How to Get Into USC in 2023, from a USC Grad
- How Hard Is It to Get Into USC?
- What Is USC Looking For?
- My USC Admissions Story
- How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into USC
- Tips and Tricks From a USC Grad
The University of Southern California (USC) has the distinction of being the oldest private research university in California. However, what attracts applicants to the school today are its world-class education, beautiful campus, and idyllic Los Angeles setting.
USC is consistently ranked among the top 30 national universities, and some of its programs are thought of as the best in the country. For example, USC and NYU often go back and forth as the best school for students pursuing film, and USC’s location gives it an advantage over most top-tier schools in this field.
Read along to learn what it takes to get into USC in 2023, along with tips from a USC alumna.
How Hard Is It to Get Into USC?
Gaining admission to USC is hard. The university received a historic 80,790 applicants for its Class of 2027 and admitted 9,277—an acceptance rate of just 9.9%.
The average academic profile of accepted students for the Class of 2027:
- GPA: 3.9
- SAT/ACT: The middle 50% SAT and ACT scores are 1330-1520 and 30-34, respectively.
- Class Rank: USC didn’t report the average class rank for its Class of 2027, but you’ll need a strong performance in the classroom to gain admission—41% of the Class of 2027 earned perfect grades in high school.
What Is USC Looking For?
According to their 2021-2022 Common Data Set, USC considers the following factors “very important”:
- Course rigor
- Test scores
- Recommendation letters
These factors are “important”:
- Extracurricular activities
- Character/personal qualities
These are “considered”:
- First generation
- Racial/ethnic status
- Volunteer work
- Work experience
And these are “not considered”:
- Class rank
- Geographical residence
- State residence
- Religious affiliation/commitment
- Applicant interest
My USC Admissions Story
Academically, my profile aligned strongly with USC’s average academic profile. My GPA was extremely high, like most USC admits, and I did not fail to demonstrate course rigor—graduating having completed 15 AP classes. My ACT score was a 33, at the upper end of USC’s Middle 50%.
Based on my academic profile, my application made it through the first round of admissions and was read by an admissions officer. That said, I think that it was the combination of my essay and my letter of recommendation that secured my admission and that earned me a scholarship.
My essay focused on my experiences in high school grappling with perfectionism and self-hate, which ultimately landed me in a live-in youth rehabilitation program. I wrote about this experience in a reflective way that demonstrated my growth mindset, thoughtfulness, and maturity.
This was supplemented by a letter of recommendation from my AP World History teacher and mock trial coach, who outlined my response to these troubling experiences in high school, describing me as “a phoenix from the ashes.”
I believe that, through these elements, USC admissions officers got the impression that I was an intensely driven, resilient student with a large interest in self-improvement and learning. I also feel that this impression was extremely important in my admissions decision.
My advice to you—figure out exactly how you want USC admissions officers to view you, then use your academics, essays, and letter of recommendation to ensure that they get that impression of you!
Read more about my USC admissions story, with specifics of my academic profile and excerpts from my submitted essays.
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into USC
1. Achieve at least a 3.9 GPA while taking the most challenging classes available
Your GPA is important to your application because schools that receive a huge number of applications (like USC) often use a tool known as the Academic Index to streamline the admissions process.
The Academic Index boils each applicant’s academic performance (GPA and test scores) down into one single number, which is then used to weed out applicants who would be considered academically unqualified. Such applications, more often than not, don’t even get read.
The average high school GPA of the Class of 2027 was a 3.9, so if you are hoping for USC admissions committees to seriously consider your application, you should strive for exceptional grades in all of your classes.
If your GPA is below USC’s standards and you’re early in your high school career, check out our tips for increasing your GPA. If you’re a junior or senior, it’s harder to increase your GPA, so the easiest way to improve your Academic Index at that point of your high school career would be to get higher test scores.
It’s important to note that, while your GPA is an important component to have your application read, you can’t just take easy classes and get good grades. Course rigor is considered “very important” to USC admissions officers. To submit a competitive application you’ll need all, or mostly all A’s, while taking the most challenging courses available.
Applicants who gain admission to top-tier schools like USC commonly complete between eight to twelve AP classes. My USC application showed success in 15 AP classes, which obviously appealed to admissions officers.
2. Aim for a 1520 SAT and/or 34 ACT
Test scores are “very important” in the USC admissions process. The middle 50% SAT and ACT scores for USC’s Class of 2026 were 1330-1520 and 30-34. Any score in the middle 50% is good, but the higher your score is, the greater your chances of gaining admission.
USC records the highest scores for each section of the SAT and ACT, even if they’re earned in different sittings. Given this fact, you should consider taking the SAT or ACT multiple times to improve your academic profile.
To improve your SAT/ACT score, check out these free CollegeVine resources:
- How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT
- How to Get a Perfect 36 Score on the ACT
- SAT Info and Tips
- ACT Info and Tips
Note: USC has been test optional for recent application cycles and will be test optional going forward. That said, CollegeVine generally recommends taking the SAT/ACT anyway to improve your chances of admission. Applicants who submit scores are accepted at higher rates than those who do not.
A good rule of thumb is that you should submit your score if it falls above the 25th percentile (1330 SAT/30 ACT). You can get recommendations on whether or not to apply test optional using our free chancing engine.
