Sep 15

Getting Into USC: 5 Best Admission Tips

Getting Into USC: 5 Best Admission Tips

Thousands of excellent individuals apply each year to the highly regarded private University of Southern California (USC), which is located in Los Angeles. If you’re applying, you probably want to know what the criteria are for USC admissions and how to make your application stand out.

This article explains how to get into USC and provides you with detailed advice on how to strengthen your application. But first, how difficult is it to enroll at USC?

Getting Into USC: 5 Best Admission Tips

Do you want to improve your chances of getting into a top-tier university? Schedule your consultation with Tokyo Academics today!

How Difficult Is It to Get Into USC?

With an acceptance rate of just under 12%, USC is a relatively selective institution; less than 1 in 8 applicants is accepted.

According to USC’s official news page, the student body is as follows:

More than a third received straight As throughout high school, and the average GPA remained consistent at an excellent 3.88 unweighted.

We can confidently state based just on this data that it’s normally quite challenging to get into USC.

What sort of candidates is USC seeking, then? Let’s look at it.

What qualities applicants should have

Due to the high level of competition at USC and the large number of applicants that submit applications each year, this university only accepts the top candidates.

On their website, USC states the following regarding applicants:

“We seek students that we think would succeed at USC. The goal of our application process is to learn about you personally so that we can assess your potential to benefit from the many opportunities offered by USC. … We will evaluate your academic performance, the difficulty of your program, your writing abilities, and your exam results. We also take into account individual characteristics as demonstrated by civic engagement, leadership, and accomplishments.”

Applicants with high “personal traits” are preferred by USC over those with outstanding academic credentials (such as test scores, grades, and GPA). These abilities can be demonstrated by academic or extracurricular achievements, volunteer work or community service, or leadership roles (for instance, being the captain of the track team or having previously led a successful food drive at your school).

In his comprehensive guide to getting into Harvard, PrepScholar co-founder and perfect SAT®/ACT scorer Allen Cheng explains that USC, like Harvard and other elite institutions, likes applicants with “spikes” in their extracurriculars—those with intense affinities for certain activities or interests.

You’ll undoubtedly need something to make your application stand out considering that USC receives over 60,000 applications a year.

To help you better understand what qualities USC is seeking in applications, here is how they define their most successful students:

“Students at USC pursue challenging academic and professional goals by utilizing the breadth of available programs and interdisciplinary study. They are prepared to push themselves past their comfort zones. They take pleasure in looking at significant issues from a global perspective and are curious about the globe, other peoples, and other cultures.”

As you can see, USC seeks candidates who are not only academically talented but who are also eager to push themselves, discover new things, and adopt a global viewpoint.

Can I apply to USC via early action or early decision?

USC does not provide first-year students with an early action/early decision plan, in contrast to many other private and elite universities. Consequently, everyone who wants to apply to USC must do so by the same deadline (refer to the next section for more information on important dates).

Although you can’t apply to USC early, it’s a good idea to let the admissions committee know if it really is your top choice school so they can make a note of it in your application.

If USC is an applicant’s top preference, Joe Beltran, an admissions counselor at USC, suggests the following:

“How can I let the admissions staff know that USC is my top choice? is a question I get from students frequently. Simple: Just let us know. Tell us in your application or in person, by phone, email, or over the phone. We also take note of that. If you request it, we add these items to your files and also keep them in mind.”

You can’t apply early to USC to show that you’re interested in going, but you can (and should) let the admissions committee know that you are so they can keep it in mind as they sift through the thousands of applications they get.

Deadlines and Logistics of Applying to USC

USC requires the Common Application for all freshmen applicants. The following is a list of all the significant USC admission requirements:

  • Common App
  • USC Writing Supplement (on Common App)
  • SAT®/ACT test results (OPTIONAL for students applying during the 2022-2023 school year). Additionally, applicants may submit their TOEFL, AP®, IB, and SAT® Subject Test results (if international)
  • Transcripts demonstrating the completion of all high school and any college coursework
  • Letters of recommendations – Your required number of letters will vary depending on the program or school you’re applying to at USC.
  • Additional documents, such as a writing sample, portfolio, or résumé (only if your program or school specifically requires them)
  • Fall grades may be reported via the Common App’s Mid-Year Report Form.

