How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

The University of Southern California, home of the Trojans, is located in the bustling heart of Los Angeles, California. The private school is renowned for its sunny weather, campus spirit, and academic rigor.


USC has an acceptance rate of about 13%. With the school’s growing pool of applicants, and decreasing rate of acceptance, the admissions numbers are undoubtedly tough. 


It’s more important than ever to make your application stand out, and the essays are the key to this. Your essays are one of the only opportunities you’ll have to show an admissions officer who you are beyond the numbers, and with USC’s many different prompts, it’s clear this school wants you to seize that opportunity. Want to know your chances at USC? Calculate your chances for free right now.


Long Answer Prompts

Required: 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 (250 words).

The tricky bit about this prompt is that it essentially combines the “why this major” and “why this school” essay archetypes into one essay with a strict cap of 250 words. That’s a lot of information in not a whole lot of space.


One way to maximize the little space you have is to find a way to relate your first and second choice majors. This way, your explanations of each wouldn’t read like separate essays; rather, they would be telling different parts of the same story. 


Say your first choice major is physics; your second choice is English. In this case, a potential angle for your essay could be explaining a dream of yours is to publish a fictional book that incorporates the phenomenons of physics. By relating your two prospective majors to one another, you conserve space by avoiding the need to separately delve into an explanation of each. Moreover, you demonstrate a focus in your academic goals and beyond.


If this isn’t possible, and your majors really are just disparate, that’s totally okay too. You’ll just have to be a little more careful to stay under the word limit.


Now for the second part: why USC? This is, of course, the most vital aspect of the prompt. By the end of your essay, you need to have convinced USC that it is the best school to help you obtain your dreams and that, given the chance, you would take full advantage of their resources in order to obtain those dreams.


To do this second part justice, you need to be as specific to USC as possible. Too many students make the mistake of broad or unbackable statements. Here’s an example of how to achieve the specificity you need.


Bad: USC is a great school, located in the beautiful city of Los Angeles, with unparalleled academics and renowned instructors.


Good: At USC, I would join the Cosmic Writers club to find a community of students who, like me, are passionate about the intersection of physics and English. 


In the bad example, the sentence could just as easily apply to UCLA; without the bit about Los Angeles, the reasoning could even apply to any decent school in existence. The second example works because it provides a resource unique to USC.

Optional: Starting with the beginning of high school/secondary school, if you have had a gap where you were not enrolled in school during a fall or spring term, please address this gap in your educational history. You do not need to address a summer break (250 words).

USC’s second prompt is optional and won’t apply to most students. However, if you do have a gap in your educational history, then be sure to use this space to address it. Give a brief explanation of the reasoning for the gap—be it illness, a move, etc.—as well as an overview of how you spent this time outside of school. 


For example, let’s say your family moved across the country and you took a term off during the transfer. You can describe your role in the move (perhaps you were in charge of organizing a yard sale), why the circumstances warranted an educational gap (maybe the new school doesn’t allow mid-term transfers), and any other projects or commitments you dedicated your time off to. 


Ideally, you want to demonstrate how you made the most of this time off and why the time off was necessary.


Required: Respond to one of the prompts below (250 words)


1. USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Tell us about a time when 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.


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.


3. What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?


In the first prompt, USC is asking you to demonstrate that you will appreciate, add to, and benefit from the diverse community they have fostered. Use the space to tell a story that shows your own personal growth or character arc. The key here is to show that you are open-minded and that you understand the value of learning from the people around you.This prompt is a tough one to do justice, so only pick it if it really resonates with you!


The second prompt is another one that either speaks to you, or it doesn’t. If you have a hobby, or even just a burning curiosity, outside of your first and second-choice majors, feel free to use the second prompt to talk about it. You can also use this space to tie the interest back to how you hope to pursue it at USC. 


For example, if you’ve always wanted to know more about film production—maybe you make the occasional YouTube video but have never formally explored film as a hobby—you can talk about why this is an interest of yours and how USC’s incredible film resources (being more specific, of course) would allow you to delve deeper into this topic. 


One thing to keep in mind is that this interest shouldn’t be entirely random. While it’s fully okay to not have an extensive background—that is the point of the essay, after all—you should be able to explain at least how you came to be interested in the subject. If possible, include an anecdote!


