Academic FAQs for Students

Timeline and Framework

Fall 2020 Semester

The semester will begin on Aug. 17, 2020, which is a week earlier than originally scheduled. All classes, including final exams, will end by Thanksgiving. By ending the semester before Thanksgiving, we aim to minimize the spread of the virus, particularly as the flu season commences. To support this schedule, we will not have a fall break in 2020.

Note that all undergraduate programs and some graduate programs will start on Aug. 17. Graduate and professional programs are developing calendars to meet their specific needs, and individual schools will notify students of their schedules and orientation for their programs.

Please understand that our plans remain contingent on several factors, including the continued spread of COVID-19 and the health orders from state and local authorities.

Graduate and professional programs are developing calendars to meet their specific needs; these may differ from central university-wide orientations and programming. Individual schools will notify students of schedules and orientation for their programs.

Public health guidelines continue to change, and Los Angeles County has yet to approve our plans for returning to full campus operations. Los Angeles is experiencing an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases, making it clear we need to dramatically reduce our on-campus density and all indoor activities for the fall semester.

Given the continuing safety restrictions and limited densities permissible on campus, our undergraduate students primarily or exclusively will take their courses online in the fall term, and on-campus housing and activities will be limited.

While not what we hoped, we are now recommending all undergraduates take their courses online and reconsider living on or close to campus this semester. We are continuing with limited in-person, on-campus activity because we believe we can keep students, researchers, staff, and faculty safe with our low-density plan.

We will offer a rich array of courses and out-of-class experiences online. We are building vibrant platforms, including a new student portal that will serve as a virtual quad and promote social engagement.

We will also provide a host of experiences for our entering first-year and transfer students from across the world, so that they feel part of our community, and can seamlessly transition in person as soon as possible. Many additional details will follow.

A majority of undergraduate classes will be available solely online. We will also offer courses in a hybrid format (combining in-person and online course sessions).

About 10-20% of our classes will be conducted in person, on campus. These will be primarily face-to-face labs, studios, performance, and other courses involving hands-on work, and independent research studies that require facilities and equipment only available on campus. Even these courses, for the most part, will also be available online this semester.

Each school will contact students with more detail about its classes, co-curricular activities, student organizations, and much more. Plans for graduate programs will also be addressed by the individual school and program.

One important goal is to keep everyone advancing toward their degrees, and advisors in each school will be available to help answer questions about how best to maintain academic progress this semester.

Just like we did this past spring, professors will record classes and make them available to students to watch whenever it is convenient for them.

Schedule of Classes

Fall 2020 Semester

USC posted the revised class schedule on Web Registration on July 8. This schedule reflects that a majority of undergraduate classes will be available solely online. We'll also offer some courses in a hybrid format (combining in-person and online course sessions).

About 10-20 percent of our classes will be conducted in person, on campus. These will be primarily face-to-face labs, studios, performance, and other courses involving hands-on work, and independent research studies that require facilities and equipment only available on campus. Even these courses, for the most part, will also be available online this semester.

No. You only need to view the schedule to see whether your classes will take place online, in person or in a hybrid format.

You can view courses classified as in person, hybrid or online via Web Registration.

You should try to find an alternative class to avoid the time conflict. If it is absolutely necessary that you take the two classes that conflict, you can request approval from the professors teaching the courses to register with a time conflict. You can find the form for 'Approval to Register with a Time Conflict' on our forms page.

The course instructor will notify you via the course syllabus or via email about when you are expected to attend class in person.

Hybrid courses can comprise a number of delivery methods, from distance learning for those outside of Los Angeles, to a flipped model where most lectures are online, and discussion sessions, projects, and other student work takes place in a classroom.

International Students

Fall 2020 Semester

International students can view additional guidance related to visas, immigration status, travel and more in the international students section. 

We are deeply troubled by the updated guidance that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released on July 6 requiring international students to take at least one in-person class to maintain their visa status. We are very proud of our international students and their families across the world, many of whom have sacrificed so much to enable them to come to America. This policy is especially concerning as it comes in the midst of a global health pandemic when universities need the autonomy and flexibility to adopt nuanced, multi-faceted models of instruction and research while preserving the health, safety and well-being of all of our students, faculty and staff.

