Univ of Southern California
University of Southern California
black horizontal bar for print styles

USC Marshall School of Business

Doctor of Philosophy

The Doctor of Philosophy program in business administration is designed to produce research-oriented graduates who, from positions in academia, can advance the state-of-the-art of business practice and enhance the contributions that business can make to the larger community. These goals can be advanced through research contributions in theory, concepts, methods and practices, and contributions to the education of the next generation of business leaders.

All students admitted to the Marshall Ph.D. degree program are supported by graduate assistantships or fellowships that require a full-time commitment to the program. No part-time or evening programs are available. Ph.D. students begin their program in early August and are expected to be in residence 12 months each year throughout the program. Until the time the student is granted permission to take the qualifying examination, successful completion of at least six units per consecutive semester is required.

This degree is awarded under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Students should also refer to the Graduate School section of this catalogue. All courses applied toward the degree must be accepted by the Graduate School and relevant to the student’s program of study. In most cases, the Ph.D. degree takes five years to complete.


The Ph.D. program in Business Administration welcomes applications from students with high intellectual aptitude who plan to pursue academic careers in research and teaching. Students with strong backgrounds in mathematics, psychology, the social sciences, engineering, computer science and the other sciences are encouraged to apply for admission. A master’s degree or M.B.A. is not a requirement for entry into the Ph.D. program; students may enter with only a bachelor’s degree. Prior academic research experience is desirable.

Students who wish to apply for admission to the Ph.D. program should visit www.marshall.usc.edu/phd to obtain additional information about the Ph.D. program and an online application. Only online applications are accepted. Students with additional questions that are not covered on the Website may contact the Marshall School Ph.D. Program office located in Accounting Building 214, (213) 740-0676 or phd@marshall.usc.edu.

Applicants should secure three letters of recommendation. The Ph.D. committee prefers that all recommendations be written by academics who are familiar with the applicant’s scholastic and research capabilities. An applicant who has been away from an academic environment for a significant period of time may substitute references from non-academics. Applicants also provide transcripts, GRE or GMAT scores, TOEFL scores (if appropriate) and a statement of purpose. Applicants are encouraged to send a statement of research experience and a research writing sample, if available.

Consideration is given to the rigor of the undergraduate and master’s curricula, academic performance, scores on the GRE or GMAT, the quality of the statement of purpose, fit with the department, the applicant’s oral and written communication skills and letters of recommendation.

Campus interviews for top applicants may be initiated by the departments. In cases where in-person interviews cannot be arranged, alternative arrangements will be made.

Graduate Assistantships

All admitted students receive a fellowship or graduate assistantship, full tuition, health and dental insurance and payment of mandatory student health center fee for a minimum of eight semesters dependent on continued satisfactory academic progress. This progress is assessed by the Ph.D. program based on students maintaining at least the minimum enrollment, a GPA of at least 3.0, and satisfactory performance in graduate assistant assignments. At the end of the fourth year, students may apply for an assistantship for the fifth year of study. Students who receive assistantships serve as teaching assistants or research apprentices each semester of the award. Teaching and teaching assistant assignments are made only after a student has passed the qualifying examination. For research apprentice assignments, students are engaged with a faculty member in a business-related, applied-learning, scholarly activity to learn the skills necessary to conduct independent research.

Degree Requirements

The Doctor of Philosophy in business administration is based on a program of study and research culminating in the completion of a dissertation in the major field of study. A minimum of 60 units of course work beyond the baccalaureate is required for the Ph.D. degree, including research courses and a minimum of 4 units and a maximum of 8 units of GSBA 794 Doctoral Dissertation. For students who already possess a master’s degree, a minimum of 40 semester units of course work beyond that degree is required, of which a maximum of 4 units may be GSBA 794 Doctoral Dissertation. Doctoral students are subject to disqualification at any time that the Marshall School of Business determines that they are deficient in academic achievement. All students must maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Screening Procedure

In addition to the papers and examinations assigned in first-year courses, a screening process will occur in May. This process will include a review of each student’s grades, an analysis of competence in written communications and reports from faculty members who have had in-class or other responsibility for the student. In most departments, a screening exam is required. The nature of the exam varies by department. Based upon this review, the Ph.D. committee will determine whether the student should continue in the Ph.D. program. Students who have not performed satisfactorily will be dropped from the program. The review shall normally be completed and results communicated to students by July 1. In some cases a first-year summer project may be taken into account in determining whether a student should continue in the program.

