How to Get Into USC

Padya Paramita

How to Get Into USC

Whether you’re an aspiring actor, dancer, filmmaker, or screenwriter, the University of Southern California has a specialized undergraduate college for you. Regardless of where your interests lie, you might wonder about how to get into USC. While the opportunity to become a Trojan is alluring, it’s not simple. USC has an overall acceptance rate of only 11.2%. So, how do you increase your chances?

If you’re someone who wants to double major in Chemical Engineering and Dance, USC is a place that allows you to pursue cross-disciplinary interests to your heart’s desire. But, as I mentioned, the coveted acceptance letter does not come easily. To help guide you through how to get into USC, I’ve outlined an overview of the various undergraduate colleges, the academic profile USC looks for, how to take advantage of your extracurriculars and essays, and finally, deadlines to keep in mind as you apply to this SoCal institute.

An Overview of the USC Undergraduate Colleges

Because you’ve been considering the question of how to get into USC, you probably already know that USC is located in downtown Los Angeles. A fun fact you might not know is that the university is actually the largest employer in LA and a big generator of economic growth in the city! The campus promotes the use of environmentally friendly technology. Most undergraduate students live on or near campus.


Students often have the misconception that USC falls under the University of California system, particularly due to its similarities in location and course offerings to UCLA. But this is not the case. USC is private and you have to apply through the Common Application. As a large research university, USC offers a wide selection of majors within their various programs. USC has its own undergraduate music, business and engineering schools, alongside colleges that specialize in art, film, music technology, dance, and design. Check out the full list of schools offering undergraduate courses below:

  • Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
  • Davis School of Gerontology
  • Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences
  • Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation
  • Keck School of Medicine (offers “Global Health” and “Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Studies” majors for undergraduates)
  • Marshall School of Business
  • Ostrow School of Dentistry (junior transfers only)
  • Price School of Public Policy
  • Roski School of Art and Design
  • Thornton School of Music
  • USC School of Architecture
  • USC School of Cinematic Arts
  • USC School of Dramatic Arts
  • USC School of Pharmacy (offers “Pharmacology and Drug Development” major for undergraduates)
  • Viterbi School of Engineering

USC Majors

While you don’t have to commit to attending a specific USC school when you apply through the Common App, you do have to choose your first and second choice majors, each of which applies to a unique college:


That’s right, you can choose your first major from the School of Dramatic Arts and your second choice from the School of Engineering. USC allows you to pursue unique combinations of majors and minors, so if your interests are acting and biology, USC can make it possible! 

If you want, you can also add a pre-professional emphasis in the following disciplines when you apply within the Common App:

  • Pre-Dentistry
  • Pre-Law
  • Pre-Medicine
  • Pre-Occupational Therapy
  • Pre-Pharmacy
  • Pre-Physical Therapy
  • Pre-Physician Assistant Practice
  • Pre-Teaching

Selecting one of these options can help you demonstrate your future goals to admissions officers. If you have taken courses and participated in extracurriculars that align with your career interests, that’s even better.

Academic Requirements

Academically, USC looks for students who are excited to pursue their goals by taking a wide variety of classes across disciplines and utilizing the range of programs that are offered at the school. Most of the accepted students are ranked in the top 10% of their graduating class, while their median standardized test scores are in the top 5%. When researching how to get into USC, note that the numbers for admits to this college are very competitive. The median GPA range for accepted students is 3.82-4.00. 

In the case of standardized tests, USC accepts both the SAT and ACT. The median ranges for these scores are also impressive:

  • SAT-Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: 690-760
  • SAT-Math: 720-800
  • ACT Composite: 32-36

It goes without saying that you must work hard if you’re considering how to get into USC. When evaluating your application, the reader will make note of your “willingness to go beyond the requirements, to dig deeply into texts, to explore ideas and become a lifelong learner.” From your courses, USC wants to see that you are willing to push yourself by having taken the most rigorous classes available to you in English, math, science, social studies, foreign language, and the arts. 

As you can see, you need to work hard to ensure the best result on test day. That said, admissions officers do understand that your SAT scores are based on a day’s performance. So, the more important factor is having a GPA that reflects hard work and dedication over your four years of high school. Though USC doesn’t require or ask for SAT subject tests, if you believe your SAT composite doesn’t accurately reflect your abilities and you want to further highlight your prowess in a certain area, you may submit your subject test score.

Letters of Recommendation

Admissions officers also want to know what you’re like in the classroom and value the letters written by your high school teachers. As part of fulfilling USC’s requirement of either your school teacher or counselor being the writer, your recommendations should further highlight your intellectual curiosity. For example, if you are someone who is unafraid to speak up in class and challenge others to think, this is a habit that USC appreciates in candidates. Make sure to remind your teachers of instances that reflect such attributes.


Like many schools that conduct a holistic admissions process, the University of Southern California goes beyond your academic record and also evaluates applicants on the basis of how they’ve spent their time beyond classes. So, when you’re thinking about how to get into USC, make sure you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone outside the classroom. Since most USC majors are highly specific, such as “American Popular Culture,” your activities list should highlight that you’ve taken an interest in your chosen topic through what you’ve achieved and participated in outside your time at school. 

In order to really distinguish yourself from other applicants, step out of common clubs such as debate and MUN and start your own initiative. For example, if you’re interested in the Film & Television Production major and you’ve created a full-length documentary as a high schooler, admissions officers will immediately know that you’re determined in following your passions. 

