4 University of Southern California (USC) Essays That Worked


Applying to USC in 2023 means that you are facing a lot of competition.

Luckily, one of the most effective tools you have to stand out from the crowd is your essays and responses to USC's writing supplement.

In this article, I've gathered 4 of the best essays from students admitted into the University of Southern California so that you can get inspired and improve your own USC essays.

What is University of Southern California's Acceptance Rate?

This past year, a record 70,971 students applied to USC and only 8,804 students were offered admission. That means USC had an overall acceptance rate of only 12.4%.

If you're trying to maximize your shot of getting into USC, writing essays that show why you should be accepted is one of your best strategies.

USC Acceptance Scattergram

The more competitive a school admissions is, the more heavily your essays are weighed. Let's check out the USC prompts for this year.

What are the University of Southern California Supplemental Prompts for 2022-23?

For its application this year, USC requires students to respond to three short essay questions and ten short answer questions.

USC has an intensive writing section, which means its even more important for you to make your responses the best they can be.

Here are the University of Southern California prompts for 2023:

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words) (1-250 words)

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. (0-250 words)

Describe yourself in three words.

What is your favorite snack?

Best movie of all time:

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

Dream trip:

What TV show will you binge watch next?

Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?

Favorite book:

If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

4 University of Southern California Essays That Worked

Here are 4 of the best USC essays that worked for this years writing supplement.

Below you can read how admitted USC students answered the short essay and short answer questions. In addition, I've included some Common App personal statements examples recently accepted students.

See exactly how students got into USC and get inspired:

USC Essay Example #1

Usc essay example #2, usc essay example #3, usc essay example #4.

Prompt: What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you? (250 words max)

If I had a fatal flaw it would be loyalty. Of all the things I value, the one thing I value the most is my family. Coming after family is my friends; I consider my friends to be an extended branch of family. My close friends know that I value my friendship and that I would do almost anything for them if they asked me. I am very trusting with my friends, because I know that if I am there to support them, they will be there to support me. Without my friends, I would not be who and where I am now, as they have helped me through my years and shaped me to be the trusting and loyal person I am.

Very often, I put my friends before me, and this is because I know that if I were in the same situation as them, they would opt to help me. My loyalty to my friends helps them understand why I do what I do, and it helps me make even more friends. Wherever I go, I want to go with friends, because I believe that I can go farther when I have others with me rather than going fast and alone, but not as far.

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The sounds of my knife striking kale unnerves my cat asleep in the corner. He quickly runs over to examine the situation but becomes instantly uninterested when he sees green and smells bitterness. Unfortunately, my family has this same reaction every day of every week.

They question, “It’s bad enough that you’re going to eat kale, but do you really have to massage it?” I respond with a deep breath, during which I recall information from nutritionfacts.org. I begin to explain, “Well you see, it takes away the bitterness, because kale is composed of cellulose, so when you massage it with a strong acid–”but as I continue to delve into my rather scientific and oftentimes molecular rationale behind transforming myself into a masseuse to make a salad, everyone begins snoring. I guess no one has ever understood my immense love for the science behind cooking (and probably never will).

Sure, my family, friends, small, undiverse and traditional high school all look at me like I am crazy, but I guess that is because I am. I do not look at kale and think “dark green, bitter, disgusting plant.” Instead, I see proteins and anticarcinogenic properties--analyzing the anatomy of food seems to occupy my mind.

Cooking is an art, visual, creative and instinctive. My favorite nights are spent with knife in hand and sweet potatoes in the oven. Food is my artist outlet, and one of the few things to feed my soul (and my stomach, too).

23 College Essay Tips To Help You Stand Out

Prompt: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 words max)

All throughout my life, I always loved doing math no matter what the concept. My love for math led to me taking advanced math classes for my grade. I even had to take a bus to a high school when I was in middle school to take an advanced math class. I always knew that I would want to pursue a career dealing with mathematics, but I was not really sure until my junior year. I had not decided what I wanted to be in the future, so my uncle suggested being a CPA, and I looked into it. When I did my research, it interested me as they made a decent amount of money and they worked with numbers.

At USC, I would like to major in accounting and gain the opportunity to possibly receive an internship at one of the big accounting firms in Los Angeles through the networking of USC. If I were able to get an internship, I would be able to gain experience for when I graduate and search for a job. I would also consider going for a Masters of Business Administration as I know that USC has one of the best business programs in the country.

Hundreds of the Best College Essay Examples

I had never considered traveling across the country to pursue an education. In fact, living in Pittsburgh all of my life and growing up with people who are so adamant about staying put, forced me to believe that I too had to box myself into this small, yet evolving city. However, now I can confidently tell my friends and family that I want to travel to California for college (and ignore their odd looks).

What strikes me most about USC is its ability to maintain uniformity despite its diverse student body--in interests, ethnicity, and opinion. There are not many schools where I could be best friends with filmmakers, artists, photographers, chemists, potential CEOs, and writers. Although all of these people are spread across different schools, they still seem to maintain a cultural unity. Being surrounded by such a distinct trojan pride combined with the ambitious atmosphere would be both inspiring and propulsive.

At USC, I would not have to confine to merely one of my interests. I have always had aspirations of becoming a doctor and pursuing neuroscience, but have never felt comfortable ignoring the humanities. As a Trojan, I could pursue research at the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center or even take part in PIBBS, while also honing my writing skills through the intricate Writing Program.

Much like the students, my interests could somehow be molded into a diverse uniformity, and I could prove my fellow Pittsburghers that perhaps they need to move around more.

Get Essay Editing

If you want to get into the University of Southern California, you'll need to answer the USC writing supplement questions as best you can. To help improve your essays, you can read these 6 essays that worked for USC and see how students got accepted.

Let me know: what do you think about these USC's essays?

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USC Essay Examples

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USC Essay Examples – Introduction 

If you’ve been searching for USC Essay Examples, you’re in the right place. The University of Southern California is a private university located in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1880, USC has 21,000 undergraduates and is a premier research university in the United States. So, it’s no surprise that the USC admissions is very competitive. The most recent USC acceptance rate was under 12% , lower than the average USC acceptance rate of 16%. 

USC has a total undergraduate enrollment of 20,790 students, as of Fall 2021. It is ranked #25 in the U.S. News College Rankings. Its ranking, paired with the low USC acceptance rate, qualifies USC as a very competitive university. According to their website , most first-year students were in the top 10% of their high school class.

An Overview of USC Application Requirements

To understand how to get into USC, you must thoroughly examine the USC application requirements. This includes the USC supplemental essays. In this article about USC essay examples, we’ll look at USC essays that worked. We’ll also provide a breakdown of why these USC supplemental essay examples were effective. That way, you can learn how to write the best USC essay.

Let’s take a closer look at the USC application requirements. When you apply, you’ll submit several USC supplemental essays in addition to your Common App or Coalition App personal statement . Below, we will go through each of the USC essay prompts for the 2022-2023 admissions cycle. We’ll also provide USC essay examples and USC supplemental essays examples. 

How many supplemental essays does USC have?

Technically there are 12-13 USC supplemental essays. However, don’t let that number scare you. Most of these are short answer essays, which are much easier to write than the typical supplemental essay.

The USC application only requires you to write one or two 250-word supplemental essays depending on your choice of major. You’ll also complete 10 short answer essays and one optional 250-word essay.

You should mostly focus on the required USC essay (or essays). Most students will only complete the required USC essay prompts. We’ll explore some USC supplemental essays examples—or USC essays that worked—later on in this article. That way, you can understand how to craft a successful USC essay.

Essays are a key part of the USC application requirements. So, use these USC essay examples as a blueprint. Then, model your USC essays after our USC supplemental essays examples. Remember, the USC essays are a way for USC admissions to learn more about your unique experiences. By reading your USC essays, USC learns who you are beyond the numbers and why you belong on campus. 

As of this year, USC admissions is test-optional . This means that the SAT/ACT is not part of the USC application requirements. If you don’t submit test scores, writing strong USC supplemental essays is even more important. So, make sure you understand why these USC supplemental essays examples stood out. Read these USC essay examples of USC essays that worked to learn what will make your USC essay shine.

What are the USC essay prompts?

Usc supplemental essay requirements for 2022-2023.

The second USC essay prompt listed above is optional and is not included in the USC application requirements. So, we have not included it in our USC supplemental essays examples. If this prompt applies to your experience, you should answer it. Try to be straightforward and honest about your personal reasons for having a gap in your educational history. 

USC Short Answer Essays

For the USC application requirements, applicants are also asked to complete 10 short-answer questions. These are not the same length as the USC supplemental essays or the other USC supplemental essays examples. They have a 25-100 character limit. 

The short answer USC supplemental essays are:

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

Dream trip:, what tv show will you binge watch next, which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate, favorite book:, if you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be.

These short answer USC supplemental essays, or “ short takes ,” are designed to help USC get to know you personally. These are more straightforward than the longer “Why USC” essay examples that we’ll look at. So, don’t stress yourself out trying to choose the perfect answer! This could be a chance to showcase parts of your personality that aren’t clear from the rest of your USC application. 

When reading this article on USC essay examples, keep in mind that the USC essay prompts are subject to change. That means the USC essay examples below will not match perfectly to the USC essay prompts above. They also might not match USC essay examples from other previous years.

However, these USC essay examples that worked can still provide insight into what makes USC supplemental essays successful. This can help you learn how to make your USC essay stand out to the USC admissions committee. 

USC essay examples

usc essay examples

First, we’ll go over the two longer USC essay prompts. Then, we’ll analyze some USC essay examples—not just any examples, but specifically USC essays that worked. 

The first of our USC essay examples answers a USC essay prompt from a previous year. Though this question is not available this year, it can still be helpful. Remember, the USC supplemental essays give you the chance to highlight aspects of your identity and beliefs. As these USC supplemental essays examples demonstrate, when writing your USC supplemental essay, you should reveal something unique about your experiences. 

USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. (250 words)

Usc essay examples #1.

“Maybe I’m playing the devil’s advocate here, but rural white Americans have been marginalized by our economy. Think about coal-miners whose livelihoods depend on this job. Imagine how threatening global warming policies would be.” Silence. Shock was discernible in the sideways glances of my peers, who like me, were processing this statement.

I attend a private Christian high school. Located in the heart of Hollywood, it has exposed me to diversity of many kinds: religious, racial, and socioeconomic. However, the majority of us hold the same political views, hence our aforementioned reaction. Here he was– teaching at a liberal L.A. high school– asking us to consider the opposing perspective. In this climate of increasing political polarization, his proposition was refreshing. I found solace in this newfound ability to analyze current issues through an academic lens and explore different perspectives in the safety of our classroom. These discussions helped me recognize and overcome my own unconscious bias for the sake of learning, which ultimately expanded my worldview.

At a crossroads to either remain happily entrapped in the bubble of my beliefs, or expose myself to new perspectives, I chose the path of most resistance, bursting the bubble of political ignorance that threatens to divide people. Rather than delegitimizing different outlooks, I will embrace diversity at USC, listening to every perspective with an open mind. Though I initially misunderstood him, I realize now that my teacher had the right mentality; we could all stand to play the devil’s advocate once in a while.

Why did this USC essay work?

To write one of the many USC essays that worked, you must tell a concise and thoughtful story. Your essay should highlight aspects of your personality not seen elsewhere in your application.

As the first of our USC supplemental essays examples demonstrates, many successful USC supplemental essays also describe a personal change. This USC essay example shows the admissions committee that this applicant is a critical thinker with the ability to self-reflect. 

