Transferring to Thornton

Transferring to the Thornton School can be a complicated process. It is important for prospective applicants to consider not only what is required for applying, but also what the transition to enrollment at USC would be like if admission is granted. The information below is designed to assist undergraduate transfer applicants in carefully considering both of these important issues.

It is generally not advised that graduate students seek transfer admission to the USC Thornton School of Music.

How do I apply?

Undergraduate transfer applicants to the USC Thornton School of Music – like first-year applicants – must submit the USC Undergraduate Application. Applicants should familiarize themselves with both USC transfer admission information and the Thornton School of Music transfer information below. Applicants must also be sure to fulfill all other Thornton application requirements for the particular program to which they will be applying, which in many cases will include performing an audition.

The deadline to apply for admission to the USC Thornton School of Music is December 1st. All required application materials must be submitted by this date.

It is important to note that students may only apply for admission to fall semesters at USC. USC does not accept undergraduate applications for the spring or summer term of an academic year. Transfer admission decisions, or spring grade requests, are generally released on an on-going basis from April 15-May 31.

Which courses transfer?

For both admission and matriculation purposes, completing courses at another institution that are transferable to USC is highly recommended. The best way to do this is to take courses at a California community college. USC has drawn up articulation agreements with these colleges, which list all courses at those schools that are transferable to USC. These articulation agreements are available via the Agreements link at the Transfer Credit website. Courses completed at schools other than those with which USC has articulation agreements are evaluated course by course to determine transferability. Generally, this determination is not completely reached until students register for their first semester at USC.

Subject Credit and Unit Credit
If a course is transferable from another institution, there are two types of credit that can be earned for that course: subject credit and/or unit credit. Subject credit means that credit is granted for a specific course offered at USC. Unit credit means that credit is granted toward the total number of units required for completion of a degree at USC. Music courses taken at another institution may be transferable to USC for unit credit (whether as indicated on an articulation agreement or as determined through a transfer credit evaluation), but in virtually all cases these courses do not transfer for subject credit. For example, the Thornton School does not grant subject credit for private lessons or music theory courses, while USC may (and often does) grant unit credit for these courses. New transfer students in the Thornton School who have completed music courses at a previous institution must take placement exams in the appropriate subject areas (e.g. orchestration, music theory). How students perform on these exams will determine placement in required courses.

Music students may also enroll in transferable ensemble courses, but the number of units a student can transfer to USC for ensemble credit is limited to 4 units. These ensembles may fulfill actual ensemble requirements for undergraduate degrees, but this depends on the major.

Individual instruction (or applied lessons) on the student’s primary instrument or in voice may transfer for unit credit, but not for subject credit. Placement in individual instruction at USC (i.e., freshman, sophomore, junior,) is evaluated through the performance audition process.

What courses should I take?

The USC Office of Admission generally recommends that students present at least one year of rigorous, full-time academic coursework, with strong grades when applying.

Students seeking admission to a music major should enroll primarily in courses that are transferable to USC and that fulfill USC’s general education requirements (see appropriate articulation agreement(s) for details). It is also extremely important that applicants become familiar with USC Admission’s writing and math requirements and be sure to fulfill these requirements before applying to USC (see USC transfer admission information for details).

If scheduling allows, music students may also enroll in music courses specifically related to their major in addition to the general USC requirements, as briefly described in the following section.

Performance Majors (seeking to pursue any BM degree at the Thornton School)

Ensemble participation and individual instruction (or applied lessons) are encouraged for all performance majors. While these courses may not directly transfer for credit in their programs at USC, it is important for students to continue investing in their musical development in these ways.

In addition, enrollment in core music courses (such as music theory or ear training) can also be valuable in preparing for enrollment in similar courses at the Thornton School, but these courses do not transfer for subject credit. As described above, placement in these courses is determined by examinations at the time of enrollment. Because the core music requirements at the Thornton School are quite rigorous, transfer students often need to repeat one or more semesters of coursework in these subject areas.

Below is a possible two semester schedule for performance students attending California community colleges. It is critical to consult the appropriate articulation agreement(s) to determine transferability of specific courses. Enrollment in these courses should not be construed as a means of guaranteeing admission.