As mentioned above, additional documentation is requested from applicants for some USC schools and programs. The schools and programs that need additional paperwork and information (on top of everything mentioned above) are listed in the table below:

School/Program Required Supplementary Materials
Portfolio, Architecture Writing Supplement
Art/Design Essay, list of creative experiences, portfolio
Proposal video, portfolio, interview (if selected)
Video introduction, World Bachelor's Business written prompts (on USC Writing Supplement)
Cinematic Arts Personal Statement, writing sample, creative work sample/portfolio, creative portfolio list, video/photo sample, video introduction, aspirational portfolio, image essay, audio portrait, autobiographical character sketch, creative challenges, "Most Challenging Moment" task, project question, collaboration question
Portfolio, which includes: dance resume, short answer, video response to a question, two video solos and descriptions, three video demonstrations, two photographs (a head shot and an action shot), live audition (if selected, depending on COVID-19 situation)
Headshot, drama resume, "Take Three" image task, letter from drama teacher/coach, essay questions, creative submission, pre-screening audition videos, live audition (depending on COVID-19 situation)
Portfolio, music resume, repertoire list, introductory video (certain majors only), audition recording, live audition (if selected, depending on COVID-19 situation)

Do you want to improve your chances of getting into a top-tier university? Schedule your consultation with Tokyo Academics today!

*The specific supplemental materials needed for admission may vary depending on the major.

Let’s now examine all of the significant USC deadlines in chronological sequence from earliest to latest.

Application Information

November 1, 2022

Applicants selecting Early Action will be notified of their admission or deferral to Regular Decision in mid-to late January 2023.

December 1, 2022

This is the final deadline for students applying to majors in the following schools:

  • Iovine and Young Academy
  • Kaufman School of Dance
  • Roski School of Art & Design
  • School of Architecture
  • School of Cinematic Arts
  • School of Dramatic Arts
  • Thornton School of Music

January 15, 2023

This is the regular freshman application deadline without merit scholarship consideration

January 9, 2023

Early Application Deadline: (For freshman applicants) The deadline for sending notifications of merit scholarships

February 10, 2023

Regular Decision Deadline: (For freshman applicants) The deadline for sending notifications of merit scholarships

February 15, 2023

Transfer Application Deadline for all other majors

March 2, 2023

Cal Grant Application Deadline: California residents should apply for Cal Grants by this date.

5 Tips to Help You Meet the Requirements for Admission to USC

Let’s look at how to get into USC now that you are familiar with the application process’ details. What should you include in your application to improve your chances of being accepted into USC, one of the most esteemed universities in the nation?

#1 Obtain a high GPA.

USC admissions candidates often have GPAs that are exceptionally high.

The 25th/75th percentile high school GPA range for the fall 2021 class was 3.75-4.0. This indicates that the majority of applicants who were accepted had generally good marks, earning largely As and probably a few Bs.

Your chances of getting into USC will probably be lower if your GPA is below 3.75. It is therefore ideal to strive as high as you can, preferably at least around a 3.85, so that you will be significantly above average but won’t suffer too much if you receive a B in one or two classes.

If you’re struggling to keep your GPA high, identify the subjects that are negatively affecting your performance, and then think about investing additional time in your preparation for those classes or hiring a tutor to provide you with the extra assistance you require.

#2: Enroll in Difficult, Demanding Courses

Evidence of a demanding course load is another crucial quality USC looks for in applications. The best candidates will have participated in a decent number of AP, honors, and/or IB courses.

USC’s webpage for undergraduate admissions provides the following description of its ideal candidates:

“There is no set curriculum that must be followed, although those who are accepted usually opt for the most challenging options in the subjects of English, math, science, social studies, foreign language, and the arts. Preparation for the desired major is given careful consideration.”

Strong applicants will have performed exceptionally well in their classes as well as in a demanding academic program, especially in courses related to their selected majors.

Try to enroll in some AP®, honors, or IB classes the following academic year and for each additional year you are in high school if you are a junior or younger and haven’t taken any tough courses yet.

It’s ideal to select demanding lessons that concentrate on subjects in which you already excel or have a keen interest. For instance, if science is your passion, you might enroll in AP® Bio or AP® Physics.

While you don’t have to take extremely challenging classes every semester, start your junior year at the very least and plan to enroll in three to five upper-level courses annually. Although it’s not a bad idea to take the AP® exams that go along with these courses as you might get some college credit, this does not obligate you to do so.

#3: Achieve high SAT®/ACT scores

For applicants in 2021–2022, USC will not require a standardized test. 47% of applicants for the 2020–2021 application year provided SAT® or ACT results. If your test scores are very high or you believe they more accurately reflect your abilities than your GPA, you could still wish to submit them.

USC generally anticipates good applicants to get fairly high SAT®/ACT scores.

The following table shows the middle 50%, or average, score ranges* for the fall 2019 USC freshman class on the SAT® and ACT:


  • Composite: 1420-1520
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW): 670-740
  • Math: 690-790


  • Composite: 31-34
  • English: 32-35
  • Math: 28-34

*The 25th percentile is the lowest score in each range, suggesting that only 25% of applicants or fewer received that score, and the 75th percentile is the highest value, implying that only 75% of applicants received that score.