Of course, we don’t know who the writers of these USC supplemental essays examples are. Still, this essay discusses a piece of the writer’s experience likely not clear from their extracurriculars or intended major . Successful USC essay examples, however, should highlight a student’s character. Whether the author is a pre-med student or a history buff, their understanding of political polarization adds depth and to their profile. In this USC essay example, we don’t just learn who the author is. We also learn how they think and how they would operate on USC’s campus.

Growth narrative

Crucially, this USC essay example does not just describe an experience. It also focuses on the personal growth the student underwent. When thinking about what experiences to write about for your USC supplementals, ask yourself: how did this experience change me? What were my views on myself and the world before this experience, and what were my views after? As shown in the best of our USC supplemental essays examples, this essay demonstrates that the student has undergone a change in perspective. 

Additionally, our USC supplemental essays examples are well-structured and concise. This essay is no exception. When you only have 250 words to tell a story, a clear structure is paramount. By choosing to start with a quote from a teacher and moving into an anecdote, the writer immediately puts us, the readers, in their place. In this USC essay example, an anecdote serves as the “hook” for the essay. It engages the reader and makes them listen to what the author has to say.

As the author of these USC supplemental essays examples demonstrates, you should “hook” your reader with an attention-grabbing statement. Then, use the rest of your essay to tell your story. The writer’s use of an anecdote in their USC essay example grabs our attention. It makes us want to finish reading their USC supplemental essay—and offer them a spot at USC.

Why USC Essay Examples

The next two USC supplemental essays examples are examples of the “Why USC?” essay. The “Why USC” essay serves to convey to the USC admissions committee why you belong at USC. It does so through two “whys”: first, why you would like to go to USC, and second, why USC admissions should accept you.

In these USC supplemental essays examples, the writers detail their academic plans. They also highlight why USC is the best place for them to pursue those plans. Read these two USC essay examples to see how these students used their USC supplemental essays to enhance their USC applications. 

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Max 250 words)

Why usc essay examples #1.

Eleven years of dancing have given me a unique fascination for human biology. With each grand jeté and every pirouette, the biological systems in my body—circulatory, respiratory, nervous, and skeletal—operate together in their own constant dance, their harmonious movement choreographed by the brain. I am amazed by our bodies’ complexity, present even in the simplest of acts (it takes just eight muscles to point my toes). I’ve chosen to major in Human Biology, confident it will satisfy the insatiable curiosity I developed in dance class. Not only would its core requirements build upon what I’ve already explored in high school, it would allow me to delve into topics that pique my interest: genetics, evolutionary medicine, and neurobiology. 

While Human Biology would stimulate my intellect, my second choice major—Global Health— would challenge me to apply biology to the real world. Through this interdisciplinary major, I would be expanding various science-based courses to the humanities through electives like AIDS in Society and Cultural Competence in Medicine. Both of these majors are career-oriented and excite me to be a Trojan.

Although my ultimate goal is to become a doctor (possibly a neurologist), I am very passionate about doing missionary work in Peru after I finish pre-med. Applying my medical studies to serving impoverished Peruvian communities would give purpose to my family’s sacrifices for my education, and it would answer the question I have always asked myself: How can I make the greatest change in the world?

Let’s take a closer look at the second of our USC supplemental essays examples. As one of our “Why USC” essay examples, it focuses on specific majors and courses that will help the applicant achieve their career goals. When writing a “why USC” essay, or any “Why this college” essay, consider specificity . This student could study biology anywhere, so why should they study it at USC?

Their answer in this USC supplemental is clear, thoughtful, and well-explained. In the first of our Why USC essay examples, the student highlights USC’s majors of Human Biology and Global Health . It shows how these programs would provide the interdisciplinary education that this student is looking for. The unique electives will not only help the student on their way to becoming a doctor; they would also contribute to their humanitarian passions. 

usc essay examples

A great hook

The “hook” of this why USC essays examples also makes it special. The student weaves dance,  one of their extracurriculars, into why they want to study human biology . In number two of our USC supplemental essays examples, this student employs a creative tactic to uniting two seemingly disparate interests: dance and a career in medicine. If the USC admissions committee were just reading this student’s resume and intended major without their USC supplemental, they would have no idea how this students’ hours of dance practice related to their dreams of becoming a doctor . Compared to other Why USC essay examples, this essay adds crucial information to the student’s USC application. 

Why USC Essay Examples #2

Captivated by connections between biology, public policy, and the social sciences, I hope to pursue a career in healthcare leadership that, uniting these fields, enables me to enhance the health and wellbeing of broad populations. USC’s strong focus on interdisciplinary exploration within and outside the classroom would encourage me to develop the necessary capacity to collaborate across multiple pathways, while building a deep understanding of the systems and complexities underlying the challenges of managing population health.

The Global Health and Health Promotion & Disease Prevention majors would allow me to explore these complexities through courses such as Case Studies in Global Health, which surveys different international responses to healthcare crises. Through Behavioral Medicine and Biological & Behavioral Basis of Disease, I could pursue my interests in psychology and study with faculty who focus on systemic connections, like one professor’s investigations into the overlap between behavioral health and biological stress responses. 

USC’s interconnectedness extends beyond pure academics—working with the Institute on Inequalities in Global Health, particularly the Ensuring Human Rights in Family Planning & Contraceptive Programs initiative, could provide valuable hands-on experience navigating social issues in a medical context. Similarly, the USC Inter-Health Council would provide unique opportunities to interact with diverse groups within a healthcare framework.

Increasingly, healthcare advances come with pressing questions about how to most efficiently and equitably manage them for the greatest public impact. USC’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning offers the perfect environment to develop the multifaceted knowledge and creativity needed to successfully address these challenges.

Similar to the previous example, the third of our three USC supplemental essays examples shines in its specificity. The student who wrote the second one of these Why USC essay examples clearly has done their research. They list multiple unique opportunities that only USC could offer. They have gone further than only looking at class listings and professors. In fact, they specifically address the organizations that they could only access at USC. 

Moreover, the third of these USC supplemental essays examples strikes a great balance . First, it shows that the student has done research about USC for their USC application. However, it does so while showcasing the student’s personal passions and goals.

In this USC essay, the student first details their own desire to “pursue a career in healthcare leadership” that would affect broad change. They also explain their need for an interdisciplinary course to achieve this goal. Then, finally, they explain how USC offered the best possible education for their personal purposes. 

How do I write a USC supplemental essay?

Now that you’ve read some USC essay examples that worked, you might wonder about your own USC essay. So, how can you write a USC essay that is as successful as these USC supplemental essays examples?

The key to supplemental essays is in the name: they should supplement your application materials. Your USC supplemental essays should add depth to your USC application. In doing so, they should help the USC admissions committee understand who you are. We can assume that our USC essay examples each added a piece to the puzzle of the writer’s identity. For example, the student who wrote about how dance inspired their interest in Human Biology. 

Three key criteria to keep in mind while considering how to write your USC supplemental essays are:

In the USC example essay about different perspectives, we see how structure plays a role in how we read an essay. The essay had a clear beginning, middle, and end. It started with a particular experience, told us how that experience changed the student, and ended with how the student would act at USC given the lesson they had learned. 

When writing a USC supplemental, content means: what is this essay about? No topic is off-limits (though we would discourage you from choosing overly-done topics like winning the big game, overcoming a sports injury, going on a mission trip, or dealing with a loss). Overall, whatever you choose should be meaningful to you. Writing about something that matters to you will automatically make your essay stronger. It will also demonstrate that you are a passionate individual. In the third USC essay example, you can tell that the writer cares deeply about pursuing a career in health leadership. The USC essay is focused and clear. 

Personality in your essays

When thinking about how personality factors into your supplemental, think about authenticity. What are the things that make you, you? Think of the author of the second USC essay example. In their USC essay, they combine their dance extracurricular with their desire to study medicine. Then, they close the essay with a statement of their desire to make a positive impact on the world.

At first glance, these are all unrelated ideas. However, by using a comprehensive structure, the writer showcases many aspects of their personality in only 250 words. As long as you steer clear of anything too personal (ask yourself: would you discuss this at the dinner table?), you are free to highlight your unique strengths and traits in your supplemental.

USC states on their website that they look for “a diverse group of students who represent a vast array of perspectives and passions, who will enrich each other’s education by challenging each other, inside the classroom and out.” They expect your essay and short answer responses to help them “get to know your personality and your voice.” So, use your USC essays to showcase your unique perspective. Throughout your USC application, try to show USC admissions how you would contribute to the community. 

Additional Tips to Write the USC Supplemental Essays

usc essay examples

Let’s break down this USC supplemental essay. This USC essay prompt asks you to explain your academic interests and how you plan to pursue them at USC. The USC essay can include your first and second choice major selections. Though this is seemingly optional, it is recommended. In fact, both of the USC essay examples detailed in this article list multiple major choices. 

Of course, a plan to pursue your academic interests must involve choosing a major. So, you should first reflect on what major you want to pursue at USC. If you’re not sure how to choose, USC has its own suggestions on how to select a major . Remember, whatever major you choose, you can always change it once you are admitted to the school. The USC admissions team just wants to understand how your academic interests will manifest at USC. So, you need to detail specific programs and majors that you are interested in. Look at our Why USC Essay examples above if you need inspiration for your USC supplemental.


Once you have decided on your intended USC major, you can begin brainstorming for your USC essay. Think long term—what do you hope to achieve with your USC education? How can USC help you not only follow your academic interests but, more importantly, achieve your larger goals? Remember the second of our “Why USC” essay examples: without knowing the author’s goal of becoming a leader in healthcare leadership, we wouldn’t understand the importance of pursuing an interdisciplinary education. 

Also, always remember to highlight your personality. If you don’t share your unique story in your USC supplemental, your essay won’t enrich your USC application. If the USC admissions committee comes away from your USC essay learning more about USC than they do about you, then you haven’t done a thorough job with your USC supplemental essays.

USC Short Answer Essay Examples

When writing your short USC supplemental essays, don’t overthink it! Have fun with these ones. As long as you don’t say anything offensive or inappropriate, you can answer honestly. 

Remember that even though these questions are short and fun, you’re not answering them in a vacuum. Each of these questions still contributes to the story your USC application tells. For example, if you have a long list of TV shows to binge-watch, pick the one that best adds to your application– someone interested in animation might pick Bojack Horseman instead of Grey’s Anatomy .

If you need more prompting to spark your creativity, check out our more detailed review of these short USC supplemental essays from a previous year’s guide . 

University of Southern California (USC) Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

How to craft original short answer responses

We’ve gone over some USC essay examples and what made them shine. Now, you might be wondering how to write unique, original short answer responses with only 100 characters. These short answer questions aren’t unlike the other USC supplementals. All USC essays that worked will highlight what makes a certain student unique. For these particularly short USC essays—as with the longer USC essay examples—the most important aspect is that you are true to yourself. 

The second piece of advice to consider when crafting these short answer USC supplemental essays is to pick the most creative choice. As long as you’re answering honestly, you have a lot of room to pick the answer that you think is the most fun or tells the most about how you view the world. But remember: the goal is to create the best possible depiction of yourself, not to be the “perfect” applicant. 

Here are some short USC essay examples to get the brain juices flowing. 

Let’s say I’m a student who is passionate about theater and want to go into K-12 education:

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl

Watching an original production of Shakespeare in the Globe Theater

Abbott Elementary

Mrs. Frizzle

The BFG by Roald Dahl

“‘Vocal Adrenaline’? The Science of Singing as Depicted in 21st Century Popular Media”

So, why did these essays work?

As this hypothetical student, I’ve:

USC Supplemental Essay Top 5 Tips

With such a low USC acceptance rate, your supplemental essays are crucial to impress the admissions committee. Now that you have read and analyzed these USC essay examples, you are far better prepared to write your USC supplementals. That way, you can create the strongest possible USC application. 

