How to Get Into USC: All You Need to Know

Friday, February 24, 2023

Tommy Trojan statue on the campus of the University of Southern California

The University of Southern California, or USC, as its best known, is a top research university and one of the most selective schools in the country. Located in sunny Los Angeles, California, it’s been a pioneer in academic and research initiatives since its beginnings in the late 19th century. Today, it’s one of the most prestigious and desirable academic experiences in the country and the world.

This desire has led to USC becoming one of the most competitive universities in the U.S., but don’t worry: we’ve compiled a list of best practices that applicants should use to increase their chances of admission to the university.

How to Get Into USC: Table of Contents

  1. When to Apply to USC
  2. How Hard Is It to Get Into USC: Early Prep
  3. How Do You Actually Get Into USC: The Application
  4. USC Class Profile
  5. What Makes USC Unique?

When to Apply to USC

The first step to applying to USC is familiarizing yourself with the different application deadlines. The university offers both Early Action and Regular Decision, but does not offer a binding Early Decision. The application requirements and deadlines can get confusing, so here is an overview of the USC admissions timeline.

USC Deadlines

USC’s application deadlines vary slightly from year to year but tend to fall around the same time on the academic calendar. The deadlines for students applying to start in the 2023-2024 academic year were as follows:

Early Action: November 1, 2023

Regular Decision: January 15, 2024

Regular Decision for majors requiring a portfolio or audition: December 1, 2023

Majors that require a portfolio or audition:

  • Iovine and Young Academy
  • Kaufman School of Dance
  • Roski School of Art & Design
  • School of Architecture
  • School of Cinematic Arts
  • School of Dramatic Arts
  • Thornton School of Music

 

Merit Scholarship consideration: either November 1 or December 1, depending on your major

  • Most majors require students to apply by November 1 via Early Action in order to be considered for USC Merit Scholarships, according to the USC undergraduate admission website.
  • If applying to the Iovine and Young Academy or to majors in the College of Fine Arts, however, Early Action is not available. Instead, apply Regular Decision by December 1 to be considered for a merit scholarship within those majors.

 

USC Merit Scholarships range from a few thousand dollars per year to a full-tuition scholarship. These scholarships are merit-based, meaning that they are awarded to students who are considered academically and intellectually outstanding. Some merit scholarships include:

  • Trustee Scholarship: full tuition, four-year scholarship
  • Presidential Scholarship: half tuition
  • Deans Scholarship: half tuition

 

Early, Rolling and Regular Decision

USC offers two application deadlines: Early Action and Regular Decision. Students can choose to apply to either deadline, depending on their unique needs and goals. Regardless of whether you ultimately decide to apply to USC, however, it’s still important to understand the key differences between all the different application types, including those that USC does not offer.

Early Decision and Early Action have one major differentiating factor. Early Decision is a binding application option, which means that if you are admitted Early Decision, you must enroll at that college. USC does not offer an Early Decision option, but this is important to understand nonetheless. If you are admitted Early Decision to another school, you will not be able to attend USC. If USC is your first choice, be sure not to apply Early Decision to a different school.

Early Action, on the other hand, is a non-binding early application, which means that if you are admitted through Early Action, you can still decide whether or not to enroll.

Until recently, the university did not offer any kind of early admission option. This changed with the 2022-2023 application when USC began offering an Early Action application option. The Early Action admission deadline is November 1. USC does not offer rolling admissions, which is when universities accept applications throughout a prolonged period, usually from September through May.

Finally, USC offers a Regular Decision option, which is neither early nor binding. The Regular Decision deadline is January 15 if students are not applying for merit scholarships. Students applying through Regular Decision receive their admissions decisions no later than April 1st.

Deferrals

If you apply to USC Early Action, you may receive a deferral notification rather than a rejection or an admission. This means that your application will be held and re-reviewed for consideration during the Regular Decision round. So, what should you do if you get deferred? The best thing to do is to check with the university. In the past, USC asked deferred students to submit any additional academic documents that may strengthen their application with additional academic credentials. In the most recent academic cycle, however, USC did not accept any additional materials — letters of continued interest or otherwise — from deferred early applicants. As of yet, it is unclear whether they will accept them in the 2024-25 admissions cycle.

How Hard Is It to Get Into USC: Early Prep

USC is the top private research university in the Los Angeles area and one of the top research universities in the country. Its high selectivity often puts it on the college lists of very strong students across the country.

To stand out from the crowd, it’s best to start preparing for the application process as early as possible. Students can improve their chances of admission by doing their research, creating a strategic plan, and tailoring their applications to USC.

Build Your Profile

USC is excited about academically rigorous students who have interdisciplinary interests and passions. But what does USC look for? As you’re deciding whether you want to apply, you should consider fit and what USC seeks in its applicants. Though USC uses the holistic admission review process — which considers several diverse aspects of a student’s application, including hard and soft factors — academic rigor and performance carry the most weight.