To our international student community – please know that we are strongly advocating against this policy and are working closely and collaboratively with higher education colleagues across the nation. USC’s deans and senior leadership are working tirelessly with the faculty to support your academic progress.

Given the broad range of courses being offered, both in person and online, we are optimistic we will be able to support our international students to study in person safely if they wish, but it may take a few days. We will provide updates as soon as possible.

Please see our international students page for additional guidance and FAQs related to visas and immigration status, travel and housing.

To maintain F-1 status in the United States, you are required to maintain a full course load during this temporary transition to alternative instructional methods. You should not fall below the full course requirement unless you have been permitted to do so either through a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or Leave of Absence (LOA) approval from your academic advisor and USC’s Office of International Services.

Based on the latest guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), continuing international students in the United States must remain enrolled in a full course of study during the fall. Students may enroll in a combination of in-person and online classes as long as they are enrolled in at least one in-person class.

USC adheres to the guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is a unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that oversees the F-1 international student visa program. Due to the rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19, SEVP issued guidance in March 2020 to universities that allowed for increased flexibility to ensure international students could continue their academic progress while taking classes online during the spring and summer semesters.

SEVP recently issued guidance for fall 2020 that requires F-1 international students in the United States to enroll in a combination of both in-person and online classes (at least one class must take place in person). Students who do not enroll in at least one in-person class for the fall semester must leave the United States.

USC's academic advisors will help international students who are in the United States identify appropriate classes for the fall semester to meet this requirement.

Just like we did this past spring, professors will record classes and make them available to students to watch whenever it is convenient for them.

Graduate Students

Fall 2020 Semester

The modality in graduate instruction will depend on individual programs and the specific course itself. Individual schools will notify students about schedules for their programs.

Should you have finished your degree requirements but not have been able to finish the final details, the Graduate School can supply you with a Confirmation Letter certifying that your work toward your degree is finished and that only internal university processing remains if you have a job or postdoc offer – or an Optional Practical Training (OPT) or visa issue that requires a completed PhD – and you have uploaded your dissertation or thesis to Thesis Center, but the rest of the process is not yet completed.

Students who miss the spring Thesis Center deadline will be able to use the same records in Thesis Center for a summer degree, upload their thesis or dissertation, and need not register or pay tuition for summer. A student may also choose Early Submission for fall if that is more convenient.

Once the final edited version of the thesis or dissertation has been uploaded to Thesis Center, the Office of the Registrar will be notified and the degree will be posted on the student’s transcript, assuming all other degree requirements have been satisfied.

The university has three official conferral dates – one in the spring, one in the summer and one in the fall – but the degree typically appears on the transcript earlier when the process described above is completed. Students may request transcripts for verification for jobs, postdocs, etc.

We realize that travel critical to your work will likely be delayed or canceled. Please discuss these research delays with your advisor.

Our Graduate Student Support Working Group was formed in conjunction with the Academic Senate and includes student representation. The group is led by Kelly Goulis, Senior Associate Dean – Viterbi Admission and Student Engagement, and meets frequently to discuss and implement solutions to issues critical to graduate students. If you would like to share an issue or a concern for the group to consider, please email vpgp@usc.edu.

The class instructor and the department chair assign teaching assistant (TA) duties, and they will work with graduate students to address any concerns.

Graduate students must adhere to the university's physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. In shared spaces such as graduate student offices, instructors (including teaching assistants) should stringently observe the practice of staggering scheduled office hours, which already exists in many cases for practical reasons.

Doctoral Students

Fall 2020 Semester

Remote participation in a dissertation or thesis defense is always an option for a limited number of committee members. With the approval of the student, committee chair, and the dean of the school, the defense can be conducted entirely through Zoom or other videoconferencing tools. The standard rules apply to the defense. This means that all committee members must be part of the same defense “meeting,” whether they are on campus or remote.

Dissertation checklists and manuscripts are submitted electronically via Thesis Center and are not affected by the location of the student.

