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. Applications are now open for the Physics PhD program and the 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 ~10-12% of applicants. In our most recent round of admissions (2022-2023), we admitted 10% of the 400+ 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 (2022-2023), the Physics PhD program admitted 40+ students and the Physical Biology PhD program admitted 8 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 31st.
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).
Formally, the application can be submitted within the deadline also without attaching the English test score. However, submission of the English test score is mandatory before the applicant can accept an offer from USC. Hence, the applicant should assess whether they will be able to take the test between the application deadline 12/31/2023 and the acceptance deadline 04/15/2024.
The score itself is not used as a strict evaluation parameter, although individual programs are expected to take English language competency into consideration in the admissions process. The score is only used after admission, to determine whether enrolled Ph.D. students will have to take the USC’s International Student English (ISE) Exam or not. Specifically, the ISE Exam will 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.
Exam scores should be sent directly from ETS to the University Code 4852.
There is now an additional English language proficiency exam listed, the PTE (Pearson Test of English) Academic Online scores.
International applicants are exempt from the English-proficiency requirement if they have completed a master’s or doctoral degree from a country in which English is both the language of instruction and the only official language. The foreign degree must have already been completed at the time they submit their USC application. Applicants who have not yet completed a qualifying master’s or doctoral program at the time of submission will still need to submit English-proficiency scores.
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. All our PhD students in good standing are fully supported through these means for the entire duration of their graduate work.
Teaching Assistants are appointed to assist in teaching undergraduate instructional laboratories. Teaching assistantships are awarded on the basis of departmental needs and the applicant’s experience and academic record. These appointments carry a 9-month stipend plus full tuition remission for up to 12 units (4 graduate courses) per semester plus 12 units during the Summer session. Although most of the Teaching Assistants are involved in teaching undergraduate labs, some are engaged in a combination of teaching laboratories and grading, and a few assist only with grading of examinations and homework.
Research Assistants are appointed to assist in sponsored research projects, funding for which comes from government and foundation contracts or grants. Normally a graduate research assistant is employed on a part-time basis during the regular academic year while enrolled in the graduate program and on a full- or part-time basis during the summer months. The compensation for a research assistantship is approximately the same as that for a teaching assistantship and includes stipend and tuition. Decisions with regard to research assistantship awards are made by individual faculty members in charge of sponsored research programs.
Fellowships and Awards are available for a small number of fellowships. Based on the decision of the Department Admission Committee, full Fellowships or supplements to an Assistantship may be offered.
In addition, some fellowships and awards offered through The Graduate School include:
- Women in Science and Engineering
- Chen Fellowship
- John Stauffer Student Fellowship
Nominations for these awards are made by the department.
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.