USC doesn’t have any specific curricular requirements outside of math. Advanced algebra (or algebra II) is the minimum math requirement. To be competitive, though, students should have taken pre-calculus or, especially for business and engineering, calculus. Admitted students are typically those who were enrolled in the most rigorous curricula available at their high schools, usually including four years of English, science, social studies, and math, and at least two years of a foreign language. This may vary for some international curricula and for particular programs. The USC Viterbi College of Engineering, for example, requires that applicants take at least one calculus course in high school, which may be taken during their senior year.

USC requires that students declare a first and second-choice major on their application. This means that students must choose a specific major within one of its many undergraduate colleges, including the Marshall School of Business and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. USC considers an applications based on how each student’s academic and extracurricular profile matches that of a USC student. Because USC offers so many different majors, including interdisciplinary courses of study, the university values applicants that demonstrate interdisciplinary interests.

While academic factors are the most important elements that schools like USC evaluate, they also have other considerations, like extracurriculars and non-academic interests. Applicants should highlight their involvement in their application and demonstrate how their interests make them a good fit for USC. Rather than list as many activities as possible, applicants should spotlight the activities that they have been the most committed to and the most passionate about.

Visit the Campus and a Class

Located in downtown Los Angeles, USC is perfectly positioned for those who want to be in the heart of the city. But you won’t definitively know if USC is right for you without visiting the campus. It’s important to plan your visit well in advance so that you can register for an official campus visit through the USC Undergraduate Admissions. The visit includes an information session with an admissions officer and a current student that gives prospective students and families the chance to learn about the college and what makes it unique. Prospective students are also given a campus tour by a student tour guide, which allows them to see a large section of campus and get a feel for student life.

Interested applicants have the opportunity to sit in on a class at USC or take tours of individual colleges, like the Marshall School of Business, if they are visiting the campus. These — and any other additional tour options — can be arranged through the undergraduate admissions office.

Connect With a Student

There’s no better way to learn about a college than by speaking directly with a current student. You can connect with a student on a campus visit, whether it be the student speaker in your information session or your student tour guide. Otherwise, if you have specific questions about a major or about the student experience, you can connect with students at the admissions visitor’s center.

Learn About Any Student Experiences

Finally, consider taking a walk around campus after your official USC visit. Go to the USC Student Village for lunch and strike up a conversation. Check out the McCarthy Quad to see what students are doing in their free time. Exploring popular USC campus spots on your own is one of the most organic ways to learn more about the real student experience. There’s nothing like hearing directly from students, without the presence of the admissions office, to hear an unfiltered version of campus life. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to find out if USC is the right fit for you and if you are the right fit for USC.

How Do You Actually Get Into USC: The Application

So, now what? How do you actually get into USC? The application process is in line with that of most American colleges and universities in that students apply on the Common App. It’s important to learn about the process early on and get started to give yourself plenty of time. The earlier you begin to prepare, the more strategic you can be about the process and position yourself as the strongest possible candidate. Remember that your application will consist of both hard and soft factors which USC will evaluate under the holistic review process.

As you might imagine, the admissions process at USC is highly competitive. The university received more than 69,000 applications for the class of 2026 and admitted just over 8,300 students.

GPA Requirements

Like most colleges, USC does not list an official minimum GPA requirement. However, you can gain an understanding of how you measure up to USC’s student body by considering their most recent class profile. By looking at the middle 50% GPA range of students admitted to USC, you can get a better sense of the level of academic achievement the admissions office looks for in their students. The middle 50% GPA range of students enrolling at USC in the fall of 2022, for example, was between 3.82 and 4.0.

SAT and ACT Scores

USC was test-optional for students applying for the Class of 2026. USC did not publish the middle 50% SAT and ACT scores for admitted students, but 48% of applicants submitted test scores. This percentage hasn’t changed much since the Class of 2025, of which 47% of applicants submitted test scores.

Personal Statement

For schools that participate in the Common Application, the personal statement is one of the most important soft factors of the application process. The Common Application gives students the option to choose between seven different prompts, ranging from specific to very open-ended. This is to say that students can write about virtually anything. Applicants should take the personal statement as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the admissions committee beyond the numbers and other hard factors in their application.

Essays

Most universities require at least one essay supplement in addition to the Common Application Personal Statement. USC requires one brief essay:

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first and second choice majors.

It is important to make sure your answer to this essay is specific to USC and cannot be generally applied to just any university. Think about what it is that draws you to USC, what classes you would take, what extracurriculars would you participate in, what professors would you want to want to research with (if applicable), and other specifics. From there, you can start to build your profile.

After the USC supplemental essay, the university asks students to answer a series of quick, fun questions with answers no longer than 100 characters. Questions include things like “What is your favorite snack?” and “What TV show will you binge watch next?”

