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How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

 

The University of Southern California has a few supplemental essays and creative short answers that students must complete. 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.

 

Here are our tips for responding to the USC essays in a way that will help your application stand out!

 

USC Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

Prompt 1: 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).

 

Prompt 2 (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).

 

Short Answer Prompts: 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?

 

Dornsife Applicants Prompt: 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? (250 words)

 

Prompt 1 (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 College” 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, which might feel overwhelming. The first thing you should do is figure out the content of your essay.

 

Step One: Think about your academic interests (i.e. your majors). 

 

  • How did your interests develop? 
  • Why are you passionate about your interests? 
  • What are your goals within your interests?
  • How will pursuing your major help you achieve your goals in life? 

 

Step Two: Think about the answers to those questions in relation to USC. 

 

  • How will USC help you to further develop your interests? 
  • What resources does the university have that will help you achieve your goals? 

 

While your essay should explore resources that will aid in your academic pursuits, you should also keep it as specific to USC as possible—this essay should not be able to be copied and pasted for any other university! 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.

 

Why is this bad? This 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.

 

Good: At USC, I plan to participate in the Joint Educational Project (JEP) to find a community of students who, like me, are passionate about the intersections of teaching and social justice. Through JEP, I will be able to actively use the teaching principles I learn in my classes about the Dynamics of Early Childhood.

 

Why is this good? It references a unique resource at USC and relates to the student’s academic interests.

 

The Final Step: Write a cohesive essay that tells admissions officers why you are pursuing your field and why USC is the right place for you to pursue it. Some examples could include:

 

  • An Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering student who was obsessed with the launching of the Antares rocket, movies like Gattaca and The Martian, and their physics summer camp as a middle schooler. They could describe their goal of working for NASA, then discussing their interest in the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL).
  • An English student who ultimately wants to write romance novels discussing the Creative Writing Hour series that is hosted by English faculty. They might want to reference some of the big-name professors at USC—like Maggie Nelson, Aimee Bender, Dana Johnson, and T.C. Boyle—who have inspired their love of writing.
  • A Fine Arts applicant mentioning the Fisher Museum of Art that is on USC’s campus. It was after a school field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) that they first tried working with graphite and learned of their life goals. They know the power of art museums for inspiration and are excited to have a constant source of inspiration just minutes away.

 

If you are worried about the word count, 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. A student with a first-choice major in Physics and a second-choice major in English might want to write about their ultimate goal of writing Science Fiction novels. A student with a first-choice major in History and a second-choice major in East Asian Languages and Culture might write about their goal of curating Asian American history museums.

 

Make sure you focus on your academic interests/goals and tell admissions officers the ways that USC will help your academic dreams come true, and you will be set!

 

Prompt 2 (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 to which you dedicated your time. 

 

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

 

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.

 

The most important thing to keep in mind with the short answer supplements is that USC is asking you 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 them (as in the sample response to #8). It’s another opportunity to share your personality, which is valuable!

 

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.

 

Dornsife Prompt (Required)

 

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? (250 words)

This prompt requires less deep thought than the former. The “education” prompt asks students to think deeply about a question they have probably never thought about before, while this prompt asks you “what are you thinking about all the time?” 

 

If an idea comes to mind when you first read this prompt, that’s probably where you should start. USC is not looking for wild answers where students turn the holes in swiss cheese into a complex metaphor—they really just want to hear what you care about. That being said, what you care about can totally be weird or nuanced, as long as your interest in the subject tells admissions officers something about you.

 

Some examples of how you could work this prompt:

 

  • Writing about a social justice issue. Introducing a specific anecdote (that you would introduce during your hypothetical talk). Providing insightful and unique commentary on the issue—whether that be how we got here or where we should go from here.
  • Writing about a school of thought in science or philosophy. Explaining the importance of certain types of questions. Giving specific examples (historical, fictional, and anecdotal) that show that you have thought through the importance of rationalism, taoism, sensationalism, or any other school.
  • Writing about a lecture on a specific book. Discussing how White Teeth, Giovanni’s Room, or Moby Dick tells multiple important life lessons in one pretty package. Drawing connections between the fictional world and the real world.
  • Writing about the valuable lessons that can be learned from another culture. Introducing stories from your past that show the value of Japanese respect, Persian hospitality, or Indian selflessness. Recognizing negative aspects of cultures, but recognizing the lessons that can be learned when you take the time to learn them.

 

While these are just some examples, this prompt leaves the door open for you to explore whatever you care about. Because this essay is the simpler option, make sure that your writing is impeccable if you choose this second prompt. Engage with anecdotes and a unique personal voice to keep your essay engaging. Don’t give the reader the option to stop reading!

 

Where to Get Your USC Essays Edited for Free

 

Do you want feedback on your USC essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


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