USC Letter of Recommendation: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Academic advisor meeting with college student to discuss graduate school

Is the University of Southern California on your college list? Part of USC’s application process includes submitting a letter of recommendation. While your academic performance in high school carries the most weight in the admissions process, a strong letter of recommendation from a teacher or school counselor will tell another piece of your story — who you are, how you conducted yourself at school, and how you might contribute to the campus community. 

The letter of recommendation is an important part of your USC application, so it’s important to choose a recommender who can present you in the best possible light. Keep reading to learn more about what should go into the USC letter of recommendation.     

How Hard Is It to Get Into USC?

High school students who hope to gain admission to USC should understand that it can be very challenging. If you’re wondering how to get into USC, your best bet is to demonstrate a strong academic performance throughout high school. This includes a high GPA, excellent standardized test results, and the most rigorous classes you can take. USC also values applicants with interdisciplinary interests.  

However, it’s also important to be involved in extracurricular activities and other non-academic interests to show USC how you can fit in and contribute to campus and the surrounding community. Your application materials don’t need to reflect all the activities you’re involved in, just the ones you’re the most committed to and passionate about.   

Who Should Write Your USC Letter of Recommendation?

The application requirements for USC include one letter of recommendation either from your school counselor or a teacher. However, the School of Cinematic Arts requires two letters of recommendation. You can submit additional letters of recommendation if you feel they add further value to your application. 

Not sure which teachers to ask for recommendations? Ideally, you should choose a teacher from a core academic subject who has seen how you perform in a higher-level course and/or has worked with you in different capacities. For example, your language arts teacher might have advised you as a reporter for the school newspaper and can evaluate you from both perspectives. Whether a teacher or your school counselor writes the letter, they should understand your character and the qualities that make you a great college applicant.  

What Should Be In a USC Recommendation Letter?

The goal of the recommendation letter is to help the admissions committee understand why you’re a great fit for USC in terms of both academics and extracurricular activities. According to USC Undergraduate Admission, “Teacher and counselor recommendations speak to your academic success and the contributions you might make to the classroom, the broader learning environment and the community at large. Your values will be reflected in those letters, as well as in your activity list.”

These tips about recommendation letters can help your recommenders write strong letters for your USC application: 

  • Recommenders should include information about how they know you and for how long.
  • They should include specific reasons they recommend you for admission to USC. 
  • The letter should offer detailed examples that highlight your skills, qualities, and academic performance, though it shouldn’t be too lengthy. 
  • Recommenders should feel free to express sincerity and enthusiasm in order to write a more authentic and compelling letter.  


It can be especially helpful to your recommenders if you provide some information in advance. This can include a recent resume, a copy of your personal statement, the list of schools you’re applying to, a current transcript, a list of your extracurricular activities, and some details about your career ambitions. It’s okay to mention specific details you want them to include in their letter. Most importantly, don’t forget to provide the submission deadline for the letter of recommendation!

Example of a Strong Letter of Recommendation

As we mentioned, a strong recommendation letter will provide a fuller picture of who you are as a student and a member of the community. You will not see any recommendation letters before your teachers submit them, so it’s important to follow the above tips to give your teachers everything they need. This example of a strong letter of recommendation should give you some insight into what admissions committees are looking for. 

March 31, 2023  

Dear admissions committee,  

A.B. is one of the highest academically achieving members of the Public High School Class of 2023, which will be our third group of students to graduate and pursue college since our founding in the fall of 2017. Her cumulative GPA consistently puts her in the top ten percent of her class, and her practice ACT scores have similarly outpaced those of her peers. She has truly pushed herself with the rigor of her curriculum, taking all four AP courses available to underclassmen and scoring a 4 on the APUSH exam as a sophomore (most of our students do not even take this class until their junior year). Her grades have only improved as she has progressed through high school and the material has gotten more challenging, and I know that she is ready for the rigors of college.  

A.B.’s teachers say she is an organized student who is not afraid to ask questions when she is uncertain about a skill or concept. She also works well in group settings, always making sure all members are actively involved in the work, instead of simply taking over, as many of her similarly high achieving peers are wont to do. She is also extremely goal-oriented; once she sets her mind to completing a task or project, she pursues it in earnest until it is done, regardless of any obstacles that pop up along the way. Far from the ruthless competitor, however, her peers characterize her as a compassionate friend, someone that everyone feels comfortable opening up to.  

Outside of the classroom, A.B. has served as captain of both the JV and varsity volleyball teams. She also holds a consistent part-time job and plays basketball. She names that over-commitment was one of the obstacles she faced early in her high school career, as her interests and responsibilities expanded, which often led to procrastination of academic work. She has grown tremendously, however, and now handles each of her commitments with maturity and grace, saying “no” to the asks that she knows are not aligned with her priorities.  

A.B. is beyond excited to graduate from high school and pursue her postsecondary degree. She sees attending college as a way to both pay her mother back for the many sacrifices she has made, as well as a way to prove to herself that she can in fact accomplish anything she sets her mind to. She is hoping to pursue a career in the medical field – potentially biomedical engineering or cardiothoracic surgery – where she knows she can put her intellectual skills to use helping the people who need it the most.  

A.B. is a fantastic student who will make a positive addition to whichever college campus she decides to join. While we will be sad to see her go, I cannot wait to see what she is able to accomplish after she leaves. For these reasons and many more, I recommend her enthusiastically for admission to your institution. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or would like to discuss this candidate further.  

What Is the Deadline for USC Recommendation Letters? 

The admissions process for USC includes Early Action and Regular Decision options. The deadline for the recommendation letters depends on whether the application status is EA or RD. The deadlines may vary slightly each year, but Early Action is generally on or around November 1, so the recommendation letters will be due at this time. Regular Decision is generally on or around January 15 — with the exception of students applying for majors that require a portfolio or audition who have an RD date on or around December 1. 

What to Do When You Cannot Write a Strong Letter of Recommendation?

It sometimes happens that students request a letter of recommendation from a teacher they know well and are turned down. This can happen if the teacher is popular and receives other requests for recommendation letters — they are time-consuming, so the teacher may impose a limit on how many they write. Teachers are not obligated to write recommendation letters at all, so do not insist on it if they say no. 

Ideally, you should ask your teacher for a letter of recommendation at the end of your junior year before other students ask. The teacher is more likely to accept your request, plus it gives them ample time to draft a thoughtful letter while the school year is still fresh in their mind. Follow up with them early in your senior year. 

Since a letter of recommendation is part of the admission requirements for USC, it’s important to be proactive. Give your teachers an opportunity to get to know you, and ask for their recommendations early. This is the best way to ensure you get a strong recommendation letter.        

What Are Your Chances at USC?

To give you an idea of how selective USC is, the acceptance rate for the Class of 2026 was 12%. The middle 50% GPA for admitted students was 3.88–4.0. USC’s application process is currently test-optional, though this is subject to change. However, if you choose to submit your scores, they will be evaluated along with your other application materials — the higher they are, the better! 

To increase your chances of admission at USC, consider working with a college counselor from IvyWise. Our counselors have extensive experience working on admissions committees at some of the top colleges and universities in the U.S., so they understand what it takes to gain admission. Schedule an Initial Consultation today to get started. 


Related Topics

College Application Tips
Sign Up for the IvyWise Newsletter
 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code