Top 5 Tips for crafting your USC essay prompts:

✔️three key facets.

Remember the three key facets of a good supplemental essay: structure, content, and personality. In USC essays that worked, you’ll find that the author uses a strong structure to convey their ideas. They also make sure their character shines through. Strong USC essay examples paint a vivid picture of who the writer is and how they’d contribute to campus life.

✔️Focus on what matters to you

If you write passionately about something that matters to you, the essay will automatically be more effective. All of the USC essays that worked embody this perspective. So, use our USC essay examples as inspiration. Then, apply what you’ve learned from our Why USC essay examples (and other USC essay examples) to your own writing.

✔️Be detailed and specific

Be specific and do your research—take points from the Why USC essay examples. The more specific you are in your USC essays, the stronger they’ll be. The USC application process is competitive, so you should do all you can to stand out.

✔️Authenticity is key

Be vulnerable —let the USC admissions committee get to know you. As with all aspects of the college admissions process, authenticity is key. Be yourself in your USC supplementals.

✔️ Fill in the gaps

Use your essays to cover any gaps in knowledge that USC might have from the rest of your USC application. 

USC Essay Examples – Final Thoughts and Tips

The best way to become a writer of one of the few “USC essays that worked” is to study USC essay examples. The USC essay prompts change over the years. Still, how to get into USC despite the low USC acceptance rate always depends on the same factors.

Those factors are:

So, use our USC essay examples to jump start your writing process. We hope they help you write clear and compelling USC essays. Finally, for more advice on how to write the best supplemental essays for USC, check out our blogs from previous years.

common app essays that worked usc

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How to Get Into USC: Strategies and Essays that Worked

How hard is it to get into usc learn the usc acceptance rate and strategies to get accepted.

common app essays that worked usc

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: usc admissions requirements, part 3: 2021–2022 usc supplemental essays (examples included).

Situated just a few miles from Hollywood, the University of Southern California (USC) is famous for its stellar film and performing arts programs. Indeed, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a blockbuster hit that doesn’t involve a USC alum. 

But don’t let the Hollywood glitz overshadow the fact that USC is also the oldest private research university in California. Core components of the modern Internet were created at USC, including the Domain Name System (which allowed you to type “shemmassianconsulting.com” into your browser and arrive at our website!).

USC also houses one of the nation’s premier college athletic programs and its athletes have gone on to win the most Olympic medals for the United States.

Excelling in sports, the arts, and academia, USC seems to have it all, and they expect their student body to as well. The university encourages undergraduates to expand their studies across disciplines to challenge their ways of thinking. The school strives for students to be global citizens, from seeking out unfamiliar cultures to approaching problems from a holistic perspective.

If your child is a talented, motivated student interested in USC, read on to find out our best advice for how to get into USC, information on USC admissions statistics and USC admissions requirements, and guidance on how to tackle the school’s secondary prompts—including sample USC essays.

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USC rankings

U.S. News and World Report: 25

Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education: 19

(Suggested reading: USC vs. UCLA—Which College is Better ?)

USC setting

USC’s urban campus is a green oasis in the middle of Los Angeles. The university plays a significant role in LA, acting as the city’s largest private employer. 

USC student population

Undergraduate students: 21,000

Graduate students: 28,500

USC acceptance rate

Here are the admissions statistics for the class of 2026 :

Applications: 69,000

Acceptances: 8,198

Matriculants: 3,420

Acceptance rate: 11.8%

USC tuition and scholarships

The 2022–2023 cost of attendance (i.e., tuition, room, board, and fees) at USC is $85,648.

USC conducts need-blind admissions and two-thirds of students receive financial aid. This figure includes the one out of five USC students who receive a merit-based scholarship. The average merit-based award is $20,937 while the average need-based award is $45,003.

Take note, in order to be considered for these scholarships, your child must apply to USC by December 1st, even though the regular application deadline is January 15th.

Who gets into USC?

To help you understand how likely your child is to get into USC, we’ve collected the admissions data from the successful USC applicants for the class of 2026:

USC average GPA: 3.9

USC average SAT score*: 1435

25th percentile: 1360

75th percentile: 1510

USC average ACT score*: 32

25th percentile: 30

75th percentile: 34

California residents: 38%

International students: 23.8%

First-generation college students: 22%

Among the class of 2025, 27.3% of students were white, 19.1% were Asian/Asian American, 15.6% were Hispanic/Latinx, and 5.8% were Black/African American.

*USC has made it optional for students to submit their SAT or ACT scores until at least the 2023-24 admissions cycle. These test scores are from the 202-21 admissions cycle.

USC academic requirements

USC suggests that your child complete the following coursework in order to be prepared for college:

English: 4 years

Math: 3–4 years (Your child should have earned a grade of C or better in at least three years of high school math, including Algebra II. Ideally, they should also continue on to more advanced courses.)

Foreign language: 2–4 years

Laboratory/natural/physical science: 2–4 years

History and social science: 2 years

Academic electives: 3 years

Your child’s grades are very important to USC, but the university also cares about context. How competitive was your child’s high school? Did their grades go up or down throughout their four years? Did they challenge themselves?

In addition, USC looks for students who utilize their summer vacations well, whether enrolling in a special music workshop, volunteering in their community, or working a part-time job to save for college. 

USC offers a unique resource that’s telling about their desire to level the playing field, despite what you may have read about the university’s involvement in the 2019 college admissions scandal : a database to find the nearest admissions counselor. Your child should take advantage of this and reach out to their designated contact when they are in 10th or 11th grade. The goal of this interaction isn’t to impress the counselor or bombard them with accomplishments; your child’s mission should be to learn a little bit more about USC in ways that they couldn’t from the website.

USC application requirements

Students wishing to apply to USC must submit the following:

Common App essay

USC supplemental essays

Optional in 2022–2023: ACT or SAT test scores

1 letter of recommendation from a counselor or teacher

Transcripts and mid-year report

Optional: Portfolio, resume, and/or additional writing samples, depending on what major your child is applying to

Note that USC does not have an early action or early decision program. Thus, your child should submit their application by either of the following dates:

December 1st (in order to be considered for merit scholarships or for 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, and Thornton School of Music)

January 15th (in order to be considered for all other programs)

USC requires applicants to write a 250-word supplemental essay and ten short-answers in addition to the Common App essays. For the first essay, USC gives students a choice of three essay prompts. Below, we’ll provide an example essay for the main prompt and explain what makes it effective. We’ll then provide the list of short-answer questions and discuss how to answer them.

USC supplemental essay

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections.

Here is an example essay based on how one of our students answered this prompt:

As a child of Bangladeshi immigrants, I decided years ago to become an immigration lawyer. My parents secured their green cards, and eventual citizenships, by the time I was born, so I never knew the struggle of living insecurely in America on a visa. I have only known the privilege of being a full-fledged American citizen. I want to help others access those same opportunities. 

Like many immigrants, my parents focused on academic achievement and instilled in me a desire to be extraordinary. All great attorneys have superior intellect, sharp communication skills, and a fearsome work ethic. Those qualities are essentially table stakes. The most remarkable attorneys are the ones that possess a great deal of creativity.

From my perspective, the best way to build the muscle of creativity is to expose yourself to different ways of thinking.

That’s why I hope to attend USC. 

USC fosters creativity in its approach to the undergraduate experience. When I visited I was struck by how often current students, the tour guide, and admissions officers emphasized interdisciplinary thinking. USC kicks it up a notch through the Renaissance program, enabling and encouraging us to create the most diverse mashup of majors. Instead of a typical history/poli-sci double major, USC would push me to obtain a dual degree in something like archaeology and comp lit, which would be an unusual but potentially perfect path towards law school. 

Here’s why this essay works:

Many students try to pack this essay with all of the reasons they think this is the right school for them, leading to a paragraph full of Googled summary, and telling the university nothing they don’t already know about themselves. This student finds the perfect way around that. He chose to focus on just one aspect of USC—its Renaissance Ideal —and explain thoroughly what that philosophy represented to him. He makes clear where he got the information on the Renaissance Ideal, by the way, emphasizing that he visited campus and paid attention.

He also wove in a piece of his family background to explain his academic ambitions, which helps the reader get a fuller picture of the student.

(Very) short answers 

After your child completes the supplemental essay, they will need to answer ten simple questions in less than 100 characters. The tight word limit forces the responder to present their choices without explanation. Here are the USC 2023 short answer questions:

Describe yourself in three words. (25 characters each)

What is your favorite snack?

Best movie of all time

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

What TV show will you binge watch next?

Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?

Favorite Book

If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

Remind your child to be thoughtful, but not overthink this section. They should take a little time to think of an answer that is uniquely them. So if their go-to snack is chips, don’t tell them to say “granola.” But maybe they can write “Lays Salt and Vinegar Chips.” Because, if chips are truly their favorite snack, wouldn’t they have a favorite type? Being specific and illustrative here matters more than seeming virtuous.

Similarly, if your child’s favorite movie of all time is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before , don’t suggest they write All Quiet on the Western Front in an attempt to appear more intellectual.

Final thoughts

USC seeks out students that demonstrate academic rigor, appreciate diversity, and make a positive impact in their communities. Your child should ensure they highlight their ambition and creativity when submitting an application.

common app essays that worked usc

About the Author

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the Founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and one of the world's foremost experts on college admissions. For nearly 20 years, he and his team have helped thousands of students get into top programs like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT using his exclusive approach.


USC Essay Examples for

USC Essay Examples

Article Contents 7 min read

The USC essay examples show you how to write a college essay to convince the University of Southern California that you are a good fit for them. These essays are meant to probe into your personality and find out more about you and why you would be a great addition to the USC campus.  Let’s review some of the top USCE essay examples so you can write your own!

Note : If you want us to help you with your applications, interviews and/or standardized tests, book a free strategy call . If you are a university, business, or student organization representative and want to partner with us, visit our partnerships page .

USC essay prompts

USC has three prompts and a section for short-answer questions. The first and second prompts are required, while the third one is optional.

The second prompt also has three optional sub-prompts, and candidates need only choose one to answer.

There are then a series of ten questions, also required, that are to be answered with 100 characters or less.

Check out how to write your essay:

It is time to delve into each prompt and have a look at some USC essay examples that you can learn from.

Prompt 1 (Required): Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections (250 words).

Ever since my parents bought me my first computer at the age of 6, I’ve been fascinated by what happens inside these machines. That’s why I want to be a computer programmer – to understand the inner world of computers.

My journey into coding started when I realized I could write programs to make the device perform tasks I wanted done. Soon, I was reading every single book I could get my hands on about programming and spent my days watching YouTube videos about writing machine-level code.

Within two years, I’d become the go-to kid in my high school regarding computer issues. Topics like new gadgets and software releases were all I was interested in.

I want to build on my self-developed knowledge by attending the Computer Science program here at USC. The university’s well-known for its research in this field. I want to understand the inner logic of computers and USC will help me plant deep roots in science – I want to possess in-depth knowledge and understanding behind the 0’s and 1’s.

USC also offers a chance for students to delve into the entrepreneurial aspects of Computer Science. I intend to pursue these classes to gain knowledge on how to use my education to create the applications of the future – for my own and the public’s welfare.

Electronics, my second-choice major, will also help me achieve the same goals, albeit with a slightly different approach. Studying the underlying technology will give me a deeper insight into realizing my digital dreams. (250 words)

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As you have probably grasped by now from the USC essay examples above, the prompts are intended to bring out as much information as possible about you. They are questions that you answer in the first person.

Now, although the prompts may seem easy, you always need to make sure that you have the best essay before you even think of submitting it. Give yourself at least 6 weeks to plan and write your essays.

