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Doctor of Philosophy Guide

The Phd faculty and staff will assist you as you complete your doctoral study in the College of Nursing. You can contact us by email.

PhD Program Director:  Dr. Robin Dail

PhD Program Coordinator: Mrs. Melissa Kupfer

Check out the faculty and staff directory for more information.

USC publishes the academic calendar online. Important dates such as start dates, holidays, and scheduled breaks can be found on the academic calendar. There are instructions for applying to graduate with important  deadline information there, too.

As part of admission to candidacy, each student is required to complete a program of study (DPOS) [pdf]. The DPOS shows the courses that you plan to take in your program. Your graduate advisor will provide a template DPOS that you and your faculty advisor will complete and sign. If you have taken previous graduate course work that is not part of a completed degree, you should talk with your graduate advisor about possible transfer of courses when you receive the template DPOS. There is a process for the approval of transfer courses-see Transfer of Course Credit below. The Director of Graduate Student Affairs will ensure the DPOS is filed with the Graduate School.

The Milestone Map provides you a visual overview of the PhD program, with various milestones and the requirements needed to meet the milestone. 

PhD Milestone Map

If students have taken graduate courses that are not part of a completed degree, up to 50% of the required hours may transfer if those courses meet degree requirements. The Graduate School requires that courses, including transfer courses, must be less than 10 years old at the time of graduation to be approved.

Interested in submitting a request for transfer credit? Contact the PhD program coordinator for assistance.

If you take nine credit hours in a semester, and do not have an assistantship, you will be considered full time. If you take six credit hours in a semester, and have an assistantship, you will be considered full time. You may qualify for financial aid if taking at least six credit hours. Taking less than six credit hours is considered part-time. Taking at least one credit hour of dissertation preparation each semester when you are completing your dissertation is required.

Designed to ensure that doctoral students gain benefits and make contributions to the USC community, the residency requirement can be met through consecutive semesters of full-time enrollment or through a program-specific residency plan.

The role of the student's faculty mentor is to give advice professional advice and to guide research. Typically, you are assigned a mentor at the beginning of your program. The faculty mentor, along with the PhD Program Director, and program advisor, will aid the student in timely completion of the Ph.D. program.

The qualifying exam panel consists of a chair and two faculty from the student’s academic program who will hold the qualifying examinations required for admission to candidacy.

The comprehensive exam and dissertation committee works with the student during the planning, research, writing, and defense phases of the dissertation.

All College of Nursing doctoral programs require both qualifying and comprehensive exams. Both exams have a written and an oral component which must be successfully passed. Qualifying exams are typically administered after all core courses are completed, or within the last semester of elective course work. Successful completion of both components of the qualifying exams means a doctoral student can form the doctoral committee and is qualified to move to the dissertation prep coursework. Successful completion of both components of the comprehensive exams is part of the successful proposal defense, and allows a doctoral student to progress to the data collection stage of the dissertation.  Students must be enrolled for at least 1 credit hour during the term of graduation.

Students register in the Spring for the upcoming Summer (if needed) and Fall courses and in the Fall for their Spring courses. When you have completed your DPOS, you can use it as a guide, but your graduate advisor is able to assist you if you have questions.

In order to view your registration time each semester, log in to Self Service Carolina and select the Student tile. Select the Registration tile, then select Registration Status. You should see any holds that may prevent registration, as well as the date and time that you will be able to register. Registration time tickets are not always available for viewing, but they are usually available by the midpoint of each semester.

You may view their degree plan in Degree Works, to know which courses you need to register for each semester. All elective courses must be approved by the PhD Program Director. See a list of example elective courses. 

PhD electives

Most courses have a hybrid delivery method, 50% in person and 50% online. Some courses are 100% online.  All fully online courses use Blackboard to deliver course content. On-campus courses may use Blackboard in their courses too. 

To access Blackboard, go to .

  • Find the Blackboard link on the left and select the Columbia campus in the drop down options. Log in using your Network Username and Password. This is not your VIP ID. Your network username is a combination of letters from your first and last name. It is usually the portion of your name that is before the @ symbol in your USC email address. If you do not know your network username, go to and click on “View my IDs” under the Personal section.
  • When you are logged into Blackboard, you will see the courses in which you are enrolled.
  • Use the left side of the screen to navigate to different introductory and course material.
  • Books and/or materials required are in the syllabus.

Circumstances may require you to withdraw or not enroll in a Fall or Spring semester. (Summer attendance is not required in all programs.) If your program requires summer enrollment to stay on track for faster program completion, not enrolling in a summer term may affect your graduation date. Typically, taking a break in study does affect your planned graduation date.)

We know that unplanned events happen and can assist you by providing the options if a major life event creates a need for you to take a break for a semester or withdraw from classes if the semester is already underway. Contact your program advisor if you need to investigate taking a break in study.

In order to successfully complete a Ph.D. program and graduate, students must complete each of the following:

  • Have an approved program of study on file with the Graduate School

  • Earn an appropriate grade on all course work included in the program of study

  • Pass written and oral components of the qualifying and comprehensive exams

  • Form a dissertation committee

  • Complete an approved dissertation proposal

  • Complete the dissertation

  • Successfully defend the dissertation

  • Apply for graduation

While not required for graduation, completion of the College of Nursing End of Program (TEQ) Survey provides important information for improving our services and program offerings for students.




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