These short answers are an opportunity to have a little fun with your application, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Make sure your answers are still thoughtful and true to who you are. You can look for opportunities to link back to other aspects of your profile, but don’t overdo it. Your favorite snack doesn’t have to be popcorn just because you are applying to the School of Cinematic Arts!

Students applying to the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences or to Viterbi Engineering will be asked to answer additional essay prompts:

Dornsife Supplemental Essay:

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?

Remember, this essay is a chance for the admissions office to get to know you better, not just as an applicant, but as a person. Be sure to demonstrate aspects about yourself that they can’t find elsewhere in your application. If you volunteer at your local animal shelter, for example, us this prompt to discuss why animal rescue is important to you and what you would do to improve the conditions if given the opportunity. Is your passion for social justice? Tell USC why and how you plan to get involved on campus. It is important to answer this prompt authentically and use your response as an opportunity to stand out from other applicants.

Viterbi Engineering Supplemental Essays:

  1. Your Unique Contributions to USC Viterbi: 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.
  1. The Engineering Grand Challenges: 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.

 

Again, these prompts provide opportunities for you to demonstrate why you are a good fit for USC. Make sure to incorporate your skills, experiences, and background into your answer to not only give them insight into you as a person, but also what you can bring to the school and the community. Do you have an idea for a groundbreaking app that would provide ridesharing opportunities to residents in a food desert? Talk about it! Have you drawn blueprints for an innovative idea that maximizes affordable housing space in gentrified areas? Mention that! Have you built your own computer or gaming system? Tell the admissions office about the challenges you faced or the benefits you reaped! USC wants to see how you will combine your curiosity and passions with their courses and resources to make a better world for all of humanity.

Letters of Recommendation

In order to apply, you need two USC letters of recommendation: one letter from your college counselor and one teacher evaluation from a core academic subject. Applicants often submit two teacher evaluations, although only one is required. You should thoroughly consider whether any optional materials add value or unique information to your profile — including letters of recommendation. If the answer is no, leave them out; you don’t want to bombard the admissions office with unnecessary materials! Your college counselor is also required to submit a school profile with academic and demographic information about your high school.

Admission Interviews

USC does not offer interviews for undergraduate admission. For this reason, the Common Application Personal Statement and essay supplements carry even more weight in the application process. Don’t forget, if you are applying to the Roski School of Art and Design, the USC School of Dramatic Arts, or are pursuing another creative major, there may be additional portfolio, audition, and/or essay requirements.

Contribution to the USC Community

If you’re a USC hopeful, it’s important to showcase your academic and extracurricular interests in your application. The board of admissions considers an applicant’s hard and soft factors and assesses how those factors would contribute to the campus community. Your USC supplements are an opportunity to communicate how you plan to contribute to the USC community through your academic and extracurricular talents and interests.

USC Class Profile

Acceptance rate 12%
Class size 3,420
Diversity % range 55%
Undergraduate majors 120+

As you’re learning about how to get into USC, don’t forget to review their Class of 2026 profile. Every school includes slightly different information in their class profile, but most highlight their most recent acceptance rate, their class size, and some of the majors that the college is best known for. This information can help you get a sense of the college and assess your chances of admission. How your application stacks up against their most recent class profile can give you a good idea of where USC falls on your balanced school list.

What Makes USC Unique?

USC is a major, multi-faceted research university in Southern California. The university boasts rigorously strong programs and opportunities in fields as varied as engineering and cinematic arts. A future star engineer or the next Steven Spielberg could be among your peers. There aren’t too many places like that!

The USC School of Cinematic Arts is one of the best film schools in the world, providing opportunities for future Hollywood pioneers and stars. Thanks to USC’s academic flexibility and commitment to interdisciplinary learning, students from any school or college can take classes at the school of cinematic arts – and vice versa. This means that as an engineering student, for example, you are able to access all of the other incredible resources that USC has to offer.

Finally, a discussion of USC wouldn’t be complete without mentioning USC athletics. Though currently a member of the NCAA Division I Pac 12 conference, the university will be moving to the Big 10 conference in 2024.

Ultimately, USC is a good fit for you if you are an intellectually curious student who wants to be in sunny Los Angeles, California surrounded by smart and talented students from all over the world.

Admission Consulting

To gain admission to a top university like USC, most students could benefit from additional guidance. A private admissions counselor is an invaluable resource for students looking to apply to highly-selective colleges and universities. Counselors can guide students throughout the entire process, from building a competitive application strategy and balanced college list to brainstorming and writing strong essays and supplements. Why go through the process alone when you can do it with the guidance of an expert?

At IvyWise, all our counselors have made tough admissions decisions at schools like USC, so they know exactly what it takes to stand out and get accepted. Counselors that are accredited, experienced, and knowledgeable in the field will provide key advice to set applicants up for success. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation and take the first step towards getting into your dream school.

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