The best way to do that is to either learn how to write an essay yourself or find college essay advisors who can help you with your submissions.

Want to learn more about college essays?

USC is one of the leading universities in America and a highly ranked one in the world. This means it is also one of the toughest universities to get into.

But that shouldn’t concern you too much. You need to instead focus on creating a complete application package, writing all required essays, and sending in your application on time.

If you find it overwhelming, you can also find college advisors who can guide you through the process.

You better get good at it – and fast. Applying to top universities like USC means you need to be on your toes all the time. The reason they – and all other top-ranked universities – are selective is because they want to make sure they take in students who will keep up with their intense course flow.

And the scrutiny begins at admission time – with your application.

Alternatively, if you think your essay isn’t up to par, you can use college essay review services to help you with your submissions.

They are very important. The universities use essays as a way of collecting information about you. The admissions committee members pore over the essays to get a “feel” of the kind of person you are. They gauge you as they read each word. And if they find you lacking, your application could be rejected.

Therefore, make sure you invest time and effort into writing each of the college essay topics .

Please use the academic essay structure, with an intro, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

The most important thing to focus on is the story itself. It should make the admissions committee members take notice of what you are trying to tell them.

Dig deep to find that story, tell the truth, and make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors, and you should have an essay that stands out.

The values and traits that the university is looking for include bright students who can cope with the curriculum, integrate into the diverse student body with ease, and contribute positively to the college community as a whole.

The best way to go about it is to find a balance between both. It shouldn’t be so casual that it makes the readers wince, and it shouldn’t be so formal that it would look like it was written in Olde English.

Use short sentences to convey clear, concise ideas and cut words that add no value to the sentence or story and you should have a great essay.

The USC prompt has been pretty standard over the past few years – with just a question or two being changed. With that being said, the important thing is check for the prompts on the official USC website the year you are applying.

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common app essays that worked usc

How to Write the University of Southern California Supplemental Essays: Guide + Examples 2022/2023

common app essays that worked usc


What are the usc supplemental essay prompts.

Want to get a better sense of what USC is looking for? You’ll find an extensive, by-the-numbers look at USC’s offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information, on its Common Data Set . For deep insights into how this private research university envisions its role and how it wants to grow and evolve, read its most recent strategic plan, Answering The Call (scroll to bottom to download the entire document).

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 words)
Optional: 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. (250 words)

Prompt #3: Short Answers

Describe yourself in three words. (25 characters per word) What is your favorite snack? Best movie of all time Dream job If your life had a theme song, what would it be? Dream trip What TV show will you binge watch next? Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate? Favorite Book If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be? (Questions #2-10 limited to 100 characters each)

Prompt #4: USC Viterbi School of Engineering Applicants

The student body at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is a diverse group of unique engineers and computer scientists who work together to engineer a better world for all humanity. Describe how your contributions to the USC Viterbi student body may be distinct from others. Please feel free to touch on any part of your background, traits, skills, experiences, challenges, and/or personality in helping us better understand you. (250 words)

Prompt #5: Engineering & Computer Science Applicants

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges go hand-in-hand with our vision to engineer a better world for all humanity. Engineers and computer scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. at Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why. (250 words)

Prompt #6: Dornsife College Applicants Only:

Many of us have at least one issue or passion that we care deeply about – a topic on which we would love to share our opinions and insights in hopes of sparking intense interest and continued conversation. If you had ten minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your talk be about? (250 words)

How to Write Each Supplemental Essay Prompt for USC

How to write the usc supplemental essay prompt #1.

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 word limit)

This prompt is asking for a short “Why us?” essay, with a not-so-subtle reminder to address what you’ve selected as your first and second major on the USC application. We recommend checking out this complete guide on how to write the “Why us?” essay and paying close attention to the “Why Cornell” and “Why Penn” examples, which are our favorites.

Here’s the short version of how to write the “Why us?” essay:

Spend 1 hr+ researching 10+ reasons why USC might be a great fit for you (ideally 3-5 of the reasons will be unique to USC and connect back to you).

Make a copy of this chart to map out your college research.

Create an outline for your essays based on either Approach 1, 2 (recommended), or 3 in the full guide above.

Write a first draft!

Remember—the best USC “Why us?” essays don’t celebrate how it’s the GREATEST SCHOOL OF ALL TIME. They’re more an explanation of why you and USC are the perfect match. Make sure to connect each of your USC examples to your first- and second-major choices.

As you write, try and avoid these common mistakes: 

Five Common Mistakes Students Make on “Why Us?” Essays

Mistake #1 : Writing about the school's size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking

Mistake #2 : Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit

Mistake #3 : Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors or names of any important people or places on campus

Mistake #4 : Parroting the brochures or website language

Mistake #5 : Describing traditions the school is well-known for

Mistake #6 : Thinking of this as only a "Why Them" essay

Here’s a great sample essay for this prompt: 

At two opposite ends of the spectrum, I’m both the analytical thinker and creative pursuer. Science stimulates my thoughts. Music heals my soul. At USC, I believe that with its multi-disciplinary accessibility, I’ll be able to expand my love for science while exploring the depths of classical singing. As a pre-med student, I’ll devote myself to science, while also engaging in other courses to discover music. Because the possibility to double major is encouraged, I ultimately want to mold medicine and music together, uncovering ways to use music as treatment for diseases. After taking CHEM 203Lxg: AIDS Drugs Discovery and Development as well as MUSC 371g: Musical Genre Bonding, I’ll merge the two and create a program consisting of specific genres (or blends) to find treatment therapy relying on sounds. Outside academics, the bustling extracurriculars at USC already excite me. Listening to “Chandelier,” a cover I arranged for my a cappella group The Pitches, I picture myself performing with the SoCal VoCals. In the center of LA, I see myself running from lab to stage, changing from a white coat to concert attire, experimenting various treatments then rehearsing for an upcoming a cappella gig. Bursting with opportunities, USC supports this interdisciplinary approach and provides endless opportunities for me to delve into the two very different passions of mine. My dream is to be an opera singing doctor, and USC supports every aspect. (232 words) — — —

Tips + Analysis

Connect your values to USC’s. The author shows two sides of herself and names specific ways that each of those sides would flourish at USC. Scan the essay and look for capital letters. Those are the school-related specifics.

Create a clear, solid structure for the essay. This essay does that in the first sentence of each paragraph. Go back and re-read them. See how easy the essay reads as a result? Here’s an exercise to help you revise your draft, whether it’s a “Why us?” or even a personal statement. 

Demonstrate a variety of values. One of the most important messages you want to convey in any college essay is your core values—the things that matter to you at your, well, core. Haven’t yet given much thought to what your core values are? You’re not alone. That’s why we’ve developed this super quick Values Exercise to help you identify what means most to you. Then, as you write, make sure your top values are coming through in not just this “Why us?” but in your application as a whole. Look over this example essay and see how many values you can spot. We see bunches—intellectual curiosity, meaningful work, excitement, productivity, hunger, and more.

And here are two more great USC essay examples that worked for this “Why us?” prompt:

Jacqueline Novogratz used financial investments and Wall Street as a vehicle to help others. It’s a shame she’s less well-known than Bernie Madoff. By majoring in economics and minoring in philosophy at USC’s Dornsife College, I hope to gain the knowledge and perspectives to become a socially conscientious investment banker. To be successful, I’ll need knowledge of how to raise capital via the Wall Street network. Courses such as Financial Markets will allow me to examine how Wall Street functions within the American economy, while Introduction to Econometrics will help me develop quantitative analysis skills for evaluating the market. I’ll need a global perspective to understand how Wall Street impacts the broader world economy, and I am very interested in behavioral economics. By pairing courses such as The World Economy and International Finance with Neuroeconomics and Behavioral Economics I hope to not only discover the economic reasoning that motivates people, but also how those individual actions can accumulate to have effects visible on a macroeconomic scale. I also love big questions—Why are people attracted to money in the first place? Does capitalism foster immorality?—issues I hope to tackle through USC’s Thematic Option, in a course like Culture and Values. I hope to confront the universal problems that I may experience throughout my life, so that If I come close to making a harmful decision, I can step back and existentially evaluate my choices. As a Trojan, I hope to explore my existing passions while creating new ones. — — — 
As a child, I was curious to know how the human mind works. Growing up in a mathematically talented family, I was encouraged to learn how to make mental calculations. At age 8, I won a mathematics race against an accountant with a calculator and became fascinated with not only mathematics but also neuroscience. I plan to research the science behind the brain’s functions, hoping to discover how I could make calculations faster than technology just by using my mind.  As one of the only universities to have computational neuroscience as a major, USC will definitely provide me with the practical knowledge I need to pursue my intended career as a physician. With a major in computational neuroscience, I can apply my mathematical and computational techniques toward the understanding of complex neural systems. I also hope to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) program to research diseases, injuries, and mental impairments and build computer-based models that explain the biological functions of the brain. These models will enhance my understanding of how synapses function and change in relation to external stimulus, allowing me to build technologies that diagnose both the physical and mental disabilities of patients. In order to approach computational neuroscience with a knowledge of artificial intelligence, I plan to conduct research with Professor Laurent Itti to learn how the intelligence of machines can exceed that of humans. I hope to one day design more powerful models and methods of testing theories related to neuronal networks. — — —

Bonus Points: Ask yourself: How might you develop this essential part of yourself at USC? There’s a chance for a mini “ Why us? ” within this prompt in that final paragraph. Research a club, class, space, or speaker who will help you further engage with this identity at USC. Important: You’ll be asked to write a separate 250-word “Why us?” essay, so make sure if you do name something here that you discuss other details in that essay.

Here are three other great examples of USC essays that worked for this first prompt:

USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. (Option 1)

Three books started the trajectory of the person I am today: Savages in the Mirror by Gunn Allen, Yellow by Wu, and Citizen by Rankine. Gunn Allen reexamines canonical history that erased Native American voices. Wu gives a voice to my experiences being Chinese-American. Rankine portrays African-American history and identity through bursts of color, art, and poetry. Three books. I fell in love with them after reading them in Honors American Literature. So much history, pain, celebration, power. In APUSH, when I learned of the mass genocide of Native Americans communities, I thought of Gunn Allen’s words, condemning the “American individualism” that drove settlers to act as they did and still drive political agendas. When I learned of the dichotomy between the Chinese Exclusion Act and the influx of Asian immigrants in top industries today, I was reminded of Wu’s words on how the Model Minority Myth that has emerged will affect my life as I prepare to head to college. When I learned of debt peonage, the Great Migration, de facto/de jure segregation, and the Modern Civil Rights Movement, I remembered Rankine’s words— that America’s ugly history manifests itself in infrastructure and microaggressions today. When I study economics, I think of the motives that shaped America and continue to do so. When I study politics and business, I remember the importance of bringing in the voices of history into actions of today. Three books. They have changed the way I want to view the world and learn business.*  — — —

Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning. (Option 2)

I’m a history nerd. My favorite “history nerd” moments occur when I connect a modern sociopolitical phenomenon to a historical event. For my IB Extended Essay, I’m writing about the Second Amendment, hoping to elucidate the gun control debate with research surrounding the legacy of the Glorious Revolution. My passion for history led me to an internship at the Sejong Institute, a think tank specializing in Korean diplomacy. While I translated publications on topics like denuclearizing North Korea, I drew from what I learned of the region’s past, coming to understand that international conflicts cannot be resolved without historical insight.  This notion also applies to my participation in MUN. Learning about the often-controversial past actions of nations prompted me to raise ethical questions. For instance, I was appalled to learn that the Kurdish crisis and ISIL could be traced to the Sykes-Picot agreement, which split the region into ‘spheres of influence’ in 1916. In resolving these conflicts, how do we balance national sovereignty with the responsibility of former colonial powers to stabilize the region? This summer, I enrolled in “Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology” at UC Irvine. From tracing the African exodus of Homo erectus to examining La Bestia (freight trains used by US-bound migrants), I now understand that migration is as old as history itself.  In college, I hope to continue drawing connections between history and contemporary geopolitics. I hope to use my education to heal history’s wounds as a civil rights attorney, and potentially as a Supreme Court Justice.*  — — —

