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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of History


Admissions FAQs

What are the most important elements of the application?

The department considers grades, GRE scores, recommendation letters, the statement of purpose, and the writing sample. Candidates are successful with different mixes of relative strength in these components. Unlike admissions in some types of graduate and professional programs, the process is more qualitative than quantitative. The department will carefully consider an applicant with spotty grades or marginal test scores but a clear statement of purpose and strong, well-informed letters of recommendation. Conversely, the department is wary of applicants with an unclear purpose even if their grades and scores are excellent.

What should my statement include?

The statement is an opportunity for you to explain your plans for graduate study in history and show how thoughtfully you have developed them. This task will involve a reasonably precise (if necessarily tentative) description of exactly what you propose to study. The essay should indicate particular advantages that you will bring to your studies, and the department will be interested in life circumstances and experiences that inform your career goals. On the other hand, your general enthusiasm for the study of history and the importance of your field of specialization will require little elaboration. The statement should also indicate why USC is an appropriate graduate program for your objectives. This explanation should include identification of the faculty members whom you would like the department to consider as advisers for you.

What should I use for my writing sample?

A history thesis or seminar paper would be a helpful writing sample. Alternatively, the department would be interested in a shorter research paper or an essay that analyzes a body of scholarship. The writing sample might even be a paper prepared for a course in a field other than history, such as literature or anthropology. The sample should, however, be scholarly in purpose. There is no length requirement or limit; applicants should choose whatever sample of their work that best shows their aptitude and promise for graduate study in history.

Whom should I ask to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf?

The most useful letters are from faculty members who have had a good opportunity to evaluate you in classes or other settings that involved a significant amount of substantive discussion or have graded your written work.

Must I have majored in History as an undergraduate to be a successful applicant?

Many students with undergraduate majors in other fields become historians. Applicants should, however, have sufficient background in history to satisfy the department that their interest has been tested and their aptitude demonstrated. Potential applicants with limited academic work in history might consider taking some courses on a non-degree basis to establish a stronger record. Applicants in the history of science, technology, and the environment who come from undergraduate programs in the sciences and engineering are also encouraged to apply.

Must I have a master’s degree to apply to the Ph.D. program?

No. The department accepts applicants who hold only a bachelor's degree directly into our doctoral program; candidates can choose whether to earn the MA en route or simply the Ph.D. The department also accepts Ph.D. applicants with a master's degree from another institution.

Is there a minimum GRE requirement?


All students are required to take the GRE, however, the department does not evaluate applications solely on this basis. There is not a minimum GRE score; scores are evaluated as part of the entire application package. If you are concerned about your score, there is never a disadvantage to taking the exam again, however high scores are not a guarantee of admission.