Graduate Admissions FAQ
In addition to the departmental information below, please see the University-wide International Student FAQs or General US Student FAQs for additional information.
Q: How do I apply for Graduate Admissions?
A: For the Physics PhD and Physical Biology PhD programs, you will apply online through completing the fee-free Physics and Astronomy Department Online Application for the Physics PhD program or Physical Biology PhD program.
DO NOT complete the application with the Office of Graduate and International Admissions (through gradadm.usc.edu) until you are instructed to do so.
Q: What are the Admission Requirements?
A: For the Physics PhD, the prerequisite for admission to the program is a bachelor’s (or master’s) degree in physics or a related field. 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.
For the Physical Biology PhD, the prerequisite for admission to the program is a bachelor’s (or master’s) degree in a physical biology-related field, including (but not limited to) molecular biology, biochemistry, bioengineering, physics, and biophysics. 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.
Q: What is the admission rate into the Physics PhD program?
A: It varies from year to year but historically we have admitted ~10-15% of applicants. In our most recent round of admissions (2021-2022), we admitted 10% of the 340+ students who applied into the Physics PhD program at USC.
Q: I am interested in studying biophysics/physical biology. Should I apply to the Physics PhD program or the Physical Biology PhD program?
A: While there is overlap between the programs, there are key distinctions:
The Physics PhD program is designed for students who have a bachelor’s (or master’s) degree in physics or a related field. The curricula associated with this program is more akin to other, traditional PhD programs in physics, although there are elective options that allow you to further pursue the study of physical biology. Of the two programs, the Physics PhD program is the larger: in the most recent round of admissions (2021-2022), the Physics PhD program admitted 35+ students and the Physical Biology PhD program admitted 5 students.
The Physical Biology PhD program is designed for students interested in interdisciplinary course-work within biophysics. Research group rotations incorporated into year 1 of the program also give students the time to learn about biophysics research going on across the USC campus. The required coursework is flexible and designed for students from multiple undergraduate backgrounds, including physics, chemistry, and other disciplines. This program also does not have a screening exam.
Q: What is the application deadline?
A: Priority consideration will be given to those applicants who submit all required materials by December 9th.
Q: What is the application fee?
A: There is no application fee to apply to either the Physics PhD program or Physical Biology PhD program.
If admitted, students will be asked to complete the application with the USC Office of Graduate and International Admissions. This process will include a fee waiver.
Q: How is my application reviewed and evaluated?
A: Applications are reviewed and evaluated based on undergraduate performance, letters of recommendation, and the strength of an application essay that conveys how your research interests fit into our particular research program.
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. Please be specific as to how your research interests fit into specific research directions currently being pursued in our department.
Q: What is the required GPA?
A: There is no minimum requirement. Performance in physics, mathematics and related science courses is considered especially relevant.
Q: What is the required Physics and/or General GRE score?
A: We will not be requiring or considering Physics of General GRE scores.
Q: What are the English language proficiency requirements?
A. 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 are 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 for 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.
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. Exam scores should be sent directly from ETS to the University Code 4852.
Q: What are 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 English fluency is important.
Q: If admitted, what kind of financial support do I receive?
A: All our Ph.D. students in good standing are fully supported through research assistantships, teaching assistantships, University fellowships, external fellowships, or a combination thereof. In addition to a competitive stipend, this support includes tuition remission up to 12 units and health insurance. 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 and also find out if they are currently looking for PhD students. You are encouraged to contact the Faculty members to establish a connection and/or to ask specific questions
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.