Should you have finished your degree requirements but not have been able to finish the final details, the Graduate School can supply you with a Confirmation Letter certifying that your work toward your degree is finished and that only internal university processing remains if you have a job or postdoc offer – or an Optional Practical Training (OPT) or visa issue that requires a completed PhD – and you have uploaded your dissertation or thesis to Thesis Center, but the rest of the process is not yet completed.

Students who miss the spring Thesis Center deadline will be able to use the same records in Thesis Center for a summer degree, upload their thesis or dissertation, and need not register or pay tuition for summer. A student may also choose early submission for fall if that is more convenient.

Once the final edited version of the thesis or dissertation has been uploaded to Thesis Center, the Office of the Registrar will be notified and the degree will be posted on the student’s transcript, assuming all other degree requirements have been satisfied.

The university has three official conferral dates – one in the spring, one in the summer and one in the fall –but the degree typically appears on the transcript earlier when the process described above is completed. Students may request transcripts for verification for jobs, postdocs, etc.

Petitions for PhD students are submitted by advisors online and are not affected by the location of the student or the advisor.

Remote participation in the oral portion of a qualifying exam is always an option for a limited number of committee members. With the approval of the student, committee chair, and the dean of the school, the defense can be conducted entirely through Zoom or other videoconferencing tools. The standard rules apply to the exam. This means that all committee members must be part of the same exam “meeting,” whether they are on campus or remote.

Students scheduled to take the exams between April and December 2020 will be allowed to delay the exams by one semester without academic penalty. Students scheduled to take the exams in spring or summer 2020 have the option of taking the exams in fall 2020. Students scheduled to take the exams in fall 2020 have the option of taking them in the spring 2021.

Students who would prefer to proceed on their original schedule with no delay may, of course, do so. Students who choose to delay their exams by one semester will not receive a letter of academic expectations or an academic warning letter unless their program provides a compelling reason for doing so.

Because PhD funding comes from a number of different sources, the university cannot guarantee additional funding related to any delays. Students should discuss funding concerns with their advisors.

We realize that travel critical to your work will likely be delayed or canceled. Please discuss these research delays with your advisor.

If a student who has accepted a multi-year funding offer cannot enroll in the fall 2020 due to visa or COVID-19 issues, the Graduate School will hold the multi-year funding offer for this specific student for use beginning in either spring 2021 or fall 2021.

Students should inform their department of their plans by the following deadlines:

  • Not planning to enter in fall 2020 – July 15, 2020
  • Planning to enter in spring 2021 – Oct. 15, 2020
  • Planning to enter in fall 2021 – April 15, 2021

The deadlines are designed to be late enough for incoming PhD students to be able to assess their own situations and respond to changing global conditions, but early enough for principal investigators (PIs) to plan for lab staffing and assign research assistantships, for schools and programs to assign teaching assistantships, and for the students’ stipend checks to be processed on time. Exceptions will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Graduate deans will supply lists of students deferring their enrollment and submit them to the Graduate School and Office of Graduate Admissions. The students will then be readmitted to the new term, and the I-20s of international students will be issued to reflect their new start and end dates.

Currently enrolled USC PhD students may face COVID-19-related challenges that prevent their return to campus. To address this situation, the university created the option of a COVID-19-related pause for PhD students. With the approval of the program and school dean, currently enrolled PhD students have the option of pausing their studies in fall 2020 and then resuming them in either spring 2021 or fall 2021.

The pause is unfunded and similar to a leave of absence, but it comes with safeguards for both the student and the program in the form of an academic plan outlining specific expectations for the resumption of the student’s studies, funding and progress toward the degree. The duration of the pause does not count against the student’s progress toward the degree.

PhD students planning to use the COVID-19-related pause must develop an academic plan with their faculty advisor and obtain the signature of the advisor and school dean or dean’s designee indicating approval. The following dates are recommended as deadlines, but there is some room for flexibility.

The deadlines are designed to be late enough for students to be able to assess their own situations and respond to changing global conditions, but early enough for principal investigators (PIs) to plan for lab staffing and assign research assistantships, for schools and programs to assign teaching assistantships, and for the students’ stipend checks to be processed on time. In collaboration with the school dean, the PhD program will handle any exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

  • July 15, 2020: Confirm the pause option for fall 2020 and plan to resume studies in spring 2021 or fall 2021.
  • Oct. 15, 2020: Confirm a return for spring 2021, or confirm the pause option for spring 2021 and plan to resume studies in fall 2021.
  • April 15, 2021: Confirm a plan to resume studies in fall 2021.

