Academic FAQs for Students

General Questions

Summer 2020 Sessions & Fall 2020 Semester

Given the uncertainty of when stay-at-home orders will be lifted, all in-person summer programs and associated in-person activities will move to online offerings for both sessions. Summer session 1 courses run from May 20 – June 30, and summer session 2 courses run from July 1 – Aug. 11.

USC adheres to the guidance from the Student 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 to universities that allows for increased flexibility to ensure international students can continue their academic progress. Universities can implement temporary adjustments such as moving to online instruction without negatively impacting the immigration status of enrolled international students.

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, USC ITS instituted several Zoom security changes to ensure a safe, protected and inclusive online learning environment.

Please view the latest updates from USC's Office of Research.

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 available several streaming services, including music and film collections.

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 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 will be fully operational in fall 2020 and spring 2021 and will offer our full roster of courses and degrees. We will also welcome our incoming classes. We are exploring a range of scenarios with significant public health provisions that will allow us to offer our courses in person while also ensuring that most — if not all — classes will be available in parallel online. We hope to announce much of what our fall 2020 semester will look like in June. Our commitment to providing an exceptional education, in and out of the classroom, remains unchanged.

Project Restart is our campus-wide effort to return to on-campus living, learning and working. We are all anxious to reunite with our friends and colleagues and to welcome new Trojans to USC, but we cannot underestimate the continuing health threat posed by COVID-19. As a result, our decisions about how and when to re-engage on campus will be informed by a team of our leading public health professionals and based on the most current scientific evidence, in addition to local and state regulations.

Project Restart features working groups that involve over 100 faculty, staff and students. Teams are charged with envisioning how we can return each specific element of university life to on-campus operations.

These teams are planning in great detail, considering contingencies and preparing us to be both nimble and thorough in our approach. We are focused on a safe and prudent return to full operations as soon as possible.

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.

Graduate Students: General Questions

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 OPT or visa issue that requires a completed PhD, and you have uploaded your dissertation or thesis to Thesis Center and 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 spring, one in summer and one in 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.

Doctoral Students: General Questions

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 OPT or visa issue that requires a completed PhD, and you have uploaded your dissertation or thesis to Thesis Center and 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 spring, one in summer and one in 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 – October 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 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.

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.