Ph.D. Student Resources


Congratulations on your admission to graduate study at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering. The information below is intended to assist you with the transition to graduate school at USC.

First and foremost please complete the Intent to Enroll form and submit it. It is important for you to reserve your space in the entering class.

For registration dates and deadlines, click here.

International Student Test of English (ISE test)

****Required of all new international students unless formally waived. ***

International students who have to take the International Student Test of English must do so before registering for classes. They can receive departmental advisement before taking the test. For important information, please visit The American Language Institute.

Maps and Directions

To be sure you arrive here safely and can find the important locations on the University campus. For directions to USC and campus maps, click here.


If you have any specific questions, you may contact your assigned advisor, Alexis Matthews (CEE Graduate Advisor) at or via phone at 213-740-0573.


Please refer to the following link: Orientation for all information on orientations.

Ph.D. Screening Exam

Students entering the Ph.D. program in Civil and Environmental Engineering are required to pass the Ph.D. Screening Exam:

  • The exam is composed of a written part, which is administered the week before classes start in each January, and an oral part that is scheduled later in January or in February.
  • The exam is only for those students admitted to or enrolled in the Ph.D. program and in regular graduate standing.
  • Ph.D. students with no prior master’s degree must take the Screening Exam before the end of their fourth semester; Ph.D. students with a prior master’s degree must take the Screening Exam at the beginning of the second or third semester (depending on when they started their Ph.D. studies).
  • The screening exam questions are written by a committee of three faculty, including the student’s Ph.D. advisor, normally composed of faculty from within the CEE Department.
  • The result of the exam is either “pass”, “conditional” (conditioned on some further outcome) or “fail”.

Frequently Asked Questions

After you have chosen your classes and checked for pre-requisites and placement exams, you can obtain departmental clearance (D-clearance) by submitting an online D-clearance form Under the Current Students section. You need D-clearance for courses that end in “D” (Example: 34123D). For courses that end in “R” (Example: 34123R) you may register directly if you have passed the pre-requisites. Once you have D-clearance you can register on-line or in person at the registration office.
D-Clearance stands for Departmental Clearance and it is required for courses at the university designated in the Schedule of Classes as “D.” You must obtain CEE D-Clearance by submitting an online request form BEFORE you register for classes. Other courses requiring D-Clearance must be obtained in each home department as indicated in the Schedule of Classes. D-Clearance gives you permission to register; it does NOT reserve a seat for you in a class. If a class requires D-Clearance, remember to include the discussion or lab section in your request and remember to register before the D-Clearance expires (usually one week).
D-clearance gives you permission to register, however it does NOT reserve a seat for you in the class. If the class is full, there are two things you can do:

