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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Geography

Graduate Admissions

Thank you for your interest in the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina. The application deadline for Fall 2018 admission is January 15, 2018. We generally do not admit students for the Spring semester, though we will consider applications for Spring admission under exceptional circumstances. Applicants who wish to be considered for Spring admission should contact the Graduate Director no later than October 15 for admission the following Spring.

Admission Requirements

We require the following information from each applicant.

  1. A completed application form with payment of admissions fee,
  2. An official transcript of all college/university courses attempted,
  3. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores (no exceptions),
  4. TOEFL (or IELTS) scores if English is not the applicant's primary language, Please note that the Graduate School does not require TOEFL scores for students who have completed an undergraduate or graduate-level degree from a U.S. university; however, the department prefers to see scores if they are available.
  5. Two letters of recommendation, preferably from academic instructors. References should be very familiar with the applicant’s work and abilities,
  6. A letter of intent (also known as a "statement of purpose" or a "statement of intent") that explains why the applicant wishes to pursue graduate studies in the Department of Geography at USC (see "Writing a Successful Letter of Intent" below for further guidance). 

Applicants should apply through the Graduate School’s online admissions portal.  Applicants may upload digital files and records, including transcripts and test scores, through this portal.  The portal can also be used to request and to submit letters of recommendation.  Any information that applicants are not able to upload directly into the electronic system should be mailed to the Graduate School:

           The Graduate School
           University of South Carolina
           901 Sumter Street - Suite 301
           Columbia, SC 29208

Because exam scores can be delayed, we recommend that applicants schedule GRE and TOEFL exams as soon as possible, well before the application deadline.  GRE and TOEFL scores submitted in the application should be no more than three years old (use the code number 5818 to send GRE scores to the University of South Carolina).  Please note that the department will not review applications that remain incomplete after the application deadline has passed. 

Admission Standards

Although the Department of Geography assesses each application in its entirety, it does follow certain guidelines with regard to specific elements of the application. The department expects a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, and a minimum combined verbal and quantitative score of 300 on the GRE for Master’s applicants and 305 for Ph.D. applicants (approximately 1000 and 1100 respectively using the previous scoring system). The mean GRE scores (using the newer scoring system) for those students admitted with funding for the 2015-16 academic year were 160 verbal (approximately 86th percentile) and 155 quantitative (approximately 65th percentile). Combined GRE scores of those admitted with funding ranged between 304 and 333 with an average combined score of 315.

While the Graduate School specifies a minimum score of 80 on the TOEFL exam for international students, the Department of Geography will only consider applicants who score a minimum of 90 on the TOEFL. Additional information on admissions requirements for international students can be found on the Graduate School website.

Writing a Successful Letter of Intent

The letter of intent is one of the most important elements of the application. The letter should be approximately 2-3 pages double-spaced and should spell out clearly and concisely why the applicant wishes to pursue a graduate degree in geography at the University of South Carolina. We do not expect applicants to identify a specific thesis or dissertation topic, but they should be able to speak intelligently about the subject areas that interest them and the kinds of research they are interested in doing. The letter of intent can describe past academic work or work experience that may be relevant to future graduate study (e.g., internships, study abroad, undergraduate thesis or research projects).  Ph.D. applicants should discuss their Master’s-level research and how their Ph.D.-level work might build upon, or depart from, their previous graduate work. As a general rule, applicants should avoid saying that they have wanted to be geographers since they were children or that they’ve always been fascinated with maps/weather/foreign lands.  Such statements are very common in applications to geography programs and do little to distinguish applicants. It is better for the applicant to discuss matter-of-factly what he/she has done and what he/she plans to do

An applicant’s potential fit in the department is of great important to us. It is crucial that the applicant be able to identify two or three faculty members with whom he/she wishes to work and who might serve as an advisor (applicants may read more about our faculty members here). Even an applicant with excellent GRE scores and grades and glowing recommendations may not be admitted to the program if he/she has not identified faculty members with whom he/she might work. We strongly encourage all applicants to contact potential advisors by email or phone before submitting an application.

As part of their letter of intent, applicants should also briefly describe what they wish to do with their graduate degree, be it to pursue an academic career, to work as an analyst or consultant in private industry, to work for a government agency or a non-profit organization, or some other endeavor. While our review process does not discriminate against candidates seeking academic or non-academic careers, an applicant’s ability to articulate the purpose of their intended graduate study demonstrates a seriousness of purpose that we believe is reflective of their likeliness for success.

Finally, applicants may wish to explain any unusual elements in the application (for instance, a semester of low grades or a weak GRE score), though we do not need a detailed account of the applicant’s personal problems.


The Department of Geography offers a limited number of assistantships each year.  Students with funding offers are guaranteed departmental support for the duration of their program of study—4 semesters for master’s students and 6 semesters for Ph.D. students- contingent on the student’s satisfactory progress in the program. Students who take longer than the allotted time to complete their degrees are not guaranteed funding for the incremental time to completion.  Students on assistantships typically serve as teaching/lab assistants (TAs) or as research assistants (RAs); Ph.D. students may also serve as instructors of record for undergraduate courses.  For the 2014-15 academic year, students with guaranteed funding received an annual stipend of $12,500 at the master’s level and $13,500 at the Ph.D. level, plus a tuition waiver and a health insurance subsidy.  Students on assistantships are responsible for a number of university fees, which may be deducted from the student’s stipend.  

Students who do not receive a funding offer may still receive funding on a semester-by-semester basis.  Many of our students receive funding through faculty grants; others are given ad hoc teaching assistantships.  Such funding entitles students to a tuition waiver and a stipend in the semester in which the student serves as a TA or RA. Students who have not been extended a funding offer must be mindful that their funding is not guaranteed, and that they are responsible for their tuition, fees, and subsistence if funding is not available in a given semester. The department typically extends a small scholarship to students without funding, which qualifies them for in-state tuition.  Please click on the link for information on Financial Aid.

Visiting the Department

Pursuing a graduate degree is a major decision and one that should be made after careful evaluation of the department to which one plans to apply. In addition to contacting faculty members via phone or email, applicants may wish to visit the Geography Department during the academic year. Visiting the department gives applicants an opportunity to see our facilities, to meet our faculty members and graduate students, to attend seminars, and to experience campus life at the University of South Carolina. To arrange a visit, applicants (or potential applicants) should contact the graduate director and/or the faculty members with whom he/she might work.

Transferring Credits from Another Program

Admitted applicants who have previously attended graduate school but who have not completed a graduate degree may be able to transfer some credit hours toward their geography graduate degree at USC.  Up to 12 hours of course work credit hours that are not part of a completed certificate program or graduate degree may be transferred for credit toward a Master’s; approximately 9 credit hours may be transferred for credit toward a doctoral degree. Transferred course work must be from an accredited institution, must be relevant to the program, and must have course content and a level of instruction equivalent to that offered by the Department of Geography.  Only courses with a grade of B or above may be transferred.  Course work transferred for credit must be no more than six years old at the time of graduation for the Master’s degree, and no more than 8 years old for Ph.D. students.  

Transfer credit to a student’s program of study must be approved and justified by the student’s advisor and the graduate director and submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School for final approval.  More information about transferring credit can be found in the Graduate Bulletin:

For questions about graduate admissions in the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina, please contact the graduate director, Dr. Jean Taylor Ellis: