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USC vs. UC Berkeley: Which College is Right for You?

Both the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have outstanding reputations—they’re both ranked as top 25 national universities by U.S. News. Most high school students would be ecstatic if they were accepted into either of them. However, if you have to choose between USC vs. UC Berkeley, here’s what you need to know. 


Learn more about USC and UC Berkeley and see your chances of acceptance.


USC vs. UC Berkeley: A Quick Overview


USC UC Berkeley 
Location Los Angeles, CA Berkeley, CA
Campus Type Urban Urban 
Undergraduate Enrollment 20,351 31,780
Acceptance Rate 11% 17%
U.S. News Ranking 24 22
Middle 50% SAT 1360-1510 1330-1530
Middle 50% ACT 31-35 29-35
Sticker Price $79,063 In-state: $42,460

Out-of-state: $72,214

Need-blind, no-loan, or meets 100% need? Need-blind  N/A


USC vs. UC Berkeley: A Closer Look


Location and Weather


Located in Los Angeles, California—the second largest city in the U.S.—USC students have easy access to all the perks of living in a major metropolis, with world-class arts, entertainment, and dining just minutes from campus. Renowned for its mild climate and 260+ sunny days a year, USC students will have great conditions for exploring the city.   


UC Berkeley’s location also provides students with convenient access to big-city life; it’s just minutes from San Francisco (the country’s 14th largest city) and Oakland (the 45th largest city) Berkeley itself is a funky city that offers a blend of urban and suburban and has plenty of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and book stores. Berkeley has four distinct seasons, but none of them are extreme. 




USC has an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 20,500 students and is home to another 28,000 graduate and professional students. The average undergraduate class size at USC is 26 students, with an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. 


When comparing UC Berkeley vs. USC, it’s notable that while the two schools have similarly sized overall student bodies, UC Berkeley has a much higher ratio of undergraduate to graduate students than USC. 


UC Berkeley has an undergraduate enrollment of 31,348 and a total enrollment of 43,204 students. The student-faculty ratio at UC Berkeley is 19:1 and 52.9% of its classes have fewer than 20 students in them. 




USC is divided into 17 individual schools and programs offering a huge variety of degrees. USC is particularly notable for its Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and School of Cinematic Arts. Below is a list of all USC’s schools and programs:


  • Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
  • USC School of Architecture
  • Roski School of Art and Design
  • Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation
  • Marshall School of Business
  • USC School of Cinematic Arts
  • Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
  • Kaufman School of Dance
  • USC School of Dramatic Arts
  • Viterbi School of Engineering
  • Davis School of Gerontology
  • Keck School of Medicine
  • Thornton School of Music
  • Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
  • USC School of Pharmacy
  • Price School of Public Policy
  • Pre-professional Emphases


USC Core is a collection of courses in General Education, Writing, and Diversity that is taken by all USC undergraduates to help them develop into well-educative, well-informed, and productive citizens. 


UC Berkeley is divided into five colleges and one school:


  • College of Letters and Science
  • College of Chemistry
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Environmental Design
  • College of Natural Resources
  • Haas School of Business


UC Berkeley offers 150 undergraduate majors and minors and is regarded for its cutting-edge programs such as electrical engineering and computer sciences, molecular and cell biology, and economics.

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USC’s campus is home to 40 residence halls and apartment buildings, offering living options from suites to special interest floors, such as Sustainable Living and Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE). All first-year students are required to live in one of the university’s seven residential colleges. Upperclassmen are free to live off campus, which about 70% of undergraduates choose to do. 


A notable difference when comparing UC Berkeley vs. USC is that UC Berkeley does not require freshmen to live on campus. And while 95% of freshmen choose to live on campus, roughly 70% of the total student population lives off campus. UC Berkeley students have a variety of on-campus housing available to them, ranging from high-rise residence halls to apartment-style living arrangements. UC Berkeley is also home to a variety of themed housing options, which include: 


  • African American
  • Asian Pacific American 
  • Casa Magdalena Mora
  • Global Environment Theme House 
  • Native American and Pacific Islander Pilot 
  • Unity LGBTQIA+ House
  • Empowering Womxn in STEAM  


Financial Aid


When comparing USC vs. UC Berkeley, one of the biggest differentiating factors is that USC is a private institution and UC Berkeley is a public one. This is particularly apparent when discussing the cost and opportunities for financial aid at both schools. 


