Support for the USC Graduate and Professional Student Community

Message to USC Graduate and Professional Students

From: Charles F. Zukoski, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

As we finish the fourth week of sustained social distancing, we want to highlight the measures we are taking to address issues facing you, our USC graduate and professional school community. You represent over half of our student body, and we know that the challenges you face are daunting. As COVID-19 expands its reach, these include interruptions in your research and delays in progress toward your degree – not to mention challenges in your personal lives.

On behalf of President Folt and the senior leadership team, I want you to know that you have our unwavering support and that we are working on myriad fronts to help ease the way for you to continue towards your educational aspirations. Here are some of the efforts we have launched:

Graduate Student Support Working Group. We have launched a Graduate Student Support Working Group, which was formed in conjunction with the Academic Senate and includes student representation. The group, headed by Interim Vice President of Research Maja Matarić, is meeting frequently and discussing and implementing solutions to issues critical to graduate students. If you want to share an issue or a concern they should be considering, please email the office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Programs:

Grading Policy and Withdrawals. We understand that during this period of disruption there are new and added stresses to finishing courses important to degree completion. With the objective of enabling progress toward completion and with the desire to reduce tension, we have discussed with the deans the grading options that will be implemented this semester. Given the diversity of programs at the graduate level, the determination of grading polices is complex. As a result, deans have the authority to select grading policies for their schools. My guidance to them is that graduate students be given the option: Pass/No Pass; No Record; or a Letter Grade and that you make your selections after your letter grades have been posted, through May 27. A Pass will count toward your degree requirements. A No Record means there will be no transcript notation that you took the course. We encourage you to discuss the ramifications of each selection with your advisor before choosing a particular option. International students should also consult the Office of International Services at

If your school wants to implement an alternative grading option from that given above, they can do so; however, this requires a vote of the faculty and approval of the dean. The school would also be responsible for implementing the alternative grading option.

We are also extending your ability to withdraw from a class until May 1. Again, we encourage you to discuss the ramifications of a withdrawal with your advisor before choosing this option.

Optional Delay of Qualifying Exams without Penalty. Deadlines for graduate work should be made flexible when possible to support a student’s progress to degree. Perhaps the most specific example of this flexibility, though not the only one, relates to Qualifying Exams. 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 spring or summer 2020 have the option of taking the exams in fall 2020. 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.

Thesis and Dissertation Submissions. 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 OPT or visa issue that requires a completed PhD, and you have uploaded your dissertation or thesis to Thesis Center and the rest of the process is not yet completed.

Students who miss the spring Thesis Center deadline will be able to use the same records in Thesis Center for a summer degree, upload their thesis or dissertation, and need not register or pay tuition for summer. A student may also choose Early Submission for fall if that is more convenient. 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 spring, one in summer, and one in 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.

For International Students. We know this time presents you with an extra set of stressors. You may have concerns about your visa, your ability to travel, and more. We are here to work with you and support you in any way we can. We are working on solutions to help you continue your studies in the event you are not able to return to campus for the beginning of the fall semester due to circumstances beyond your control. Please make sure you connect with your school and the Office of International Services to let them know about your situation.

Travel for Summer Research. We realize that travel critical to your work will likely be delayed or canceled. Please discuss these research delays with your advisor.

CARES Act and Support. USC will receive funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide emergency grants to students for COVID-related expenses, including food, housing, course materials, health care, and child care. The university’s Financial Aid Office is working closely with Student Affairs and Campus Support and Intervention to coordinate these emergency grants to students who qualify. Students should complete the application if they have need; funding is available to international students. The USC Student Basic Needs Fund is a university-led resource for students that addresses food, housing, and financial insecurity throughout the year.

We are attempting to address issues specific to your community and we are working to find answers to your questions. Please reach out to the Graduate Student Support Working Group if you have further questions.

We are caught in disruptive times. Without a doubt, however, your USC education is important to your future success and we are thinking of you and working on your behalf.  Please check your email frequently as well as USC’s COVID-19 Resource Center (, as the circumstances we all face are continually evolving. You can also email for assistance.

Most of all we want you to know how much we appreciate your creativity, dedication and patience. You are future leaders of society and your skills and knowledge are vitally important to helping our communities emerge from the pandemic. As we imagine the world into which we move, recognize that your health and well-being are necessary for building the future and we are aligned with you to achieving your academic progress.

cc: Office of the President
Academic Deans
President’s Senior Leadership Team
Provost’s Leadership Team
Academic Senate
Staff Assembly
GSG President
USG President