Graduate Admission

International Student FAQ

Application Fee
What is the graduate application fee?
The application fee is $85.00 USD for most USC graduate programs and $150.00 USD for USC Marshall School of Business graduate programs.
Application Fee Waivers
Does USC offer application fee waivers?
International students are not eligible for application fee waivers. Please note that USC does not accept international reply coupons for application fee payments.

Degree Verification
The "Conditions of Admission" section of my admission letter states that I need to verify my previous degree(s). How do I do this?
Admitted graduate students must provide verification that they have been awarded a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution in the United States or equivalent foreign degree. If your degree could not be verified during the initial admission review process, then this will need to be done before the end of your first term at USC.

The Degree Progress Office is in charge of the verification process. For students who hold degrees from institutions outside the United States), Degree Progress only recognizes verifications processed through the International Education Research Foundation (IERF). For detailed information on how to obtain an IERF verification report, please refer to the following page on the Degree Progress website.

If you hold an undergraduate degree from a U.S. institution only, then you may verify your degree by bringing a final, official transcript to Degree Progress, located in Trojan Hall (TRO) Room 101. The transcript must specify the degree(s) conferred, date(s) of conferral, and be enclosed in the sealed original envelope with security marks intact.

Arrival Date
When should I arrive at USC?
New United States Department of Homeland Security regulations specify that students with a F-1 or J-1 visa may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days prior to the beginning of the university semester, as noted on your I-20 or DS-2019.

It is advisable to give yourself enough time to find a place to live and settle in before starting class. You should have completed Passport Verification, found permanent housing, acquired health insurance and registered for classes before the final day of class registration. The USC Office of International Services (OIS) recommends that you arrive at least two weeks before International Student Orientation.

Certificate of Eligibility: I-20 and DS-2019
What are Forms I-20 and DS-2019, and how can I obtain the one I need?
After you have been accepted as a graduate student, your academic institution will issue the Certificate of Eligibility which you must present when you apply for a visa at the US Consulate or Embassy. The type of certificate depends on the type of visa for which you are applying. The I-20 is valid for the F-1 visa. The DS-2019 is valid for the J-1 visa.

Before USC can issue a I-20 or DS-2019, you must submit a statement of financial support, documenting that you have the financial resources for your first year at USC. Your financial statement may be a bank statement, scholarship or fellowship award that shows support for the required amount.

For complete instructions about how to submit financial statements, click here.

I am an international student currently attending another university. How do I transfer my I-20 or DS-2019?
Once you have been admitted, USC must reissue your I-20 or DS-2019 before you may enroll in classes at the university. You will need to be formally released from your current institution through SEVIS, the Internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

USC does not issue Transfer-In forms. If your current institution requires a Transfer-In form from USC, your official admission letter from USC should suffice to process your transfer.

Contact your current school and establish your release date. Then, Email Us stating your intent to enroll at USC. Provide your full name, release date, and your USC and SEVIS identification numbers. USC will issue your new Form I-20 or DS-2019 after you have been released by your current institution.

How can I obtain an I-20 for my family members?
There are two ways to do this:

You may obtain your own I-20, enter the United States and then apply for your family members’ I-20 forms through the USC Office of International Services (OIS). For more information, e-mail

Alternatively, you may obtain I-20 forms for your family members before you arrive in the United States. You must provide the following information for each of your dependents:
  • Last (family), first (given) and middle name, exactly as each name appears on the passport. Please write the last name in all capital letters.
  • Date of birth (month/day/year)
  • Country of birth
  • Country of citizenship
  • Relationship to you (husband, wife, son or daughter)
To obtain the additional I-20 forms for your family, you must be able to document sufficient financial resources—$7,200 for your spouse and $3,600 for each dependent child.

What if my academic program or employment status changes while I’m attending USC?
While you are attending USC, you must notify the university’s Office of International Services (OIS) of any changes in your academic program or your enrollment, visa or employment status.

Driver’s license
Can I use my current Driver's License from my home country in California?
If you are over 18 and have a valid driver license from your home country, you may use it to drive in California. If your license is no longer valid, you must obtain a California Driver's License.

Do I need to buy auto insurance for my vehicle in California?
If you plan to purchase a new or used motor vehicle (a car, scooter or motorcycle), you must insure it—and most insurance companies will not provide coverage unless you have a valid California Driver's License. For more information about driver's licenses, click here.