What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you? (Option 3)

My room’s got all the necessities—bed, desk, closet, posters—but there’s another desk with a PC, a microphone, a cassette-player, and an assortment of gadgets decorated with knobs and displays. I’ve gradually put my recording studio together over the years—including building the computer from scratch and working jobs to buy sound equipment. In the process, I’ve grown so familiar with it, it’s become a sanctuary—a place where I don’t have to worry about grades, breakups, insecurities.  As for Fortaleza, Brazil—its homeness wasn’t so immediately apparent.  I once believed that despite learning English from the ground up and struggling with several Americanisms, my Brazilian identity was just a matter of geography. But returning to Fortaleza this year showed me the tethers I was blind to. While browsing a crafts market, I met an elderly gentleman selling cordéis: booklets of long, narrative-driven lyrics musicians purchase and interpret. He told me he wrote them himself, and offered to play a song. And so, listening to this haunting, droning hymn, I looked through the various tales these authors had conceived… stories of Brazilian heroes, thieves, princesses. At that moment, I understood something—I’m not a musician for just any reason. This spirit of poetry, this faith in art and storytelling… it’s in my blood. Even in my home studio in Washington, I feel an energy being channeled from Fortaleza, through my fingers, into the music. As sambista João Bosco puts it: “with so many leaving/on the rocket’s tail/our motherland wept/on the soil of Brazil.” — — —

common app essays that worked usc

How to Write the USC Supplemental Essay Prompt #2

So how do you write about a gap year or time off between high school and college? 

First, let’s look at an example:

My dad is the master of turning life into a game.  Who can squish their face in the funniest shape for the camera? Don’t tell mom. Who can find the weirdest snack in the supermarket? Ready, go! But when my dad got sick the summer after my senior year of high school, the game was up. Instead of running around at top speed with “salad-flavored Doritos,” I helped my dad rest after chemotherapy. It was impossible to go to college during this time of crisis, so I took the year off to support my family. Many days, my dad and I would talk. Our new game was one of curiosity.  How do you feel? Who are you? That spring, my dad beat cancer. Although that year was hard, it was defined by a clearer understanding of my relationships to others. I was profoundly affected by the new bond I shared with my father. My fascination with connectedness in times of crisis led me to take an online course in advanced psychology and design an independent research project on psychotherapy.  My dad and I still turn pretty much everything into a game, but we also show up for each other in newly meaningful ways. My year away from school taught me the importance of reciprocity and responsibility, no matter the game you’re playing (222 words). — — —

Don’t get so carried away in the story that you lose the substance. Remember, the key here is to convey when you missed school and why. Even though this essay follows a narrative arc, it doesn’t lose sight of the question being asked. The author is clear about the fact that she took a gap year and why: because she had to take care of her dad while he battled cancer. As you write your essay, make sure you’re constantly thinking back to the main question and checking that you’re answering all the key components.

Include details to highlight your personality. Many people take off school for similar reasons (personal tragedy, study abroad opportunities, internship, financial burden, etc.). Although all these reasons are valid, you want to use the space to explain what specifically this year off meant to you and what values you developed or strengthened. This author uses specific details to show the kinds of games they play, but she’s also careful to focus on specific values she gained: connectedness and reciprocity. Details make the essay memorable; values help give the reader a sense of how you’ll contribute to their school.

Show growth. Just because you weren’t in school doesn’t mean you weren’t learning. In this essay, the author does a great job of showing us how she truly connected to her father and her culture while also fostering a growing love for psychology/psychotherapy. When you write, make sure to highlight how your experience away from school helped you develop academically or personally (or better yet, both!). Giving specific examples of how you grew is also really important. Talk about classes you took on your own initiative, trips you went on, jobs you worked, or projects you started. USC wants to see that you maximized your time, even if you weren’t at school.

Draw connections. While you don’t necessarily have to write in the narrative style of this example essay, it’s good to have some kind of arc to your piece. This author uses the idea of games to reinforce what she learned about reciprocity and responsibility in her relationship with those she loves. This is a common thread throughout the essay, and she returns to in a brief, but meaningful way at the end of the piece. You can do this in your essay as well by finding a way to connect the intro and conclusion. Your answer should be cohesive and articulate no matter how you go about writing your essay. How do all the things you’ve learned inform one another? How do your tangible projects or jobs connect to your interests? What are you doing now that relates to your experiences then? These are all questions you can be asking yourself to draw connections that will elevate your essay.

How to Write the USC Supplemental Essay #3: Short Answers

Here’s a comprehensive guide to the short answer questions.

Here are some quick tips on these:

Describe yourself in three words: Get creative. These don’t all need to be adjectives. Also, hyphenated words of your own creation or short three-word phrases (like “nerdy animal whisperer”) are fair game.

What is your favorite snack? Don’t just say “pizza.” Give us some context; you’ve got a little space here.

Best movie of all time: Same as above.

Dream job: Reveal something about yourself that isn’t already obvious elsewhere in your application, adding a little context if necessary. So if you want to be a doctor and you’ve already said so in your “Why us?,” no need to repeat that here.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be? You don’t have to like the actual song. It could just be the title that resonates with you.  

Dream trip: It could be a geographical location, but it doesn’t have to be. You can also time travel.

What TV show will you binge watch next? As above, use this as a chance to teach us something new about you.

Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate? After you answer, maybe say why (briefly).

Favorite book: Avoid these books commonly read in English classes.

If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be? Maybe something smart + something funny (examples here ).

Some examples:

Describe yourself in three words: Hungry, Petrichor, Retrouvailles What is your favorite snack? Spicy bars, only  ¥0.5 Yuan (approximately 7 cents) from the newsstand right next to my elementary school Best movie of all time: A Charlie Brown Christmas—Linus’s explanation of the true meaning of Christmas can brighten any day. Dream job: Doctor Doolittle What is your theme song? Up & Up by Coldplay Dream trip: Cambodia to see my TASSEL students in person and to learn more about the country’s history What TV show will you binge watch next? Westworld Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate? Gertrude Bell, also known as "the female Lawrence of Arabia" and "Queen of the Desert." Favorite book: Memory and Modernity in South India, Davesh Soneji If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be? Happiness: psychological or philosophical? — — —

How to Write the USC Supplemental Essay #4: Viterbi School of Engineering

This essay offers a fun, creative way to help USC imagine you on its campus, collaborating with equally industrious Engineering or Computer Science majors, and—perhaps even more important—contributing to the program in your own unique way.

Here are some tips to consider as you go to write:

Share how your contributions would be diverse and distinct. USC wants to know what you’ll bring that perhaps no one else will. What’s in your personality that helps you solve problems? What inspiration do you turn to? What’s your go-to life hack, and what does it say about you? 

Show, don’t just tell. In writing about yourself, use a brief example or two. If you’re talking about your affinity for puzzles, for example, share that time you discovered a love for anagrams or how you challenge yourself to finish The New York Times Sunday crossword with no extra help. Details do more than help your essay come to life—they help you stand out.

Think big. USC’s target of a better world for all humanity gives you a chance to blue-sky. If you have a remarkable idea (even a small one!) that would make life better for humans, that idea can anchor your essay. You can use it to show your background, traits, skills, experiences, challenges, and/or personality. 

Show your why. Share your reasoning for choosing the parts of yourself that are one-of-a-kind. It’s not enough to say how you’re different; you need to say why your contributions will matter as a USC Engineering or Computer Science student. How does building a robot help you build strong friendships? Here’s a great list of 19 ways to add strong insights to your essay.

Perhaps add a “Why USC?” detail or two. The prompt doesn’t specifically ask for how your contributions would factor into your experience at USC, but it wouldn’t hurt (and may actually benefit your application) to help the admission team envision you thriving on its campus. Maybe it’s by joining the Min Family Social Entrepreneurship Challenge to create a solution that uplifts vulnerable people around the world. Or lending your 3D design skills to make Braille maps for USC students who are visually impaired. 

Let go of the LEGO. LEGO is one of the most commonly mentioned words in engineering-related essays. Ok, we didn’t actually do a scientific study, but based on the umpteen essays we’ve worked on with students, we can tell you it’s mentioned a lot. A lot a lot. So maybe use another way to show how your love of building things developed?  

Since this prompt is brand-new for USC, we don’t have a specific example to share, but this essay, written for an older version of this prompt, could work with some tweaks we’ll share below.

From first-hand experience, I know my effective communication skills lead my teams to success. As captain for my high school and club volleyball teams, I strive to form tight-knit bonds with teammates. I firmly believe that strong bonds inside a team translate to key victories on the court.  And as co-president of my school’s Science Olympiad team, I calmly listen and work with my fellow board members with an open mind. Through trial and error, I help the younger team members build sturdy yet lightweight projects. But underneath my collected exterior, I am an adrenaline junkie. As a hardcore thrill-seeker, I love riding the tallest roller coasters, whether at the local fair or in Knott’s Berry Farm. On most weekends, you can find me plowing through horror films (my favorite is The Silence of the Lambs) or rewatching Criminal Minds. All with the lights off, I must add. My search for thrill also leads me to experiment in the kitchen. Some of my weirdest (but yummiest!) culinary creations include sticky rice gnocchi and peanut butter quesadillas. However, not all risks are perilous. In fact, because I took a risk, I applied for the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program and ended up learning how to code last summer. My search for adventure leads me to discoveries both inside and outside of the classroom. In chem class, my willingness to take risks allows me to experiment without fear. At USC, I cannot wait to collaborate and experiment with my fellow peers. — — —

Don’t forget to compare. This writer puts us in her world. She even describes her philosophy of leadership in almost the same breath as a peanut butter quesadilla. But had it been written for the new version of the prompt, the admission reader would be left to figure out how “these contributions to the USC Viterbi student body may be distinct from others.” For example, how is being an adrenaline junkie and hardcore thrill-seeker different from other engineeering students? Make sure the reader not only sees something special, but understands how that’s unique from other would-be Trojans. 

Dial back the brag. The first paragraph flexes a bit of “take my word for it” bluster “effective communications skills lead [her] teams to success.” And maybe it’s true, but the sentiment risks coming off as a pat on the back. You can better show traits you’re proud of by offering proof (even an anecdote will work!). 

Cherry-pick uncommon words. By using words like “plowing,” “yummiest” and “gnocchi,” this student creates surprise and vibrancy. These words underscore her point about adrenalin, and make this part of her essay memorable. As you write, look for ways to up-level your essay by up-leveling your word choice. This Epic Verb List may help.

Watch out for careless language. Is it really a good idea to be a chem student who experiments without fear? That could be disastrous! Language that is all-or-nothing can come off as hyperbolic, and it’s usually not true. Better to be precise in your language, as that’s the best- a better way to get your point across. Your imperfections can be among your most valuable contributions. 

Pay it forward. Given that USC wants to “engineer a better world for all humanity,” think about how your contributions could benefit others. This student uses the first paragraph to show how hard she works to help others—forming tight-knit bonds with teammates, listening to fellow board members with an open mind, using trial and error to help younger teammates with their projects. For this prompt, those examples would have been stronger had they shown how the student was working in collaboration with others to improve the world around them. Try to channel generosity as you write this one. 

