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USC vs. UCLA: Which College is Right for You?

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Trying to decide between USC vs. UCLA? When comparing these two fantastic schools, the similarities are vast—to name just a few, they share the same idyllic climate, both have incredible athletic accomplishments, and both boast star-studded alumni. However, there are also numerous differences; for example, one is a private school and the other is a public institution. Keep reading to learn more about USC vs. UCLA.


USC vs. UCLA: A Quick Overview


Location Los Angeles, California  Los Angeles, California 
Campus Type Urban self-contained Urban 
Undergraduate Enrollment 20,500 30,994
Acceptance Rate 11.4% 12%
U.S. News Ranking 22 20
Sticker Price $77,459

In State: $35,791

Out of State: $65,545 

Student to Faculty Ratio 9:1  18:1
Middle 50% SAT/ACT

SAT: 1420-1540

ACT: 32-35

In-State SAT: 1300-1530

Out-of-State SAT: 1440-1550


In-State ACT: 28-35

Out-of-State ACT: 33-35

Subject Tests Required? Only from first-year applicants who do not attend a regionally accredited high school No 
Median Starting Salary $60,600 $58,400


UCS vs. UCLA: A Closer Look


Location and Weather


When comparing USC vs. UCLA, one common denominator is Los Angeles—the second-largest city in the U.S. and home to more than four million people. There are numerous reasons so many people choose to live in LA: the city has near-perfect weather with over 300 days of sunshine a year and an average annual temperature of approximately 64°F, with an average high of 71°F and an average low of 56°F. Of course, the fact that LA is the entertainment capital of the world is also a big draw for many. 


In addition to great weather and celebrity spotting, LA offers easy access to both the beach and the mountains. For those who like to travel (or have out-of-town family), you’ll have access to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the second-busiest airport in the U.S.




USC has two primary campuses: University Park campus and the Health Sciences campus. The 229-acre University Park campus—where undergraduates spend the majority of their time—is home to the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; the Graduate School; and most of USC’s professional schools. The Keck School of Medicine of USC and the School of Pharmacy reside on USC’s 79-acre Health Sciences campus. Both campuses are located in the heart of LA. 




UCLA’s 419-acre Westwood campus borders iconic Los Angeles neighborhoods such as Bel Air, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills. It’s also just five miles from the Pacific Ocean! Dining, shopping, and entertainment opportunities are extensive for UCLA students, as Westwood is home to a multitude of restaurants, stores, and shopping—all of which attract people from not just local neighborhoods, but also from around the city and globe, as it’s a popular tourist destination. 






USC is home to 20,500 undergraduate students along with 28,00 students in graduate and professional programs—for a total of 48,500 students. Despite the large student body, USC maintains a low 9:1 student-to-teacher ratio, and roughly 58.8% of their classes have fewer than 20 students in them. 




UCLA enrolls 45,921 students, 31,568 of whom are undergraduates—the remaining student body consists of 12,960 graduate students and 1,393 interns and residents. UCLA boasts a 18:1 student-to-teacher ratio, and a little over 50% of its classes have fewer than 20 students in them. 







USC is divided into 23 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools ranging from the Leventhal School of Accounting to the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Standing out among them all is USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, which has been number one on the Hollywood Reporter’s Top 25 American Film Schools for seven years and can count Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard, George Lucas, Will Ferrell, and Timothy Olyphant among its alumni. 


As part of its Core Literacy program (general education requirements), USC students must take a total of 8 courses across the Arts, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Quantitative Reasoning, Humanistic Inquiry, and Social Analysis. 


There are a large variety of majors, some of which are open, while others are competitive, and are open to application only at certain times of year. The most popular majors at USC include:  


  • Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services
  • Social Sciences
  • Visual and Performing Arts
  • Engineering
  • Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs.




