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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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USC Dorms: What They’re Like from a Current Student

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USC is situated just a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles in an urban metropolis. For USC’s many out-of-state and international students, the sheer size of LA can be intimidating. The university’s dorms, however, offer a safe and comfortable home for students. USC’s different buildings show a range of sizes, floor plans, and ‘niceness,’ but notably all place an emphasis on camaraderie. USC housing helps students foster long-lasting relationships, an essential part of your college experience.


My name is Brooke, and I am a rising senior studying English and Neuroscience at USC. I am a former resident of McCarthy Honors College (freshman year) and Cowlings and Ilium Residential College (sophomore year), and am currently an RA in Annenberg House for graduate students. Most importantly, I am here to give you the rundown on USC housing!


USC Dorms: An Overview


USC freshmen are not required to live on campus, but most do! USC primarily offers residence halls and suite-style housing for freshmen, but they also reserve some spots in two apartment buildings on campus. 


It is common for students to make close friends through their first-year housing assignment. Additionally, all freshman housing is on the main university park campus, with the exception of McCarthy Honors Residential College which is a 5-minute walk away in the USC Village. The close bonds forged from residential communities combined with the proximity of freshman housing to campus make it a great option for students!


When students move off campus, it is rarely because living on campus was a negative experience. It is simply standard practice for students to live on campus freshman and sophomore year, then move off campus into houses in the neighborhood or other apartment buildings for junior and senior year. Upperclassmen who continue living in USC Housing typically live in apartment-style buildings in the USC Village and adjacent areas. Housing is not guaranteed for juniors and seniors. In general, on-campus housing prices are higher than those off-campus, but they do include many features and amenities.


On-campus housing is notably furnished. Every room has an extra-long twin bed, large drawers for storage, a closet space, a desk, and a desk chair. All bedrooms include one microfridge (a small refrigerator/microwave combo). All buildings have furnished common spaces—study lounges and courtyards—for student use. Utilities (electricity, gas, water, and wireless internet connection) are included on campus, while off-campus housing requires around $50-80 for utilities each month. There are laundry rooms in every building which require a credit/debit card for operation.


Generally, housing prices range from $3,500 to $7,000/semester. Prices vary based on amenities (e.g. kitchen, common room, cleaning staff) and room type (e.g. single, double). Typical double-occupancy dorm rooms are the most affordable housing option and cost around $5,000/semester. Suite-style housing and apartments have higher price tags and often cost closer to $6,000 or $7,000/semester depending on the building and room type.


Certain USC Housing buildings have “Special Interest Communities,” which include the APIDA Leaders floor, the Latinx floor, the Honors community, and the Rainbow community. You can also apply for Gender Inclusive Housing via a supplemental housing application. 


Freshman Dorms at USC


Residence Halls


Residence halls provide the traditional collegiate housing experience—shared rooms that open onto a larger hallway. Restrooms and showers are communal. Floors are typically divided by gender. These buildings do not have air conditioning, but it’s California so I hear a fan does the job fine.


Birnkrant Residential College


Location: Birnkrant is located on McCarthy Quad near the heart of campus. The building is adjacent to Leavey Library, which is known for late-night cram sessions. Birnkrant is also home to the Trojan Grounds Starbucks, which is located on the first floor.


Price: Birnkrant mostly has double-occupancy rooms at the standard $4,952/semester. There are some single- and triple-occupancy rooms at higher rates.


Reputation: Birnkrant is a fine place to live, though I have occasionally heard the word “boring” ascribed to the culture/environment. Personally, I would prefer “boring” Birnkrant over the rowdy New North, but it definitely depends on who you are. It is a smaller building and is much less party-oriented than the other freshman residential colleges.


Special Interest Community: The Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American Leaders Community (APIDALC) has a floor in Birnkrant that you can apply to live on.


New North Residential College


Location: New North is located next to Birnkrant, close to the center of campus. Everybody’s Kitchen (EVK), one of USC’s three dining halls, is on the dorm’s first floor.


Price: New North primarily has double-occupancy rooms at the standard $4,952/semester. There are some single-occupancy rooms with prices in the $6,500 range. New North rooms that have sinks (but not full bathrooms) add around $600/semester.


