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Critical Studies

The Division of Critical Studies of the School of Cinematic Arts offers programs leading to the Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. This comprehensive curriculum includes courses that analyze the power and responsibility of American and international film and television and new media technologies from formal/aesthetic, historical, economic and ideological perspectives.

The division is committed to understanding film and television texts in relation to the world they represent; it studies not only the meanings of these texts but also the processes by which these meanings are constructed.

Applicants for the B.A. or M.A. or Ph.D. degrees must submit the supplemental application and materials to the Critical Studies Program. For specific instructions, contact the Cinematic Arts Office of Admission, University Park, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2211, (213) 740-2911, or online at

Bachelor of Arts

Bachelor of Arts, Cinematic Arts, Critical Studies

The Bachelor of Arts degree in Cinematic Arts, Critical Studies is granted by the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts. Undergraduate students take their pre-professional courses in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, including the general education requirements. Major courses are selected from the curriculum of the School of Cinematic Arts. The degree requires 128 units, including 26 lower division and 24 upper division units in cinematic arts. A maximum of 40 School of Cinematic Arts upper division units will apply to the B.A. degree. Before graduating, critical studies majors are encouraged to take at least one small non-lecture class that emphasizes student critical writing or research papers. This category may include (but is not limited to): CTCS 402, CTCS 411, CTCS 412, CTCS 414, sections of CTCS 464 or CTCS 469 that require a D clearance, CTCS 494, and CTCS 495.

General Education Requirements

The university’s general education program provides a coherent, integrated introduction to the breadth of knowledge you will need to consider yourself (and to be considered by other people) a generally well-educated person. This program requires six courses in different categories, plus writing, foreign language and diversity requirements, which together comprise the USC Core. See here and here for more information..

Required Production Courses

Undergraduates admitted to the Critical Studies Program are required to take CTPR 241 Fundamentals of Cinema Technique and CTPR 290 Cinematic Communication. These introductory production courses are taken concurrently during the junior year (see description below).

CTPR 241 is an experiential course dealing with the technical and aesthetic principles of producing, directing, cinematography, editing, sound and the development of ideas through a cinematic vocabulary.

In CTPR 290 each student makes four digital video movies, executing all the creative roles personally, and takes a crew position on a group project. Exploration of personal expression and diverse genres is encouraged, with emphasis on visual and sound patterns, with limited dialogue. Approximately $1,000 should be budgeted for miscellaneous expenses, lab and insurance fees.

Required Coursesunits
CTCS 190Introduction to Cinema4
CTCS 191Introduction to Television and Video4
CTCS 192Race, Class and Gender in American Film4
CTCS 200History of the International Cinema I4
CTCS 201History of the International Cinema II4
CTCS 473Film Theories4
CTPR 241Fundamentals of Cinema Technique (taken concurrently with CTPR 290)2
CTPR 290Cinematic Communication (taken concurrently with CTPR 241)4

One course from the following:
CTCS 392History of the American Film, 1925-19504
CTCS 393History of the American Film, 1946-19754
CTCS 394History of the American Film, 1977-present4

Four courses from the following:
CTCS 367Global Television and Media4
CTCS 400Non-Fiction Film and Television4
CTCS 402Practicum in Film/ Television Criticism4
CTCS 403Studies in National and Regional Media4
CTCS 404Television Criticism and Theory4
CTCS 406History of American Television4
CTCS 407African-American Cinema4
CTCS 409Censorship in Cinema4
CTCS 411Film, Television and Cultural Studies4
CTCS 412Gender, Sexuality and Media4
CTCS 414Chicana/o Cinema4
CTCS 464Film and/or Television Genres4
CTCS 469Film and/or Television Style Analysis4
CTCS 478Culture, Technology and Communications4
CTCS 494Advanced Critical Studies Seminar4
CTCS 495*Honors Seminar4

* Honors students only.

Grade Point Average Requirements

A minimum grade of C (2.0) must be earned in all required and prerequisite courses. A grade of C- (1.7) or lower will not satisfy a major requirement.

Honors Program

Critical Studies offers an honors track for advanced students. Admission to the honors track is made at the end of the junior year and requires a 3.5 overall GPA. Completion of the honors track is dependent upon successful completion of a designated honors section of CTCS 495 during the senior year. In this course, students will work with faculty in a seminar environment and produce an advanced term paper based on original research and analysis.

Limitations on Enrollment

No more than 40 upper division units can be taken within the major without prior approval of the Dean, College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Registration in graduate level courses (numbered 500) for undergraduate credit requires prior approval from the School of Cinematic Arts.

Curriculum Review

Cinematic arts majors are expected to meet with an academic advisor every semester to review their progress. Contact the Cinematic Arts Student Affairs Office, Carson Television Center, Garden Level, Room G-130, (213) 740-8358, for an appointment.

