What Is USC’s Acceptance Rate & Admissions Requirements?
The mere mention of the University of Southern California might evoke images of sunny beaches and palm tree-lined streets. USC, founded in 1880 and located in Los Angeles, definitely attracts some students with its idyllic setting, but it shines equally in its academic programs and extensive research facilities.
USC is a large private university comprised of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, along with 22 graduate and professional schools. It offers bachelor’s degrees in 190 majors alongside 481 master’s, certificate, doctoral and professional degree programs. Its 226-acre campus is home to over 19,000 undergraduates.
Business and film programs are especially strong at USC. Its accounting, entrepreneurship, and real estate programs all rank within the top 10 nationally, and its film program consistently ranks among the top three. In fact, renowned directors Judd Apatow and George Lucas both fine-tuned their skills here.
If you’re considering applying to the University of Southern California, here’s what you need to know, from admissions logistics to how to optimize your chances.
Applying to the University of Southern California: A Quick Review
Applying to USC is a slightly different process from many other colleges that you may be familiar with. Specifically, USC does not offer Early Action or Early Decision timelines. Instead, they have earlier application deadlines for some specific programs and for scholarship consideration. It does, however, accept the Common Application.
The application deadline for regular decision in the following programs is December 1st:
- All Dramatic Arts, Cinematic Arts and Music programs
- Kaufman School of Dance
- The Iovine and Young Academy
- The World Bachelor in Business (WBB) program
In addition, regular decision applicants who would like to be considered for USC Merit Scholarships should also apply by December 1st.
The regular decision deadline for other programs or applicants who are not applying for a merit scholarship is January 15.
In addition to the Common Application, all applicants must submit the following:
- USC Supplemental Essays
- Official Test Scores: USC requires either SAT or ACT scores from all first-year applicants. USC superscores only the SAT and not the ACT.
- 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 three letters of recommendation.
- Your fall grades: Use the Mid-Year Report Form included in the Common Application or submit your fall grades in the USC portal.
- $85 application fee or fee waiver
In addition, some specific programs will require students to submit a portfolio, resumé and/or additional writing samples, and performance majors may require auditions. Refer to the USC Additional Application Requirements page for more information about specific programs.
USC no longer offers any admissions interviews. This includes both on-campus and off-campus. Prospective students with questions about the application process may contact their USC admission counselor. You can locate these counselors using the Find Your Counselor page.
The Acceptance Rate at USC is 13%
Like most competitive colleges, USC has seen a steady climb in its number of applicants over the past several years. In 2018, it received a record high 64,000 applications, representing a 14% increase from the year before. Correspondingly, the acceptance rate to the class of 2022 fell by 3%, hitting a record low of 13%.
It’s worth noting that the acceptance rates at USC vary significantly from one specific program to the next. Although specific acceptance rates for differing programs are not published, the film program is amongst the most highly regarded in the country, if not the world. As such, it receives many applications for only a relatively few number of seats.
Of the 62,000 overall applicants to USC, 8,200 were ultimately accepted to the class of 2022. 3,400 of these admits ended up enrolling, for a yield of 41%.
So, How Does One Get Into USC?
Despite its large size, USC prides itself on handling admissions holistically, carefully reviewing each and every application. This means that less than stellar test scores or GPA shouldn’t automatically exclude you from getting in. Regardless, solid academic performance is still the norm amongst admits to USC.
Of admits to the class of 2022 who submitted SAT scores, 75% scored at or above 1400. For the ACT, 75% scored at or above 31. 95% of accepted students were in the top 10% of their high school class.
Remember, though, that getting into USC isn’t just about grades and test scores. You also need to present a compelling picture of yourself through engaging essays, impressive recommendations, and a solid history of leadership and service through extracurriculars. USC specifically looks for students who will capitalize on their vast resources and who are willing to venture outside their comfort zones. USC students tend to be global thinkers who speak up for themselves and others, and don’t hesitate to get involved in their community.
How to Make Your Application Stand Out
Submit by the Scholarship Deadline. Even if you don’t think you’re eligible for a merit scholarship, it’s always worth a shot, and bonus—students who apply for merit scholarships (by the deadline of December 1st) are admitted at a slightly higher rate than students who apply by the regular deadline of January 15th. This is probably because early scholarship applications demonstrate increased interest and act almost as an early action application process.
Let Your Voice Shine Through. USC wants to find applicants with a unique story and a unique perspective. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your life experiences need to be unique. Instead, it means that you need to be able to speak about them in a personable, creative way that truly explores who you are both as a student and as a member of the community. Your essay and short answer questions are the best place to start. Just remember that the stories you tell should be backed up by your extracurriculars, recommendations, and transcripts.
Don’t Be Scared to Apply to Specific Programs. USC does have some of the most selective programs in the country, but applying to these program specifically doesn’t mean that you have a lower chance at acceptance overall. First off, these programs don’t necessarily have higher academic standards. Instead, they generally look more closely at your extracurriculars, essays, and portfolio, when available. Sometimes, especially for programs in the arts, faculty members will review your portfolio and application too. This process can sound intimidating, but you should know that just because you don’t get into your program of choice, that doesn’t mean you will be rejected outright. USC often considers students for their second-choice majors or admits them as “undecided/undeclared” if they think you’re still a good fit.
Attend an Admissions Event. Despite its large size, USC still makes an effort to send admissions representatives to over 2,200 high schools each year. Odds are that at least one of these schools is within a reasonable distance of you. You can show them that you’re interested and serious about getting in by making an effort to attend these events. If you do so, make sure to sign in and introduce yourself, then send a follow-up email to thank the representative for taking the time to speak with you.
What If You Get Rejected?
First of all, it’s important to note that if you are rejected from a specific program at USC, you might still get accepted into a different program, or as a undecided major. This might not seem overly exciting since rejection stings regardless, but once you get over the initial disappointment, hopefully you’ll be able to see the plus side—you can still attend an awesome school.
If you are rejected completely, it can be hard to move forward, but rest assured that you are not alone. Nearly 90% of all applicants are feeling the same disappointment as you. While USC is one of a few schools that does accept admissions appeals, the likelihood of them overturning a decision is very small. They estimate that only 30-50 of every 1,000 appeals will overturn a rejection.
There are really only two valid reasons to appeal an admissions decision. One is if a clerical error resulted in incorrect information on your application. This would be something like your SAT score was missing a digit or your GPA was misreported. These types of appeals are generally more likely to be honored since the admissions committee did not have access to your actual academic profile. The other valid reason to appeal is if significant new information becomes available. This might include a 200-point change in your SAT score, or a national award you recently received. While these are still less likely to be honored than appeals based on clerical errors, your rejection could get overturned in rare cases.
Another option you may have is to enroll in another college, with the possibility of transferring to USC at a later date. Keep in mind that transfer applications are still very selective, with an acceptance rate of about 27%; you should never rely on this possibility. Instead, your best bet is to enroll at a school where you know you’ll be happy, and if you still really want to transfer a year or two later, you can consider it at that point.
Perhaps the best choice after a rejection is to set your sights elsewhere. This can be difficult when you’re in the thick of your disappointment. Remember, however, that it’s not where you go to college that matters, but what you do with your time there. For our advice on adjusting to life at a college that wasn’t your first choice, read our post Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (or Third, or Fourth) School.
For more help applying to colleges and optimizing your application to the University of California, consider enlisting the help of CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, you will be paired with a personal admissions specialist from a top a college who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process.
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