University of Southern California
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Graduate Programs

Doctor of Philosophy in Architecture

The School of Architecture offers the Ph.D. in Architecture, designed to prepare individuals for university level teaching and professional research and for leadership positions in industry and professional architectural practice. Doctoral students must consult the Graduate School section for regulations and requirements pertaining to its degrees. Students should also see Academic Policies for additional information.

Completion of degree requirements is assumed to take a minimum of three years of approved graduate study and research beyond the bachelor's degree in a related field or a bachelor's degree and related practical experience. For the Ph.D. student without Advanced Standing, a minimum of 48 graduate units completed in residence on the University Park campus in Los Angeles is required. Full-time study is represented by enrollment in six units during the semester. Usually, the school and the student's guidance committee insist on a clear and mutually understood commitment of time and energy by the student to ensure significant involvement in the doctoral learning experience.

Application and Admission

Admission to the Ph.D. is granted by the Dean of the School of Architecture. However, only a letter from the Office of Graduate Admission constitutes an official offer of admission; correspondence with department chairs or individual faculty members does not constitute admission.

Priority consideration for Ph.D. student funding will be given to those applicants who submit all application materials by December 1. The university will continue to accept and consider applications submitted after December 1. Those who wish to submit applications after the deadline should check with the School of Architecture. Applications for admission to the Ph.D. program are made once each year for fall semester admission.

The admission decision is made using criteria which include verification that the applicant has a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, has maintained a high grade point average in the last 60 units of undergraduate work and has earned a competitive score on the verbal and quantitative portions of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Other elements of the applicant's educational and experiential background are also evaluated, including performance in other advanced degrees.

Each applicant should submit the following:

  1. one copy of official transcripts of all previous college and university work (be sure that these official transcripts show an awarded degree where appropriate);
  2. one copy of GRE scores;
  3. copy of TOEFL scores for international students whose first language is not English;
  4. a 1000-word essay discussing the applicant's background; reasons for wanting to pursue a doctoral degree; and identifying his or her personal, educational and professional goals;
  5. an up-to-date resume, including academic and professional accomplishments;
  6. five letters of recommendation, two from previous instructors, others from instructors or from professional supervisors or colleagues (the letters should indicate the applicant's academic and professional accomplishments and potential);
  7. a completed USC Graduate Admission Application, along with the nonrefundable application fee;
  8. a completed School of Architecture Supplemental Graduate Application and (8) samples of work such as a portfolio, publications, software programs, etc. The program is intended for people with considerable intellectual interests. Additional requirements for international students are listed under Admission of International Students.

Upon admission to the program, each student will be assigned a faculty advisor who will oversee his or her program.

Doctoral Admission with Advanced Standing

Students entering with a Master of Architecture degree or Master of Building Science degree (or their equivalent) from USC or another university may be admitted with Advanced Standing. A minimum of 36 units of course work beyond the first graduate degree, exclusive of 794 Doctoral Dissertation preparation, is required for doctoral degree students with a USC Master of Building Science degree admitted with Advanced Standing. For those students entering with a Master of Architecture degree or Master of Building Science degree (or their equivalent) from another university and admitted with Advanced Standing, a minimum of 40 units of course work beyond the first graduate degree is required. Additional course work may be required if deemed necessary by the student's faculty. See Doctoral Admission with Advanced Standing in the Graduate School section.

Transfer Credits

The application of any available transfer credits toward a graduate degree at USC will be determined by the School of Architecture, based on the semester units available for transfer as shown in the Transfer Credit Statement. Work experience in architecture or closely related activities should be of benefit to the students involved, but will not be considered equivalent to academic education. A maximum of 6 units of transfer credit may be applied toward a doctoral degree for those admitted with Advanced Standing. Admission with Advanced Standing is based upon a completed master's degree. The only course work available for transfer credit is course work taken after completion of that degree. No exceptions are allowed.

Students entering the doctoral program with a master's degree or graduate course work in a field other than architecture work may receive up to 12 units of transfer credit toward the Ph.D.

Deferral of Enrollment

Admission to the university is granted for a specified semester, and it is expected that students will begin their programs during that semester. The school will normally allow students to defer their enrollment up to one year from the admission semester. Students who wish to defer enrollment should notify the school in writing no more than 60 days before the beginning of the semester of admission or they may be required to reapply for admission. Please note that more stringent regulations apply to international students. See the Graduate Admission section for furter information.

Admission to Candidacy

Acceptance to graduate standing does not in itself imply that the student is admitted or will be admitted to candidacy for an advanced degree. Application for admission as a candidate for an advanced degree is a separate and subsequent step. See the Graduate Admission section for furter information.

General Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

Screening Procedures
Ph.D. students are required to pass a screening procedure before the student has taken more than 24 units (including research courses). Passing this procedure is prerequisite to continuation in the doctoral program. This is designed to ensure that only those students who have demonstrated intellectual and scholarly potential continue in the program. Students who fail the screening procedure will be advised that they have not been recommended to continue in the Ph.D. program and that any additional work may not be counted toward the degree.

Prior to screening, each student prepares a resume and a preliminary statement describing the fields of specialization. After passing the written screening examination, the student meets with the committee to discuss the proposal for course work, fields of specialization and research interests. The committee chair serves as the student's principal advisor in preparing for the qualifying examination.

