Information for Applicants to Marshall's PhD Program in Marketing

Frequently Asked Questions about the Marketing PhD Program

What is a PhD Degree?

A PhD degree certifies your training as a scholar who is qualified to conduct research and teach at colleges and universities. Individuals who pursue a PhD degree are those whose call is the creation and dissemination of knowledge.


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How is a PhD degree different from an MBA degree and an MS in Marketing?

The difference between the Masters degree (MBA or MS in Marketing) and the doctoral degree(PhD) is Focus. Both the MBA and the MS are pre-professional degrees that prepare individuals to perform managerial functions in businesses and organizations. If your ultimate goal is to work as a senior manager or entrepreneur, a Masters degree will provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary for that function.

The PhD degree, on the other hand, prepares you to do research and investigation in either academic or non-academic research centers.

A PhD in Marketing is not a super MBA. In fact, upon completion of a doctoral degree, the individual gains such a narrow specialization on a particular field within Marketing (versus a broad proficiency in Marketing practice, for example) that his/her ability to perform as a manager need not necessarily be enhanced over that of a person who completed a Masters degree.


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What does one do with a PhD degree in marketing?

Our PhD Program in Marketing is designed to train scholars who as a career will conduct research to advance the frontiers of the discipline, teach marketing at premier universities in the United States and around the world, and who in the future will be responsible for preparing the next generation of marketing doctoral students.

Marketing is an exciting discipline that offers a wide range of areas in which to conduct research and teach. Research topics in Marketing cover the gamut from consumer behavioral processes to the development of mathematical models that help us understand and predict consumer behavior and improve marketing practice.

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What are the different types of academic institutions that hire PhD students and what are these faculty members expected to do?

Upon completion of their PhD degree, individuals may be hired by a variety of academic institutions, ranging from 4-year colleges to research universities. Depending on the academic orientation of the institution, faculty at these colleges and universities may be expected to devote different amounts of time to teaching and/or research.

At teaching universities, faculty members devote most of their time to preparing and teaching classes. They may typically teach four courses or more a year, with little or no time devoted to research. At these institutions, your performance as a professor is evaluated based on your teaching evaluations, your ability to design courses, and diverse services that you may provide to students (i.e., counseling, etc.).

At research universities, on the other hand, the faculty members are primarily devoted to research activities. These professors may teach two courses for one term, and devote a whole semester exclusively to academic research, with the goal of advancing knowledge in the field and divulging their findings through publication in academic journals. At these institutions, your performance as a faculty member is primarily evaluated based on your research productivity, the quality of your research, the caliber of the articles you produce, and the prestige of the outlets that accept your work for publication.

Just as it is important to choose the school that matches your personal profile when you embark on the pursuit of a doctoral degree, so it is imperative that you decide at what type of institution you want to develop your academic career after graduation.

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What do you do in different years of the PhD program at the Marshall School of Business?

The curriculum for the first two years in the Marketing PhD program includes courses required by the Marshall School of Business, and courses required by the Marketing Department.

The Marshall School of Business requires that you:

  • Fulfill all the seminar coursework specified by the Marketing Department
  • Complete at least one course in a base discipline (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics). This course must be outside the Marketing Department, but can include courses in other departments of the Marshall School of Business.
  • Complete at least one course in research methodology.
  • Complete at least one course in statistics.


The Marketing Department requires that you take:

  • All the seminar coursework specified by our department. At least two additional courses in your base discipline beyond the 1 course required by the Marshall School of Business (for a total of at least 3 classes). These courses must be outside the Marketing Department, but can include courses in other departments of the Marshall School of Business.
  • At least one additional course in research methodology beyond the 1 course required by the Marshall School.
  • Additional coursework in statistics beyond the 1 course required by the Marshall School of Business.


Your third and fourth years are primarily devoted to working on your dissertation, conducting research, and fulfilling your teaching requirement: most students teach one course and serve as a teaching assistant for one semester. The norm at USC, as at most marketing PhD programs, is for students to finish in 5 years.

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Where do the students come from?

A recent national survey of universities determined that USC is the institution with the largest number of international students. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that the PhD students in the Marketing Department at USC have, over the years, represented the four corners of the world.

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What criteria do the faculty look for in accepting students into the PhD program in marketing?

Acceptance into our doctoral program is decided after a rigorous screening process. No single criterion makes it or breaks it when it comes to evaluating prospective students: instead, the overall profile and credentials of each applicant are carefully evaluated and taken into account before making the decision.

The different criteria that the admissions committee evaluates are:


  1. Undergraduate and Graduate GPA scores
  2. GMAT or GRE scores (and TOEFL scores for those applicants for whom English is a second language)
  3. Letters of Recommendation from qualified persons who are familiar with your performance in academic and professional settings. Especially valuable as a letter writer is a faculty member who can speak to the applicant’s ability to conduct academic research.
  4. Grades in specific courses that are relevant to your future PhD studies
  5. Statement of purpose (*)
  6. Fit with program/faculty


(*) While each and every one of the above criteria are important, you should give special consideration to your Statement of Purpose. This statement gives you the opportunity to explain to the admissions committee why you have chosen to pursue a PhD degree, whyyou consider  that the Marshall School of Business at USC is the right place for you to pursue it, and what your goals are once you have obtained your doctoral degree in Marketing.

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Who are the faculty in the Marketing Department at the Marshall School of Business? Are they well known? What are their specialties?

The Marshall School of Business at USC features one of the strongest teams of Marketing scholars in the nation. The quality of the Marketing faculty is reflected in their productivity and in the gamut of areas of research covered by its professors. In fact, a recent survey of research productivity ranked the Marketing Department at USC among the top research faculties in the nation.