  • Talk to the professor teaching the class to see if you can register for his class even though it is full.
  • Contact Registration about a wait-list.
We highly recommend students register for classes early so their registration is confirmed. However, if there is a class in which you wish to register and the class is full please monitor the online Web Registration to see if a spot will open up.
If you are a domestic student and have not been denied admission by USC, you may take classes as a limited-status student. To do this you must fill out an application available in the Registration Office. You can apply a maximum of 12 units taken as a limited-status student towards a degree program at the university if you are admitted in a later semester.
To apply for a less-than-minimum load, international students go to the Office of International Services (OIS) in STU 300 and obtain the less than minimum application. Then see Margery Berti in OHE 332 for approval to take less than the minimum load (8 units for international students, 1 unit for domestic students). For domestic students, please see Emily Caviglia (KAP 214).
If you received a conditional admit with your letter of acceptance, you must fulfill this condition within the specified time, usually before your second semester. To get this removed, you must meet with Emily Caviglia in KAP 214 during her office hours (Monday – Friday, 10am – 12pm).
Financial aid in the department comes in the form of research (RA) and teaching (TA) assistantships and is reserved primarily for PhD students. All new applicants to the PhD program are automatically considered for financial aid. RAs are chosen by faculty. Check for financial aid opportunities posted by faculty members and discuss it with them during technical advisement. The staff in KAP 214 can explain in more detail should you have questions.
The department may select current students as TAs on a temporary basis. If you have any questions please come to KAP 214.
Information about University housing can be obtained at or at the Housing Services Office in Parking Structure X. Their phone number is (213) 740-2546. Non-University owned housing is also available, but it is the student’s responsibility to find this type of housing
OASIS is a student information system that includes grade reports, a registered course list, financial aid reports and other important information. New students need to enter their 10-digit ID number and password (this is already pre-set as your birthday (MM/DD/YY)).
Master’s students may transfer a total of 4 units from another university with an advisor’s approval, as long as the courses were completed before enrolling at USC. You must go to the Office of Degree Progress in the basement of JHH and request a printout of the courses that are transferable from your previous school. Fill out a Transfer Course Credit Request Form (available in KAP 214 or on, and take both forms to a faculty advisor.
You may waive a pre-requisite if you have taken an equivalent course at another university and there is no Placement Exam offered for the pre-requisite course. To get the course waived, please fill out the Prerequisite Course Waiver Form (available online). Take this form to KAP214 when you request D-clearance. If the class has a placement exam, you MUST take the exam. NO EXCEPTIONS!
If you are an international student and you have graduated from an American university, you do not need to take the TOEFL. ALI (American Language Institute) monitors and examines the English speaking ability of all international students. Students who do not have TOEFL scores or who have a TOEFL score less than 600 are required to take an English exam offered by ALI. Students will then be waived or placed in appropriate English classes according to ability. The CEE Department will waive your ALI assignments only if your TOEFL scores are higher than or equal to 600/250/100 (Paper/Computer/Internet).
The Department will waive your ALI requirements if you achieve the minimum TOEFL score of 600 for the paper-based TOEFL, 250 for the computer-based TOEFL, or 100 for the internet-based TOEFL. When your TOEFL scores equal or exceed these minima, your ALI requirements, if any, will be automatically waived. If your scores are lower than these minima, you must comply with the ALI remedial courses, or improve your TOEFL by retaking the TOEFL exam. There is no exception.
Teaching Assistants are subjected to more stringent language requirements than other students because they have to communicate with other students in the classrooms. All TAs are required to take American Language Institute (ALI) placement tests, and depending on their grade at these placement tests, may have to take additional ALI courses. Additional information can be obtained from ALI website.

If you are not a English native speaker, you need to obtain a minimum TOEFL score of 600 to qualify for a TAship. That minimum score is higher than the 580 TOEFL score, which qualifies other graduate students for ALI course exemption. Please note that having a high TOEFL score does not exempt TAs from taking the placement test and following ALI requirements for TAs.

New Guidelines Directed Research

Effective Fall 2009, all CEE students will be required to follow the steps outlined below if interested in taking Directed Research CE 490 (Undergraduate students), CE 590 (Masters students) or CE 790 (Ph.D. students).

  • STEP 1 — Students get verbal approval from faculty for a directed research course
  • STEP 2 — Students fill out the online form, found at: myViterbi
  • STEP 3 — Faculty are automatically sent an email directing them to the admin site where they can log in and approve or deny students requests as well as view all previous semesters.
  • STEP 4 — Students receive a confirmation email that their course has been approved or denied by the faculty member.
  • STEP 5 — Students receive d-clearance within 1-3 business days for the course.
  • STEP 6 — Student registers for the course via web registration.

Please contact the Student Affairs Office at if you have any questions.

DEN is the Distance Education Network. Most 400 & 500-level EE courses are webcast by a special office in the School of Engineering called DEN. Each course offered by DEN has two sections with different class numbers, indicated as OHE 100 (for on-campus students) and OFF CAMPUS (for off campus students). There is a $500 service charge associated with every off campus section of the class. This service charge provides for administrative support for students not in the Los Angeles area. If you are an on campus student please be sure to register for the on campus section (OHE 100) so as not to be charged the additional fee. Visit DEN@Viterbi.