Employment during graduate studies
How can I find out about employment opportunities?
For requirements and authorizations for on- and off-campus employment based on economic necessity, information about Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT), and resources for job-seekers, click here.

English-language proficiency
Is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) required for international students?

International graduate applicants must demonstrate English-language proficiency by submitting either TOEFL or IELTS scores. There is no minimum score required for admission. Scores are required for placement purposes only and are used to determine whether an admitted student is required to take the International Student English Examination (ISE Exam) upon arrival at USC. For information about the ISE exam, visit the ALI website.

Are other English-language proficiency tests required?
If your TOEFL or IELTS score does not meet the following requirements, you will be required to take the ISE exam.
  • 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, taken within the past 2 years, will be exempted from taking the ISE Exam.
  • Master’s applicants who have attained an iBT score of 90, with no less than 20 on each sub-score; or an IELTS score of 6.5, with no less than 6 on each band score, taken within the past two years, will be exempted from taking the ISE exam.
Any student not demonstrating adequate English proficiency will be required to enroll in the American Language Institute (ALI) at USC. ALI provides courses designed to improve an international student's oral and writing skills in English. The extent to which a student may be required to take courses at the ALI is determined by his or her performance on the ISE exam. After taking the ISE exam, some students may have no ALI requirement, and others may be required to take up to 8 units of English in their first year. For additional information regarding the ISE exam, email
English is not my native language. Does USC have an English as a Second Language (ESL) program?

If you are concerned that your English-language proficiency might be inadequate to pursue graduate studies at USC, you are strongly advised to take ESL classes at the USC American Language Institute (ALI).

Financial Aid
Am I eligible for financial assistance?

International students coming to the United States on non-immigrant student visas are not eligible for need-based financial aid. However, you may be eligible for a private scholarship or a fellowship and/or scholarship from your academic department or professional school. For more information, check with your department and visit the Financial Support page of this website.

What type of housing is available, and how do I apply for it?
If you wish to apply for university housing, the USC Housing website provides a detailed explanation of the types of rooms available and the application process. You should submit your request as soon as possible, because requests are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis, and rooms fill up quickly. Please be aware that the university does not guarantee the availability of on-campus housing.

If you do not wish to apply for university housing, the Office of International Services (OIS) provides information about temporary housing (including temporary campus housing and nearby hotels), and locating a rental apartment or house near USC or elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.

Identification card
When I try to cash a check in Los Angeles, I’m asked for my driver’s license. But I don’t have a California Driver’s License. Is there a different kind of official identification card I can obtain?
To cash a check and to apply for credit, you will need personal identification. If you will not be applying for a California Driver’s License (see Driver’s License), you will need to obtain a California Identification Card, which looks similar to a driver’s license.

To obtain the card, you must apply at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Bring with you a 676-SSAL letter stating your ineligibility for a Social Security number (this letter can be issued by any Social Security Administration office), and your passport and I-94. The Office of International Services can help you in understanding this process

International Student Orientation
Does USC have an orientation program for international students?
Yes. Click here for the current program date.

What happens at International Student Orientation?
You will learn about the programs and services available to you at USC, receive academic advisement to guide your class registration and (if required) be tested for English proficiency. Special sessions cover U.S. immigration requirements and USC policies and procedures. Current international students give talks about student life, and you will also have the chance to meet other international students who may become lifelong friends.

Is International Student Orientation mandatory for all international students?
Yes. Click here for the current program date. Be sure to also check with your department or school for orientation sessions they may require.

International student services
Does USC offer special services for international students?
Yes. The Office of International Services (OIS) provides numerous programs and activities for international students, including workshops on immigration, job searching, Optional Practical Training (OPT), tax filing and returning to your home country after earning your degree.

Other OIS programs include social events, the International Diners’ Club, USC World Café, an English-language program for student spouses, and Thanksgiving Match-Up, in which international students are invited to the homes of local families to celebrate the national holiday. In addition, the website contains valuable information about preparing for your graduate experience at USC.

International transfer students
Who is considered an international transfer student?
To be considered an international transfer student, you must be a current international student on a valid F-1 or J-1 visa at another U.S. institution, and transfer directly to USC.