The faculty in marketing share a strong research interest in various marketing topics including advertising, consumer behavior, channels of distribution, branding, marketing models, business marketing, high-technology marketing, pricing, and promotion. The faculty members are trained in various disciplines such as economics, marketing, operations research, psychology, and statistics. This eclectic mix stimulates joint research across disciplines. It also provides students with a broad exposure to research in marketing and a rich training in research methods and philosophies.

You can learn more about the USC Marketing faculty by visiting the department’s faculty pages on the website. Department of Marketing Research Productivity

The Marketing Department ranks in the top 5 in top tier marketing journal articles published in the last 5 years.

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How can I earn money while getting a PhD degree?

Excellent merit-based financial assistance is available for outstanding entering PhD students. All admitted applicants are automatically considered for the USC Graduate Assistantship. This award typically covers full tuition plus a generous stipend. Because amounts may vary from year to year, specific tuition and stipend information is available from the PhD Program Office. Subject to normal degree progress, the awards usually cover a period of four years. Students can also apply for funding in their fifth and sixth years, which is dependent on showing excellent progress in the program (e.g., producing research that is publishable in academic journals).

Students in the Marketing Department who receive the Assistantship generally serve the first two years of their PhD program as research assistants. They work about 15 hours per week with one or more faculty members, sometimes on a joint research project that can lead to quality publications. In the first year, students are assigned to two different faculty members based on their entering area of interest. In the second year, students have some choice in the faculty that they will work with, and may work on more than one topic and with more than one faculty member.

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How will I be evaluated?

Throughout the program, students are given feedback from their course performance and their work as Research Assistants. Following are the current requirements for students taking their qualifying exam.

Qualifying Exam

Written and oral qualifying examinations are required or, and must be passed by, each student. Normally, students begin to prepare for the qualifying exam in the second year. Intensive study for the qualifying exams is one the most important learning experiences in the PhD program. Students use this period to review in detail the body of knowledge from the specialized area, identify common threads and conflicting ideas, see how major theories interrelate, recognize the thrust of current directions of research, and generate new research questions that they might address.

Written Qualifying Examination: The student answers three questions representing his/her area(s) of interest. As part of the written exam, and in preparation for the oral qualifying examination, the student prepares a written preliminary dissertation proposal of five-to-ten pages that outlines important research questions and suggests methodologies for addressing these questions.

Oral Qualifying Examination: This examination is administered after satisfactory completion of the written exam. In the first component of the oral exam, the student answers questions that test his/her comprehension of the area of specialization. The second component of the oral exam involves questions about the student's proposed area of research for the dissertation, based on the written preliminary dissertation proposal.

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Will I have much interaction with faculty?

Intensive interaction with faculty is one of the most important parts of your training as a PhD student.

The Marketing PhD program at USC is designed so that students start working closely with faculty from the first day. Upon starting the program, each student is appointed an academic advisor, and works as a Research Assistant with a faculty member that is selected so as to achieve a mutually beneficial match of research interests between student and professor.

Typically, students are appointed as Research Assistants to a different professor every semester. However, it is often the case that the student and the professor will continue to work together in research projects throughout the stay of the student in the program, and even for years to come after the student's graduation.

Indeed, Research Assistantships lead to faculty/student mentorships that result in the development of productive research careers.

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Will I gain teaching experience?

Most students teach one course and also serve as a Teaching Assistant for one semester.

As Teaching Assistants, our Ph.D. students work closely with experienced faculty. Once they have completed that requirement, students are assigned to teach a Marketing undergraduate course under the supervision of a faculty member. The student gains experience in the development of the syllabus, design of class activities, examinations, and grading.

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How do the faculty help with student placement?

Our faculty works closely with PhD students, mentoring and guiding them through all the stages of the program, including placement. The decision of what type of institution one wants to work for upon graduation is one of the most important calls a PhD student must make. The faculty provide support and advice at this critical stage, helping the student identify universities or institutions that match his/her profile and interests for a rewarding career in Marketing.

In fact, student placement starts on day one: the program is designed to groom scholars who will be attractive to the top academic employers. The faculty work together with the students as advisors, research co-authors, coaches and mentors, and enable the students to form networks with scholars from universities across the country and abroad

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What should I look for in determining whether a PhD in marketing is right for me?

First, you need to decide whether a PhD really is what you?re looking for. You must understand why you want to pursue a doctoral degree: What are your career goals? Are you interested in an academic career? Is your primary interest to do research? To teach? Or are you an individual with more of an entrepreneurial veneer, who enjoys doing business more than studying it? It is important that you understand what you want to do, and what a PhD degree (versus an MBA or MS degree) is about before you go on.

Second, once you know what you want to do (and if in fact a PhD degree is what's best for you) you must find the program that best suits your interests. For example, you may want to know:


  • Do you enjoy doing research more than teaching, teaching more than doing research, or do you prefer a balanced mix of both?
  • Upon graduation, what type of institution would you like to work for?
    • A major research university?
    • A four-year college?
  • What area of Marketing do you feel more attracted to? For example, are you particularly interested in:
    • Channels of distribution?
    • Strategy?
    • Consumer psychology?
    • Econometric models?


Once you have answered these questions, you can start looking for universities with PhD programs that cater to your particular profile of skills and interests. This can be a long process, as there are many PhD programs around the country and the rest of the world. It is vital that you devote sufficient time to gather information that will allow you to make a sound decision.

We invite you to visit the Marketing Department's web site, where you can learn more about what our faculty and students are currently working on, and other general information about our academic department.

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How can I learn more about the PhD program at the Marshall School?

Go to the phd program website: www.marshall.usc.edu/programs/phd-programs

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