FAQ: Student Academics

Against a backdrop of global uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, the 8,000 classes being offered this semester will ensure you receive a world-class education that equips you with the skills and experience to succeed in a world that is likely to remain unpredictable and fast-changing for the foreseeable future.

Below are the answers to frequently asked questions related to academics. International students can view additional guidance related to visas, immigration status, travel and more in the FAQs for International Students. Student researchers should see the Research FAQs. For health-related information, view the Health and Safety FAQs.

If you have questions that are not answered in our FAQs, please email covid19@usc.edu. Our response team will help find an answer.

Timeline and Framework

The semester began on Aug. 17, 2020, and all classes – including final exams – will end by Thanksgiving. By ending the semester before Thanksgiving, we aim to minimize the spread of the virus, particularly as the flu season commences. To support this schedule, we will not have a fall break in 2020.

Last month, we announced we would deliver the vast majority of our fall classes online, with only 10-20% of instruction held in-person or in a hybrid modality, due to the progression of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County, and we encouraged students to study from home in the fall semester. When we made that announcement, we expected that we would receive permission from state and county health officials to open in that manner.

Unfortunately, we do not yet have clearance from the state or county to move forward with classroom instruction. Given the delay in receiving the required permission, we made the difficult decision to begin the fall semester with fully remote instruction with limited exceptions for clinical education.

Our faculty and staff have worked day and night to bring home an exciting fall semester for students — even if it’s online and onscreen.

Over the past few months, we have retrofitted our campus and put numerous safety protocols in place for the return of our students. As soon as public health regulations allow, we will be ready to pivot quickly to select in-person and hybrid instruction and other on-campus activities.

Just like we did last spring, professors will record classes and make them available to students to watch whenever it is convenient for them.

Schedule of Classes

USC posted the revised class schedule on Web Registration.

You should try to find an alternative class to avoid the time conflict. If it is absolutely necessary that you take the two classes that conflict, you can request approval from the professors teaching the courses to register with a time conflict. You can find the form for 'Approval to Register with a Time Conflict' on our forms page.

If you would like to register for a class that is full, you may request approval from your advisor (if the class is part of your major) or from the department offering the class. If the class is in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, please contact the professor teaching the class.

International Students

International students can view additional guidance related to visas, immigration status, travel and more in the FAQs for International Students.

On July 24, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) clarified that for the fall 2020 semester, F-1 students should abide by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) guidance originally issued in March 2020. This guidance allows distance learning in excess of regulatory limits due to the public health emergency generated by COVID-19.

Continuing students in the United States or abroad can take classes from either location. As long as you enroll in a full course load and maintain your immigration status, USC will continue to keep your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record in active status.  

Continuing students who are currently outside the United States but would like to return to the United States remain eligible to do so as long as they have a valid visa, an I-20 endorsed for travel and all other documents listed on the travel section of USC's Office of International Services website. However, given the continuing public health crisis in Los Angeles and the uncertain guidance from state and local authorities, the university is not recommending that students travel back to campus at this time.

Students do not need a replacement I-20 with special language about the mode of instruction offered by USC.

Newly admitted students who are already in the United States (undergraduate transfer students or new graduate students coming directly from another degree program at USC) can remain in the country and maintain F-1 status while completing a full course load online this fall. The USC Office of Admission I-20 processing team will assist these students. Please email usci20@usc.edu if you have not already received your USC transfer I-20.

Students must complete Passport Verification (PPV) and enroll in a full course load for fall 2020. You are permitted to take online classes while in the United States and can study in F-1 status since your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record will be activated after PPV. To avoid complications at the port of entry, do not depart the United States until your SEVIS record has been activated. View the PPV instructions.

New students, transfer students, students returning from a Leave of Absence (LOA), students traveling to reinstate status, and all other students with an initial attendance or transfer pending I-20 who are currently outside the United States are not eligible to enter the United States and enroll in 100% online classes.

These students have two options for the fall 2020 semester:

  • Begin your studies from abroad as a non-F-1 student. New and transfer students should email the USC Office of Admission I-20 processing team at usci20@usc.edu to obtain a new I-20 for the spring 2021 semester. All other students with an initial attendance I-20 should email USC's Office of International Services at ois@usc.edu to obtain a new I-20 for the spring 2021 semester.
  • Contact your admissions or academic advisor to inquire about the possibility of postponing your studies to a future semester.

Students can take their classes online for the fall semester. We cannot predict how things will progress in the coming months, although we hope that normal operations will resume in January and that all USC students will be able to return to campus at that time. New students will need an updated I-20, and continuing students should refer to the travel section of USC’s Office of International Services website. 

