Requirements for PhD Program

The typical applicant for admission will normally have completed an undergraduate major in economics. Minimal prerequisites for admission to a master's degree program include courses in intermediate microeconomic and macroeconomic theory, a year of calculus, and a semester of statistics. Applicants seeking admission to the doctoral program are normally expected to have significantly more advanced training, particularly in the areas of mathematics and statistics. The PhD in Economics is a 60-unit program at USC. It consists of 50 units of coursework, 6 units of economics seminars, and 4 units of dissertation coursework. 

Core Requirements (First-Year Sequence)

24 units of coursework via the following required 4-unit courses: 

ECON 601 – Microeconomic Theory I (Fall)

ECON 602 – Macroeconomic Theory I (Fall)

ECON 611 – Probability and Statistics for Economists (Fall)

ECON 603 – Microeconomic Theory II (Spring)

ECON 605 – Macroeconomic Theory II (Spring)

ECON 609 – Econometric Methods (Spring)

Additional Required Units

A minimum of 6 units selected from the following 2-unit seminar courses:

ECON 690 – Seminar in Economic Theory

ECON 691 – Seminar in Econometrics

ECON 692 – Seminar in Economic Development

ECON 693 – Seminar in Applied Economics and Public Policy

ECON 694 – Seminar in Dynamic Economics

ECON 696 – Empirical Microeconomics Seminar

The same seminar may be taken more than once.
Each student must present at least one original research paper in a seminar of the student's choice.

A minimum of 6 units of the 2-unit reading courses:

ECON 700 – Research on Frontier Economics

Students will enroll in this course three different times.
Each semester, multiples sections of this course are offered. Each section focuses on specific a sub-field. 

A minimum of 4 units from the following 2-unit dissertation courses:

ECON 794a – Doctoral Dissertation

ECON 794b – Doctoral Dissertation

ECON 794c – Doctoral Dissertation

ECON 794d – Doctoral Dissertation

Additional Requirements

A minimum of 20 units of elective courses:

The Director of Doctoral Studies (DDS) must approve all elective courses. ECON and non-ECON courses may count toward the elective requirement. Elective and seminar courses contribute to students' advanced fields of study. 

Each student should complete two advanced fields of study with the approval of the DDS. The requirements for completing each advanced field of study consists of (1) at least two courses numbered 600 or higher in that field with a minimum grade of A- in each, (2) satisfactory completion of one of the seminars related to the field, and (3) presentation of a research paper in a class or seminar. The signing of a student's Appointment or Change of Qualifying Exam form signifies satisfactory completion of the field requirements.

The remainder of the courses to total at least 60 units must be preapproved by the DDS. However, not more than four units of ECON 590 and/or ECON 790 can be taken in a semester. Courses taken outside the Department or USC may not count toward the completion of a field. Waivers to the course requirements based on equivalent work at another university may be made upon petition to the DDS, up to a maximum of 12 units. Waivers for any other reason require the approval of the Department leadership.

Grade Point Average Requirements

In addition to Graduate School requirements, a minimum GPA of 3.0 on all course work taken toward the 60-unit requirement must be achieved.

Core Theory Examination

Before beginning the third semester of graduate study, each PhD student must pass a written examination in general economic theory including applications. A maximum of two attempts is allowed. Not taking the examination at a given due time is considered as failing the examination once. The Core Exam is offered twice every year during the summer session. Any exceptions are subject to approval of the Director of Doctoral Studies.

Each PhD student must pass both Micro and Macro sections of the exam to pass the Core Theory Examination. If a student fails one of the two sections, the student is only required to retake the section of the exam he or she did not pass. Students who fail a section of the first examination in June are required to re-take the examination in August in the same year.

The first round of the Core Theory Examination is given during the second week of June:
  • Micro: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Monday
  • Macro: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Wednesday
The second round of the Core Theory Examination is given during the second week of August:
  • Micro: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Monday
  • Macro: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, Wednesday

Each student will be assigned an examination ID number in order to be anonymous to the faculty who are grading. Each faculty on the Core Examination Committee grades independently and discuss the results afterwards. Students remain anonymous to the committee members until after the results are announced.

Empirical Research Paper (Second-Year Paper)

During the summer after the fourth semester of study, each student must submit a single-authored empirical paper using quantitative methods to the examination committee. The paper may use field, experimental or simulated data. In this paper, the student should demonstrate competence in using a computer programming language and software. The paper is due on the first day of fall semester. Each student may submit the paper electronically to Annie Le, or submit a hard copy.

Research Paper (Third-Year Paper)

During the summer after the sixth semester of study, each student must submit a single-authored research paper to a committee of faculty. The paper must be of publishable quality. The paper is due on the first day of fall semester. Each student may submit the paper electronically to Annie Le,, or submit a hard copy. Each student is required to present the paper to the Third-Year Paper Committee members, other faculty, and graduate students at a scheduled time at the beginning of fall semester.

Qualifying Examination

Upon successful completion of course and grade requirements, the paper requirement, and the Core Theory Examination, each student takes an examination that focuses on the presentation and defense of the written dissertation proposal. After passing this examination, each student is admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree. This examination must be taken no later than the end of the eighth semester of study.

The qualifying exam is an oral exam to be taken after students have completed all of their required coursework and have begun pursuing their own research. The purpose of this exam is to ensure that students are working on suitable topics and making good progress toward a dissertation. First, students must form a qualifying exam committee according to the rules of the USC Graduate School (see for required forms). Five members are required. Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences requires one to be an outside member (a USC professor who is not with the Department). The qualifying exam form contains more details about the committee requirements.

Students should talk to their committee chair about what is expected from them for the qualifying exam as these expectations vary slightly across faculty members. Typically, students present work from at least one chapter that is already in draft form and one or two chapters that are more preliminary (a dissertation requires three chapters). Often, one or two chapters are still in the proposal stage and students will obtain feedback during their exam. Some committee chairs require that students also submit written documents prior to the date of the oral exam for the committee to review. During the exam, students will present the motivation for their research, theory and/or empirical strategy, data sources if relevant, and results (depending on what stage they have reached in the research process). A substantial portion of time will be devoted to answering questions and defending their work.

Doctoral Dissertation

After admission to candidacy, each student forms a dissertation committee composed of three faculty members, one of whom must be from an outside department. The chair of this committee is usually the a student's primary advisor. Each student must register in sequence for ECON 794a, ECON 794b, ECON 794c, ECON 794d, ECON 794z  each semester, excluding summer sessions, until the dissertation and all other degree requirements are completed.

The dissertation is defended in an oral examination administered by the dissertation committee. This happens once the committee agrees that a student has completed the research and a satisfactory final draft of the dissertation has been written. If the committee agrees to pass a student but suggests extensions, modifications, and/or corrections, the student may incorporate changes into the manuscript and resubmit the manuscript to the committe for their approval.

It is every student's responsibility to see that the proper paperwork is submitted to the Graduate School upon completion of each requirement for the doctoral dissertation.



  • University of Southern California | Department of Economics | Department Chair: Romain Ranciere
  • Phone: (213) 740 - 8335