Graduate FAQ


1. Can I submit more than three letters of recommendation, and should they all be from academicians?

We only require three letters of recommendation, but applicants may submit up to five letters. We prefer that letters be written by faculty who have supervised academic work, especially research projects, papers, etc. However, if necessary, we will consider professional references. ALL LETTERS SHOULD BE SUBMITTED ELECTRONICALLY VIA YOUR ONLINE APPLICATION.

2. What is the average GPA students need to gain admission? What about the TOEFL or IELTS?

Our admissions committee conducts a holistic review of your application, meaning they will consider all aspects of your application when making their decisions. While GPA and test scores are components that are heavily weighted in the admission process, we encourage you to do your best and still submit an application if you wish to be admitted.

3. If I can’t schedule to take my GRE exam until after the deadline, will my application still be considered?

Please email to request permission for your scores to arrive after the deadline. You must still submit your online application by the December 1st deadline. To gain full consideration, your scores should arrive no later than January 1, 2020.

4. What should be included in my research statement? What is the expected length?

The research statement serves as a unique platform to state who you are as a would-be scholar, what five years of USC doctoral education would do for you as a researcher, what research agenda you would pursue, what fields and subject matter interest you and motivate you to embark on this five-year journey, what preparation you’ve received in the past and how you will leverage the skills during your tenure with us. You can also view it as an opening statement and a closing argument – you are making your case to the admissions committee, laying out qualities, attributes and distinctions that make you a strong candidate for the program. In laying out your research interests and agenda, you are also establishing your compatibility with the faculty and their own research program. Please be sure to identify at least 2-3 faculty members with who you are interested in working.

The statement of purpose should be a concise and cogent document, preferably two pages in length, single or double spaced.

5. If I have completed a master’s degree, how many courses can I apply to the POIR degree?

The POIR program allows you to transfer units from outside graduate course work as approved by our faculty field coordinators and by the Degree Progress Office. Only graduate level courses that were taken while pursuing a graduate degree and completed with a grade of B or better will be considered for transfer credit. Upon admission and enrollment in POIR, students can petition to count previous coursework towards their degree. Each course will then be examined by the respective field coordinator/s. When transferring courses from international institutions, all prior degrees that were not verified during the admission process, must be verified via IERF before any courses can be transferred. Please refer to the link below for more information on this process. 

6. Is a master’s degree required for admission to the program?

While recommended, an MA degree is NOT required for admission to the program.

7. As an international student, how should I respond to the section of the application that asks for proof of financial stability?

Our program fully funds students’ tuition and provides a monthly stipend that offsets important costs of living. You may include the following statement if in place of a bank document: “The Ph.D. program to which I am applying, housed in the USC Dornsife College, provides a comprehensive 5-year funding package that covers tuition and stipend each year.”

8. If I have been awarded a fellowship (Fulbright or other external fellowships), do I need to submit any documentation in my application?

Yes. If you have been awarded any type of external funding prior to the date you submit your application for admission, please be sure to upload a copy of your award letter(s) to your online application under “other” documentys. If you receive notification of an external funding award after you submit your application, you can email copies of the documents to Veri Chavarin at Be sure to include your application or USC ID in your email. Please only include these documents if the external award will be used while in the POIR program. External awards used for prior or current degree programs should be listed in your CV/Resume.

9. I noticed you have an MA degree posted in the catalog, does this mean you have a Masters program available?

No. The program is structured in such a way that only Ph.D. students who have been admitted to our program are allowed to complete the M.A. degree upon recommendation of the POIR faculty.

10. Where do I submit my transcripts?

Please upload copies of your unofficial transcripts to your application and send your official documents directly to Graduate Admissions as instructed on their website. Be sure to request your transcripts with sufficient time so that they arrive by the designated deadlines.