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Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the University of Southern California (USC) is home to a large student body, incredible research advancements, and a large football stadium and culture. USC is ranked one of the best public universities in the US. It boasts a competitive admissions process with an acceptance rate of just 11%, meaning only about 1 in 9 students gets accepted.
Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections.
Starting with the beginning of high school/secondary school, if you have had a gap where you were not enrolled in school during a fall or spring term, please address this gap in your educational history. You do not need to address a summer break.
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The first supplemental essay (and its three prompt options) asks you to speak from experience about a non-academic moment of growth or the formation of a particular value. While the first prompt is the only one that demands you narrate a specific experience, a solid response to any of the three prompts should describe a particular instance and unpack its implications.
In generating a topic, the experience you choose does not have to be overly serious, but the analysis should show how it speaks to your growth in a powerful way that does not feel too grandiose. USC admissions officers are looking for applicants to demonstrate their understanding that learning is not just sitting in class and pursuing academics but is also significantly impacted by personal growth and a transformation of values.
If you choose this prompt, consider the different circumstances that caused you to change your thinking about a particular issue.
Whatever topic you choose, vivid language that examines how events made you feel in the moment will be essential to drawing out moments of actual growth. Remember that genuinely changing an established view is hard work, so please be honest with yourself as you look over the depth of these implications. Whether you write about how your experience attending a protest deepened your empathy for a particular cause or how a dare with your friend caused you to deactivate Facebook and rethink the role of social media in your life, try to craft a narrative story with clear consequences.
Responding to the second prompt should show that your intellectual curiosity expands beyond your professional aspirations. Try to recall when you were surprised by how an experience outside your area of expertise affected you. This experience could be anything from how your experience on a safari led to an unexpected interest in endangered species preservation to finding meaning in a collection of poetry you were required to read. Your essay should construct a narrative demonstrating genuine intellectual curiosity in an area outside your prospective academic focus.
A response to the third prompt can take on a variety of topics. Whether you explain the influence of a familial structure, a hobby, an experience as part of a larger community, or even some other unusual facet of your expertise, your narrative should discuss how this influence has positively shaped you.
Again, this is not a spot for arrogant essays about accomplishments and ambition. Instead, it’s for examining a topic that will lead the admissions committee to fully understand you and how you hope to use a USC education. Ideally, the topic will be distinct from your Common App essay topic (which can be similar). It will explain an aspect of your thinking or reasoning that’s not in any other part of your application.
The second supplemental essay question helps the admissions committee understand why you are interested in USC instead of another school. The question requires you to research USC’s specific offerings. You’ll use this knowledge, alongside language that introduces your main academic interests and their origins, to explain why USC is a perfect fit for you. Evaluators want to see a response that shows you are attracted to their school and how you have thought deeply about the particular ways USC would help you realize your academic goals.
Talk about how your struggles with precalculus and the extra time spent working with a teacher sparked a blooming interest in mathematics or how your experience watching the nightly TV news with your family compelled you to intern for a political campaign and learn about the history of international relations.
Once that framework is established, you should reference specific USC resources — classes, notable professors or researchers, proximity to specific professional opportunities, or extracurricular activities — that will help you pursue your interests most effectively.
An excellent place to start is by checking the extensive list of possible majors posted on the USC website and identifying departments that closely match your academic preferences. Then, you can go to departmental websites to identify class offerings and professors you can reference in your essay. Resources like the Undergraduate Research Program in the School of International Relations, or the chance to work with a figure you admire in a specific field, are good examples that help you realize certain career aspirations.
Finally, relate the USC resources to your interests. Suppose you began by writing about watching the news. You can describe how the “Visual and Popular Culture” within the “American Popular Culture” major would help you answer questions about the power of television news you’ve had since you were young.
It’s easy to try and impress examiners with your short answers. Instead, use these prompts to give the readers an authentic representation of yourself.
The first prompt (three words that best describe yourself) is one of the hardest to answer without sounding ingenuine or fake.
First, avoid descriptors like “ambitious” or “hardworking.” There are far better forums in your application to express your academic accomplishment and drive.
Second, spend time reflecting on the elements of your experience that have forced you to learn something new. If you can identify a quality, like humor or levity, and reflect on how that affects the lens through which you approach the world, you should include this quality.
Otherwise, think about the activities you engage with most and what type of qualities they foster. Maybe your experience doing debate after school has made you “community-oriented,” or your growing interest in running live DJ sets has made you more “adaptable.” Whatever your experience, finding descriptors to reflect your experience (which you’ll write about in other parts of the application!) will help you avoid overly generic descriptions and stand out from other applicants.
For the preference-based short answer questions, you’ll want to dwell similarly on your past experiences, especially pivotal moments of growth, sidestepping the temptation to answer to impress. It may be hard to think of the most technically proficient movie you’ve ever seen. Still, it will be easy to remember movies that have significantly impacted your life or personal development.
Unless you’re an established film academic, you probably can’t humbly claim you think the best movie of all time is Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane or Godard’s Breathless. It’s more likely you feel that it’s a movie you used to watch with your family when you were sick or an accessible old classic that opened your eyes to the aesthetic possibilities of cinema in a new way. The character limits are restrictive but don’t limit yourself to one word. Begin the question with your answer, then use your remaining space to offer a brief piece of context for the preference that speaks to your background or passions.
The essay components of the application are crucially important to make sure you stand out among the rest! The USC application has several essays prompts, especially short answer questions.
Knowing how to approach the supplemental questions for the USC application can take time and effort. The various questions, ranging from short-answer responses to short essays, ask a lot about your personality and academic or personal aspirations. But if you’re not careful, your answers to these prompts might appear insincere or common.
Supplemental questions give you space to demonstrate genuine passion, personality, and growth in your personal and academic life that arises directly from lived experience and suggests an apt fit for USC. Below are several strategies and ideas for each prompt designed to avoid common mistakes and stereotypical answers and create responses that can help present your authentic self to the admissions office.
Crimson takes a personal approach when helping students with their supplemental essays. Advisors get to know their students first. Then they show them how to incorporate their dreams, aspirations, goals, and any unique story aspect into their supplemental essays.
Writing supplemental essays for USC, as with any school, should attempt to present the sense of a complete, ambitious person engaged in the business of thinking about the world, one who goes beyond grades and a resume, to the admissions committee. When you write, please remember the more prominent themes of what you are trying to communicate, and rewrite or remove anything that feels extraneous or inauthentic. If you follow the tips above, you should be well on your way to generating a USC supplement that you can be proud of — best of luck!
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