How to Write the USC Supplemental Essay #5: Engineering & Computer Science

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges go hand-in-hand with our vision to engineer a better world for all humanity. Engineers and computer scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why. (250 words)

USC is taking a novel approach in asking you to explain how your interests align with its mission to make the world a better place, which is why we really like this prompt. It offers an opportunity for you to show how you envision making a real-world impact with your Engineering or Computer Science degree, in a way that’s both relevant and timely. 

The key here is choosing a challenge from the NAE list that not only speaks to a strong interest of yours but that also (ideally) connects back to something (or some things) you’ve already done. For example, maybe the Engineer Better Medicines challenge will allow you to talk about that health-sensing app you helped design, or maybe you choose Reverse-Engineer the Brain so you can share the work you’ve done in, or your fascination with, cognitive science.

How do you do that? Well, this could take lots of forms, but to simplify your options, we recommend taking one of two paths, depending on how you answer this question:

Have you led or participated in a project, exercise or activity that has improved your community (however you define community)?

If you answered yes …

Treat this as an engineering-focused version of the Community Service Essay. Here’s our guide to that type of essay, using the Elon Musk Exercise to brainstorm your material and approach. Generally speaking, the outline would look like this: 

Name the problem.

Answer “why now?”

Articulate the vision.

Describe what you did.

Clarify your role.

Explain the impact you had, lessons learned, or value you gained.

If you answered no …

Take the opportunity to explain how the challenge you’ve chosen connects back to a subject that a) you’ve explored either in or outside the classroom (your love of biological research, or how you’ve geeked out on TED Talks about the growing threat to cybersecurity), or b) you want to learn more about because it appeals to specific values (that you could then write about).

No matter which approach you take, remember to:

Answer the “which and why” part of the prompt. Probably better to do this in the intro paragraph, then tie quickly to your project/interest/experience. It could be a brief statement (“The Engineer Better Medicines appeals to the health-focused entrepreneur in me. I first discovered the power of medicine in changing lives during my internship with Rutgers, when I helped design a health-sensing app …”), or a longer explanation. But save the bulk of your word budget on connecting the challenge back to you and your experiences/interests.

Clearly show your interest in making a difference in your world/community. This seems obvious, but we thought it was worth the risk of an eye roll to add a reminder that this essay isn’t about just doing, but doing for others. It’s a clear indication that USC is looking for humanitarians in its Engineering and Comp Sci programs. Show how you’re that.

And maybe: Use your conclusion to look forward. Do a deeper dive into the challenge you’ve chosen, and if you’re inspired, use your ending to envision how you’d contribute in a specific way. It’s not required, but could go a long way toward showing both your motivation and your ingenuity.

This is an example from a student who may have answered “no” to the “led or participated in a project, etc.” question above.

The most important challenge that we as engineers need to focus on is carbon sequestration methods. Growing up in a world that has had difficulty coming to terms with the fact that the earth is warming up to a dangerous point is very troubling. Fortunately, we know this warmth is due to the greenhouse gasses emitted by cars, coal plants, and cow farms. However, if we as engineers, scientists, and citizens don’t take the necessary steps to prevent human-produced carbon from entering the atmosphere the results will be catastrophic. We can reduce the emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases by providing cheap, simple solutions to the main producers of carbon that slows their carbon emissions. For example, one solution could be a filtration device that breaks down CO2 as it exits a car’s exhaust pipe or by building farms that break down methane or reuse it as energy to fuel the farm. On top of these simple solutions, we must move to renewable energies and decentivize fossil fuels by working with political representatives to create policies like Washington's initiative 1631, which attempted to put a tax on carbon. Through coding, I hope to build the infrastructure we need to manipulate and analyze the data from the simple solutions mentioned above. I want to be able to use this data to create visual images of the amount of carbon we use as a society and provide direct feedback about what impact your carbon usage has on the environment. — — —

“We” is your friend. This writer uses “we” to make a persuasive case that his chosen challenge is in the best interests of others. The switch to “I” in the final paragraph makes it clear what role the writer wants in this challenge. (This choice is particularly smart for anyone answering “no” to “Have you led or participated in a project, exercise or activity that has improved your community?”)

Tie it back to your chosen challenge. This student has clearly thought through potential solutions to reducing greenhouse gasses. His ideas are articulate and clear. But the essay, had it been written for this prompt, would have been even stronger had he more directly tied his data visualization goals back to carbon sequestration. How would giving feedback on carbon usage incentivize conservation, especially for the uninitiated? It wouldn’t take much—just a sentence perhaps—to answer the question. Think through those why’s and how’s as you go to write.

Show you know your stuff. USC Engineering & Computer Science is looking for doers who have already thought deeply about how they’ll use their education to solve real-world problems, and this prompt is mining for insights into that reflection. So use the opportunity to flex your knowledge about a topic that’s meaningful to you, one you’ve spent some time contemplating, or even done some significant work on. For this student, it’s not just about carbon emissions and mitigation solutions, but using his experience in computer science to add some complexity and depth to his solutions.

How to Write the USC Supplemental Essay #6: Dornsife College

With this prompt, Dornsife wants to give you one more opportunity to add a new dimension to your application—a chance to show the liberal arts and science college a side of you not reflected elsewhere in your application. 

Here are some tips to consider as you write:

Try to pick an uncommon topic (or at least a specific aspect of a common topic). This prompt runs the risk of inspiring common subject matter—education is all about learning from people from different backgrounds, for example, or “racism is bad.” That’s not to say that those topics are not important—they’re great!—but in most cases, writing about them will make it more difficult to stand out, especially since many other students are likely to write about them (which is why they’re common). So aim for a topic that’s unique, or at least unique to you, so that when you’re done, you can look back and say with confidence that no one else could have written it that way.

In fact, if you’re leaning toward a more common topic—environmental damage, for example—take a very specific angle that speaks to your interests or experiences, like the need to stop sewage discharge into the Atlantic Ocean, which is killing reefs and sea life in your community and threatening not just the environment but the tourism industry dependent on it.

Do some research to add depth to your topic. Statistics and studies don’t just add impact to your argument; they show you’ve done your homework and have some level of mastery of your topic. That helps to show your big, beautiful brain, and that you’ll take the extra effort to add context and strength to your argument, even when it’s not required.

Do a values scan, then add values that don’t show up elsewhere in your application. Remember, Dornsife specifically asks that you use this essay to show something of yourself not seen in the rest of your application. That includes your values—those core principles that matter to you most. Don’t really know what your values are? Complete this Values Exercise , and scan your application to make sure your top values are reflected. Are any missing? This essay is a great opportunity to showcase those.

Here’s an example we love.

I don’t understand cults. I am baffled by the groomed subservience within the Manson Family and the ethos of the Peoples Temple. After two years researching the harrowing why within cult indoctrinations, I’ve realized how the world I live in is painfully bound to cult mentality.  I don’t know if in ten minutes I can connect with a million people about how we are prisoners to ideology, but I could try. I would start with myself. As a student journalist, my unbalanced media diet came to a sobering halt once I realized how one-sided it was. From the mainstream networks I religiously checked in the morning, to the Twitter commentators who claimed my midnight attention: my media consumption was a reflection of my ideological bubble. Only after slowly learning to balance my news feed did I notice how the same kinds of divisive rhetoric that I had studied in cult research were rampant on both ends of the partisan spectrum.  What do you read? Do you fact-check tweets before you re-share them? Did you ever find that study cited in the petition you just signed? I would ask questions to my audience not to assume, but to engage.. I want to work towards a space where media literacy can help us better recognize our cognitive biases.  Ten minutes may not be long enough for me to unravel this country’s echo chambers. But ten minutes still offers a safe, if temporary, space for self-reflection. It’s enough time to start. (248 words) — — —

Start from the fringe, then work inward. At first glance, one may think this essay is a cautionary tale about joining cults. As we keep reading, though, we see that it concerns media literacy and healing social divisions, both of which relate to the writer’s interest in pursuing journalism. Beginning with a related, yet extreme, example of media consumption gone wrong allows the writer to leverage their attention-grabbing start to illustrate a need for balanced news reporting.

Waltzing with “what,” “how,” and “why.” Put your dancing shoes away—we aren’t heading to a ballroom. When it comes to essay prompts that require a bit more than a simple “yes” or “no,” you’ll want to keep in mind that your response needs to make three key moves: what, how, and why. This writer clearly shares what the topic of their imagined speech is, they detail how they’d approach the topic, and they explain why this matters … both to them and the world. 

Beware of the soapbox. Although, in this prompt, you’re delivering a talk to a million people, don’t abandon your humility. You may know a lot about your topic, but avoid making assumptions about your audience and, if applicable, call yourself out. This writer does an excellent job of displaying their introspection by sharing their own “unbalanced media diet” and by listing examples of questions they’d ask their listeners. Notice that the prompt points you in the direction of a topic that facilitates “continued conversation,” not just a lecture. 

Call on your values. This prompt gives you another opportunity to share some values that you feel don’t come through strongly enough elsewhere in your application, or that you hope to highlight. This writer probably could have discussed some favorite news sources or stories, but instead, they make clear their commitment to social justice, community building, active listening, and empathy. No matter what topic you choose, think about ways you can tie it into parts of yourself that you’ll bring to USC’s campus. 

Special thanks to Natalie for writing this blog post

common app essays that worked usc

Natalie is a former high school teacher who taught English, World Geography and Culture, US History, and AP Language and Composition. She has been working with students through the college application process since 2017, and has assisted hundreds of students achieve their post-secondary plans. She is also a proud AmeriCorps alumna and served in Chicago’s Near West Side neighborhood. Her wish for all students is that they feel valued, loved, and are able to live a life rich with options. In her free time, she loves grabbing a cortado, watching Nora Ephron movies, and playing with her daughter. She currently lives in Knoxville, TN. 

Top Values: Empathy | Equity | Purpose


Create amazing supplemental essays for the most selective schools, polish your activities list, and complete everything else with ease and joy.



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common app essays that worked usc


The Admissions Strategist

How to write the usc supplemental essays 2020-2021: the perfect guide (examples included).

University of Southern California (USC) is a private university located in downtown Los Angeles, California.

With its warm weather and beautiful campus, USC has been a prime film location for many films and television shows.

Boasting over 21 colleges, academies, and schools of study that offer hundreds of majors, and thousands of courses, USC offers plenty of variety for even the most curious students.

USC’s acceptance rate has been sitting at a thin 13% for the past few years.

With such a low acceptance rate, you’ll need to write excellent essays to be considered for admission at USC.

USC uses the Common App , which means you can access all essay questions on the Common App portal.

Though you’ll need to make these essays count, you shouldn’t worry. This guide is here to help you through the entire process, so you can show the USC admissions team that you deserve to be a part of their upcoming class through thoughtful and well-written supplemental essays.

What Are USC’s Supplemental Essay Requirements?

USC requires that students answer multiple prompts as part of the application process. You will find both on the Common App.

USC Supplemental Essays: How to Write Them!

Click above to watch a video on USC Supplemental Essay.

For the first prompt, students must choose one of three potential essay questions . These questions assess the student’s diverse experiences, interests, and characteristics. This type of question is also commonly referred to as the “diversity essay.”

The prompts for essay #1 include:

USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you. USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning. What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

For the second prompt, students must describe their intended major and what motivated them to make that choice.

The question is as follows:

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections.

USC also has a short answer section, in which you are expected to write extremely short, 1 sentence (or even 1 word) answers. These questions are designed to better showcase your personality.

These questions are quite random, so prepare yourself to answer with authenticity and a bit of thought, so the best version of yourself is represented.

