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

If conditions continue to improve, we expect to take the following steps towards reopening:

-   Courses in summer session 1 (May 19 – June 29) will be taught mostly online.  Some in-person courses will be offered in the summer session 2 (June 30 – August 10).  To determine whether your course will be taught remotely or in-person, please visit Web Registration, find your course, and check under the Location column.

-   Undergraduates will be able to work in laboratories, taking into account all appropriate physical distancing and safety protocols. This includes summer programs for non-USC undergraduates.

Looking ahead to fall, we plan to resume a normal range of campus activities, though with some measures to reduce density where needed. Overall, we expect primarily in-person classes.

Undergraduate students who enrolled full-time in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 and earned fewer than 30 graded units over the course of the academic year may apply for a summer Academic Progress Scholarship. Students who meet the eligibility criteria will be approved for either one or two degree-applicable online courses. The application period opened on April 1 and ends June 1. More information is available here.

Undergraduate Student Pass/No Pass FAQs

Yes, the university has extended the deadline to elect Pass/No Pass grades to Summer 2021. USC offers many summer sessions.  Please find the deadline to elect Pass/No Pass for your summer course on Web Registration on the myCourseBin screen.

Yes, the university has extended the withdrawal deadline for summer courses.  The deadline to select the Pass/No Pass option is the last day of classes for the course in question.

You can find the specific deadline to withdraw from your summer course on Web Registration on the myCourseBin screen.

You can change your course grade option on Web Registration on the myCourseBin screen.  The deadline to select the Pass/No Pass option is the last day of classes for the course in question.  You can find the specific deadline to change to Pass/No Pass or to Letter grade for your summer course on the myCourseBin screen.

Courses taken for Pass/No Pass during Spring and Summer 2021 will count towards all major, minor, and university graduation requirements for all undergraduate students. This exception is only applicable to Spring and Summer 2021 courses.  

USC will also allow current undergraduates to take up to 32 units of Pass/No Pass course work for the duration of their undergraduate degree.  For students pursuing a second bachelor’s degree or a Bachelor of Architecture degree, up to 40 units of Pass/No Pass are permitted.

If your STARS report shows you are close to reaching or have already reached 32 units of Pass/No Pass, you should not elect Pass/No Pass for any courses in the current semester that you need to count toward graduation requirements. 

USC recently increased the number of Pass/No Pass units students can take from 24 to 32 to accommodate the ongoing impact of the COVID19 pandemic.  Under this updated policy, you should not exceed 32 units of P/NP courses that you need to count toward degree requirements.  Consult your advisor if you need clarification on this recent P/NP policy update. 

No, you cannot change grade options for prior semesters.  You can use the additional Pass/No Pass units for courses in Spring 2021 or future semesters until you complete your undergraduate degree.   

No, this is not a permanent change in policy.  The increase in Pass/No Pass units applies only to current USC undergraduate students with an active undergraduate degree program. 

After grading final examinations, faculty members will grade you according to the grade option you selected in Web Registration for each course. For any classes for which you select the Pass/No Pass option, a final grade of C- or above will be reflected on your record as a Pass.

Courses taken Pass/No Pass will still count towards pace of progression and maximum time frame for Satisfactory Academic Progress. Grades of Pass/No Pass will not impact GPA; however, a No Pass grade can negatively impact pace of progression. Please review the Satisfactory Academic Progress policy for more details at https://financialaid.usc.edu/docs/SAP_undergraduate.pdf

You may want to consult with your advisor or opt to keep the Letter grade option for your courses.

The Pass/No Pass grade is not counted in the grade point average nor used in the determination of honors.

Maybe.  If your graduate program is allowing P/NP grades, you can elect P/NP for the courses on your approved course plan.  If your program has not approved P/NP, you should take your courses for Letter grade.

It is important that you contact your home institution to determine if and/or how courses graded on a Pass/No Pass basis can count toward your course of study at your home institution.  If you are a visiting student and need to change your grade option, you can contact onestop@usc.edu.

The VA only pays for degree applicable courses.  Courses taken for Pass/No Pass during Spring 2021 will count towards all major, minor, and university graduation requirements for all undergraduate students.

Graduate Student Pass/No Pass FAQs

Graduate students will receive instructions directly from their school dean indicating whether any courses can be taken for the Pass/No Pass grade option

You can change your course grade option on Web Registration on the myCourseBin screen. The deadline to select the Pass/No Pass option is the last day of classes for the course in question.

Courses taken Pass/No Pass will still count towards pace of progression and maximum time frame for Satisfactory Academic Progress. Grades of Pass/No Pass will not impact GPA; however, a No Pass grade can negatively impact pace of progression. Please review the Satisfactory Academic Progress policy for more details at https://financialaid.usc.edu/graduates/continuing/documents/FA_GRADSAP_UG.pdf

You can change your course grade option on Web Registration in the myCourseBin screen.

The Pass/No Pass grade is not counted in the grade point average nor used in the determination of honors.

The VA only pays for degree applicable courses.  If your program of study approves the Pass/No Pass option and grants credit toward degree completion, the VA will continue to pay for the course.

Schedule of Classes

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

Graduate Students

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.

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 the fall 2021 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 2022 or fall 2022.

Students should inform their department of their plans by the following deadlines:

  • July 16, 2021: Not planning to enter in fall 2021
  • 15, 2021: Planning to enter in spring 2022
  • April 15, 2022: Planning to enter in fall 2022

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 2021 and then resuming them in either spring 2022 or fall 2022.

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 16, 2021: Confirm the pause option for fall 2021 and plan to resume studies in spring 2022 or fall 2022.
  • Oct. 15, 2021: Confirm a return for spring 2022 or confirm the pause option for spring 2022 and plan to resume studies in fall 2022.
  • April 15, 2022: Confirm a plan to resume studies in fall 2022.

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.

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

After careful consideration, the USC Board of Trustees has approved a 2 percent tuition increase for the 2021-2022 academic year, the lowest year-over-year increment since 1967 and keeping in line with inflation. Our teams have worked tirelessly to chart a path that keeps tuition as stable as possible, while allowing the university to operate safely in the midst of a pandemic and ensure its financial aid pool continues to be robust. 

Now that we are returning to campus, student fees will return to pre-COVID levels with an increase in the student fee to support new campus health programs. You may recall that all student fees had been consolidated and reduced to $100 during each of the past two semesters.

For the 2021-22 academic year, mandatory fees for undergraduates will be $499 per semester and $475 per semester for graduate students. This represents a $60 increase in our student health fee over Spring 2020 with other fees remaining at the same level.  The increase supports expanded comprehensive health programs, including improving quality of care and patient access in clinical operations; more than doubling the number of mental health providers; increasing programs in sexual assault prevention and survivor care, substance abuse education, and other specialized programs.

USC launched a new online student hub to help students maximize their virtual student experience. The Experience 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.

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

Under the red-tier status (as of March 2021), USC libraries will allow for higher density, though at reduced capacity compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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.

Subscription journals and databasesdigital collectionsremote research help, and many other library services and programs remain available online. 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.

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.

Please contact your professor to coordinate equipment delivery or pickup.