A Guide to the USC Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Padya Paramita

A Guide to the USC Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

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 stepping stone 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 2021-2022 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 by taking advantage of 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 2021-2022.

Prompts for the USC Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Question 1

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

Prompt 1

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.

When choosing what to write about for this prompt, think critically about your experiences. You don’t have to choose something incredibly grand. Your topic can highlight a situation on a smaller scale and still convey a meaningful story that shaped your perspective. What matters is that your narrative is personal, and shows you as an intelligent, likable, and self-aware individual. Think about a time you might have realized you were wrong about something, for example. You could show your realization that previously made assumptions were proved to be incorrect, e.g, if you were too quick to put someone in a box, but they are now one of your best friends or most influential members.

250 words are not enough to detail every single second of what happened when your viewpoint was challenged. If you choose this prompt for the USC supplemental essays 2021-2022, you should emphasize the latter part of the question. Your response should elaborate on why this experience mattered so much, how it has changed the way you think, and what it means for you moving forward.

Admissions officers should be able to see your open-mindedness to different points of view and believe that you would be a valuable addition to the USC community. 

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 2021-2022 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 2021-2022. 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. 

Prompt 4

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 the research and see if a given program is unique to UC or a national one available at every school.

Question 2

Describe yourself in three words. First Word:*

Second Word:*

Third Word:*

What is your favorite snack?*

Best movie of all time:*

Dream job:*

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?*

Dream trip:*

What TV show will you binge watch next? *

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?*

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.

The key to writing these very short answers is to make sure you’re being truthful. Don’t just try to aim for 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 Schmidtt, that’s fine as well. These responses among the USC supplemental essays 2021-2022 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 The Avengers as your favorite movie of all time 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.

For Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: 

Answer one of the following questions

The word “education” can take on a variety of meanings. To some, receiving a high school or college diploma is the ultimate mark of being “educated,” while others take a different view. Looking past receiving a diploma, what does it mean to you personally to be “educated”? What standards will you put in place to define whether or not you’ve obtained a great education? (250 words)

This is an interesting—but tricky—question. You can answer this prompt if you have thought a lot about what education and particularly a college education means to you. See that the question has mentioned “past receiving a diploma.” So, when writing the USC supplemental essays 2021-2022, if you do choose this prompt, remember that you shouldn’t just be saying “to get a degree” or anything of that accord. Have you gained significant experience in a certain area due to your education? Do you believe pursuing higher education can help you reach certain goals? Or, do you have a unique perspective on the matter that provides a different way of thinking about the matter entirely? No matter what you write about, make sure admissions officers leave the application with an idea of your perspective and how your way of thinking would contribute to their campus.


Many of us have at least one issue or passion that we care deeply about – a topic on which we would love to share our opinions and insights in hopes of sparking intense interest and continued conversation. If you had ten minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your talk be about? (250 words)

This is a very open-ended question. The school values students who are particularly invested in activities and topics that are meaningful to them, no matter what the scale. If you have a meaningful hobby that isn’t a conventional extracurricular per se, or you have a favorite movie that you watch over and over again, USC is telling you to write about it. Just the introductory paragraph to most essays requires over 250 words—you might find it difficult to restrain yourself while talking about your favorite topic. In order to get your point across, you need to put less emphasis on describing the activity or object or issue at hand—limit it to one or two sentences—and more on why you could talk about it for so long. Why is it your favorite? Why does it get a fire out of you in a way other topics don’t? Has it shaped your perspective in a significant way?

Since admissions officers will see your activities list through the Common App, you should find ways to include anecdotes that will convey additional information about yourself. While you should not pick a purely academic topic or something that you think USC wants to hear, you also should think of something beyond global warming, a popular movie, or your major choice. Your outlook on the activity or subject should be unique, and help you stand out among your peers.

For Engineering Applicants:

The student body at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is a diverse group of unique engineers and computer scientists who work together to engineer a better world for all humanity. Describe how your contributions to the USC Viterbi student body may be distinct from others. Please feel free to touch on any part of your background, traits, skills, experiences, challenges, and/or personality in helping us better understand you. * (250 word limit)

This is a very open-ended question. You can start by asking yourself the following questions to see if this prompt is right for you:

  • Is there a part of you that’s unique that you haven’t been able to talk about in other parts of your application?
  • Have you started any initiatives or clubs that you would like to further highlight?
  • What is your passion?
  • What has been your biggest inspiration?
  • How do you spend your free time?
  • How are you equipped to be a future engineer?
  • How do you work on a team?
  • Why are you applying to USC specifically for engineering?

Choose a topic that can help distinguish you from other applicants and make you a memorable engineering candidate in the schools’ eyes. Make sure you write an essay that portrays you as not just a leader or unique applicant—but as someone who would make a difference to the Viterbi Engineering community. Make sure you mention specific resources from the school that can help you get there. And do NOT repeat your personal statement!


The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges go hand-in-hand with our vision to engineer a better world for all humanity. Engineers and computer scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges at http://engineeringchallenges.org and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why.* (250 word limit)

This prompt is a bit different than supplemental essays that you might be used to. USC wants its engineering students to be unafraid to challenge themselves and step up when necessary. Go through the website and think about which challenge is important to you. Whether you select “provide access to clean water” or “make solar energy more economical” don’t forget to explain exactly why the challenge is important to you. And don’t be generic in your answers! We all know why clean water is crucial—but why is the issue personally important to you? Use anecdotes and any relevant experiences that you have to drive home your point!

Additional Tips for Answering the USC Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

  • 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 1 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 1 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 most of the questions, 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 the questions. Take advantage of the flexibility provided by the USC supplemental essays 2021-2022.


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 2021-2022. You’ve got this!

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