Master of Arts

The Master of Arts degree in Cinematic Arts with an emphasis in Critical Studies is administered through the Graduate School. Candidates for the degree are subject to the general requirements of the Graduate School. Thirty-six units are required at the 400 level or higher, including a comprehensive examination. At least two-thirds of these units must be at the 500 level or higher.

Graduate Preparation Production Courses

Each graduate student must pass CTPR 507 (4 units) with a grade of credit (CR). This course provides a basic primer in production considered necessary for graduate studies in critical studies.

CTPR 507 Production I (4 units) introduces the fundamental principles of motion picture production, emphasizing visual and auditory communication. Each student makes several non-dialogue personal projects, serving as a writer, producer, cinematographer, director, sound designer and editor and takes a crew role on a collaborative project. Projects are shot on digital cameras and edited on non-linear systems. Approximately $1,200 should be budgeted for miscellaneous expenses, lab and insurance fees.

Required Coursesunits
CTCS 500Seminar in Film Theory4
CTCS 506Critical Studies Colloquium/Professional Seminar2
CTCS 587Seminar in Television Theory4
CTPR 507Production I4

Three of the following:
CTCS 501History of Global Cinema Before World War II2
CTCS 502History of Global Cinema After World War II2
CTCS 503Survey History of the United States Sound Film2
CTCS 504Survey of Television History2
CTCS 505Survey of Interactive Media2

Two of the following:
CTCS 510Case Studies in National Media and/or Regional Media4
CTCS 511Seminar: Non-Fiction Film/Video4
CTCS 517Introductory Concepts in Cultural Studies4
CTCS 518Seminar: Avant-Garde Film/Video4

In addition, 8 units of cinematic arts electives are required.

Comprehensive Examination

As the final requirement for the M.A. degree, the comprehensive examination will be taken in the final spring semester of course work. There is no thesis option. The examination will consist of written responses to three questions selected from a list of fields, the appropriate fields chosen with the guidance of a faculty advisor.

If the student has completed all course work and is only taking the comprehensive examination, he or she must register in GRSC 810 Studies for Master’s Examination.

Grade Point Average Requirements

A grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained in all graduate level course work. Courses in which a grade of C- (1.7) or lower is earned will not apply toward a graduate degree.

Time Limit

Although students are normally expected to complete the degree in two years, the degree must be completed within five years of the beginning of graduate work at USC.

Curriculum Review

At the beginning of their matriculation, and each semester thereafter, each M.A. candidate will confer with a designated faculty advisor who will monitor the student’s progress.

Doctor of Philosophy

Doctor of Philosophy in Cinematic Arts (Critical Studies)

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy with an emphasis in Critical Studies is administered through the Graduate School. The Ph.D. program is tailored to the individual student’s particular needs and interests. The overall course of study will be designed by the student, the student’s designated advisor and, following the screening procedure, the student’s guidance committee chair (see Screening Procedure under Graduate Preparation Production Courses).

A bachelor’s or master’s degree in cinematic arts, or a closely related field, is required for admission to the Ph.D. program. Applicants with only a bachelor’s degree must successfully fulfill all of the USC Critical Studies M.A. degree requirements as part of the degree program (see Screening Procedure).

Course Requirements
Each Ph.D. candidate must complete 68 units beyond the bachelor’s degree, 43 of which must be at the 500 level or higher. (Up to 30 units may be transferred from graduate work completed at other institutions.) Dissertation units are not counted toward the 68‑unit total. The required units will include 7 to 12 courses in cinematic arts and 8 to 16 units in the minor area. The minor will be chosen by the student in close consultation with the advisor and will be in an academic field which supports the student’s dissertation topic. Each student must complete the following course work toward the 68 unit total:

(1) CTCS 500, CTCS 506, CTCS 510, CTCS 587, CTPR 507. These courses should be taken before the screening procedure.

(2) Two of the following: CTCS 677, CTCS 678, CTCS 679, CTCS 688. These courses should be taken before the qualifying examination.

Graduate Preparation Production Course

Each candidate for the Ph.D. must complete CTPR 507 (4 units) with a grade of credit (CR). If the student enters the program with a master’s degree in cinematic arts and possesses production experience, the student may request a waiver of this requirement. The waiver requires passing a written examination and submission of films/videos to the production faculty for review.

CTPR 507 Production I (4 units) is designed to introduce the fundamental principles of motion picture production. The course also introduces students to visual and auditory communication and individual filmmaking. Each student makes several non-dialogue personal projects, serving as writer, producer, director, cinematographer, sound designer and editor and takes a crew role on a collaborative project. Projects are shot on digital cameras and edited on non-linear systems. Approximately $1,200 should be budgeted for miscellaneous expenses, lab and insurance fees. This course should be taken before the beginning of the screening procedure.