In order to be a competitive applicant to USC, you’ll need to have a relatively good SAT®/ACT score. Most candidates have a SAT® score of at least 1420, or the 95th percentile nationally.

In contrast, the majority of applicants had an ACT score of at least 31, or the 95th percentile nationally. In other words, to meet merely the 25th percentile score at USC, you’ll need to score in the top 5% of test-takers.

Although receiving a score below USC’s 25th percentile cutoff does not guarantee rejection, it does suggest that it will probably be more difficult for you to enroll at USC unless you have other notably outstanding traits.

The wisest course of action if you don’t score at or above this “minimum” mark (1420 on the SAT® and 31 on the ACT) is to work on improving your score. Making a study plan for the SAT®/ACT that takes into account your deficiencies is one method to achieve this. I also advise you to look through our guidelines if you want some advice on how to raise your SAT® or ACT score.

Consider using our online SAT® or ACT prep program, which is 100% personalized to your test-prep needs and includes authentic questions produced by real top scorers, if you prefer more hands-on supervision during your test preparation.

#4: Produce Top-Notch Essays

You must write two shorter essays as part of the USC Writing Supplement in addition to the Common App essay. Each essay must be no more than 250 words long, which is roughly the same as the average college admissions essay.

You must select one of three prompts to answer to for the first USC essay:

  • USC thinks that connecting with people from various backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints is the greatest way to learn. Tell us about a time when you encountered a novel concept or had one of your beliefs questioned by a different viewpoint. Talk about the experience’s relevance and how it affected you.
  • Academic opportunities that cross disciplinary boundaries are prioritized by USC faculty. Describe a topic you are interested in learning more about that is not part of your original academic concentration.
  • What aspect of you is crucial to comprehending who you are?

Pick the prompt that most interests you and that you can answer clearly and thoughtfully.

Write about a specific instance when a belief or opinion of yours was contested for the first prompt. Here, it’s important to concentrate on how you responded and what this particular experience taught you about yourself. This could be a viewpoint on a social issue, a political position, or a religious conviction.

The second essay question asks you to describe an unrelated area of study that you are also interested in. Discussing how you became interested in this particular topic and what you might accomplish with it in the future is a wonderful idea at this point. For instance, you might be a computer science major who has lately discovered that you have a significant interest in understanding the history of paintings after taking a mandatory art class.

The final essay question is extremely open-ended and gives you the chance to discuss anything you think the USC admissions committee should know about you. Introduce a specific passion, talent, or experience you have. You might also provide an explanation for a flaw in your academic history, such as a semester where your grades dropped off the rails or a low SAT® score.

You will also need to compose a second essay for the USC Writing Supplement in addition to this one. There is only one prompt for this essay; you have no other options!

Describe your academic goals and the reasons you chose USC in particular to attain them. Please don’t hesitate to mention your top two choices for majors.

This essay question merely asks what you intend to major in at USC and how you’ll pursue your academic objectives as a student. In essence, what intellectual course do you anticipate taking at USC?

If you want to major in English, for instance, you may describe how you want to adopt a more multidisciplinary approach by adding courses in foreign literature to your course load.

In conclusion, use detailed information, be honest about your experiences and sentiments, and edit and review each essay before submitting it to USC to guarantee that you are submitting two top-notch essays. 

It’s also crucial to keep in mind that some programs and institutions demand supplementary essays or brief responses. For instance, the Architecture Writing Supplement requires applicants to the School of Architecture to respond to additional questions.

The three general USC essays you must write are not less significant than these school-specific essays, if not more so. Why? Because the questions in these essays are considerably more detailed and pertain to your preferred subject of study. The reason you are interested in the field, program, or school you are applying to must be explained in detail.

#5: Create an Outstanding Portfolio (Required for Certain Programs)

Along with the more general requirements mentioned above, some USC programs also ask for  submission of creative portfolios.

If a portfolio is necessary, it’ll probably rank among your application’s most crucial components. Make sure your portfolio complies with all requirements, is entirely original, and reflects your own creative spirit, skills, and objectives.

All USC schools that demand the submission of a portfolio are listed below:

  • School of Architecture
  • Roski School of Art and Design
  • Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation
  • USC School of Cinematic Arts
  • USC School of Dramatic Arts
  • Glorya Kaufman School of Dance
  • Thornton School of Music

Do you want to improve your chances of getting into a top-tier university? Schedule your consultation with Tokyo Academics today!

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