The student, student’s home program and school dean’s office will keep a record of the COVID-19-related pause.

Students who are ill and undergoing treatment for COVID-19 or any serious illness should consider the possible advantage of a voluntary health leave.

International students should consult with USC's Office of International Services before making plans for any type of leave. Students who select the pause option must live outside of the United States during the semester(s) they are not enrolled due to U.S. immigration regulations.

USC will be able to process fellowship stipends for both incoming and continuing PhD students who are located in or outside of the United States and have at least a semester of fellowship available in their multi-year funding offer. We will process stipends for continuing students per the standard protocol, and we will provide details soon regarding processing stipends for incoming students who are outside of the United States.

Individual schools will evaluate the academic value of the remote coursework or research opportunity available to students (both domestic and international) who are not returning to campus in the fall. If a school deems the academic value of the coursework or research opportunity to be insufficient, it will advise students to defer using the option of the pause for continuing students, or the option of the multi-year funding offer deferral for incoming students. (see FAQs above)

We are still finalizing the options for teaching assistantships and research assistantships and will share additional information soon. Students who have questions about visas, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) should contact USC’s Office of International Services.

This will continue to be possible, but with constraints related to physical distancing and capacity.

The modality in graduate instruction will depend on individual programs and the specific course itself. Individual schools will notify students about schedules for their programs.

The class instructor and the department chair assign teaching assistant (TA) duties, and they will work with graduate students to address any concerns.

Graduate students must adhere to the university's physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. In shared spaces such as graduate student offices, instructors (including teaching assistants) should stringently observe the practice of staggering scheduled office hours, which already exists in many cases for practical reasons.

Miscellaneous Questions

Fall 2020 Semester

We are currently working on a number of exciting extracurricular, professional and cultural programs, initiatives and events to keep students engaged and thriving — intellectually, socially and emotionally – throughout the fall semester. We’ll share new plans shortly, but in the meantime, please continue to visit the Virtual Student Life website for a collection of current engagement opportunities. On this site, you will find:

Our current plan is to resume the dean’s list in the fall semester.

Please view the latest updates from USC's Office of Research in addition to the restart research FAQs.

Students living in the surrounding neighborhoods should be aware that access to campus will be limited. In most cases, students will be required to make an appointment to use campus services, such as library study spaces, the Engemann Student Health Center and dining facilities.

We understand that for some students, the capacity to connect off campus is difficult. To help, we are expanding our program to provide financial and technical support for domestic and international students who have connectivity or hardware issues, and we will provide application details soon.

We are offering a new scholarship opportunity for this year only. Students will be able to apply for a scholarship to provide for up to two free online classes in the 2021 summer session. This is designed to help ensure academic progress. More details on this offering will follow.

The USC Libraries offer extensive resources and expertise that support online teaching, research and learning – even if the physical buildings remain closed for now.

Subscription journals and databasesdigital collectionsremote research help, and many other library services and programs remain available. The libraries also make several streaming services available, including music and film collections.

In some cases, the libraries can ship books or other materials from USC's collections. If the item you need appears available in the libraries’ online catalog, request shipment using the “Request via interlibrary loan” link. Please note that “Request via interlibrary loan” is the correct option for requesting books from the USC Libraries' collections that are marked as available. This is necessary to initiate the shipping process. You will receive the book from USC Libraries rather than the interlibrary loan.

Faculty may schedule information literacy and other library instruction for their classes, and subject specialists can help students with research projects and other coursework via Zoom.

The USC Libraries maintain a detailed set of online research guides that include information on subject-specific resources. You can also find more specific information on digital collections of primary sources.

The most current information on USC Libraries’ services, collections, and programs is available at libraries.usc.edu/coronavirus. Students and faculty with questions about library resources can contact the libraries remotely through email and chat services.

We are planning to resume classes as scheduled in the spring semester. However, we will ultimately be guided by the realities on the ground and the guidance from local and state authorities.

