University of Southern California
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Doctoral Degrees

The School of Policy, Planning, and Development offers the Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Management (Ph.D.), the Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Planning and Development (Ph.D.) and the Doctor of Policy, Planning, and Development (D.P.P.D.). The Ph.D. degrees are designed to prepare individuals for university level teaching and research. The D.P.P.D. degree is intended to develop a high level of conceptual and research competence for professional leadership in planning and development. The D.P.P.D. is administered by the School of Policy, Planning, and Development; the Ph.D. programs are administered by the Graduate School and the faculty of the School of Policy, Planning, and Development. Ph.D. students must consult the Graduate School section of this catalogue for regulations and requirements pertaining to its degrees. Students should also consult the Academic Policies section of this catalogue. 

Completion of the requirements for all these degrees is assumed to take a minimum of three years of approved graduate study and research beyond the bachelor’s degree. For the Ph.D. student, a minimum of 24 graduate units completed in residence on the University Park campus in Los Angeles is required. D.P.P.D. students are required to complete a minimum of 24 units at the University Park campus. Full-time study is represented by enrollment in 6 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. For university policies regarding continuous enrollment, leave of absence and readmission, see this section. 

Application and Admission

Admission to graduate standing for the Ph.D. or D.P.P.D. is recommended by the school’s admissions committee acting under guidelines established by the Graduate School as outlined in the Graduate School section, and the Graduate Admission section. In addition to those guidelines, D.P.P.D. students are expected to have a minimum of five years of substantial relevant experience. Students intending to apply should direct questions about the program and all materials for the admission application to Doctoral Programs, Office of Student Affairs, RGL 111, School of Policy, Planning, and Development, University of Southern California, University Park, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626.

The deadline for applications for admission to the Ph.D. and D.P.P.D. programs is December 1. Applications for admission are made once each year for fall semester admission.

The admission decision for Ph.D. students 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. D.P.P.D. applicants must also provide evidence of at least five years of practical administrative or other relevant experience. The GRE and GMAT scores are neither accepted nor required for the D.P.P.D. program.

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) copies of GRE scores; (3) a 1,000-word essay discussing the applicant’s background and reasons for wanting to pursue a Ph.D. degree and identifying his or her personal, educational and professional goals; (4) an up-to-date resume, including academic and professional accomplishments; (5) three letters of recommendation, two from previous instructors, the other from an instructor or from a professional supervisor or colleague. The letters should indicate the applicant’s academic and professional accomplishments and potential; (6) a completed USC Graduate Admission Application, along with the nonrefundable application fee; (7) a writing sample of approximately 1,000 words (in addition to the applicant essay); and (8) a completed School of Policy, Planning, and Development Supplemental Graduate Application. International applicants are asked to submit additional information. Applicants should carefully choose, and clearly state, the degree objective (Ph.D. or D.P.P.D.) for which they are applying, since different sets of admissions criteria exist for each of them.

Transfer Credits

 The application of any available transfer credits toward a graduate degree at USC will be determined by the faculty and the dean of the School of Policy, Planning, and Development, based on the semester units available for transfer as shown in the Transfer Credit Statement (determined by the USC Office of Academic Records and Registrar). Refer to Transfer of Course Work and Admission with Advanced Standing for the Doctor of Philosophy in Policy, Planning, and Development here for more information.

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 30 days after the beginning of the semester of admission. Students who do not inform the school in a timely manner of their intent to defer enrollment may be required to reapply for admission. 

Please note that more stringent regulations apply to international students. See the Admission section of this catalogue.

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 School section of this catalogue. 

Admission of International Students

 All international applicants for admission to doctoral programs should submit materials to Doctoral Programs, Recruitment and Admissions Office, RGL 111, School of Policy, Planning, and Development, University of Southern California, University Park, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626. See the Admission section of this catalogue.


Ph.D. students are required to have a 3.3 overall G.P.A. in first-year courses to continue in the program. D.P.P.D. students are required to pass a screening procedure after 16 units of course work. The procedure is designed to ensure that only those students who have demonstrated intellectual and scholarly potential continue in the program. There are differences between the screening process for Ph.D. and D.P.P.D. students. Students should consult the relevant faculty director of the doctoral program in which they are enrolled. 

Guidance Committee (for the Ph.D. programs)

 A guidance committee assists the student in outlining an academic program leading toward the degree. Students will form an initial guidance committee by the end of the first fall semester. The committee might not yet include the Graduate School representative from outside SPPD, but must include at least three tenure track SPPD faculty members, one of whom is identified as the chair. This committee bears responsibility for counseling the doctoral student, for approving a course schedule and preliminary and qualifying examinations, and for recommending the student for admission to candidacy. After approval of the student’s program and proposed time schedule, the program is submitted in writing to the relevant director. This should be accomplished by the beginning of the second year, following successful screening.

The complete guidance committee must be in place no later than the third semester. The chair should have recognized expertise in the qualifying area and should be a regular participant in the qualifying examination committee for that area. The majority of the members of the guidance committee (typically at least three out of five) should be experts in the area in which the student is qualifying and should be regular participants in the qualifying examination committee. The remaining members should have a clear interest in this area with the exception of the outside member whose primary responsibility is to serve as the representative of the Graduate School, ensuring the university’s commitment to the equitable treatment of all students and that the highest quality education standards are upheld.

Students will formalize their relationship with their committees through the development of a work plan which specifies all courses, degree progress, seminar attendance and what was learned from these sessions as well as a research plan that articulates major research questions being explored. At the end of the first year of study, the guidance committee chair reviews and approves the work plan. At the end of the second year, the full guidance committee reviews the work plan and the second year paper.