Grace Kennedy


Los Angeles is known for being one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the nation with amazing opportunities. LA bustles with celebrities and the latest fashion trends, and the weather year-round doesn’t drop below 65 degrees (usually). So why wouldn’t you want to attend college in LA? The non-existent award for the most well-known and academically challenging university in Southern California bounces back and forth between the University of California - Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Looking at both schools located in LA, you may wonder, what’s the difference? Which school is better?

Will you choose a school in the heart of famous Beverly Hills, or downtown LA? This blog will help you discern the differences between USC vs. UCLA. Keep reading to learn more about their locations, campus cultures, and academics.


Location, location, location. Although both schools are technically in LA, their campuses are pretty different. UCLA is located between Beverly Hills and Bel Air, just a short drive to the beach and Hollywood. Brentwood is a great location, but because of this, UCLA’s surrounding area is pretty pricey. USC is in the heart of downtown LA in a more urban and diverse environment. USC’s location is known to be a little rough, but most students feel very safe on campus due to USC’s incredible security team, which includes 24 hour patrol by security and students.

usc vs. ucla

USC Campus

usc vs. ucla

UCLA Campus

78% of UCLA’s students are California residents, a significantly large proportion compared to 43% of USC’s students! But the latter university boasts that they have one of the highest proportions of international students in the country. 15% of their students are international, compared to UCLA’s respectable 12%, creating a diverse environment. The total enrollment numbers for the two schools aren’t far apart. USC is slightly smaller with 33,447 students, while UCLA has 40,529 students.

As a potential applicant, comparing USC vs. UCLA in terms of living conditions makes sense. The good news is that both campuses guarantee freshmen housing. UCLA actually assures three consecutive years of housing, while only about 30% of USC’s students live on campus after freshman year. USC’s campus is significantly smaller - 226 acres compared to UCLA’s 419. A lot of USC students live off-campus after their freshman year.

For the campus environment, USC has three dining options while UCLA has four. USC offers six on-campus dorms which house 1,550 students each. There are also four suites and two on-campus apartment complexes available. UCLA’s residential community, “The Hill,” consists of 17 high-rise towers and 5 low-rise complexes. 11,000 students live across these 22 buildings.

Financial Aid

Other than their locations, the most notable difference in the USC vs. UCLA debate is that USC is a private university while UCLA is public. The main distinction between private and public institutions is the way that they are funded. Public universities receive their funding from the state government and private institutions are primarily funded by their students’ tuition and private contributions. Since UCLA is a public university, the in-state tuition is less expensive than USC’s.

Speaking of tuition, one thing that both have in common is their financial aid practices. Both institutions read applications on a need-blind basis, meaning the schools make admissions decisions based on a student’s merit regardless of their demonstrated financial need. Among major research universities, UCLA has the highest number of students receiving financial aid. Likewise, USC meets 100% of accepted students demonstrated financial need!


These are massive schools, but the populations are handled differently. At UCLA, it isn’t unusual for class sizes to be around 50-100. In fact, required core classes can be as large as 300-400 students. USC’s average class size, on the other hand, is 26. Around 61% of students enroll in classes with fewer than 20 students, making their experiences a bit more personal. The highest USC class size reaches 40-50 students. So, if you are looking for smaller class sizes in your college experience, you may want to think about USC.

UCLA requires freshmen to take quantitative reasoning and English courses. You also have the choice to begin a yearlong cluster of interdisciplinary classes, or small group seminars. All students must take a course on diversity and do a final capstone project in their major.

UCLA’s most popular majors include Political Science, Psychology, Economics, and Sociology. They are also very well established in the STEM field - the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science is highly regarded. UCLA’s music school also draws many different talented musicians. Known for its research programs and facilities, it ranks 7th in the nation in federal funding for research!

USC’s core requires six general education courses, two intensive writing seminars, and one diversity class. USC has an incredible school of cinematic arts. Did you know James Franco used to teach a “Directing the Short Film” class at USC? USC also offers 17 professional schools and encourages their students to double major in topics that do not overlap, such as Biology and Italian.

The most popular majors at USC include Business Management, Marketing, Social Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts, Engineering, and Communication. USC is also known for their incredible study abroad options; they offer 52 different programs. To sum this all up, check out the various US News ranking comparisons between the two schools.

Criteria USC Ranking UCLA Ranking
US News National University Ranking 19 22
US News Best Value School Ranking (based on academic quality, ranking, cost of attendance and percentage of students receiving need-based financial aid) 37 85
US News High School Counselor Ranking (which schools counselors consider the best undergraduate institute) 23 23
Most Innovative Schools 28 23
Undergraduate Business Program 10 Not offered
Undergraduate Engineering Program 24 18

Even though UCLA is less expensive, it’s ranked much lower than USC on the Best Value scale! Meanwhile, if you’re considering an undergraduate business program, USC should be your go to. On the other hand, if you want to major in engineering, UCLA’s undergraduate engineering school is higher. However, they are both ranked the same by counselors. So when picking between the schools, consider what you want to study, which rankings you value, and more.

Social Life

Both colleges have more clubs and activities than you could possibly explore, but USC’s campus leans towards Greek culture more than UCLA’s. 26% of men and 27% of women on USC’s campus join one of the 49 fraternities or sororities, while only 15% of men and women join one of UCLA’s 65 frats or sororities.

Both USC and UCLA have amazing sports programs. Together, USC and UCLA have won more than 245 NCAA Division I national championships! The rivalry of USC vs. UCLA in sports, especially football, has been around for ages. Both schools spend a week before the yearly football game holding rallies and spirited events. USC’s community seems a little more skewed towards their sports programs than UCLA. In fact, two of USC’s biggest school wide traditions revolve around sports. Troy Week is seven days of pep rallies, events, and parties before the USC vs. UCLA football game, and Weekender is when USC travels up to northern California to watch their football team play either Cal or Stanford.

When comparing USC vs. UCLA, take the many differences into consideration! Both USC and UCLA are great choices, and they sit close to one another. Sometimes the best way to determine which school fits you is to visit. If possible, pack your bags! It can’t hurt to take a trip to LA to check out the two contenders of the USC vs. UCLA debate, and make the right call for yourself.

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