First semester:
General education course*
General education course
Equivalent of USC’s Writing 130/150**
Private lessons***
Music theory and ear training

Second semester:
General education course
General education course
Elective or Global Perspectives/Diversity course
Private lessons***
Music theory and ear training

*Please note: USC has revised its General Education requirements for students starting college in fall 2015 or after. If you began full-time college coursework prior to fall 2015 (not including summer semesters), you will need to follow USC’s previous General Education programs. Please visit the Transfer Planning Worksheet page to view and download the previous worksheet.

** Writing 150 at USC is often considered to be the equivalent of a second semester college level writing course at another institution. Before enrolling in the equivalent of USC’s Writing 150 at a community college, students may be required to complete certain pre-requisite courses.

*** If private lessons are transferable from a particular school to USC, only unit credit is granted at USC.

**** If ensemble courses are transferable from a particular school to USC, these courses may earn subject and unit credit at USC, but not in all cases.

Music Industry Majors

Macroeconomics or microeconomics are courses that are required in the music industry major at the USC Thornton School. If, per the appropriate articulation agreement, courses are transferable to USC for credit in ECON 203 or ECON 205, it can be worthwhile for students to complete those courses before transferring.

How long will it take to graduate?

Generally, it will take a transfer student 3 or more years to complete a degree in music at the Thornton School. The actual amount of time that will be required for a student to complete all the degree requirements in their major at the Thornton School after transferring to USC from another institution will be affected by three primary factors, detailed below.  Due to the sequential nature of required coursework, Popular Music transfers should plan for a minimum of 7 semesters to complete the Popular Music degree.

  1. Number of transferable units to USC
    To a significant extent, the number of units transferred to USC from another institution determines the class level into which a student transfers. In general, students transferring in with 32 units of transferable coursework will be considered sophomores at USC; those transferring in with 64 units are generally considered juniors. However, these class standings generally do not define how long it will take for a particular student to graduate.
  2. Subject credit granted in the student’s major (see explanation of subject credit in the “Which Courses Transfer?” section above)
    The amount of time it will actually take to graduate can be affected by whether or not subject credit is granted in the student’s major for courses that are transferable to USC. For example, if a student transfers to USC with 32 transferable units, but only 16 of those units apply towards graduation from their major, that student may need to be at USC for three-and-a-half or four years to complete their major even though technically they transferred in at the sophomore level. Another example: students who transfer in 64 units often need to spend another three years at Thornton to complete the non-transferable course requirements for their degrees.
  3. For performance majors, the level at which a student is placed in performance courses through the audition process (including individual instruction, i.e. applied lessons)
    When a student performs an audition for transfer admission to a performance program at the Thornton School, the faculty determine not only whether the student is musically admissible to the program, but also what level at which they should be placed in performance classes once enrolled. It is possible that a student will have completed 64 transferable units at a community college (technically granting them junior class standing at USC), but be placed at the freshman level in performance courses, which would require the student to complete four additional years of performance coursework at the Thornton School. Popular Music majors are required to take a sequence of performance classes that must be completed over the course of 7 semesters.  Therefore, it is prudent for Popular Music transfers to plan for at least 7 semesters of enrollment.

Given these three considerations, it is generally advised that prospective transfer students seek to apply for admission to the USC Thornton School as early in their undergraduate years as possible. Ideally, a transfer student will have completed 30-32 units of transferable coursework at a California community college within about one year’s time (mostly in general education, and writing courses according to the appropriate articulation agreement) and then transfer to USC in what would roughly be the student’s sophomore year.

Can I take courses in the Thornton School before being admitted to a music major?

Students who are already at USC are welcome to take any of the many elective courses offered by the USC Thornton School of Music. In most cases, however, if a student is ultimately admitted to a music major, these courses would not directly apply to requirements in that music major. On a case-by-case basis, USC students can also request consideration for clearance to enroll in courses generally reserved for only music majors. Actual enrollment in these courses is often not possible, but would be determined based on two factors: (1) space available in the course and (2) the student’s level of preparedness for the material covered in the course. Students who are not already enrolled at USC are not permitted to enroll in music courses offered by the Thornton School.

Should I tell my current school that I want to transfer to the USC Thornton School?

It is up to the applicant. Particularly when students wish to transfer from another four year institution and are receiving merit-based financial aid (i.e. music scholarship), they are strongly encouraged to notify their current school of their plans as early as possible.