UCLA offers 130 undergraduate majors through its seven academic divisions: 


  • College of Letters and Science
  • School of the Arts and Architecture
  • Samueli School of Engineering
  • Herb Alpert School of Music
  • School of Nursing
  • Luskin School of Public Affairs
  • School of Theater, Film, and Television


Famous alumni include athletes like Jackie Robinson and Aurthur Ashe, actors such as James Dean and Rob Reiner, and astronauts like Anna Lee Fisher and Taylor Wang. Like USC, UCLA is also well-known for its film school, which ranks #4 on the Hollywood Reporter list. The school of engineering is also ranked among the top 10 at U.S. public schools, and the school of nursing is among the top 25 in the nation.


All students must have declared a major by junior year, though some colleges and departments will have earlier deadlines. Every student must take 8-10 required general education courses, depending on their college.





All first-year students at USC must live in one of the school’s seven residential colleges, which have faculty in residence as well as resident assistants. Following the first year, there’s an abundance of on-campus living options including residence halls, suites, apartments, and special interest floors—Latinx Sol y La Luna Floors, Religion & Spirituality, and Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) to name a few. Although the college has a number of housing options, about 70% of students choose to live off campus after their first year. 




Students are guaranteed housing at UCLA for three years—97% of freshmen live on campus, and about half of all UCLA undergraduates live in on-campus housing and University-owned apartments. Additionally, UCLA provides a variety of living-learning communities for students covering interests ranging from the Creative Collective (for storytellers, music-makers, poets, artists, designers, movers, and dreamers) to Gender, Sexuality, and Society (a community focused on raising awareness and educating students around topics of gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual health, and social justice).






USC’s food philosophy is to provide craveable, socially responsible cuisine—which they do through their three residential dining halls. Each residential hall features a menu to accommodate most diets, including flexitarian (semi-vegetarian, where protein is an accent, not the focus), plant-based, and vegan. A mix of cafés, restaurants, and convenience stores are also scattered around the campus. There’s even a Trader Joes on campus in the newly constructed University Village. 




UCLA’s award-winning food offers something for almost every diet, dietary restriction, and allergy. For example, students will find kosher and halal meals at the Mediterranean Covel Commons, while American street-food-inspired De Neve residential restaurant’s “Flex Bar” meets the needs of those following a flexitarian diet. The foundation of UCLA’s dining options are its four residential restaurants which serve up to ten all-you-can-eat, buffet style meals three times a day. Business Insider ranked UCLA number one on its list of The 15 best college dining halls in America, according to students.


Financial aid




USC is a need-blind institution, meaning a student’s ability to pay is not factored into admissions decisions. The university administers one of the country’s largest financial aid programs (it awarded $611 million in 2017-2018) and works with students and families to meet 100% of determined financial need. Approximately two-thirds of USC students receive some form of financial aid, and three-quarters of the aid awarded by USC is through grants and scholarships which do not need to be repaid. USC enrolls a large percentage of low-income students (especially for a private research university); 21% of enrolled undergraduates received Pell Grants in 2018. 




UCLA is also a need-blind university, so financial status is not considered when reviewing applications for admission. UCLA was number four on Forbes’s list of America’s Best Value Colleges 2019. 55% of UCLA undergraduates receive some form of financial aid and 45% receive grants and scholarships to cover their University of California system-wide tuition and fees. The average amount of aid awarded to UCLA undergraduates is $18,808.


The huge difference between USC and UCLA is cost; as UCLA is a public school, the sticker price is $35,791 for California residents. The out-of-state cost of $65,545 for UCLA is also still cheaper than USC’s $77,459 price tag.


Want to learn how much USC or UCLA will actually cost you based on your income? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to see your estimated cost of attendance, based on real data for each school.


Sports and Extracurriculars


USC Sports: Athletics play a large role at USC. The USC Trojans play in the Division 1 Pac-12 Conference and have a healthy rivalry with crosstown competitor UCLA. The USC Trojan football team has won 11 national championships and produced seven Heisman Trophy winners—the award for the most outstanding college football player. But it’s not just on the football field that USC has excelled; USC alumni have more Olympic medal winners than any other U.S. college—288 total medals (135 gold, 88 silver, and 65 bronze). 


USC Extracurriculars: Fraternities and sororities have played a role on USC’s campus since the late 1800s. Today, USC’s campus is home to more than 60 fraternities and sororities, made up of over 4,500 students, which is a little over 20% of the student body. USC also has over 1,000 student organizations that are responsible for the majority of events and programs on campus. 