Creating a compelling application to USC requires well-written essay responses that reflect critical self-reflection and self-understanding.

On top of perfecting your mechanical skills, work to condense and hone your writing so that every word adds to your main point.

In addition to helping admissions counselors get to know you better through writing, you should pay attention to your organization, spelling, and grammar.

Simple mistakes in those areas can outshine your true potential.

We’ll look into each of the prompts in detail below, to help you submit the best version possible

Connect us to your school's principal!

Usc supplemental essay prompt #1: new ideas.

“USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.”

In this prompt, USC tells you that they value diversity.

Not only do they value diversity, but they also value people who can appreciate diversity and are open-minded to new ideas, experiences, and perspectives .

First, it’s vital that you truly understand what diversity means.

To answer this question, you will have to reflect on past experiences during which you faced a different idea or belief that somehow challenged yours.

USC’s values are found underneath the Applicant Admission Process tab on their website.

In the Personal Qualities section, USC states: “We look for students who possess the potential to contribute to our diverse and vibrant campus life, who represent a vast array of interests and passions, and are leaders unafraid to speak up in class or fight for a cause.

We value students who make us think….”

Before you begin generating ideas, let’s take a deeper look at the question to fully understand what USC is asking for without going overboard in your response.

To start brainstorming, think of a few times where you heard something or had a conversation that introduced you to a new perspective, changed your perspective, or called it into question.

Once you have generated a list of experiences, pick the one you feel offers the deepest experience with diversity in your life.

Reflect on this experience and discuss how it affected you in a positive way.

It’s helpful to write down thoughts and notes before you begin crafting your actual essay.

After doing this, take what you have written and summarize that into a brief thesis statement.

Your telling of the experience can flow similar to how you would tell someone out loud, but you’re limited to 250 words.

Pick your most poignant experience and make a story out of it.

Help the reader to experience your challenge just as you were experiencing it.

Be sure to showcase your individuality and your open-mindedness. Once you’ve written your personal statement, be sure to have someone read through and edit your response.

This will help make sure your point was made and avoid spelling/grammar errors you may have overlooked.

USC Supplemental Essay Prompt #2: Outside of Your Academic Focus

“USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.”

With this prompt, USC wants to see that you are able to demonstrate open-mindedness.

They want to know that you care about things outside of your immediate focus.

Having more than one interest makes you more well-rounded on a personal level, and it can help you on professional and academic levels as well.

For this question, you will also need to be genuine.

Even if your other interest is not an academic field or major offered at USC, it’s okay.

Consider writing about opportunities offered at the university that exist outside of the classroom.

You could try researching the different clubs, activities, or events that exist or happen around campus.

Or, maybe you are a STEM major, but you’ve also been learning ASL. You could write about your interest in USC’s American Sign Language Club, as it would help you better practice your sign language.

Here is another example:

If you can’t think of a particular interest that would be completely new to you, consider a topic outside your academic focus that you want to become better versed in.

In this case, you’ll express why you want to continue learning more about that interest. In other words:

While there’s no wrong way to answer the question, a great way to approach the question is using your interest to unconventionally further your understanding in your academic focus.

If there’s a particular story behind your interest, share that in a way that helps the reader connect with you.

Telling a short story about your interest will help you effectively use more of your 250-word limit.

Overall, try to be authentic and show USC that you’re a well-rounded individual who will add to their campus community in more ways than one.

USC Outside of Academic Focus Essay Example

“Hi. My name … is Bobby … and I will be playing Fur … Elise … today.” The audience sat still as I stuttered through my introduction, approaching the lavish grand piano for my freshman-year recital. As chords flowed through my hands, my fingers began to slip, missing notes along the way. My stage fright had gotten the better of me. When I enrolled at GSA the next year, my friends dragged me to drill practice in preparation for the Clash of the Halls dance competition. I was reluctant, but upperclassmen convinced me to represent my hall at the most popular event at school. Although I had performed at multiple piano recitals, participating in choreographed dancing was a new challenge. Passion gradually outweighed my fear as I became more comfortable with the challenging choreography. Dancing became less of a commitment. I slowly became obsessed with making sure our team hit every note, rhythm, and beat. When I began leading practices, rising from apprentice to teacher, the moves became muscle memory and excitement pumped through my veins. After months of practices, I led my hallmates into the gym, exuding hall spirit and assuming our formation. The fear that once possessed me completely vanished. We went on to give an unforgettable show. Having discovered my newfound passion, I went on to choreograph my school’s Diwali dance for the next two years. I look forward to pursuing my love for dance by joining the USC Zeher Bollywood fusion team in the near future.

USC Supplemental Essay Prompt #3: Essential to Understanding You

“What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?”

This is the equivalent of the “tell me about yourself” question; the same one that you will be asked during almost every interview.

This question is broad, so you want to be particular.

The best way to be particular is by utilizing a story you haven’t already told in another part of your application. This story should also highlight one of the characteristics you feel is essential to who you are as a person.

You’ll want to be able to pinpoint that one thing throughout your story.

Another great way to approach this question is to ask yourself a question and answer through a free-write.

Examples of questions you could ask yourself include:

Write whatever comes to mind for your questions.

Don’t be afraid to include a negative experience if it significantly affected your life, goals, or personality.

This is where you can find beauty in the darkness to show how you’re unique.

Do the same free-write exercise with these questions.

You are not being asked to share your most tragic story or deepest darkest secret, but it’s important to appreciate that we don’t only grow from positive experiences.

We grow from all experiences, so write about one (positive or negative) that has shaped you most.

The next step is to ask yourself why. This is very important.

USC wants to know what is important to you and why it’s important.

Here’s an example of breaking down a meaningful story to pinpoint the specific characteristic that is essential to you being you.

When you’re able to come up with the answer to “Why?” write down as much as you can without judging yourself. You’re the only person who knows the truth about what is essential to understanding you.

When you’re able to identify what you would like to write about, frame it within a story.

Remember you only have 250 words to spare, so it won’t be a full-blown story.

However, two to three sentences about the background behind your topic will be helpful to the reader.

As always, have someone read your essay to ensure that it is error-free and genuinely reflects you.

USC Essential to Understanding You Essay Example

My grandmother likes to tell the story of three-year-old me in the grocery cart, screaming in Vietnamese the names of passing vegetables, much to the amusement of shoppers. Back then, Vietnamese was enough. In kindergarten, I faced my first language obstacle. At the toilet, I couldn’t undo my double-ring belt. How embarrassing would it be to interrupt the teacher in the middle of class and silently point to it, hoping she would get the message? I chose to sit on the toilet and cry. That was the first day I peed my pants in class but the last time language would ever come between me and going to the bathroom. I made learning English my mission. By third grade, I was reading stacks of books almost as tall as I was every week. Language is meaningful to me. While volunteering in the hospital, when I ask a lost elderly couple if they speak Vietnamese, their eyes light up in relief. When a Spanish-speaking woman hurriedly calls her child over to translate, I tell them in Spanish not to worry, empathizing with the child who has the same role I once did. Language doesn’t just communicate information. For me, it has been a tool for insight, allowing me to connect with others. Throughout my schooling, I’ve taught my parents a lot of English, and I still teach them new words every so often. When I make the occasional error, I jokingly but affectionately blame it on English as my second language.

“Why USC?” Supplemental Essay: How to Answer The Intended Major Question

“The intended major question states: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections.”

This is another version of a “Why This College” essay .

Sometimes when high school students are asked about their major, they get overwhelmed because they aren’t 100% confident about what they want to study.

Consider major selections to be a road trip, not a death sentence.

You are allowed to change your mind, but it helps if you know what you want and why. So, take some time to think about it:

Think about your experiences in school up until this point.

Sure, interests change, but, often, there are things within our lives that remain constant.

Maybe you never cared about history class, but you enjoyed reading novels and analyzing characterization and plot techniques.

These are things to take note of.

Another way to help you figure out your intended major is to look through USC’s website.

Does Biomedical Engineering sound interesting to you? Check out USC’s Biomedical Engineering program. Look at the courses you will have to take. See what excites you.

Still struggling to come up with your intended major?

Working backward is another helpful strategy.

Look at careers that match the types of things you will want to be doing every day. Then, look at the type of knowledge that will be required to get those jobs.

That knowledge may be found in more than one major. If that’s the case, you will need to look through the department websites for your intended majors.

The more you learn about different majors, the clearer your intended major may become, so spend a couple of hours clicking deep into the website:

Consider ways in which you will grow and flourish academically and programs to which you might contribute as a student at USC.

If you have a career goal, it can help.

Write the vision for your life and write how your first (and/or second-choice) major will help you get there.

It would be an added bonus if you can talk about extracurricular activities you might be interested in joining to further supplement your learning.

Remember, learning takes place outside the classroom as well.

Take time with this essay to make sure you’re confident in your future goals, and then share them with the admissions team. When you’re authentic and have a plan for the future, you’re sure to write a compelling essay.

Why USC and Why This Major Essay Example

8 p.m. – I sat in the peer tutor room, waiting for underclassmen to approach me for academic help. An hour-long shift passed without any students stopping by. At this moment, I realized the immense lack of organization within the peer tutoring program at GSA. Students could neither find available tutors nor schedule time with them despite needing support for challenging courses. I knew there had to be a better way. I spent the next few months teaching myself Android Studio programming and developed EngTutor, an app that streamlines the process of finding academic help connecting students with available tutors. I will use the resources available at USC to turn EngTutor into a commercial venture. In the classroom, I aim to take advantage of USC’s advanced computer science program to broaden my knowledge of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. I am excited to take courses such as Advanced Natural Language Processing to understand AI concepts. At USC, I intend to take advantage of the focus on interdisciplinary studies and enroll in elective courses at the Marshall School of Business to complement my skills developed at USC’s LavaLab. By receiving mentorship from professionals in entrepreneurship and computer science and gaining experience pitching my ideas to judges, I will be ready to participate in the Blackstone LaunchPad. Here, I aim to collaborate with like-minded individuals to enhance my entrepreneurship capabilities. Through these academic and extracurricular programs, USC will provide me with the resources necessary to embark on my entrepreneurial journey.

The USC Short-Answer Questions

The USC Short-Answer Questions include:

While most universities that include a short answer section limit your word count to 100 words, the USC short answer questions only require one or two sentences to fully answer them.

There are two kinds of questions – Listing something that you feel describes yourself, and answering generic “break the ice” questions.

If you are having a lot of trouble thinking of words that best describe you, don’t be afraid to get creative. For example, if you are a Harry Potter fan, consider using traits that describe your favorite Hogwarts house.

For other questions, begin with the answer, then explain the why.

Also, remember that the admissions team at USC is not looking for the most sophisticated student, they just want introspective students.

With every question, bring along a little insight into your life, your beliefs, and your ambitions.

USC Short Responses Examples

1.Describe yourself in three words.
2. First Word: Self-motivated
3. Second Word: Analytical
4. Third Word: Mindful
5. What is your favorite snack? Raisins and almonds: nutritious, portable, and delicious
6. Favorite app/website: Spotify
7. Best movie of all time: Avengers: Infinity War
8. Dream job: Founder/CEO of my assistive robotics technology company
9. What is your theme song: Believer – Imagine Dragons
10. Dream trip: Road trip on historic Route 66 from Chicago to LA with my friends
11. What TV show will you binge watch next: The Office
12. Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate: Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings
13. Favorite book: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
14. If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be: Facing Your Fears: Public Speaking

Conclusion: Writing the USC Supplemental Essays

As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, well-written responses to those prompts require self-reflection, critical self-analysis, and research.

Start early to give yourself enough time to research your intended majors, write high-quality responses, and have time for revisions.

