

Q: How do I apply for a M.S. in Physics?

A: All students are required to apply for the PhD program in Physics. After admission, we will keep your interest in the M.S. program in mind, and can reassign the degree objective at a later date. The first 2-years of study are the same for the Masters of Science and the Ph.D. degree objectives.


Q: What is the University ETS Code for my GRE General, GRE Physics Subject, and TOEFL score reports

A: Exam scores should be sent directly from ETS to the University Code 4852.

Q: What is the GRE General test score minimum requirement?

A: The GRE General Verbal + Quantative must equal 1000 or higher to meet University minimum admission requirements.

Q: What is the Physics GRE Subject test score Minimum Requirement?

A: The Physics Subject score should be at least 650.

Q: What are the chances of being admitted with my GRE scores?

A: Until the Admission Committee has the documents from all the applicants your chances can not be evaluated, except to tell you that your scores are within the range of previous admissions. Keep in mind that applicants are reviewed and evaluated based on transcripts, test scores and letters of recommendation. All documentation being equal, a higher score will be ranked above those with a lower score.

Q: What if my Physics GRE Subject test score arrives after the admission submission deadline?

A: Your application will still be considered since the official scores usually arrive sometime in January.


The ability to communicate effectively in English - to read, write and speak the language fluently - is vital to the success of all USC students. Therefore, graduate applicants at all levels are expected to demonstrate their English proficiency as part of the application process.

All international graduate applicants (beginning with those seeking admission to fall 2013), will now be required to submit scores from either the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System).

USC’s International Student English (ISE) Exam may be waived with certain minimum qualifying scores:

  • Ph.D. applicants who have achieved an Internet Based TOEFL (iBT) score of 100, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 7, with no less than 6 on each band score, will be exempted from taking USC’s ISE Exam.
  • Applicants to master’s programs who have attained an iBT score of 90, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 6.5, with no less than 6 on each band score, will be exempted from taking USC’s ISE exam.

Note that there are no minimum TOEFL or IELTS scores required for admission. The qualifying scores listed above are for placement purposes only and will be used to determine whether a student must take USC’s ISE Exam. At the same time, individual programs are expected to take English language competency into consideration in the admissions process.

Q: What is the minimum TOEFL iBT scores that I need to be considered for admission to the Department of Physics and Astronomy?

A: There is not a minimum for the TOEFL score, although when applying for financial support as a Teaching Assistant your score should be 79-80 on the Internet-based, 213 on the computer-based exam, or 550 on the paper-based exam.


Q: If admitted, what kind of support do I receive?

A: Everyone we admit to the Physics Ph.D. program will receive financial support in some way. After the December 1 deadline, the department nominates the very best applicants for the Provost's fellowships but due to the competitiveness, only 10-15% of USC's incoming graduate students are awarded it. Students may also be supported with a Research Assistanship but only after entering in a research group. For more information, please go to our Financial Support page.


Q: What are the areas of research carried out in the department?

A: You will find various research areas here.
You can browse the webpages of various professors or get a better idea of what research they are doing by looking at their publication lists.

Correspondence with department chairpersons or individual faculty members does not constitute admission. Only a letter from the Office of Graduate Admission grants official admission to a degree objective in the university.
  • Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • University of Southern California
  • 825 Bloom Walk
  • ACB 439
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0484