UCLA Sports: Sports are an integral part of life at UCLA. The Bruins compete in the Division 1 Pac-12 conference (the same conference that crosstown rival USC competes in). The UCLA men’s basketball team has won a staggering 11 national championships—more than any other college in the country. The only team more dominant than UCLA’s basketball team might be their men’s water polo team, which has also won 11 national championships. Not far behind is the UCLA women’s water polo team, which has won seven national titles. 


UCLA Extracurriculars: Greek life plays a smaller role at UCLA than USC. 65 national Greek-letter organizations call UCLA’s campus home and 13% of the undergraduate population participates in a fraternity or sorority. UCLA is also home to a diverse spectrum of more than 1,000 student organizations.


Culture and Diversity




The USC student body is 55% female and 45% male. USC is extremely inclusive; in 2014, it scored a five out of five on the Campus Pride Index (a nationally recognized organization dedicated to making campuses more LGBT-friendly), and was number two on Buzzfeed’s list of The 25 Best Colleges And Universities For LGBT Students.


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




Because UCLA is a state school, the majority of its undergraduates come from California; however, don’t think this impacts its diversity. According to the website WalletHub, California is the most diverse state in the U.S. Despite the numerous in-state students, UCLA is a draw to undergraduates everywhere—students from all 50 states and over 100 countries are represented on campus. The Campus Pride Index (a benchmarking tool for colleges to create more LQBQT-friendly campuses) ranks UCLA 4.5 out of 5 stars—its notable shortcoming is its lack of training campus police in sexual orientation and gender identity issues. 


Undergraduate Ethnicity Percentage of Undergraduate Population 
Asian 28%
White 27%
Hispanic 22%
Two or more races 6%
African American 3%
Pacific Islander < 1%
American Indian / Alaska Native < 1%
Domestic, race/ethnicity unknown 2%
Total international 12%


Student Outcomes




The average six-year graduation rate at the University of Southern California is a little over 90%. According to Payscale’s The Best Universities For a Bachelor’s Degree—a ranking of over 1,500 U.S. colleges by the earnings of their graduates—USC places 54th. The average “early-career” (0-5 years of experience) salary for USC grads is $64,500, while the average “mid-career” (10+ years of experience) salary is $120,600. 




UCLA also ranks highly on Payscale’s The Best Universities For a Bachelor’s Degree rankings, placing 81st. “Early career” UCLA graduates earn $62,000 on average, while those in their “mid-career” have median salaries of $116,000. 


How to Decide Between USC vs. UCLA


Pitting UCLA against USC is difficult, as both institutions excel at everything from academics to athletics to outcomes. “Best of” lists—like the one published by U.S. News—provide some insight when making tough decisions like choosing between USC vs. UCLA, but fail to take into account your particular situation. Fit is an important factor when choosing a school, and considerations like “does a school offer the academic opportunities I want?” or “are meals provided that fit my diet?” should be weighed before making a decision. 


USC is especially strong for students who: Since there is no state-resident discount at USC, there’s likely to be less competition from in-state students—making it a good choice for out-of-staters. While Greek life figures prominently on both USC and UCLA campuses, USC’s “row” is how many college-bound students imagine life at a fraternity or sorority. Students with aspirations of starring on screen or working behind the camera will also feel the pull of the legendary USC School of Cinematic Arts and its all-star alumni. 


UCLA is especially strong for students who: When comparing UCLA vs. USC, the most notable difference is state school vs. private institution. Because UCLA is part of the California College System, it will be significantly less expensive than USC for in-state students. UCLA’s campus is also more appealing to many—since it’s closer to the richer neighborhoods of LA, students may feel a bit safer, though USC does have a 24-hour patrol team.


Comparing USC vs. UCLA is hard enough, never mind comparing schools across the nation. Luckily, CollegeVine can help—for free! Using our chancing calculator, you can discover your real admissions chances at over 500 colleges, build a best-fit school list, and learn how to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started on your college journey.

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.