At USC, a student’s ability to pay is not figured into admissions decisions, making the university a need-blind institution. Approximately two-thirds of USC students receive some form of financial aid, more than three-quarters of which is in the form of gift aid (which doesn’t need to be paid back). 


Nearly two-thirds of students at UC Berkeley receive financial aid, and the average need-based scholarship or grant award is $22,420. The average cumulative loan debt for graduating seniors is $18,225. That said, eigible California residents with annual incomes below $80,000 pay no tuition at all (after grants and scholarships), through the University of California Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan.


Sports and Extracurriculars


Both USC and UC Berkeley play in the Division I Pac-12 and both have well-deserved reputations for athletic excellence. USC athletics are better known nationally thanks to their decorated football program, which has won 11 national championships and produced seven Heisman Trophy winners. UC Berkeley athletes have won 207 Olympic medals, making the university the fourth highest medal-winning school—the first is USC with 309 Olympic medals. 


Greek life has been a part of USC campus life since the late 1800s. More than 4,500 students (roughly 20% of the student body) is involved with one of the university’s more than 60 fraternities and sororities. UC Berkeley also has a vibrant Greek culture. Approximately 3,600 students (about 12% of undergraduates) join one of the 60+ frantenteis or sororities that call UC Berkeley’s campus home.


Both schools are also home to a plethora of student groups—each school has more than 1,000 student organizations on campus!


Culture and Diversity


USC is home to a diverse student body, the website Priceonomics ranked them as the sixth most diverse college in the U.S.  


Ethnicity Percentage of Student Body
White/Caucasian  29%
International  25.4%
Asian  16.9%
Hispanic  14.6%
Black/African American  5.3%
Other  8.8%


UC Berkeley is also home to a diverse student body, and the majority of the school’s undergraduates identify as people of color. Berkeley’s left-leaning beliefs, proximity to San Francisco (often touted as the “Gay Capital of America”), and numerous LGBQT events, groups, and resources create a very inclusive environment. 


Undergraduate Ethnicity Percentage of Undergraduate Population 
Asian 39%
White 24%
Chicano/Latino 15%
International 12%
Black/African American 3%
Native American/Alaska Native <1%
Pacific Islander <1%
Decline to State 4%


How to Decide Between USC vs. UC Berkeley 


The fact is, comparing USC vs. UC Berkeley is challenging—they’re both fantastic schools, deliver exceptional college experiences, and graduate students with promising futures. There are, however, reasons why some students will prefer one school over another. 


USC is especially strong for students who:


  • Want to live and study in one of the country’s largest and most diverse cities
  • Are interested in studying film—USC is arguably the nation’s best film school and has graduated notable directors such as Robert Zemechis, George Lucas, and Ryan Coogler. 
  • Want to attend a school where sports play a major role in campus life.
  • Would like to attend a college where the weather is routinely described as “perfect.” 
  • Dreamed of fraternities and sororities as they are often depicted in the movies—USC’s “Row” is legendary.


UC Berkeley is especially strong for students who:


  • Are from California—UC Berkeley is half the cost of USC for in-state students. 
  • Want to attend school in a quirky smaller city, but still want access to a major metropolis. 
  • Want to attend a school with a diverse, welcoming student body—in addition to ethnic diversity, the school is well-known for producing graduates famous for everything from founding tech companies (Intel and Apple) to activists such as Abbie Hoffman. 
  • Want to attend college within close proximity to Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the tech industry.
  • Enjoy experiencing all four seasons (but without super-hot summers or frigid winters). 


Will your odds of admission affect your choice between USC vs. UC Berkeley? Our free changing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S.—including USC and UC Berkeley. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.