How to Write the University of Southern California Application Essays 2015-2016
(Note: this post has been updated for the 2016-2017 application cycle. To view the updated post, click here.)
“Fight on!” These two words ring through every hallway at the University of Southern California, invoking the spirit and camaraderie of the mighty Trojans themselves. USC is a private institution based in Los Angeles, California, with an emphasis on research and strong athletics. USC athletic teams boast a total of 123 national titles across various sports, and fans from across the nation often deck themselves out in cardinal and gold in support of the dominant Trojan football team. The USC social dynamic is diverse and happening, and if Greek life is your thing, about 25% of men are in a fraternity and 20% of women are in a sorority. With a total enrollment of 18,000, there is opportunity around every corner of USC’s beautiful campus, and while parts of LA off-campus are places to stay away from, life on campus makes up for any restrictions. With amazing academics and a gung-ho student culture, it’s no wonder that USC alum come away loving their four years as a Trojan.
USC is very selective, choosing about 18% of the thousands of applicants every year, and yields about 35%. Certain schools, like the Viterbi School of Engineering, may be even more difficult to get into, so it’s best to be well prepared when applying to USC, whether that’s early acceptance or regular decision.
USC students are known to be involved. Briefly describe a non-academic pursuit (such as service to community or family, a club or sport, or work, etc.,) that best illustrates who you are, and why it is important you. (250 word limit)
This question may feel like an extension of the Common App in that it simply asks more about your extracurricular interests, but this question is a good opportunity to go more in depth and reveal new things about your personality. As this question states, they want to see how the activity you choose to write about “best illustrates who you are,” so you have room to talk more about yourself and your background. For example, you could elaborate on how you grew up doing outdoor aerobics with your uncle, and how that eventually lead to your participation in triathlons. This pursuit can be commonplace or unique, but it’s best not to mention the sports or clubs you already listed on your Common App (unless you can write a strong story about what they mean to you personally). If possible, use an activity out of the usual or very personal and expand upon it, because chances are it will be easier to explain why this unique activity is important to you and differentiates you than a more clichéd extracurricular will. No matter your approach to this rather basic question, your response can leave a strong impression on admissions as they try to gauge how you as a person will fit into USC and the non-academic opportunities there.
Describe your academic interests and how you plan to pursue them at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections (250 word limit).
While this question may also seem like an extension of the Common Application, the admissions are trying to create a wholesome picture of you, so use this essay to go in depth about your intellectual passions and why you want to pursue what you want to pursue. This is an ideal “Why major” question, so make sure to also address why you are qualified to pursue your first and second choice majors, and why you want to study these subjects at USC in specific. Even if your essay seems conventional or boring, that’s fine – this prompt is straightforward, and you don’t want to leave admissions more confused about your academic interests with an unnecessarily complex narrative. You can even give a little background, or approach this essay somewhat from a “Why school” style, but there’s no need to do something too fancy. Just remember to be precise about what you are interested in, why you are passionate about that, and why you are meant to study this at USC.
If you plan on applying to the School of Engineering:
How do you plan to use your engineering degree to benefit society? (250 word limit)
This essay evaluates two main things: what your career plans are as an engineer, and how much you have researched and looked into USC engineering. First off, you want to talk about what you would do with your engineering degree, specifically with respect to how that degree would “benefits society,” because they want to see whether or not you should be put into the engineering school. If you put a second major as non-Viterbi school of engineering, this essay can be a large factor in whether or not they accept you into Viterbi or some other school like Dornsife College of LSA. While your career plans may be the same no matter what engineering program you enter at whatever school, an engineering education at USC is unique, and the admissions will want to see if you know facts about USC engineering and know what you can get out of specific programs at the Viterbi school of engineering. So, do your research and mention professors you can collaborate with (be specific, name-drop only if the professor is actually relevant to you and what you want to do) or programs you can join at USC that will help you in the long run. Much like the other USC essays, this prompt is straightforward, so be clear and be bold in how you believe your career plans and engineering goals will change the world.
Some people categorize engineers as geeks or nerds. Are you a geek, nerd, or neither? Why? (250 word limit)
Feel free to be creative with this one! This essay is a perfect chance to be quirky, funny, and honest about who you are and what makes you an engineer personality-wise. You don’t have to talk about engineering projects you have done, but rather you can talk about the small nerdy or geeky things you do for fun (or don’t do, since neither is still an option). You want to convey how your personality makes you an ideal engineer, so even if you don’t feel as if you are geeky or nerdy, you want to talk about yourself and what makes you feel like building, creating, simplifying, engineering.
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