How do I maintain my legal status as an international transfer student while transferring to USC from another U.S. college or university?
If you will be staying in the U.S. after leaving your previous college or university, and your visa status is F-1, or if it is J-1 and you have been granted a “D/S” (duration of status) by the U.S. Immigration Service:
  • You must ask your previous institution to formally release you in SEVIS, the Internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. USC will then give you a new Form I-20 (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 (for J-1 visa holders).
  • You must bring the original and one copy of both your previous I-20 or DS-2019 and your new I-20 or DS-2019 when you register with the Office of International Services (OIS) upon your arrival at USC.
  • To maintain your legal status as an international transfer student in the United States, you must register with the OIS for Passport Verification before you register for classes.
Please note: If you leave the U.S.—to return to your home country, or for any other reason—before you enroll at USC, simply show the Immigration Officer your I-20 or DS-2019 upon reentry to the U.S. You do not need to visit the U.S. consulate unless your student visa has expired.

What happens at Passport Verification?
Regardless of your visa status (F-1 or J-1), your formal transfer to USC will be processed during Passport Verification (PPV), mandatory for all international students. You must complete PPV before registering for classes. You can make an appointment for a PPV session during the orientation for new international students.

All new international transfer students must submit the following items at PPV:

  • Passport and I-94 card. Your original passport, with the attached white card you received at your point of entry to the U.S.;
  • Photocopies. One photocopy each of the passport pages that contain your photo, passport number and passport expiration date, and a photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card;
  • Permanent Record Form. Download this form here and fill it out;
  • For F-1 students only: Your USC I-20 and one photocopy each of pages 1 and 3; and one copy each of pages 1 and 3 of the I-20 from your previous institution;,
  • For J-1 students only: Your DS-2019 and one photocopy each of your and your dependents' DS-2019;
  • If you were working on Optional Practical Training prior to coming to USC, please provide a copy of your Employment Authorization card (EAD).
Reentry on USC I-20: If you traveled outside the US and reentered on USC's I-20, you do not need to follow these procedures. You have been automatically "transferred" to USC's I-20. But you must turn in copies of your I-20, I-94 card, passport, and visa to OIS during Passport Verification.

How do I maintain my legal status as an international transfer student if I travel outside the United States while I am studying at USC?
As an enrolled USC student, you should request a new Form I-20 prior to leaving the U.S. Instead of "transfer pending," your new I-20 will read, "continued attendance."

Social Security card
Do I need a Social Security card to open a bank account or apply for a job?
The only reason you need a Social Security card is to apply for a job. If you have a job offer, the Office of International Services can help you obtain a Social Security number. To open a bank account, you will be asked to fill out a form attesting that you are exempt, as an international student, from the Social Security number requirement. For more information, click here. See also: Identification Card.

Will I need an automobile? Are there alternative means of transport?
Although USC is a large campus—it takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side of the main (University Park) campus to the other—most students either walk or bicycle. (A used bicycle, available from shops near campus, costs about $30.) There is also a campus tram service.

If you live off-campus, you will probably need an additional source of transport. Los Angeles does have a bus and light-rail system, run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). However, depending on where you live, bus service may be slow, infrequent and/or involve numerous changes.

Visit the USC Transportation webpage for more information on public transportation:

Many students prefer to own a car. Please be aware that even the cheapest used car costs several thousand dollars and will involve the purchase of automobile insurance, which can cost hundreds of dollars annually. Driving without automobile insurance can put you at risk for serious legal and financial consequences. Most automobile insurance companies require a California Driver's License.

If you need personal transportation only for occasional trips, you may consider renting a car. A valid driver’s license from your home country will be sufficient to rent a car during your first year in the state. After the first year, you will need to apply for a California Driver’s License.

Tuition and fee payment
What is the procedure for wiring money directly to USC?
Click here for detailed information.

Visa classifications
What is the difference between the F-1 and J-1 visa?
The F-1 (non-immigrant) visa enables you to enroll in academic and language-study programs in the United States. You are permitted to remain in the U.S. up to 60 days after graduation, and you may request permission to stay in the U.S. for up to one additional year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in your field of study.

The J-1 (exchange visitor) visa enables you to enroll in a U.S. academic institution if your initial funding is “substantially” derived from sources other than personal or family resources, or if you are participating in an exchange program formally established by a written agreement between governments, or between the university and a foreign government or institution. You are permitted to remain in the U.S. up to 30 days after graduation, and you may work for up to 18 months in the U.S. if the employment qualifies as “academic training” and is approved by your sponsor.

Does USC admit international students with other types of visas?
Yes. These students are generally holders of "dependent" visas—the spouse or parent is the primary visa holder. Click here for a list of these visas.