Advisor and Guidance Committee

Students are responsible for finding an advisor from among the Ph.D. faculty within the first academic year. The guidance committee should be established within the student’s home department at least two semesters prior to taking the qualifying examination and after the student has passed the screening procedure. The guidance committee comprises a minimum of five tenured or tenure-track USC faculty, three of whom must be from the student’s home department. At least one faculty member from the home department must be tenured. One member must be from outside the student’s home department and the Marshall School of Business. The guidance committee advises the student on courses during the first two years and oversees and grades the qualifying examination.

Course Requirements

Each student must successfully complete one course in microeconomics or behavioral sciences, one course in statistics and one course in research design plus the core courses in his or her field of specialization. Advanced course work is specified by the student’s guidance committee in preparation for the qualifying examinations in the area of specialization. The areas are: accounting, information and operations management, finance and business economics, management and organization, and marketing.

Qualifying Examination

The examination qualifying a student for candidacy may be comprehensive in nature. It is designed to determine the student’s competence in the area of specialization.

The qualifying examination consists of two sections: written and oral. The written section must be passed before the oral section; if a student does not pass the written examination, the oral examination need not be administered.

In preparing for the qualifying examination, students form a guidance committee. This committee helps the student prepare for the exam and also administers the oral section of the examination. See also the Graduate School section of this catalogue.


The final phase of the program is the completion of a dissertation. The dissertation must be based on an original investigation that makes a substantive contribution to knowledge and demonstrates the student’s capacity for independent, scholarly research. The quality of the dissertation should meet the standards for publication in leading academic journals in the field.

Typically, research in business administration involves studies that advance the body of knowledge concerned with issues and solution of problems confronting managers and administrators. As a result, a dissertation will (1) develop or extend theories, techniques or models relevant to managerial problems; (2) demonstrate original applications or adaptations of existing theories, techniques or models to managerial problems in a specific area; (3) develop innovative formulations and analyses of complex managerial problems and propose creative approaches to their solution; and/or (4) employ scientific research methodology to test empirically the validity of existing theories, techniques or models and their application to specific types of managerial problems.

A dissertation committee chair shall be requested by the student and appointed by the dean of the Ph.D. program within 90 days after the student has passed the qualifying examination. The remaining faculty on the dissertation committee shall be appointed within six months after the student has passed the qualifying exam.

The dissertation committee must consist of at least three tenured or tenure-track faculty, two of whom must be from the student’s home department. At least one faculty member from the home department must be tenured.

One member must be from outside the student’s department and the Marshall School of Business. Students may add additional faculty to the committee, especially those who might provide valuable expertise that improves the dissertation. It is important that the student select faculty members who are committed and interested in serving on the committee, since a quality dissertation requires extensive interaction with and a sizable time commitment from individual faculty members.

Format for Dissertation

All dissertations submitted in fulfillment of requirements for graduate degrees at USC must conform to certain university regulations with regard to format and method of preparation. These requirements are explained in detail in Guidelines for Format and Presentation of Theses and Dissertations, available at www.usc.edu/schools/GraduateSchool/current_thesis_dissert_05.html or from the Graduate School, Grace Ford Salvatori Hall 315. Further information on procedures is contained in the Graduate School section of this catalogue.

Defense of the Dissertation

When the dissertation committee agrees that the candidate has essentially completed the research and a satisfactory draft of the dissertation has been written, a final oral examination is held. This examination is open to all members of the faculty of the school and the university. Final judgment of the dissertation and the oral defense is rendered by the members of the dissertation committee. The dissertation must be accepted unanimously by the dissertation committee. Further information on procedures is contained in the Graduate School section of this catalogue.