To maintain active F-1 status, continuing students and new students currently in the United States are required to maintain a full course load during this temporary transition to alternative instructional methods. Continuing students outside the United States must maintain a full course load if they wish to retain an active Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

There is no immigration enrollment requirement for new students outside the United States. However, students should confirm with their academic advisor regarding the minimum course enrollment requirement for their program.

To maintain your SEVIS record, you should not fall below the full course requirement unless you have been permitted to do so either through a  Reduced Course Load (RCL)  or  Leave of Absence (LOA)  approval from your academic advisor and USC’s Office of International Services.

Note: No extra academic difficulty RCLs are available due to COVID-19, but a final semester RCL is still possible.

Below are the full-time unit requirements:

  • Undergraduate students: 12 units
  • Master’s students: 8 units
  • Doctoral students: 6 units

Just like we did last spring, professors will record classes and make them available to students to watch whenever it is convenient for them. 

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 – Oct. 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 principal investigators (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.

Currently enrolled USC PhD students may face COVID-19-related challenges that prevent their return to campus. To address this situation, the university created the option of a COVID-19-related pause for PhD students. With the approval of the program and school dean, currently enrolled PhD students have the option of pausing their studies in fall 2020 and then resuming them in either spring 2021 or fall 2021.

The pause is unfunded and similar to a leave of absence, but it comes with safeguards for both the student and the program in the form of an academic plan outlining specific expectations for the resumption of the student’s studies, funding and progress toward the degree. The duration of the pause does not count against the student’s progress toward the degree.

PhD students planning to use the COVID-19-related pause must develop an academic plan with their faculty advisor and obtain the signature of the advisor and school dean or dean’s designee indicating approval. The following dates are recommended as deadlines, but there is some room for flexibility.

The deadlines are designed to be late enough for students to be able to assess their own situations and respond to changing global conditions, but early enough for principal investigators (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. In collaboration with the school dean, the PhD program will handle any exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

  • July 15, 2020: Confirm the pause option for fall 2020 and plan to resume studies in spring 2021 or fall 2021.
  • Oct. 15, 2020: Confirm a return for spring 2021, or confirm the pause option for spring 2021 and plan to resume studies in fall 2021.
  • April 15, 2021: Confirm a plan to resume studies in fall 2021.

The student, student’s home program and school dean’s office will keep a record of the COVID-19-related pause.

Students who are ill and undergoing treatment for COVID-19 or any serious illness should consider the possible advantage of a voluntary health leave.

International students should consult with USC's Office of International Services before making plans for any type of leave. Students who select the pause option must live outside of the United States during the semester(s) they are not enrolled due to U.S. immigration regulations.

USC will be able to process fellowship stipends for both incoming and continuing PhD students who are located in or outside the United States and have at least a semester of fellowship available in their multi-year funding offer. We will process stipends for continuing students per the standard protocol, and we will provide details soon regarding processing stipends for incoming students who are outside the United States.

Individual schools will evaluate the academic value of the remote coursework or research opportunity available to students (both domestic and international) who are not returning to campus in the fall. If a school deems the academic value of the coursework or research opportunity to be insufficient, it will advise students to defer using the option of the pause for continuing students, or the option of the multi-year funding offer deferral for incoming students. (see FAQs above)

We are still finalizing the options for teaching assistantships and research assistantships and will share additional information soon.

Graduate students should check with the department or school to which they were admitted.

Undergraduate students could be granted deferrals in specific cases relating to medical issues, religious obligations, required military/national service and, in the case of international students who will attend classes online from another country, the inability to construct a reasonable online course schedule that is compatible with their home time zone. However, deferral requests for other reasons will generally not be granted.

New students who have committed to enroll at USC but fail to do so will forfeit their spot in the entering class and will need to reapply (with no guarantee of admission) should they wish to attend the university in a future term.

New students living outside the United States who plan to complete their USC coursework online should work with their academic advisor to construct a course schedule that is compatible with their home time zone. If a reasonable schedule is not feasible, students may request a deferral to a future term.

In such cases, USC’s academic advisors will notify the Office of Admission, and staff will then send a deferral form to the student. Once the student completes and submits this form, the Office of Admission will follow up with further information.

Graduate Students

Last month, we announced we would deliver the vast majority of our fall classes online, with only 10-20% of instruction held in-person or in a hybrid modality, due to the progression of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County, and we encouraged students to study from home in the fall semester. When we made that announcement, we expected that we would receive permission from state and county health officials to open in that manner.

