Graduation Admission Requirements

The following are necessary to apply for the PhD program in the Department of Earth Sciences at USC and should be assembled before applying online:

  • In step 1, you are requested to contact at least one potential advisor to converse about the application process. Please identify two additional advisors that you think should review your application (typically, they would be in related fields to the primary advisor)

  • Please address the following questions, which you will upload when you apply online:

    1. What brings you to pursue a PhD in Earth Sciences? We are looking for evidence that you are passionate about the discipline, and why a research-based graduate degree will help you to achieve your goals. (please limit to one page, single spaced)
    2. The graduate student experience can involve a range of challenges. Describe an example of how you demonstrated resilience and/or perseverance in the pursuit of your academic goals or in your personal life and how you have grown as a result. (please limit to half a page, single spaced)
    3. It is important for researchers to stay curious and be willing to question their own and other’s work in the pursuit of great science. Please describe a time when you worked on something you were excited about, either academic or personal, in which you exhibited these qualities. If you have had the opportunity to conduct your own research, this would be a great time to tell us about it. (please limit to half a page, single spaced)
    4. Pursuing a PhD seeks to advance our understanding of the world beyond current knowledge. Describe a specific topic of research which you could pursue at USC, and how it would provide new information about the natural world. This topic need not become the actual topic of your thesis research, but please describe why you think USC is specifically well suited to support such research. (please limit to half a page, single spaced)
    5. (Optional) Please add anything you would like to say in support of your application or anything you would like us to know about your application that is not addressed by the questions above. (please limit to one page or less)
  • Applicants typically have the equivalent of the courses in Earth sciences, chemistry, mathematics, and physics required for the B.S. degree in Earth Sciences, but the prerequisites for many related fields (physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, applied mathematics, etc.) are typically acceptable. Please contact your prospective advisor(s) to discuss your prior preparation for the PhD degree in Earth Sciences. In addition to the appropriate coursework, the Department of Earth Sciences values prior research experience at any academic level.

  • An applicant must have a strong undergraduate background and a superior academic record as documented by grade point average in undergraduate and, if applicable, graduate work, with a minimum GPA of 3.0 in each degree. You will be asked to send official transcripts from the universities/colleges you have attended. Some universities charge a fee for official transcripts, but some will waive the fee, if asked.

  • We request at least one writing sample as part of your application package that represents your abilities to articulate and present ideas in written form. The sample(s) can be drawn from anything written in your academic or professional career (for example, an honor’s thesis, a term paper, a research proposal, a publication, or any written work you think would help us evaluate your preparation). Note: if the online application process lacks a link to upload the writing sample, please send it directly to your prospective advisor(s).

  • Three letters of recommendation from undergraduate and/or graduate advisors/professors must be provided. It is best if the letter writers can comment on their opinion of your preparation for graduate school/PhD work and your propensity for independent research.

  • The department does not require GRE scores for admission.

  • USC charges an application fee. If the application fee represents a hardship for you, let your prospective advisor(s) know.


  • Review the country-specific guidelines USC provides to determine the transcript requirements for your country of study. The checklist will also help you determine whether or not you are required to submit English-language proficiency scores such as TOEFL, IELTS, etc.


Please contact the Graduate Faculty Advisor, Dr. John Platt (