Screening Procedure

The Graduate School requires that programs administer an examination or other procedure at a predetermined point in the student’s studies as a prerequisite to continuation in the doctoral program. This procedure is designed to review the student’s suitability for continuing in the chosen Ph.D. program. The School of Cinematic Arts has determined that this procedure will occur no later than the end of the student’s third semester of graduate course work at USC beyond the master’s degree. The screening procedure process will include the following steps:

(1) If the faculty has determined during the admissions process that a comprehensive examination will be required as part of the screening procedure, an examination will be administered as appropriate. If the examination is passed to the faculty’s satisfaction, the student may proceed to the next step in the screening procedure process. If the student fails to pass the examination, the faculty will determine if the student will be allowed to retake the examination the following semester before proceeding to the next step in the screening procedure process.

(2) The student will be interviewed and his or her progress in the program will be reviewed by the faculty to determine if the student will be approved for additional course work. If approved to continue, a guidance committee chair will be selected by the student, with the approval of the faculty, who will serve as the student’s advisor. It is strongly recommended that full-time study be pursued following the successful completion of the screening procedure.

Guidance Committee

Following a successful screening procedure, the student, in consultation with the guidance committee chair and the Critical Studies faculty, will formally establish a five-member guidance committee. The composition of the guidance committee will be as specified by the Graduate School. For the Ph.D. in Cinematic Arts (Critical Studies), the committee is ordinarily composed of four Critical Studies faculty members and an outside member from the candidate’s minor area.

Foreign Language Requirement

The Critical Studies faculty will advise each student as to whether or not a foreign language is required. This requirement is determined by the student’s dissertation topic. The requirement must be met at least 60 days before the qualifying examination.

Dissertation Proposal Presentation

Working closely with the guidance committee chair, the student will prepare to present his or her dissertation proposal to the full faculty. This will be a formal written proposal which will include a statement of the proposed topic, four fields for examination derived from the general dissertation topic area (including a field from the minor area), a detailed bibliography, and an appropriate and comprehensive screening list of film/ television titles. Formal presentation of the dissertation proposal will occur no later than the end of the semester prior to taking the qualifying examinations. The guidance committee must approve the dissertation topic. Once the dissertation topic has been approved, the student will complete the Request to Take the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination form available from the program coordinator.

Qualifying Examinations

Written and oral examinations for the Ph.D. are given twice a year, in November and April. Questions for the written portion of the examination will be drafted by members of the guidance committee who will also grade the examination. The qualifying examination comprises four examinations administered one each day for four days during a five-day period.

The oral examination will be scheduled within 30 days after the written examination. All guidance committee members must be present for the oral portion of the qualifying examination.

Admission to Candidacy

A student is eligible for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree after: (1) passing the screening procedure; (2) presenting the dissertation proposal and having it approved; (3) satisfying the language requirement, if applicable; (4) completing at least 24 units in residence; and (5) passing the written and oral portions of the qualifying examination. Admission to candidacy is by action of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committee is composed as specified by regulations of the Graduate School. A dissertation based on original investigation and showing technical mastery of a special field, capacity for research and scholarly ability must be submitted.

CTCS 794
Registration for dissertation units, CTCS 794 (a and b), in the two semesters following admission to candidacy is the minimum requirement. These units cannot be applied toward the required 68 unit total. The student must register for CTCS 794 each semester after admission to candidacy until the degree requirements are completed. No more than 8 units of credit can be earned in CTCS 794.

Defense of Dissertation
An oral defense of the dissertation is required of each Ph.D. candidate. The dissertation committee will decide whether the examination is to take place after completion of the preliminary draft or the final draft of the dissertation. The oral defense must be passed at least one week before graduation.


The following policies apply to each student admitted to the Ph.D. program.

Residency Requirements
At least one year of full-time graduate study (24 units excluding registration for CTCS 794) must be completed in residence on the main USC campus. The residency requirement may not be interrupted by study elsewhere. Residency must be completed prior to the qualifying examination.

Grade Point Average
An overall GPA of 3.0 is required for all graduate work. Courses in which a grade of C- (1.7) or lower is earned will not apply toward a graduate degree.

Leaves of Absence
A leave of absence may be granted under exceptional circumstances by petitioning the semester before the leave is to be taken. Refer to “Leave of Absence” in the Graduate and Professional Education section.

Changes of Committee
Changes in either the guidance or dissertation committee must be requested on a form available from the Graduate School Web site.

Completion of All Requirements
Everything involved in approving the dissertation must be completed at least one week before graduation. Approval by the dissertation committee, the Office of Academic Records and Registrar, and the thesis editor must be reported and submitted to the Graduate School by the date of graduation.

Time Limits
The maximum time limit for completing all requirements for the Ph.D. degree is eight years from the first course at USC applied toward the degree. Students who have completed an applicable master’s degree at USC or elsewhere within five years from the proposed enrollment in a Ph.D. program must complete the Ph.D. in six years. Extension of these time limits will be made only for compelling reasons upon petition by the student. When petitions are granted, students will be required to make additional CTCS 794 registrations. Course work more than 10 years old is automatically invalidated and cannot be applied toward the degree.