You have a 250 word limit for each of the supplemental essays, so use them all to create a lasting impression on the admissions officer reading your application.

By following the above guidelines, you can create a shining admissions package that will set you apart from other applicants.

Don’t forget to have fun, be a little creative, and show the USC admissions team who you really are. Your best chance to get into USC depends on it.

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Successful USC Essays

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Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? “What

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How to Ace USC’s Supplemental Essays | Guide & Examples, 2022-2023

Brad Schiller

Brad Schiller

Great news. The University of Southern California recently reduced its somewhat long and quirky supplemental essay requirements. This year, USC asks for shorter, but equally quirky, responses. Never fear: we can guide you through it. 

Bottom line, you’ll have to answer:

If you’re curious about the quirk, here are the 10 quick questions:

Quirky? Yes. Doable, also yes! So meet us below the table of contents and let’s get started.

(For help with all aspects of your college application, head to our College Essay Help Center .)

In this article:

Brainstorm — decide what’s most impressive to say before getting to the prompts 

Prompt’s essay-writing method starts with figuring out what you want to say. (Then we slot that into the essay prompts that are available.)

So what should you say on your college application? Easy. Your entire task is to show admissions officers that you will succeed in college and beyond .

Okay, but how do you show an admissions officer you’re likely to succeed? This is also, surprisingly, not that hard: you do it by talking about your experiences that show one or more of the 5 Traits Colleges Look for in Applicants :

That brings us to brainstorming. Before you can begin talking about “Why USC” or thinking about how to answer the veritable volley of strange questions they throw your way, you need to write down all of your high school experiences, which is easier said than done. Brainstorm things like your:

If you create a free Prompt account , you can develop these ideas through our brainstorming modules. 

At the end of this process, you should have a solid idea of what experiences best show off one or more of the 5 Traits.

This is important with a disparate set of questions like USC’s — you don’t want the questions themselves to turn you around, confuse or distract you. Instead, with this method, you can use each question as a tool to say what you already know you want to say about yourself to further your application. 

Let’s go through each question.

Q1: Why USC — Focus on your actions that relate to your dreams and your background

The first prompt is:

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 words or fewer)

Note that this isn’t a “Why major” essay (even though it looks like one). Why Majors want to know if you can cut it academically in your major. By contrast, “Why Us” prompts want to know if you’re going to succeed academically at that particular college . Given how short the recommended word count is for this question, it clearly falls in that category. 

When a school asks “Why Us,” they’re looking for:

The short version of what this means for your essay is that you need to talk about:

As you’ll note, number 1 here is “you” and number 2 is USC. So start by thinking about which of your academic/extracurricular interests you’d like to highlight to the admissions team. Refer to that big brainstorm we talked about above. After that, get digging for things at USC that match those interests. 

If you visited the campus , consider working an anecdote into your essay — you can also have the essay center around your visit. Just make sure that the aspect of the campus visit you describe relates to your intellectual curiosity . You don’t want the experience you showcase to be about social life or amenities.

Whether or not you visited , spend a bit of time on the USC college website , looking at the academic departments you’d likely major in for courses you might like to take. You can also look at interesting research, faculty and student work, and opportunities on the USC News site . 

Q1: Why USC — Example

Please note that Prompt strongly believes that influencers shouldn’t influence your college essays and that, for essays that get published in flashy places , you don’t know if the essay got that student in or if they got in despite what was maybe a bad essay. 

That being said, an example can be worth a thousand words!

Why USC example 

I’ve already written a full novel. Yes, it’s faced nothing but rejection (though my English teacher Ms. Smithson was encouraging), but still: I wrote it! In fact, I loved writing it and I’m excited to write another. 

But if this experience has taught me anything it’s that I belong in USC’s Narrative Studies department. I love the approach to a deep, rigorous study of narrative in popular culture, from a cross-cultural perspective and a historical perspective. I know that analysis will help my own craft as I continue to work on fiction on the side. But I also love that this study can prepare me for a non-writing career in creative fields, as it has done for many others. 

In fact, I learned about USC through a colleague at the theater where I intern. She graduated from the program and hearing about her experiences made me eager to apply. In particular, her Capstone Project was a study of how anime has influenced modern Japanese theater. I loved hearing about her research and am excited to have the same opportunity. If I had to do it now, I’d write about how Chekov has been adapted since 2000. (My novel was a modern “update” of the Chekov play Three Sisters .)

Q2: Short Takes — Refer to your brainstormed experiences to decide what aspects of your personality to highlight

This unique prompt reads in full:

Though “fun” and “quirky,” admissions officers are still looking through your answers with a red pen and a view toward advancing your application to either the “reject” or the “admit” pile. 

It’s important both to answer in the spirit of the questions asked — loose and open — but also to show that you exhibit one or more of the 5 Traits and have the ability to succeed in college and beyond. 

So sift through your list of brainstormed experiences. Try to make your answers reflect the experiences that show your potential for success. In addition, try to make your answers amplify the potential you’ve exhibited in your personal statement and in “Why USC.”

Note that you have just enough space to add a few words of explanation to each of your answers, which can help connect them to your overarching application themes.

Q2: Short Takes — Example 

For example, pretend the same student who answered the “Why USC?” example above is responding here. Assume their personal statement centered on their experiences at the theater internship, where they learned the value of hard work to support creative expression (showing up every day, working hard on thankless tasks to build an audience). 

They might answer like this:

Helpful info on all the “other” stuff you’ll consider as you apply to USC (and other schools)

A few helpful resources for the non-supplement parts of your application:

BTW, here’s our guidance for approaching any college supplement + here’s where you can find our guides for almost every college’s supplements . 

Feeling inspired? A great place to start is at our College Essay Help Center . 

More articles on Prompt.com’s admissions-boosting methods:

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University of Southern California (USC) 2022-23 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision Deadline: Jan 15

You Have: 

University of Southern California 2022-23 Application Essay Questions Explained 

The Requirements: 2 or 3 essays (depending on major selection) of up to 250 words; 2 short-answer lists.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why , Oddball , Short Answer , Community

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 word limit)

Unlike the second prompt above, this one is all about your enduring academic interests and passions, but it’s not really about you. Rather, it’s not about you alone. This is USC’s take on the classic Why essay. In asking how you plan to pursue your interests, admissions is really trying to suss out your core reasons for choosing USC. While college will offer you a wealth of social and professional opportunities, its primary function is academic — and your primary role is as a student. So, what kind of student do you hope to be? Where do you hope your studies will take you? What resources and opportunities does USC offer that will meet your needs and guide you towards your goals?

To answer these questions, set aside an hour or two to pore over the USC website (there’s no hack, you’ve just got to put in the time). Beyond the basic departmental listings, look up information about news and research coming out of your department, the kinds of courses available, the opportunities that other undergrads have had studying in your area of choice. Even if you have a wide array of interests, consider explaining how two to three departments might complement each other or foster your interest in a larger idea or theme. Your ultimate goal is to show that your interest in USC (just like your intellectual curiosity) runs deep!

Describe yourself in three words (25 characters).

When the challenge is pith, the opportunity is humor. We rarely offer an across-the-board directive to be funny because humor writing is hard — and sometimes it just simply isn’t appropriate for the story you need to tell in a longer essay. But with lists and short answers, it’s wit that will make you stand out. Your answer doesn’t need to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it should avoid the generalities that so often populate these questions: loyal, kind, smart… you get the idea. We’re sure you are all of these things — and they are lovely qualities to showcase in the stories you tell elsewhere in your essay — but these sorts of terms can ring hollow if you aren’t able to back them up with evidence. A good place to start might be to examine your contradictions (you’re mostly easy-going, until you start playing Scrabble) and craft an essay that showcases some funny irony about your personality. Think about how different people in your life would describe you, and then think about order. Can you make it read like a very short story? Can you make it rhyme? Though this assignment is short, you may need to spend some time wordsmithing different combinations. When the prescribed format is a list, order matters just as much as content, so use every element of the assignment to your advantage!

The following prompts have a 100 character limit:

What is your favorite snack, best movie of all time:, if your life had a theme song, what would it be, dream trip:, what tv show will you binge watch next, which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate, favorite book:, if you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be.

Behold! USC’s attempt at being quirky! You’ve been limited to less than the length of a tweet for each answer, so you’d better make every word (and character) count! These prompts don’t have time for generalities or gentle introductions, so you’ll have to cut straight to the point. The more specific your words are, the more memorable your answers will be. Favorite snack? Don’t just say, “popcorn and Junior Mints.” How about, “A box of junior mints melting over hot popcorn as I watch a horror movie” (72 characters). If you can paint a funny picture or display a knack for wit, take this chance, but don’t force it. You also don’t exactly have to think of this as filling in the blanks, but more as filling in any blanks in your application. Anything that doesn’t feel like it merits a full essay can go here as a tweet, hot take, punchline, or elegantly-worded sentence.

USC Dornsife Applicants: Please provide an essay of no more than 250 words on the topic below. In your response, we encourage you to write about something that you haven’t already discussed elsewhere in your application.

For more information, please click here ., many of us have at least one issue or passion that we care deeply about – a topic on which we would love to share our opinions and insights in hopes of sparking intense interest and continued conversation. if you had ten minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your talk be about (250 words).

We at CEA love this question because it’s a unique way of asking applicants: what do you care about and why? What’s important to you? What information do you wish other scholarly minds had access to? Start by making a list. Maybe you’d like to use your ten minutes to speak about media literacy and how we can and should consider what we see online through the lens of the powers that dictate how and when we receive information. Perhaps you’d want to spread the word about the dangers of climate change and the irreversible impact it will have on the planet if we don’t take action swiftly. What keeps you up at night? What kind of positive effect do you want to have on the world? These are the questions you should be asking yourself when brainstorming for this prompt. Bonus points if you can speak to how a USC Dornsife education will prepare you to address this issue head-on in the future! 

USC Viterbi Applicants:

The student body at the usc viterbi school of engineering is a diverse group of unique engineers and computer scientists who work together to engineer a better world for all humanity. describe how your contributions to the usc viterbi student body may be distinct from others. please feel free to touch on any part of your background, traits, skills, experiences, challenges, and/or personality in helping us better understand you. (250 words).

USC Viterbi School of Engineering wants to accept students who will contribute to diversity on campus. When considering an aspect of your identity or background to expand upon, we recommend choosing one that has had the biggest impact on the way you experience and interact with the world. Ideally, the unique aspect you select should come with a couple anecdotes. Maybe you want to write about your experience as a person living with a disability and how this has shaped your interest in engineering, design, and accessibility. Perhaps you embody #BlackGirlMagic and will bring a fresh perspective to a field in which women of color are underrepresented. Regardless of the part of your identity you choose to address, be specific about how it impacts your worldview and how it will add a distinct perspective to USC Viterbi.

The Engineering Grand Challenges (for USC Viterbi Applicants):

The national academy of engineering (nae) and their 14 grand challenges go hand-in-hand with our vision to engineer a better world for all humanity. engineers and computer scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. learn more about the nae grand challenges at http://engineeringchallenges.org and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why. (250 words).

Strong responses to this prompt will showcase self-reflection, care for the greater good, and ambition. Review the fourteen Grand Challenges and see which you connect with the most. Maybe you’re passionate about providing access to clean water, since you know firsthand what it’s like to not have that access in your hometown in Michigan. Perhaps you hope to engineer better medicines in honor of a loved one you lost to illness prematurely. Maybe you’ve always been fascinated with outer space and would jump at the opportunity to engineer new tools of scientific discovery. Make sure to relate your own life experiences and/or interests to the challenges the world is facing and emphasize how you’d like to be part of the solution.

About Kat Stubing

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