3. Write engaging essays
Once you clear USC’s academic thresholds, essays are the best way to set yourself apart from the competition—USC considers them “very important.” USC’s application includes a writing supplement featuring one required essay, one optional essay, and 10 short answer prompts—things like “What is your favorite snack?”
USC is looking for interesting applicants with unique stories and perspectives. Set yourself apart with an attention-grabbing essay that is written in your voice, and that creatively frames your experiences and highlights how you’ll be as a student and on campus at USC.
For more USC-specific essay advice, check out our article, How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays.
4. Secure humanizing letters of recommendation
Letters of recommendation are another “very important” aspect of a USC application. Letters of recommendation highlight your academic success and classroom contributions, and hint at how you’ll fit in at USC. USC recommends one letter of recommendation either from a high school counselor or teacher.
Because USC places considerable weight on your letter of recommendation, you’ll want to get the best one possible. One way to ensure a compelling recommendation is to follow the nine rules for requesting letters of recommendation from teachers, which cover everything from who to ask, to the timeframe, to how you can support the process.
Keep reading for my tips and tricks on securing an outstanding letter of recommendation.
5. Cultivate one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”)
Extracurriculars are marked as an “important” part of USC’s admissions process and can carry serious weight when applying to coveted programs like the university’s film school. Having a highly developed interest, known as a “spike,” supported by one or two extracurricular activities that demonstrate high levels of achievement or leadership can bolster your application.
Not all extracurricular activities are equal—some have more influence over admissions than others. Learning about the four tiers of extracurriculars is a simple way to understand how a college like USC values your activities outside the classroom.
- Tier 1 includes the most impactful activities. These are rare and demonstrate exceptional achievement and leadership, such as earning national recognition in athletics or winning a prestigious national competition.
- Tier 2 activities also show great achievement and leadership, but are more common than those of Tier 1. These activities include state-level recognition in athletics, winning a regional competition, or holding a leadership position in a well-known club.
- Tier 3 extracurriculars demonstrate your interests but don’t carry the same weight as those in the tiers above. These include playing a varsity sport or holding a minor leadership position in a well-established club.
- Tier 4 is home to the least distinguished and influential activities, such as playing a sport and participating in a club.
6. Apply Early Action
For most programs, USC has two different application deadlines: November 1 and January 15. The November 1 deadline is called the “Early Action” deadline—a non-binding, non-restrictive application. If you apply by this deadline, you are automatically considered for all USC merit scholarships, while regular decision applicants are not considered for merit scholarships.
Students who apply by the early deadline are typically accepted at a 6% to 8% higher rate, so even if you aren’t hoping for a scholarship, applying by November 1 is a smart strategy for gaining admission to USC.
How to Apply to USC
You will apply to USC through the Common Application. In addition to your Common App essay, you will submit:
- USC Supplemental Essays
- A high school transcript
- At least one letter of recommendation
- A mid-year report
- SAT/ACT scores (optional)
USC has a few different application deadlines. It is important to note that, if you apply to a regular program by November 1, you will automatically be considered for all USC Merit Scholarships. Regular decision applicants must apply by January 15 and will not be considered for merit scholarships.
Additionally, there is a separate application deadline for students of special programs—all Dramatic Arts, Cinematic Arts, and Music programs, the Kaufman School of Dance, the Iovine and Young Academy, the Roski School of Art & Design, and the School of Architecture. These programs may also require a portfolio, resume, and/or samples of work.
Early Action/Merit Scholarships
Mid to late January
*These programs do not allow Early Action applications, so all students who apply to these programs by December 1 are considered for merit scholarships.
Tips and Tricks From a USC Grad
1. Don’t underestimate the importance of recommendations
It is important to ask someone who knows you very well, academically and personally, to write your letter of recommendation. Then, fill that person in on the image you are trying to impress upon admissions officers.
If they know what your academic profile looks like, your strengths and weaknesses, and, importantly, what your essay is about, they can write a letter of recommendation that rounds out your application. They can help you form connections between parts of your profile that feel disconnected, explain gaps in your resume or coursework, and simply humanize you.
2. Apply by the scholarship deadline
My most important advice to you is to apply by the scholarship deadline. The best part about the early application is that you don’t have to do anything extra—no supplements or extra questions. You simply have to submit the same application earlier.
There are multiple levels of merit scholarships that you are automatically considered for through your early application—Dean’s Scholarship, Presidential Scholarship, and Trustee’s Scholarship. These scholarships cover 25%, 50%, and 100%, respectively, of your tuition each year for four years of study.
Additionally, receiving a scholarship makes you eligible to live in USC’s honors dorms—McCarthy Residential College for first-year students and Ilium Residential College for sophomores. These dorms create a special type of community that I am still grateful that I was a part of.
What Are Your Chances at USC?
Only 9.9% of USC applicants were accepted in 2023. If you’re feeling discouraged by this low acceptance rate, remember that your personal chances of acceptance can vary greatly based on your profile.
To better understand your chances of acceptance, use our free admissions calculator. This tool will not only let you know your chances at hundreds of schools, but will also give you tips for improving your profile. Getting into a selective school requires a strong strategy, and our free admissions platform can help you every step of the way.
Interested in learning more about USC? Check out these other articles: