How to Get Into USC: Admissions Stats + Tips
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- How Hard Is It to Get Into USC?
- Average Academic Profile of Accepted USC Students
- What is USC Looking for?
- How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into USC
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 setting in Los Angeles.
How Hard Is It to Get Into USC?
Gaining admission to USC is hard. The university received a historic 70,971 applicants for its class of 2025 and admitted 8,804—an acceptance rate of just 12%.
Although USC’s acceptance rate is incredibly low, your personal chances of admission depend on your profile strength. CollegeVine can help you understand your chances of enrolling at USC with our free admissions calculator, which uses factors like your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars to estimate your odds of acceptance and offer tips to improve your profile!
Average Academic Profile of Accepted USC Students
The average high school GPA of USC’s Class of 2025 is 3.96.
The middle 50% SAT and ACT scores for USC’s class of 2025 are 1360-1510 and 30-34.
USC didn’t report the average class rank for its class of 2025, but understand that you’ll need a strong performance in the classroom to gain admission—26.52% of the class of 2025 graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA, and 47.97% graduated with GPAs between 3.75 and 3.99.
What is USC Looking for?
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 for the best school for students pursuing creative majors, particularly film, where USC’s Los Angeles location gives it an advantage over even more prestigious top-tier schools.
USC’s highly-ranked film school—CollegeVine’s top school to study film—doesn’t have higher academic requirements than other programs at the university, but the admissions committee places substantial weight on extracurricular experiences and portfolio strength when evaluating applications.
No matter what program you’re applying to at USC, submitting your application by the December 1 scholarship deadline—even if you aren’t applying for a scholarship—is a good way to improve your chances of getting into the university. Applying by the December 1 scholarship deadline has shown an admissions boost of between 6% and 8%.
How USC College Evaluates Applications
According to their 2020-2021 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
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into USC
1. Achieve at least a 3.96 GPA while taking the most challenging classes available
The average high school GPA of USC’s Class of 2025 is 3.96 and a little more than a quarter of them graduated with a 4.0. GPA. Course rigor is also “very important” to USC admissions. 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 five and eight AP classes.
Top schools that receive a huge number of applications use a tool known as the Academic Index to streamline the admissions process. The Academic Index is an applicant’s entire academic performance represented by a single number which is used to weed out applicants considered academically unqualified. USC’s academic baseline is the first marker to meet in gaining admission to the college.
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, and the easiest way to improve your Academic Index is to get a higher test score.
2. Aim for a 1510 SAT and 34 ACT
Test scores are “very important” to the USC admissions process and the middle 50% SAT and ACT scores for USC’s class of 2025 are 1360-1510 and 30-34. Any score in the middle 50% is good, but the higher into the range you score, 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, you should consider taking the SAT or ACT two or three times.
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
- More SAT Info and Tips
- More ACT Info and Tips
USC instituted a test-optional admissions process for the class of 2025 in light of the challenges presented by COVID-19, and will move forward with test-optional admissions for both the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 admissions cycles. While USC is test-optional, CollegeVine generally recommends taking the SAT/ACT if you can do so safely. Applicants who submit scores are accepted at higher rates than those who do not.
A good rule of thumb is that you should submit a score above the 25th percentile (1360 SAT/30 ACT at USC). 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 two required essays and one optional essay.
USC is looking for interesting applicants with unique stories and perspectives, and an attention-grabbing essay is written in your voice and creatively frames your experiences while highlighting how you’ll fit 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 2021-2022.”
4. 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 at USC. USC recommends one letter of recommendation either from a high school counselor or teacher, with the exception of applicants to the School of Cinematic Arts, who are required to submit two recommendation letters.
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.
5. Cultivate one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”)
Extracurriculars are 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 and some have more influence over admissions than others. 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 composition, 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. For example, 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/Early Decision
USC does not offer early action or early decision admissions, a common way many applicants seek to gain an admissions advantage. USC does have two application deadlines, though: December 1 and January 15. The difference between the two deadlines is that those who submit by December 1 are considered for scholarships and those who submit by January 15 are not. However, applications received on December 1 are accepted at a 6% to 8% higher rate. Even if you’re not applying for a scholarship, getting your application in by December 1 is a smart strategy for gaining admissions to USC.
How to Apply to USC
*A few programs at USC have a regular decision deadline of December 1—all Dramatic Arts, Cinematic Arts, and Music programs; Kaufman School of Dance; the Iovine and Young Academy; and the World Bachelor in Business (WBB) program
USC accepts the Common Application and in addition to it you’ll need:
- USC Supplemental Essays
- High school transcript
- Letter(s) of recommendation: one letter is required from either your school counselor or a teacher (applicants to the School of Cinematic Arts must submit two letters of recommendation)
- Mid-year report
- Portfolio, resume, and/or additional writing samples (depending on program)
Optional materials include:
- SAT/ACT scores
Learn more about USC
Interested in learning more about USC? Check out these other informative articles:
- What is USC Known For?
- How I Got Into USC
- USC vs. UCLA: Which College is Right for You?
- USC vs. UC Berkeley: Which College is Right for You?
Want to know your odds at USC? Calculate your chances for free right now.