Reputation: New North is notorious for partying. If you pass by on a weekend night you will see large crowds of students waiting for Lyfts to Frat Row. While it is not my style, freshmen who enjoy partying often love living in New North. I can say that amongst RAs no one wants to be placed in New North because students are wild, loud, and like to party. During spring rush, New North goes crazy because its residents often get involved in Greek life.


South Residential College (comprised of Marks Hall, Pardee Tower, and Trojan Hall)


Location: The South buildings are centrally located and adjacent to Doheny library. They are close to Fertitta Hall, where business majors spend most of their time.


Price: South is almost exclusively double-occupancy rooms at the standard $4,952/semester.


Reputation: From what I’ve heard, South has a lot of social residents so you become close with your neighbors, but it doesn’t get as loud and crazy as New North. 


Suite-Style Housing


Suite-style housing comes in all shapes, sizes, and prices. The buildings are air-conditioned and have en-suite bathrooms.


McCarthy Honors College


Move-in on August 13, 2018
Pictured: my side of one bedroom in a 4PDBLE-DB in McCarthy Honors College


Location: McCarthy is the only exclusively freshman housing located in the USC Village. The bottom floor of McCarthy houses one of USC’s three dining halls.


Floor Plans/Prices: McCarthy has singles that range from $6,950 to $7,415/semester. Most rooms are doubles (in suites of 3-8 students) that range from $3,530 to $6,055/semester. The cheapest housing option for freshmen is the double loft where each student has a raised bed with their storage and desk under the bed.


Reputation: As the dorm for freshman honors students, McCarthy gets mixed reviews. Many people view “McCarthy kids” as stuck-up, pretentious, hyper-intellectual, and boastful. At the same time, others consider McCarthy residents to be hard-working, yet social. McCarthy is sometimes joked about as being a hotel because residents have private bathrooms and common rooms, but don’t clean these spaces themselves. USC also provides some special benefits and experiences to McCarthy students, like early move-in dates and an “Honors Retreat”, which can lead to some arrogant students.


Special Interest Community: McCarthy is for freshman honors students who have received a Mork Family, Stamps, Trustee, or Presidential Scholarship. 


Parkside Arts & Humanities (A&H) and International (IRC) Residential Colleges


Location: Parkside is further away from the center of campus than most freshman housing, however it is still on USC’s main campus. Parkside houses the last of the three dining halls.


Floor Plans/Prices: Parkside A&H has primarily doubles in 8-person suites for $5,605/semester. Parkside IRC offers singles and doubles in 5-8 person suites, with $5,605/semester or $5,825/semester rates for doubles and a $6,906/semester rate for singles.


Reputation: You may hear the phrase “Parkside Darkside” during your time at USC, which alludes to the fact that Parkside students have a reputation for keeping to themselves. Parkside students are often very artsy and edgy. You also won’t find much Greek life interest at Parkside.


Special Interest Community: Parkside IRC houses the Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) floor.


West Residential College (Fluor Tower)


Location: Fluor is located above the Cafe-84 Starbucks, a great study spot on campus, close to the cinema school and the USC Village. It is also next door to the Lyon Center, the only gym on USC’s main campus.


Floor Plans/Prices: Fluor has double-occupancy rooms in 8-person suites for $5,605/semester.


Reputation: Fluor is less social than many other dorms and seems to have a less distinct culture. However, I have heard that an 8-person suite is a great way to make close friends quickly.


Special Interest Communities: Fluor houses the Latinx Floor (LATF) as well as Somerville Place, which focuses on exploring identities within African-American culture and the larger global diaspora.




Cale and Irani Residential College and Cardinal Gardens


Location: Cale and Irani is located on top of the gym in the USC Village. Cardinal Gardens is adjacent to the USC Village.


Floor Plans/Prices: These dorms are comprised of double-occupancy rooms in apartments of 2-4 students. Prices range from $3,415/semester for a double loft to $5,650/semester for other arrangements.


Reputation: Sophomores enjoy living in Cale and Irani and I have heard good things about Cardinal Gardens from upperclassmen. You don’t hear much about freshmen in these buildings, since there are few freshmen who live in apartments. I imagine it would be harder to form a community in the apartments than in exclusively freshman housing, but if independence or cooking are priorities for you, an apartment may be the way to go!