Guidance Committee
Each student selects a guidance committee, which officially oversees the student's academic program through the qualifying examination. The guidance committee should be established at least one semester prior to taking the qualifying examination. This should be accomplished by the beginning of the second year, following successful screening. An appointment of committee form, which can be obtained from the Graduate School Web site, should be used to establish the guidance committee. Students initiate the paperwork and submit the signed form to the dean's office.

Five committee members are designated to provide guidance in the field developed by the student. A minimum of three members, including at least one tenured member, must be from among the faculty participating in the Ph.D. in Architecture degree program, and at least one member must be from outside the School of Architecture. This committee bears responsibility for recommending the student for admission to candidacy. After approval of the student's program and time schedule, the program is submitted in writing to the doctoral director. Students will formalize their relationship with their committees through the development of a study plan which specifies all courses completed, date of screening decision, the area of concentration, and which courses will be taken and when, in order to prepare for the qualifying examination. This study plan will be signed by the student, the members of the guidance committee and the faculty doctoral director. It will be filed in the doctoral office.

Qualifying Examination
Students must complete at least 24 units of course work in the doctoral program with a GPA of at least 3.0 before attempting the qualifying exam.

The guidance committee prepares a comprehensive written examination covering the field of study. The exact format for the written portion is determined by each committee in advance. Answers to the questions in the written portion are graded by all committee members. Following completion of the written portion, the entire committee conducts an oral examination of the student, focusing on material both complementary and supplementary to the written examination but relevant to the field and overall program selected by the student. Upon passing both portions of the qualifying examination, the student becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. degree.

The objective of the qualifying examination is to evaluate the student's knowledge and to serve as an instrument to demonstrate competence in the student's chosen field of concentration in preparation for candidacy. Qualifying examinations are scheduled once each year during August. The oral phase of the examination must be completed within 60 days following the written segment. Both parts of the examination must be passed in order to qualify. Failure on one of the two parts of the examination does not require retaking both parts. Only the part failed must be redone.

The examination will be collaboratively designed by the instructors of the core courses and oriented toward testing students' ability to integrate material from these courses. A portion of this examination will focus on methodological issues. The written portion of the examination will be administered during a full-day session.

The process of grading examinations will be accomplished in two ways. For the written examination, the grading will be done by a committee comprising the core course instructors and the doctoral director. For the oral examination, grading will stay with the guidance committee. Upon passing both the core and oral portions of the examination, the student will be expected to reduce the guidance committee to a dissertation committee. See the General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Dissertation Committee
Once students pass the qualifying examination, the guidance committee recommends the student for candidacy and a dissertation topic is approved, a dissertation committee must be formed as soon as possible. The size may range from three to five members, one member of which must be from outside the school.

Dissertation Proposal
After the successful completion of the qualifying examination, the doctoral student will be required to present a complete research proposal for the dissertation. The proposal will be circulated for review and evaluation by the dissertation committee. This proposal should include the methodology, research design, literature review and instrumentation (if applicable). After this step has been completed, further work leading to the completion of the dissertation is authorized.

Defense of the Dissertation
Oral defense of the dissertation before the dissertation committee is usually made on a preliminary draft. After the dissertation committee has approved the dissertation in substance, the candidate must defend it before the committee and other interested doctoral program faculty and colleagues. Successful completion of the oral defense marks the ultimate step for the candidate within the School of Architecture. The candidate must be certain that the dissertation also meets specific university requirements before acceptance by the Graduate School. See the Graduate School section for further information.

All theses and dissertations submitted in fulfillment of requirements for graduate degrees must conform to university regulations with regard to format and method of preparation.

Unit Requirement and Time Limit

The Ph.D. degree in Architecture requires a minimum of 72 units (including a minimum of 4 units of ARCH 794) of graduate level course work, and has a minimum residency requirement of three years. Students must maintain a 3.0 average GPA and complete all required course work within five years. The maximum time for the completion of all requirements for the doctoral degree is eight years.

A leave of absence can be granted upon approval of the guidance or dissertation committees. There is no automatic readmission if the student fails to maintain continuous registration or fails to meet academic standards.

Core Curriculum

Year 1: Basic and professional studies
Acquire at a minimum the knowledge that is characteristic of the master's degree students or equivalent and define the research program.

Year 2: Advanced studies

Year 3: Research and dissertation

While a Master of Architecture or related degree is not a prerequisite for admission, those students entering the doctoral program without a master's degree in architecture or related field will be required to complete a core curriculum.

Required CoursesUnits
ARCH 419Architectural Sustainability Tools and Methods3
ARCH 513LSeminar: Advanced Structures4
ARCH 515LSeminar: Advanced Environmental Systems4
ARCH 519Sustainability in the Environment: Infrastructures, Urban Landscapes and Buildings3
ARCH 611Advanced Building Systems Integration4
ARCH 613LSeminar: Structures Research4
ARCH 615LSeminar: Environmental Systems Research4
ARCH 790Doctoral Research20
ARCH 791Proposal for Doctoral Dissertation1

A minimum of 4 units of:
ARCH 794abzDoctoral Dissertation2-2-0
GRSC 850abThe Professoriate: Preparing for the Future2-2