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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of English Language and Literature

Frequently Asked Questions: Prospective Students

The following is a list of our most frequently asked questions. You should also read the step by step guide to advising and review the general information about the advising process. If you don't see your question, contact the graduate office at 803-777-5063.

Courses/Course requirements:

 > What is the total number of credits/semesters of coursework required for my degree?

According to the University's Graduate Bulletin:

The doctoral degree requires a minimum of 60 graduate credit hours, including 12-30 hours of dissertation preparation (899), beyond the baccalaureate degree OR a minimum of 30 graduate hours, including 12-30 hours of dissertation preparation (899), beyond the Master’s degree. [A Master’s entails at least 30 graduate credit hours including thesis hours].

 > I am also interested in learning the number of seats in the graduate classes, the typical meeting times for classes, the number of credit hours required each semester, and the typical teaching schedule for grad students.

Our 700-level survey courses are capped at 15 students; our 800-level seminars are capped at 12 students. Graduate classes often meet two days a week (either MW or TR for 75 minutes/meeting) during the daytime; graduate courses taught in the evening meet one night a week for 2.5 hours. Students still pursuing coursework are expected to accumulate 11-13 credit hours/term, which for GTAs includes courses taught. Each graduate course is 3 credit hours, with the exception of the pedagogy sequence, 691 (2 hours) and 692 (1 hour), required of all first-time GTAs. So, for example, if you're teaching one FYE course in the fall, then you would take three graduate courses in order to reach the desired 11-13 credit hours per term. Students may take fewer hours, for instance, while studying for comprehensive exams; in order to maintain funding, students must take at least 6 credit hours per term.

 > How often do specific professors teach graduate courses? Is there a formal rotation?

Among the lit faculty, the rotation is roughly every four semesters, although this varies depending on need, sabbaticals, etc. Each semester the DGS plans the graduate schedule so as to ensure that there’s an offering in most of the traditional historical periods. Rhet/Comp faculty teach graduate courses more frequently since that degree emphasis has a longer list of required courses that need to be offered regularly. I encourage you to explore our recent and past semester course offerings ( 


 > How many PhD and MA students are currently in the program?

Our total graduate student population numbers around 100. Each year we admit around 10 MA students; 9-14 PhD students; and 7-8 MFA students. The number of students we admit each year is determined in large part by the number of assistantships available; our goal is to fund all of our admitted students in part or in full during the expected time to each degree.

 > In my M.A. program, I have come to value relationships with faculty who are not only supportive but also deeply invested in my research interests; can you describe the faculty-student relationship in your program? I work well independently, but I enjoy the mentorship dynamic. Are faculty members at South Carolina interested in close mentorship?

Yes, very much so; these mentoring relationships are a strong and important part of our program. We encourage all doctoral students to choose an advisor (not necessarily the same person as a director) by the end of the first year of study in an effort to ensure that those relationships are cemented early on. The DGS serves as the advisor for all first year students and continues to advise students across all graduate degrees, emphases, and years on programmatic matters. 

 > I have also enjoyed a strong sense of community and rapport among the graduate students in my program; we are collaborative and simply enjoy working together. What is the TA dynamic at SC?

One of the most impressive features of the graduate program here at USC is the sense of camaraderie and community among the graduate students. There are ample opportunities for socializing and scholarly interchange, whether through parties, clubs, or reading and writing groups. Our graduate students are a very congenial group, and numerous clubs and social activities help to enrich the graduate experience. The graduate office considers this conviviality one of our top selling points and can offer assurances without reservation about the exceptional levels of collegiality among and between faculty and students. 


 > I have been offered a Graduate Instructional Assistantship (GIA). What does that mean and how does it differ from a Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA)? What other types of assistantships does the department offer to graduate students? How and long do I remain eligible for an assistantship?

The English Department offers several types of financial assistance: teaching assistantships, editorial assistantships, instructional assistantships, and research assistantships. Teaching and instructional assistantships are typically offered with admission; the other types of assistantships, when available, usually involve a competitive application process. Students awarded an assistantship from the English Department are expected to carry no incompletes from the previous semester; to earn no more than one grade below B during their academic career; to perform assigned duties in a satisfactory manner; to maintain a grade point average of 3.5; to complete the process of qualifying for candidacy if doctoral students; to file a Program of Study during the first year of the M.A. or by the beginning of the second year for the Ph.D.; and to maintain steady progress toward a degree.

Instructional Assistants: Graduate instructional assistants work 10 hours a week as discussion leaders under the supervision of professors teaching large sections of undergraduate English, as tutors in the Writing Center, or occasionally in other assignments that support faculty teaching and research. Instructional assistants should take three graduate courses each semester (9 credit hours).

Teaching Assistants: To qualify for a teaching assistantship, students must either have a Master’s degree in English or a related field or have completed at least 18 hours of graduate course work by the semester they begin to teach.  Regular teaching assistants teach three classes per year, normally at the first-year level: two in the fall and one in the spring or one in the fall and two in the spring. During the semester teaching assistants teach two classes, they are expected to take two graduate courses. During the semester teaching assistants teach one class, they are expected to take three graduate courses. Eligibility for assistantships for our M.A. programs is limited to two years; for the M.F.A., three years; for the Ph.D., five years; and for direct-admission Ph.D., six years.

