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Department of Geography

Graduate Admissions

Thank you for your interest in the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina. Applications are accepted through October 31, 2023, for the Spring 2024 semester and through January 15, 2024, for the Fall 2024 semester.

USC is pleased to be a participant in the Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored BD Fellowship for under-represented minority students promotes success by providing the holistic support and financial resources needed to obtain a doctoral degree. Get more information about this fellowship. Please note that there are graduate school application fee waivers available.


Admission Requirements

We require the following information from each applicant.

  1. A completed online application form with payment of admissions fee.
  2. An official transcript of all college/university courses attempted.
  3. TOEFL (or IELTS) scores if English is not the applicant's primary language. Scores should be no more than three years old. The Graduate School does not require TOEFL scores for students who have completed or working on an undergraduate or graduate-level degree from a U.S. university; however, the department prefers to see scores if they are available.
  4. Two letters of recommendation, preferably from academic instructors. References should be very familiar with the applicant’s work and abilities.
  5. 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 South Carolina (see guidelines below). 

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


Admission Standards

We assess each application in its entirety and follow certain guidelines in the admissions process. The Department expects a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.  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 (the mean TOEFL score for international students admitted to the program for the 2017-2018 academic year was 99). Additional information on admissions requirements for international students can be found on the Graduate School website.

Submitting Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores is optional. Students may submit GRE scores if they feel the scores enhance their application. Scores will be viewed as additional supporting evidence for other application materials (personal statement, GPA, reference letters). Students choosing to submit GRE scores must submit official test scores; self-reported scores are not acceptable.

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 clearly outline 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. Applicants should avoid saying that they have 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 much more relevant for applicants to frankly discuss their future aspirations.

An applicant’s potential fit in the department is of great important to us.  The on-line application requires Geography applicants to identify the faculty members with whom they wish to work. Otherwise stellar applicants might not be admitted to the program if they have not identified faculty members to work with. We strongly encourage all applicants to contact potential advisors by email or phone before applying.

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 in private industry, government, or the non-profit sector, or some other endeavor. An applicant’s ability to articulate the purpose of intended graduate study demonstrates a seriousness of purpose that we believe is reflective of likeliness for success at South Carolina and beyond.

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.


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 they 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 up to 12 hours of course work credit hours that are not part of a completed certificate program or graduate degree toward a Master’s degree and 9 hours toward a doctoral degree. Transfer credit to a student’s program of study must be approved by the student’s advisor, the Graduate Director, and the Dean of the Graduate School.  Further information on transferring credit can be found under Graduate Academic Regulations 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. Caroline Nagel:

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