In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, USC has extended the application period for Progressive Degree Programs for students graduating this summer and spring. Graduating seniors who are normally required to apply for the programs in their junior year and start in their senior year now have until July 1 to complete the application.
Progressive Degree is a highly individualized program that allows a student to begin work on a master’s degree while completing the requirements for a bachelor’s degree, the application instructions for spring and summer 2020 graduating seniors stated.
According to the Progressive Degree Program List, more than a dozen schools, including Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, are currently offering the program.
Graduating seniors who wish to apply for a progressive degree should complete all undergraduate coursework by Spring or Summer 2020 and have a minimum 3.0 cumulative USC GPA at time of application, but some academic programs may have higher GPA requirements, according to the instructions. Like any previous Progressive Degree Programs application, applicants are not required to submit GRE, GMAT or other graduate entrance exam scores.
Although the GPA requirement for the program stays the same as last year, seniors with 3.5 and higher GPAs are not required to submit letters of recommendation this year. For students with a 3.0 - 3.49 GPA, one letter of recommendation from a faculty member is required, according to the program’s eligibility and application page for 2020 graduating students.
USC Office of the Provost told Annenberg Media via email that it is possible for students to apply for a Progressive Degree Program outside of their major school, depending on the student and the school selected. However, “In order to facilitate the application and course plan, we recommended that students consider progressive degrees in schools that they are already affiliated with (via a major or minor program).”
Students who want to enroll as a traditional Progressive Degree Program student can refer to the eligibility and application page for juniors.
For progressive degree students who are currently on undergraduate degrees, the academic FAQs page for students stated that “undergraduate coursework may be taken Pass/No Pass in the spring 2020 semester. The minimum passing grade for undergraduate courses taken Pass/No Pass is a C- equivalent.”
The policy for graduate coursework will follow the guidelines set by each individual school, the FAQs stated.
George Ingersoll, associate dean of master’s and professional education at Dornsife, said in a phone interview that “I think it’d be fair to say there’s a lot of uncertainty right now. And this option just gives students greater flexibility in what they may plan to pursue next year.”
Ingersoll said that although the application deadline has been extended, all the programs follow the same curriculum as before. He added that students entering the Progressive Degree Program in the senior year may have less time on course planning, but if graduating seniors are pursuing a progressive degree in the same discipline as their undergraduate degree, the courses may be overlapped.
“It adds quite a bit of additional flexibility,” Ingersoll said. “In many cases, especially when students are pursuing a graduate degree in a similar discipline that they pursued for their bachelor's degree, there is quite a lot of synergy and overlap potentially between the courses of study as undergraduates and graduate students.”
Ingersoll said one of the appeals of the Progressive Degree Programs is that students can potentially complete the master’s degree in a shorter time, which is helpful for both future career development and continuing education.
“It allows [students] to make themselves more attractive in the workforce just by adding additional skills and expertise,” Ingersoll said. “On the other hand, some students may even be looking to pursue the master's degree to continue their education into doctoral coursework.”
Kendrick Watson, the academic programs director for Spatial Sciences Institute at Dornsife, told Annenberg Media via email that he received the email from USC Undergraduate Programs on Thursday announcing the extension of the progressive degree application deadline.
The institute will extend the deadline to apply for the four existing progressive degree programs, which will be held both online and residentially, Watson said in a phone interview.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, there were "only a few master’s degree programs that were offered online. Most master’s degree programs, including the progressive degree options, were offered on campus,” Watson said. “Ours within the institute have been some of the very first online master’s degree programs at USC.”
Previously, USC decided to finish the academic semester online to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Watson said that if USC continues to teach online in the fall, students admitted to a Progressive Degree Program for the fall will be able to “take their classes online with the idea that once everybody is able to come back to campus, the students can then come back to campus if their degree program is not online.”
Progressive Degree Programs are also beneficial in keeping students focused on the academic study, since students go from one academic program to another without any time in between, Watson said.
“We find that students are more motivated and engaged when there's less time in between their undergraduate and graduate degree programs,” Watson said. “It helps keep you in the mind frame of being in school.”
In an email to graduating seniors at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Wednesday, Dean Willow Bay announced that “a new admission cycle using a streamlined, progressive degree program application process will open especially for USC’s 2020 graduating seniors to earn a master’s degree from USC Annenberg.”
“USC and Annenberg both have for a long time believed that for some students there’s a great opportunity to combine their undergraduate and graduate degree programs together to accelerate those,” said Gordon Stables, the director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, in a phone interview with Annenberg Media. “Annenberg is excited to work with students who might be interested in combining their degree to finish with a master’s degree.”
The program is no different from any previous Annenberg’s Progressive Degree Programs, Stables said. The program will follow the exact same curriculum, with students graduating with two degrees in five years, instead of six.
Annenberg is set on creating the broadest range of opportunities for students to apply for the Progressive Degree Programs, according to Stables.
“If we can create an accelerated entry point that doesn’t require the GRE, that doesn’t require a super complicated application process, we think that’s a value for students,” Stables said.
There is a myriad of reasons why students are applying for this new opportunity. For some, the volatility of post-graduate life is a concern.
“Obviously, the job market has been severely affected by the coronavirus,” said Caroline Wohl, a current senior who is applying for the public relations and advertising progressive degree. “So I became really intrigued with the opportunity to possibly pursue progressive degree once I saw Dean Bay’s email.”
The ability to graduate with a master’s degree in just one year while continuing a USC education pushed Wohl to want to apply for the program.
“I definitely always wanted to go back and do a master’s degree,” Wohl said. “What really drew me to the progressive degree was knowing that I could still have a little bit of my USC experience back, but I would be able to still further my professional goal.”
Wohl said she believes the program will “elevate a lot of opportunities” not just for her, but for the entire class of 2020.
Students like Eduardo Rodriguez were set on an Annenberg progressive degree, long before the coronavirus pandemic even began because of the allure of obtaining a master’s degree in just one year.
Rodriguez will be pursuing a master’s degree in public diplomacy through Annenberg to help bolster his resume for medical school and to learn something new, he said.
“I want to get my master’s degree because when they ask you for med school, you don’t want to look like a robot; you don’t want to look like someone stuck in the books,” said Rodriguez.
Update 8:21 p.m. April 21: This story has been updated with information from the Academic FAQs for Students.
Update 9:45 a.m. April 22: This story has been updated with information provided by the Office of the Provost.
Correction 1:18 a.m. April 24: a previous version of the story incorrectly stated that Annenberg’s Progressive Degree Program students will graduate with two degrees in five years, instead of four.