Student Highlight: Pursuing a Progressive Degree at USC

This week’s student blog comes from Nisha Malhotra, a rising senior at USC from Glendale, CA. Nisha is majoring in Narrative Studies with a double-minor in Cinematic Arts and Screenwriting. She is involved in various organizations across campus, including being a writer for the TrojanVision show, “The Breakdown,” a member of the Women’s Leadership Society, and a tour guide in the Admission Center. Nisha was recently accepted to a progressive degree program here at USC and is sharing her journey through this process in her blog.

When I was a freshman, I sat down with my academic advisor in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Tim Gotimer, and in a very Hermione-like fashion, decided to create a five-year plan for my time at USC. Five years was my timeline towards graduation because Tim had recently informed me of something called a progressive degree.

A progressive degree is an amazing opportunity offered by some of the academic departments across USC that allows a student to obtain a Master’s degree within one year of finishing their undergraduate degree. Essentially, students start taking graduate-level classes their senior year of college and then stay for one more year to finish the degree post-graduation. It is a great way to reduce the costs of applying to and attending graduate school outside of USC and it allows you to get your graduate degree a year early.

I decided my freshman year that I was going to pursue this option because my intended major, Narrative Studies, lent itself to the progressive degree of Literary Editing and Publishing (LEAP for short). Narrative Studies is an interdisciplinary major through the Dornsife English department that allows me to also take classes within the School of Cinematic Arts and the School of Dramatic Arts. I essentially study storytelling. LEAP—as a degree—seemed to fit perfectly with what I wanted to accomplish during and beyond college because it focuses on honing one’s creative voice through literary mediums and marketing that voice in the industry of publishing. Students are introduced to the world of publishing and encouraged to participate in it, as a writer and editor themselves.

Over time, my career path seemed to change. Through the cinema classes I was taking for my major, I fell in love with screenwriting and added two minors in Screenwriting and Cinematic Arts. I decided that I wanted to shift my storytelling abilities towards the mediums of television and film. I learned about the entertainment industry through internships, classes, and peers, and began to understand that, for a career in this field, graduate school was not necessary.

However, there was still a part of me that held on to the dream I’d had freshman year. I have always loved writing and the opportunity to help create stories for the next generation—to be able to find the next Harry Potter, to be able to foster more diverse authors’ works—still called to me. Therefore, towards the end of my junior year, I went to talk to Tim again to discuss my senior year plans and to ask about the LEAP degree application, which was due in a month.

Tim was my ultimate guide and counselor through the application process. He sat down with me and explained all the different facets of the application, including the letters of recommendation, the personal statement, the proposed course schedule, and my resume. He was my go-to resource for anything progressive-degree related and he always met with me to go over what I would need. While in the process of obtaining my letters of recommendation, I also reached out to some of the professors who would be teaching the masters’ courses in LEAP. All of them made time for me to discuss what the personal statement needed to sound like and, in the span of a week, I was able to complete that part of my application. On the day the application was due, Tim was even kind enough to go over my completed application one more time, and caught a tiny error I had made, fixing it there on the spot.

After a month of waiting, a letter arrived in the beginning of May, accepting me into the program. Though I was excited to be accepted to the program of my dreams, I still had some hesitation about relinquishing—for the time being, at least—my other dreams of working in entertainment. To address this uncertainty, I contacted English Professor Brighde Mullins, who would be teaching the first course my senior fall semester for LEAP. She was very willing to talk and extremely encouraging on the phone. She understood my reservations about giving up cinema to pursue publishing and assured me that I would be able to emphasize my publishing skills in the entertainment industry, as there is a huge market for books that option off movie rights. I would also be able to strengthen my own writer’s voice through creative writing exercises in various classes and even take a class that required me to intern at a publishing company. My heart soared; I realized I would actually be able to have it all, to be able to pursue both my love of publishing and film at the same time through this incredible program.

I decided to enroll in the program the same afternoon I spoke with her. I hope to gain a better sense of the publishing industry through the master’s program and to develop my own work as a writer. I aspire to make lasting connections with the other incredible people accepted into the LEAP program and I am so excited to walk at graduation in 2020 with my Master’s degree!