Unfortunately, we do not yet have clearance from the state or county to move forward with classroom instruction. Given the delay in receiving the required permission, we made the difficult decision to begin the fall semester with fully remote instruction with limited exceptions for clinical education.

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 Optional Practical Training (OPT) or visa issue that requires a completed PhD – and you have uploaded your dissertation or thesis to Thesis Center, but the rest of the process is not yet completed.

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 the spring, one in the summer and one in the 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.

Graduate students must adhere to the university's physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. In shared spaces such as graduate student offices, instructors (including teaching assistants) should stringently observe the practice of staggering scheduled office hours, which already exists in many cases for practical reasons.

Doctoral Students

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 Optional Practical Training (OPT) or visa issue that requires a completed PhD – and you have uploaded your dissertation or thesis to Thesis Center, but the rest of the process is not yet completed.

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 the spring, one in the summer and one in the 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 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 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 – Oct. 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 principal investigators (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.

Currently enrolled USC PhD students may face COVID-19-related challenges that prevent their return to campus. To address this situation, the university created the option of a COVID-19-related pause for PhD students. With the approval of the program and school dean, currently enrolled PhD students have the option of pausing their studies in fall 2020 and then resuming them in either spring 2021 or fall 2021.

The pause is unfunded and similar to a leave of absence, but it comes with safeguards for both the student and the program in the form of an academic plan outlining specific expectations for the resumption of the student’s studies, funding and progress toward the degree. The duration of the pause does not count against the student’s progress toward the degree.

PhD students planning to use the COVID-19-related pause must develop an academic plan with their faculty advisor and obtain the signature of the advisor and school dean or dean’s designee indicating approval. The following dates are recommended as deadlines, but there is some room for flexibility.

The deadlines are designed to be late enough for students to be able to assess their own situations and respond to changing global conditions, but early enough for principal investigators (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. In collaboration with the school dean, the PhD program will handle any exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

  • July 15, 2020: Confirm the pause option for fall 2020 and plan to resume studies in spring 2021 or fall 2021.
  • Oct. 15, 2020: Confirm a return for spring 2021, or confirm the pause option for spring 2021 and plan to resume studies in fall 2021.
  • April 15, 2021: Confirm a plan to resume studies in fall 2021.

The student, student’s home program and school dean’s office will keep a record of the COVID-19-related pause.

Students who are ill and undergoing treatment for COVID-19 or any serious illness should consider the possible advantage of a voluntary health leave.

International students should consult with USC's Office of International Services before making plans for any type of leave. Students who select the pause option must live outside of the United States during the semester(s) they are not enrolled due to U.S. immigration regulations.

USC will be able to process fellowship stipends for both incoming and continuing PhD students who are located in or outside the United States and have at least a semester of fellowship available in their multi-year funding offer. We will process stipends for continuing students per the standard protocol, and we will provide details soon regarding processing stipends for incoming students who are outside the United States.

Individual schools will evaluate the academic value of the remote coursework or research opportunity available to students (both domestic and international) who are not returning to campus in the fall. If a school deems the academic value of the coursework or research opportunity to be insufficient, it will advise students to defer using the option of the pause for continuing students, or the option of the multi-year funding offer deferral for incoming students. (see FAQs above)

We are still finalizing the options for teaching assistantships and research assistantships and will share additional information soon. Students who have questions about visas, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) should contact USC’s Office of International Services.

Last month, we announced we would deliver the vast majority of our fall classes online, with only 10-20% of instruction held in-person or in a hybrid modality, due to the progression of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County, and we encouraged students to study from home in the fall semester. When we made that announcement, we expected that we would receive permission from state and county health officials to open in that manner.

Unfortunately, we do not yet have clearance from the state or county to move forward with classroom instruction. Given the delay in receiving the required permission, we made the difficult decision to begin the fall semester with fully remote instruction with limited exceptions for clinical education.

Graduate students must adhere to the university's physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. In shared spaces such as graduate student offices, instructors (including teaching assistants) should stringently observe the practice of staggering scheduled office hours, which already exists in many cases for practical reasons.

General Questions

For the fall semester, USC will reduce combined central student fees – including health and activities fees – from approximately $500 to $100 for undergraduates, and from approximately $450 to $100 for graduate students. During the fall, Student Health Center providers will offer telehealth and in-person healthcare services to those students living on or near campus; and telehealth services to those throughout California, as well as offer outreach services to all students, regardless of geographic location. Fall university activities will include a variety of live virtual performances, concerts, speaker series and much more.