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Best and Worst Dorms at USC


The Best


McCarthy Honors College: I understand every complaint about McCarthy kids being stuck-up and pretentious. When I was living in McCarthy, I remember students comparing scholarship amounts early on and that drove me crazy. But, despite McCarthy’s problems, I am still so glad I chose to live there freshman year. Because of the school/life balance that most students pursue, on weekend nights I felt comfortable choosing to stay in and study, or deciding to go out and have fun. Air conditioning, cleaning staff, internal bathrooms, and the dining hall downstairs were also great perks.


Birnkrant Residential College: Birnkrant is calm, but cool. The building boasts the motto “eight floors of open doors” and seems like a great community! It is conveniently located near classes, EVK (dining hall), Starbucks, and the other freshman residence halls.


The Worst


South Residential College: The South buildings have residents who like to go out, but it often feels like there aren’t enough of them to build a community. With that said, South walks a weird line of vibrant, yet quiet and occasionally gets a “wannabe New North” reputation. If you want to party, go to New North. If you want peace and quiet, go to Birnkrant.


New North Residential College: Think about the kind of person you are, and potentially take my calling New North “the worst” with a grain of salt. New North is great if you like partying and are willing to live with the messy bathrooms and loud weekends. That’s just not me! I wouldn’t be able to take the intensity of New North, and it would be the worst place on campus for me.


Housing Selection at USC


USC housing happens on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can apply for housing as soon as you are admitted to the university. Your housing preferences are part of your application and will be considered in your housing assignment, especially if you get your application in early.


The freshman housing guarantee deadline is May 1. If your housing application is in by May 1, you are guaranteed a space in USC housing, are eligible for consideration for special interest communities, and can use USC’s online roommate-matching tool.


There are three ways to get a roommate. You can find your roommate without USC’s involvement (students often post about themselves in admitted students Facebook groups), you can find your roommate through USC’s portal which suggests compatible roommates, or you can “go random.” Additionally, you can request your entire suite if you are in suite-style housing. I met my roommate and one of my suitemates through Facebook then we all requested each other through the portal and it worked out seamlessly! 


Housing Selection Timeline at USC


The Application


When do you apply?: You will receive a link from Housing to set up your housing portal within a week of your admission. Keep in mind that you can set up your portal and apply for housing before knowing if you will commit to attending USC on May 1.


How does it work?: You provide basic personal information about yourself and answer questions about your living preferences (e.g. wake-up time, bedtime, preferred noise level, desired frequency of visitors, etc.). You will also be asked your top five placement preferences (i.e. which buildings you would like to live in) and you can request to be in special interest communities, however these may require a supplemental application. 


How much does it cost?: The housing application requires a $55 nonrefundable fee. 


Roommate Selection


When do you request a roommate?: Your application is complete without a roommate request, so you can come back later and make the request or request while applying.


Is your roommate request guaranteed?: Roommate requests are not guaranteed, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, they tend to work out. To have your roommate request taken into consideration, both roommates must request each other and list the same building and special interest community preferences.




When will you be assigned housing?: To receive a housing assignment you must be committed to attending USC and USC has to have received your $300 enrollment deposit. 


How will you receive your housing assignment?: Housing will let you know via email when you have been assigned a room. Once you receive this email, you will be able to see your placement as well as everyone in your room and/or suite. 




How do I confirm my housing assignment?: You agree to the housing contract and pay the confirmation fee to finalize your housing.


How much does it cost?: The confirmation fee is $800. Half of this fee goes towards your fall semester housing payment and half contributes to your spring semester housing payment.


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at USC?


While USC’s acceptance rate is relatively low at around 13%, your personal chances of acceptance may actually be higher or lower based on your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars. 


To better understand your chances at USC, we recommend using our free admissions calculator. Using your grades, extracurriculars, and more, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance, and help you improve your candidate profile.


You can also search for best-fit schools based on your chances, and other factors that may be important to you like size, location, or majors offered. This tool will make it a lot easier to create a strategy for your college application process.



Brooke Elkjer
Blog Writer

Short Bio
Brooke is a film and television production assistant, originally from Dallas, Texas. She holds Bachelor’s degrees in English and Neuroscience from the University of Southern California. At USC, Brooke was a producer for the intersectional feminist production company on campus, a Resident Assistant (RA), and a student worker for the Thematic Option Honors GE Program. In her free time, Brooke enjoys reading, writing, and watching Gilmore Girls.