General Questions

1. How much does your PhD program cost? What is the USC funding package?  Does USC provide scholarships? 

Our doctoral students are supported with a five-year funding package, which typically consist of three years’ fellowship support and two years of support as teaching assistants. If you are interested in additional need-based aid, such as government loans and grants, you must submit a separate application through USC’s Financial Aid Office. More information can be found here.

2. Can I enroll as a part-time student in your program

Currently our PhD program only admits students who can enroll full time.

3. How long will it take to complete the PhD if I am attending as a full-time student?

Every student is different, but we aim for three years of coursework, culminating in qualifying exams, followed by two years of dissertation research, culminating in a dissertation defense.

4. Is there affordable housing available for USC graduate students?

Many students find their own housing in Los Angeles, but USC provides some graduate housing as well. You can find more information here.

5. How do I apply?

To apply, click here. The application deadline is December 31 of every year.

Application Questions

6. Are the online application sections titled “Experiences” and “Achievements” required?

These sections are optional and were not designed for our Religion PhD program per se. That said, they can allow candidates to elaborate on or highlight experiences and achievements beyond what is listed in their CV.

7. Do recommendation letters and official transcripts from previous academic institutions need to be submitted by the December 31 application deadline?

Letters and official transcripts are sometimes difficult to submit in a timely manner. If applicants have completed their portions of the application on the admissions system by December 31, then we will accept letters of recommendation and official transcripts after the deadline.

8. Are unofficial transcripts acceptable?

Students can be conditionally admitted to USC with unofficial transcripts. However, according to USC Admissions, students cannot enroll more than one semester without official transcripts on record.

9. What are the language requirements for admission?

Our curriculum assumes that students who need advanced language training (e.g. Arabic, Chinese, ancient Greek) will have substantially begun this work prior to applying. There are no fixed rules regarding language preparation, but applicants are encouraged to show competence (near fluency, or 4 years of study) in relevant research languages. For instance, if one’s area of research is Japanese Buddhism, competitive applicants will need to demonstrate at least four years’ worth of college Japanese (or the equivalent). If the area of research does not necessarily require foreign language skills (American religions, for example), then language is less of an issue.

10. Is a Master’s degree required for admission? Are the chances of admission better for students who have a B.A. in Religious Studies?

There is no requirement for an M.A., nor is a B.A. in Religious Studies required, though some background is useful. We are looking for students who are academically prepared to participate fully in our doctoral-level courses.

11. Is there a minimum GPA required for application?

There are no fixed rules about a minimum GPA, but given the competitive nature of our admissions, GPAs below 3.5 would make admission more difficult.

12. Are GRE scores required for admission? If I already have a Master’s or other graduate degree, do I still need to submit GRE scores?

The GRE is not required.

13. Are TOEFL or IELTS scores required for admission?

The School of Religion recognizes that its PhD program will appeal to applicants of various backgrounds, including some whose native language is not English. We value diversity and encourage all potential applicants with a serious interest in the study of religion to apply. Non-native speakers of English should review USC’s English language proficiency policy to determine whether they need to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores. Scores can only be considered if they are received directly from TOEFL or IELTS. In order to qualify for consideration for graduate fellowships, these scores must also be received before the December 31 deadline.

Program Questions

14. What is distinctive about your Religion PhD program?

We pride ourselves on several aspects of our program. We value focused mentoring, small class and cohort sizes, and a collegial environment. Students take advantage of remarkable interdisciplinary opportunities at USC as well as the global orientation of Los Angeles, one of the most religiously diverse cities on earth. We strive to balance rigorous linguistic and historical training with careful attention to the lived experience of religions in the contemporary world.

15. Who can I study with in your department? Do all faculty accept graduate students?

Not all Religion faculty are currently accepting graduate students. For a list of faculty who are accepting students, and their areas of research interest, please see here.

16. Is your PhD program a degree in theology? Can I focus my research on questions related to religious ministry or leadership?

Our program is a PhD in the academic study of religion, which like other university disciplines is oriented critically, comparatively, and historically. While theological reflections and forms of community life are part of every religious tradition, coursework and dissertation research in our program will not be centered around constructive theology or issues in practical ministry. However, since beliefs are one important part of the Christian past and present, some faculty might be willing to advise projects in historical theology, or other dimensions of Christian intellectual history. For more information, contact the  Director of Graduate Studies.

17. Can I study Pentecostalism with Professor Don Miller?

Professor Miller has retired from teaching and is no longer taking doctoral students. At present we do not have other faculty members who are taking students in the research area of global Pentecostalism. For other faculty in Christian Studies, see here.

18. Can I take graduate courses in the School of Religion if I am not a PhD student in your program?

If you are not a regularly admitted student, registration for USC courses would come under the rules for Limited Status Enrollment. Though you would still need to register and pay the associated tuition and fees, you have the option to take the course as an audit. For more information on how to register as a limited student, see here.

19. I already have a Master’s Degree in Religion or a related field. May I apply credits from other institutions toward my PhD?

Currently we do not accept credits from other institutions as substitutions for our required doctoral courses. We have minimal requirements that leave ample space for students to pursue electives and even individualized reading courses. The required common courses (REL 500, 592 and 593) are important experiences for cohorts to share together.

Administrative Assistant II
Linda Wootton

Project Specialist
Johnna Tyrrell

USC School of Religion

825 Bloom Walk, ACB 130
Los Angeles, CA 90089

Director of Undergraduate Studies
Sheila Briggs

Director of Graduate Studies
Cavan Concannon