General Questions

Summer 2020 Sessions

We have no plans to provide pro-rated tuition refunds for the spring 2020 semester or our summer 2020 sessions. We are continuing to provide a high-quality education, ensure academic progress towards degrees and offer a robust learning environment.

Whether our instructors present their classes in person or online, they bring the same expertise, depth of knowledge, and commitment to their teaching, and students continue to earn credits toward a USC degree. Additionally, we have added and are building new programs inside and outside the virtual classroom to make the online experience even stronger.

The grading policy for the summer sessions will revert to those used prior to the spring 2020 semester. Students can elect the grade options normally available for the course and follow the regular deadlines to make their elections.

Communication between students and advisors/university offices is best handled through email.

Yes, see several Zoom security resources to ensure a safe, protected and inclusive online learning environment.

Please view the latest updates from USC's Office of Research in addition to the restart research FAQs.

The USC Libraries offer extensive resources and expertise that support online teaching, research and learning – even if the physical buildings remain closed for now.

Subscription journals and databasesdigital collectionsremote research help, and many other library services and programs remain available. The libraries also make several streaming services available, including music and film collections.

In some cases, the libraries can ship books or other materials from USC's collections. If the item you need appears available in the libraries’ online catalog, request shipment using the “Request via interlibrary loan” link. Please note that “Request via interlibrary loan” is the correct option for requesting books from the USC Libraries' collections that are marked as available. This is necessary to initiate the shipping process. You will receive the book from USC Libraries rather than the interlibrary loan.

Faculty may schedule information literacy and other library instruction for their classes, and subject specialists can help students with research projects and other coursework via Zoom.

The USC Libraries maintain a detailed set of online research guides that include information on subject-specific resources. You can also find more specific information on digital collections of primary sources.

The most current information on USC Libraries’ services, collections, and programs is available at libraries.usc.edu/coronavirus. Students and faculty with questions about library resources can contact the libraries remotely through email and chat services.

General Questions

Spring 2020 Semester

We have no plans to provide pro-rated tuition refunds for the spring 2020 semester or our summer 2020 sessions. We are continuing to provide a high-quality education, ensure academic progress towards degrees and offer a robust learning environment.

Whether our instructors present their classes in person or online, they bring the same expertise, depth of knowledge, and commitment to their teaching, and students continue to earn credits toward a USC degree. Additionally, we have added and are building new programs inside and outside the virtual classroom to make the online experience even stronger.

To reduce the stress on our current undergraduates, we implemented a new grading policy for the spring 2020 semester to allow students to elect Letter grades, Pass or No Record. In consultation with the academic deans, we decided to suspend the dean’s list for the spring semester in order to maintain its fairness and integrity.

The elimination of the pressure to make the dean’s list seems the most compassionate course at this time. The disruption of the semester due to the virus will be noted on students’ transcripts for spring 2020.

During the spring 2020 semester, we modified our grading policy to provide our students with increased flexibility given the varying environments and individual challenges that each student faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Undergraduate students had the freedom to opt for a Letter grade, a Pass or a No Record up to a week after official class grades were posted (May 20-27, 2020). The No Record option works like a withdrawal, except that there is no transcript notation that the student took the course.

Graduate students received instructions from their individual schools regarding whether they could select the Pass/No Pass or No Record option during the spring 2020 semester.

In addition, we extended the deadline to withdraw from a class from April 10, 2020 to May 1, 2020. Every student’s transcript will note that the spring 2020 semester was disrupted due to COVID-19.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USC Board of Trustees approved a 3.5% increase in undergraduate tuition, which will be implemented for the 2020-2021 academic year. It mirrors last year’s change in tuition, which was among the smallest percentage increases in 50 years.

This increase, which is in line with our peer universities, will help fund the high-quality education, broad range of outstanding academic programs and important research activities that are the hallmarks of USC.

The reality is that the costs of running a university continue to rise each year, and tuition only covers a portion of the cost of a student education. In the 2020-2021 academic year, in particular, we expect to incur significant new expenditures to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, as well as an increase in our investment in technology and new programs. At the same time, we anticipate an even greater need for financial assistance in the coming year, and we remain firm in our commitment to meet the financial needs of our students and their families.