Personal Statement

USC uses your personal statement to gain more context about your background and understand the perspective you bring to campus. Your essay will help the admissions office know how you can contribute to the community, so don’t take this component lightly. 

Don’t just write about a time you might have failed a math test or if you went on a service trip for a week. The point of this essay is to convey what you can bring that other students can’t. So, your response might focus on a part of your background or extracurriculars that have been meaningful and that most students can’t relate to, or it can highlight an experience that you believe distinguishes you from your peers.

Supplemental Essays

One of the most convincing ways to get your interest in the school out there when thinking about how to get into USC is to make sure you make the most out of the supplemental essays. While some schools only ask one question, USC has a total of four questions (with numerous sub-responses) that you have to answer so that the admissions officers can get to know you better. These are: 

Question 1

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words)

Question 2

Please respond to ONE of the prompts below. (250 words) 

  • USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.
  • USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.
  • What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

Question 3

Describe yourself in 3 words:

First word:

Second word:

Third word:

Question 4

The following prompts have a limit of 100 characters each.

  • What is your favorite snack?
  • Favorite app/website:
  • Best movie of all time:
  • Hashtag to describe yourself:
  • Dream job:
  • What is your theme song?
  • Dream trip:
  • What TV show will you binge watch next?
  • Place you are most content?
  • Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
  • Favorite book:
  • If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

Tips for Writing the USC Essays

Each of these questions guides the admissions officers through understanding what makes you a strong fit for USC. The reader can also use them to determine whether you are genuinely interested in USC and have properly researched the school. Brainstorm your answers carefully in order to find the right approach. For Question 2, for example, you have the option to choose from the three prompts. Choose wisely. Pick a topic that you believe will bring the strongest response out of you. 

The key to answering such supplemental questions - especially the short ones - is to reflect on yourself and be honest. Think about how to present yourself in an interesting way that illustrates an accurate picture of you, but doesn’t resort to answers that would be common for most candidates. These short responses are clearly looking for you to be fun. Don’t be afraid to get quirky!

While a 250-word limit isn’t tremendously long for the bigger questions, you must still showcase that you have done your research on the academic programs that the University of Southern California has to offer. Check and double-check to see whether you’ve mentioned the names of majors and courses correctly, as well as included information that applies specifically to USC as opposed to UCLA or another school in the state. USC wants passionate students who are excited about examining issues from a global lens, bring a unique perspective, and will take advantage of the resources at the college with intent. Use your essays to convey that you’ve got what it takes to fit into this university.  

Requirements and Deadlines

When asking the question of how to get into USC, you must also take steps to ensure that the necessary scores, documents, and other information needed for admission reach USC on time. So, it’s highly important that you follow instructions and stick to deadlines.

If you’re applying for a major in the School of Dramatic Arts, Cinematic Arts, Music, or the School of Dance, your application is due December 1. For applicants whose majors lie in one of the other schools, the USC application is due on January 15. However, all first-year applicants who submit a complete application by December 1 will be considered for merit scholarships.

Take note of the following deadlines and requirements to make sure your USC application is ready on time:

Requirements for USC Application Deadlines and Notes
Common App personal statement The word limit is 650 words.
USC-specific essays These will appear on the Common App once you’ve chosen USC as one of your colleges.
Official high school transcript This must be submitted directly from your school.
Letter of recommendation One letter is required from either your school counselor or a teacher from your school. If you do submit more than one, you should choose someone who can highlight a different side to your personality. Applicants to the School of Cinematic Arts must submit three letters of recommendation.
Mid-year report Use the Mid-Year Report Form included in the Common Application to add your scores when available.
SAT or ACT The last tests students can take are the December ACT and December SAT.
Supplement or portfolio Refer to the requirements for each USC school here:
Financial aid documents U.S. citizens and permanent residents applying for aid must fill out the FAFSA, the CSS Profile and signed tax returns of parents and student. Deadline: February 13, 2020

Use the table as a checklist to make sure that you send all of the necessary documents and scores. Once you’ve submitted your application, merit scholarship recipients are notified by February 1, while the rest of the candidates are notified by April 1.

Next Steps

  • Connect Your Diverse Interests - If you are someone who enjoys two different subjects from entirely different disciplines, USC is an ideal place to pursue them both. However, as you think about how to get into USC, remember that your application must demonstrate that you’ve carefully thought about how the two are connected and can ultimately help you reach your aspirations. Don’t just state that you like filmmaking and physics and leave it at that. Through your activities, personal statement, and supplemental essays, show the admissions officers why and how they’re both essential for your future plans.
  • Don’t Underestimate the Supplemental Essays - Since USC doesn’t offer an early decision or early action option, your supplemental essays are your greatest asset in conveying your interest towards this college. You especially have to ensure that you’re optimizing the 250 words allotted to explaining why USC is the best place for you to pursue your interests and goals. Think about the courses, clubs, location, study abroad programs, and professors USC has to offer. What can you benefit from here that you can’t elsewhere?

The question of how to get into USC can’t be solved by a simple equation. But, with some thorough research, you can find out that USC appreciates students who aren’t shy about stepping out of their comfort zone and challenging themselves. Think about where your intellectual and extracurricular interests lie and step up to excel in those areas. Who knows, this time next year, you might just be finishing up your first semester as a Trojan. All the best!

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