A Guide to the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Padya Paramita

A Guide to the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

You could be applying to the University of Southern California as an aspiring actor hoping to benefit from the “Acting for the Stage, Screen, and New Media” program as a steppingstone to Hollywood. Or you could be more of a STEM-oriented person, hoping to break into the gaming industry, ready to take on the “Computer Science: Games” major. Whatever your academic focus, taking advantage of the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 is an effective way to highlight who you are and why you’ve chosen the home of the Trojans.

USC appreciates students who are willing to take advantage of their wide range of programs. The university looks for candidates who are interested in “global issues and aren’t afraid to speak up in class or fight for a cause.” If you believe you check these boxes, it’s time to let the college know why through the writing component. To help you, I’ve outlined the prompts, the dos and don’ts for your responses, and additional tips for writing the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021.

Prompts for the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

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)

This is the closest to a “why school” question as USC gets. The school wants to know whether you’ve actually put thought into your decision to apply, or if you’re just interested because it’s a well-ranked school in sunny LA. So before you sit down to write your answer, it’s important to go through the list of academic programs at the college and think about how they will help you reach your goals. 

Because this prompt is all about looking towards the future, don’t focus your essay too much on how your interest in the topics originally arose. The main point of your response should highlight how you will take advantage of unique USC majors such as “Cinematic Arts, Film, and Television Production,” or “Animation and Digital Arts.” If you’ve chosen a major that’s available at other colleges such as Chemistry or Music, you need to drive home exactly why the courses and resources offered by USC can help your specific aspirations. Don’t limit yourself to just academic offerings. If there are any relevant clubs or programs of an academic nature, mention those as well.

Each of your points should be tailored to USC. Do research and see if a given program is unique to USC or a national one available at every school.


Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!





Prompt 2

USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

Answering this prompt within the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 is a great chance for you to talk about an interest that hasn’t come across in the rest of your application. If you’re a STEM student, your courses and extracurriculars probably revolve around science, and similarly if you’re a musician or a writer, you might have been more involved in creative activities. At the same time, your choice of major doesn’t define who you are. You could be a science major who is also a talented violinist. You could also have unusual hobbies such as cross-stitching or competitive eating that you could elaborate on if you pick this question. 

Don’t spend too much time detailing the activity. Your response should mainly highlight why the topic matters to you so much, how you’ve gone out of your way to explore new issues within the field, and how you hope to continue to explore the area in college. Admissions officers would appreciate knowing you’re a multifaceted individual, that you’re invested in a topic outside your primary intellectual pursuits, so choose this essay if you’re excited to portray a different side of you. If the interest is different from your primary interest, but somehow connects, it’d be good to describe that here.

Prompt 3

What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

This is the most open-ended prompt offered by the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021. There are a couple of points to keep in mind when answering it: 1) What have you not already covered in your personal statement and activities list? and 2) What experience, aspect of your background, or unique extracurricular interest distinguishes you from other students your age? If there’s a quality that you love about yourself, you could elaborate on that. Make sure it’s not something simple such as “I’m funny.” If you’ve got an exceptional sense of humor, you have to show it in action. Why is it fundamental to you? How has it developed over time? Why do you appreciate it?

When it comes to framing such an essay, anecdotes are essential for getting your point across to the reader. If you’re just going to state a fact, you’ll have hundreds of words remaining. Instead, narrate a story that covers exactly what makes you unique, and you’ll help admissions officers understand you much better, as well as get a sense of your voice and what matters to you. 

Question 3

Describe yourself in 3 words

First word:

Second word:

Third word:

USC wants to know how you would fit into the college. Help them to see where on campus you’d make contributions and how its resources boost you toward your goals. So instead of choosing common and vague adjectives to describe yourself such as “loyal” or “kind,” choose three words that convey more information about who you are and what you enjoy, such as “eclectic” or “globetrotter.” The words you pick shouldn’t all mean similar things. Each entry should throw a new element into the mix to express information about you.

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?

The key to writing these very short answers is to make sure you’re being truthful. Don’t just try to aim for about what you think the admissions officers want to read. Just because you’re a prospective history major, doesn’t mean your favorite TV show necessarily has to be Downton Abbey. If you enjoy the humor of Kimmy Schmidt, that’s fine as well. These responses among the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 are designed to get to know you. 

Some of the questions could help convey a more fun side of you, such as choosing a fictional character or a famous person as your roommate, or your theme song. Think carefully about these answers. Even though you haven’t been asked “why” for these questions, think about what the hundred characters can convey about you. What do you hope that admissions officers will deduce about you based on your answers? Don’t try extra hard to be witty. But if it comes naturally, don’t be afraid to add it in.

While it’s important to be yourself, you also need to remember that you want to stand out from your peers. Don’t say Disneyland for a dream trip or “#blessed” for the hashtag to describe yourself because these are common answers that the reader is bound to encounter from other students. Saying Harry Potter is your favorite book won’t really make for a memorable application. Try to think outside of the box, while making sure you’re staying true to yourself at the same time.

Additional Tips for Answering the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

  • Be Careful About Repeating Your Personal Statement - The University of Southern California is a member of the Common App, so there’s no point repeating what you’ve said in your personal statement, especially considering that Prompt 1 in Question 2 is very similar to the Common App prompt: “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?” Prompt 3 in Question 2 is similar to the Common App question, “Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” Because admissions officers want each component to add something new, don’t repeat what you’ve said if you’ve chosen these Common App prompts. Or, if your USC and Common App questions overlap, write about a different experience for USC. If you keep repeating information, your application is pretty much bound to bore the admissions officers. That’s the last thing you want.
  • Choose the essay option that’s best for you - For Question 2, you have the option to choose from the three prompts. Make sure you think carefully about your choices. Pick a topic that you believe will bring the strongest response out of you and help paint an accurate picture of your personality. If you can’t come up with a time your viewpoint was changed, instead try thinking about your other academic interests. If neither of those appeals to you, brainstorm what you could tell the admissions officers through Prompt 3. Take advantage of the flexibility provided by the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021.

USC asks a wide range of questions to get to know you better. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to expand on why you’re an exceptional and must-have applicant. By thinking carefully about how you can distinguish yourself from your peers - along with making sure your answers focus on you and your interests - you can be a standout candidate through stellar responses to the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021. You’ve got this!

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