 > I have been teaching both comp and literature classes while earning my Master’s degree. I am wondering if I would be able to continue teaching those types of classes at USC, or what the teaching opportunities are my first year there.

A GTA entails a 1-2 teaching load, typically consisting of Freshman Composition courses (English 101 and 102). We also invite students (especially ABD students) to apply to teach unstaffed literature courses (often at the 200 level and mostly for non-majors but occasionally for majors).

 > Could you tell me some about my TA work--what is the comp program like at South Carolina, and what would be my role in it exactly? Is there departmental collaboration, required assignments, absolute autonomy, etc.?

During your first year, you'll teach one course of English 101 (Critical Reading and Composition) in the fall and then two courses (usually two ENGL 102 or Rhetoric and Composition courses) in the spring. In subsequent years, you may either be on a 1-2 or a 2-1 load depending on your own and programmatic needs. We run a first-rate FYE program and offer instructors ample support, including a year-long (7-weeks at the start of fall and then 7 weeks at the start of spring) pedagogy course. Here's the website for our First Year English program so that you can explore some of the resources provided and get a sense of your role therein:

 > Are TAs supported for professional opportunities, such as research pursuits and conferencing? What is the process for securing funding, for example? My current institution guarantees a set amount for each graduate student per semester, but it's quite an ordeal to obtain. What's the funding process at South Carolina?

Doctoral students are eligible for up to $1000/year from the department for travel to conferences. Once accepted to a conference, a student needs to apply through the graduate office for funding, citing anticipated costs--it's a pretty simple, streamlined process. Students are reimbursed upon their return by filling out a form and providing receipts. Additionally, the Graduate School offers several waves of travel funding each year that can increase and potentially double the funding per year for grad student travel.

The university also offers research-related grants for graduate students (SPARCgrants: ) and our College of Arts and Sciences offers a lucrative doctoral dissertation fellowships (Bilinski Fellowships: ), which a number of English graduate students have won since its inception in 2013

Time-to Degree/Placement:

 > Do most students finish their degree within 5 years, and what are some recent composition and rhetoric dissertation topics?

Our average time to degree for doctoral students is 5.9 years. My take-away from our time-to-degree database is that it's a rare doctoral student who takes more than 7 years to complete, the one outlier took 14 years (time off to raise a family), and all but a handful of our students complete in 5-6 years. MA students are expected to finish in two years and do so with rare exception; MFA students are expected to finish in three years and do so with rare exception.  

Some recent dissertation topics in Comp/Rhet include: "A Taste for Things: Sensory Rhetoric beyond the Human," "From Capture to Care: Attention, Digital Media, and the Future of Composition," Tactical Encounters: Material Rhetoric and the Politics of Tactical Media," "Exceptional Modernisms: Conceptual Writing in Composition-Rhetoric," and "Theorizing Institutional Invention and Writing Program Administration."

 > What is the program’s placement rate? Does it have placement initiatives? What have some recent graduates gone on to do?

By our most recent calculations, we have placed 76.4% of our recent graduates from the doctoral program in full-time teaching positions and related academic employment. Representative recent graduates are now holding the following positions: Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University; Assistant Professor, non-tenure track, Francis Marion U; Assistant Professor, Extended University, USC; Assistant Professor, Newberry College; Assistant Professor,  UT-Austin; Assistant Professor, Columbia College (SC); Lecturer, University of Central Arkansas. 

Placement is one of the graduate office’s top priorities: our efforts to ensure fulfilling placements for our graduate students include purchasing books  (Greg Semenza's Graduate Study for the 21st Century & Eric Hyatt's Elements of Academic Style) for all our newly-admitted doctoral students, holding panels on placement and professionalization in both fall and spring terms, liaising with the Career Center graduate student placement officer, and running a "Project Publish" series of workshops in the late spring aimed at helping doctoral students place a journal article by January of the following year. Please see the information at this link for recent PhD Placement [link to Placement info here]

General Graduate Program Questions/Miscellaneous:

 > Is there an orientation prior to classes beginning in the fall? When does that begin?

Yes, there is an orientation for new GTAs as well as for all new graduate students across programs and it occurs just before classes begin in the fall.

 > I am also curious if there is an opportunity to earn a certificate in women's and gender studies with my degree.

Yes, graduate students can and often do earn such certificates here at USC.

Questions about the city, the state, housing, etc.

 > I also wondered if you might share what you enjoy most about living in Columbia.

Columbia is a city with a rich history and a lovely topography (rolling hills and three intersecting rivers). It is the state capital and the home of the state's flagship institution (i.e., USC), both of which help to keep this smallish city bustling. The low cost of living is also an important factor to consider. Columbia is centrally located in the state, about 75 minutes from the coast and 75 minutes to the mountains, making day trips and weekend getaways to equally lovely locales quite feasible. There are a number of charming residential neighborhoods within walking or biking distance from campus, and we have several downtown areas (Five Points, the Vista, Main Street) that are vibrant and readily accessible.  Finally, the English Department itself is a major draw: a large and dynamic faculty of award-winning teachers and highly-regarded, prolific scholars, a program ranked 10th among public universities in terms of overall program quality, and a close-knit community of scholars/teachers, students and faculty alike, across numerous fields and areas of specialization.