Finally, the third prompt: the third prompt is really an opportunity to share something about yourself that you haven’t yet been able to. That said, it shouldn’t be a random fact or tidbit; it needs to be more fundamental to what makes you who you are. Choose a specific quality about yourself—maybe you love trying as many new things as possible, for example—and then tell a story about this that ties into how the quality is a key component of what makes you, you.


Short Answer Prompts

Required: respond to all the prompts below (100 characters unless otherwise specified)

1. Describe yourself in three words (25 characters each)
2. What is your favorite snack?
3. Best movie of all time
4. Dream job
5. If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
6. Dream trip
7. What TV show will you binge watch next?
8. Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
9. Favorite Book
10. If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

In this section, USC lets you have a little fun. The questions ask for short, rapid-fire responses that give you the opportunity to let your individuality shine.



1. Describe yourself in three words (25 characters max each).


Example: Cinephile. Cynophile. Logophile. 


Tip: Be creative!


2. What is your favorite snack?


Example: My Gram’s Lebuchken, tiny gingerbread-esque German cakes that my family devours each holiday season.


Tip: This is an opportunity to show your roots or quirky favorites. Make your response more interactive by including descriptive words that appeal to the senses, especially taste and smell. Also, if you’re using another language or describing a less common food, feel free to provide a short description or explanation so that someone who’s never heard of it before can still imagine it.


3. Best movie of all time


Example: October Sky; Homer’s rockets remind me of my own homemade science creations, like my DIY lava lamp.


Tip: A lot of applicants will write Harry Potter. Be genuine in your response, but take this opportunity to stand out rather than providing a generic answer.


4. Dream job


Example: A math professor; sharing my love of topology to positively shape students’ view of the subject. 


Example: Crossword Puzzle Writer; my mornings aren’t complete without a cup of OJ and my daily brain teaser.


Tip: If you go with a serious answer, make a clear connection to your major to show that you’re focused on your academic path. Don’t give a generic answer like “doctor” or “lawyer;” talk about what specialty or subfield interests you most. That said, you could also go for a more lighthearted answer, like a crossword puzzle writer, to use the space to show personality.


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


Example: The [TV show] Intro; I’d like to think of myself as a [character], but I have to admit I’m more of an [character]. 


Example: Happy Birthday by AJR – a catchy tune with funny/sarcastic lyrics about the reality of modern life.


Tip: Just as with the best movie prompt, you may want to avoid mainstream selections and instead put forward a title that says something about you. What song would you want the admissions officer to play while reading your application? Make sure the song you choose is appropriate.


6. Dream trip


Example: Road trip around Iceland’s perimeter; stops include Thingvellir National Park and the Geysir Springs.


Tip: Be more specific than simply “Hawaii” or “Europe.” Also, just as with all the prompts, you want to convey something about yourself in your response, so avoid mainstream or overly luxurious answers.


7. What TV show will you binge watch next?


Example: Aggretsuko (anime about a red panda who relieves job stress by singing death metal at karaoke bars)


Tip: Follow similar guidelines to the theme song prompt—mainstream selections are fine and are potentially relatable to the reader, but that quirkier show you have your eye on might make for a more fun response. If your selection is lesser-known, consider adding a brief description.


8. Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?


Example: Rory Gilmore – there definitely won’t be a shortage of coffee or good conversation.


Tip: It’s okay to go with a more well-known character here, since that will allow the reader to relate. It’s just important to use that extra space to elaborate on why you’d want to live with this person.


9. Favorite book


Example: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – I read the entire book in my favorite pair of Air Max 97s.


Tip: Follow the same advice for best movie of all time.


10. If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?


Example: SETI: Using the Drake Equation to Find E.T., complete with a field trip to outer space!


Tip: You can have some fun with this prompt; try thinking outside the box of the generic “Intro to Calculus.” You can also have the class relate back to your intended major, though that’s not absolutely necessary.


The most important thing to keep in mind with the short answer supplements is that USC is giving you an opportunity to provide new information that sheds light on different aspects of your personality. 


Don’t repeat tidbits you’ve already mentioned, although you can and should develop new angles of themes you’ve already established. Most importantly, have fun in this section! If you’re having fun writing it, chances are your admissions officer will have fun reading it.


You can leave descriptions or notes in your responses, though remember that you have 100 characters max. If your choices are more offbeat, we recommend giving a brief description, as your admissions officer certainly won’t have the time to look things up. If your choices are pretty well-known, you can still leave a note about why you chose it (as in the sample response to #8). It’s another opportunity to share your personality, which is valuable!


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