On Aug. 17, USC launched a new online student hub to help students maximize their virtual student experience. This portal is the first step in bringing all of the different facets of college life into a single resource to help enhance your experience across academics, community, wellness, arts and culture, service and career.

The initial version includes integrated event calendars, so you can see all of the online events in a single feed. Soon, many of those events will be directly accessible from within the portal to create a virtual hub for events, including interaction with your friends and fellow students.

The portal also provides access to your class schedule and links to key resources to give you a single starting point that serves as a gateway to other sites. In time, many of those resources will be more deeply integrated to provide a seamless experience.

Our current plan is to resume the dean’s list in the fall semester.

Please view the latest updates from USC's Office of Research in addition to the Research FAQs.

Students living in the surrounding neighborhoods should be aware that access to campus is limited. In most cases, students will be required to make an appointment to use campus services, such as library study spaces, the Engemann Student Health Center and dining facilities.

We realize that attending classes online and completing coursework remotely requires access to technology that not all students possess. If you need resources to successfully participate in your classes, such as a laptop or internet hotspot, you may be eligible for the university’s equipment rental program. To apply, please submit an application.

We are offering a new scholarship opportunity for this year only. Students will be able to apply for a scholarship to provide for up to two free online classes in the 2021 summer session. This is designed to help ensure academic progress. More details on this offering will follow.

You can download a variety of USC-branded Zoom backgrounds via this link.

Find helpful tips and guidance for how to use Zoom.

The USC Libraries offer extensive resources and expertise that support online teaching, research and learning – even while 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 several streaming services available, including music and film collections.

In most cases, the libraries can ship books or other materials from USC's collections. If the item you need appears available in the libraries’ online catalog, request shipment using the “Request via interlibrary loan” link. Please note that “Request via interlibrary loan” is the correct option for requesting books from the USC Libraries' collections that are marked as available. This is necessary to initiate the shipping process. You will receive the book from USC Libraries rather than the interlibrary loan.

Faculty can schedule information literacy and other library instruction for their classes, and subject specialists can help students with research projects and other coursework via Zoom. Although physical course reserves remain suspended, electronic reserves are available.

The USC Libraries maintain a detailed set of online research guides that include information on subject-specific resources. You can also find more specific information on digital collections of primary sources.

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.

Graduate students should check with the department or school to which they were admitted.

Undergraduate students could be granted deferrals in specific cases relating to medical issues, religious obligations, required military/national service and, in the case of international students who will attend classes online from another country, the inability to construct a reasonable online course schedule that is compatible with their home time zone. However, deferral requests for other reasons will generally not be granted.

New students who have committed to enroll at USC but fail to do so will forfeit their spot in the entering class and will need to reapply (with no guarantee of admission) should they wish to attend the university in a future term.

New students living outside the United States who plan to complete their USC coursework online should work with their academic advisor to construct a course schedule that is compatible with their home time zone. If a reasonable schedule is not feasible, students may request a deferral to a future term.

In such cases, USC’s academic advisors will notify the Office of Admission, and staff will then send a deferral form to the student. Once the student completes and submits this form, the Office of Admission will follow up with further information.

We know that many students have questions about the tuition increase previously announced for the 2020-2021 academic year, now that most instruction will take place online. This increase, which matches the previous year’s lowest percentage increase in 50 years, remains necessary to fund the high-quality education, broad range of outstanding academic programs and important research activities that serve as the hallmarks of USC.

We strongly believe that the value of a USC education and degree, whether in person or remote, continues to greatly exceed the price of tuition. Despite the very significant financial measures we announced on April 3 and June 8, the costs of running a world-class university like USC continue to rise each year. In the 2020-2021 academic year, 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 academic, extracurricular, professional, and cultural programs, initiatives and events to keep students engaged and thriving — intellectually, socially and emotionally.

At the same time, we understand that many in our Trojan Family are facing difficult financial circumstances right now, and we remain committed to addressing the financial needs of our students and their families. We recently announced a Living-at-Home grant for qualifying undergrads receiving financial aid of $4,000 per semester this academic year for those who choose to study at home. Please reach out to our Financial Aid Office if you have questions about financial aid.

We will continue to deliver a high-quality education, robust learning environment and an engaging Trojan experience for every student. These are challenging times as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but we firmly believe that there has never been greater value in a USC education.

We are planning to resume classes as scheduled in the spring semester. However, we will ultimately be guided by the realities on the ground and the guidance from local and state authorities.

Please contact your professor to coordinate equipment delivery or pickup.