USC Admissions: the Supplemental Essay


The University of Southern California (or simply USC) is a private university, which is located in Los Angeles. In 2018 the freshman class was named the most selective one with the acceptance rate of around 13 percent. What does it mean? It means that only 13 out of 100 candidates managed to enter the USC. And the number of applications continues to grow each year!

It’s no wonder: USC can boast over 20 colleges, schools, and academies that provide hundreds of majors, thousands of various courses and lots of programs for the most demanding and skillful students. That is why so many students are interested in USC supplemental essays and their requirements.

It is an additional section of the application process and you will need to fill it out on the Common App website (a website, where students from all over the world can apply to almost a thousand colleges and universities in different countries).

The supplemental essay consists of two prompts (each one is 250 words long) and eleven questions with short answers (100 characters each). Such a limited size of a USC essay prompt means that you will need to fit in lots of information into little space, trying to distinguish important details from irrelevant ones.

It is impossible to say how the best essays for USC look like. However, they should definitely possess the following features: honesty, creativity, briefness, and charm. Keep in mind that these essays were created to help the admission board to understand the personality of applicants, so you shouldn’t worry that your individuality may not fit in!

You have a great opportunity to show different aspects of yourself, to tell about your life and goals that are impossible to render through the Common App. It is your time to shine bright!

When you choose the USC on the Common App, it will pop up on the portal. Don’t know how to do it? Follow the simple steps below:

  • Log in to the Common App website, using your name and password;
  • Search ‘University of Southern California’ in the Search window;
  • Select the result and add it to your account;
  • Enter your dashboard and select the USC;
  • Then press the ‘Incomplete’ link near the ‘Writing Supplement’;
  • You can enter the supplement by pressing ‘Writing requirements’ and ‘Writing supplement’ link.

Now, when you know what a USC supplement is and how to access it, it is the right time to get familiar with the assignment and to help you manage the task with ease, avoiding unnecessary stress and worries.

Regular and USC Transfer Requirements

Like any other educational institution, USC has different requirements for first-time applicants and for those, who are willing to transfer from one university to another. Let’s start with the first ones.

Every student, applying to the USC, will need to answer several prompts during the application process. Both of them can be found on the Common App.

  • When approaching the first prompt, you will need to choose one of three questions. These questions evaluate your experience, characteristics, and interests. Usually, these questions are called the ‘diversity essays’;
  • The second prompt should contain a description of the major of interest and your motivation for choosing this particular major;
  • The third section contains short USC application questions. Each of them should be answered briefly within 100 characters limit (around one sentence long). These questions are designed to give the committee a better idea of your personality;
  • If you are entering computer science or engineering specialties, you will have to write two additional essays. The first one should tell about your aspirations in science or engineering, and the second must contain your opinion of how scientists (or engineers) can improve the world.

If you want your application to stand out and to grab the attention of admission officers, it must show an understanding of yourself and reflection on your experience and motivation. Considering that every essay is limited to 250 words, you will have a maximum of 1000 words to tell about yourself and to show your reflective and analytical skills. Make sure you use those words to the fullest!

However, you should pay attention not only to what you write but also to the writing itself. Your language should be laconic, professional and stylish. Make sure your essay contains no grammar or spelling mistakes. The structure of your work should also be clear and understandable so that readers can follow your thoughts and ideas with ease.

Unfortunately, all these minor mistakes can greatly influence the outcome.

If you want to transfer to the University of Southern California you should keep in mind a few requirements. Luckily, USC doesn’t have a minimum required quantity of transfer units. However, if you have less than 30 transferable units, your application will be additionally evaluated considering GPA and ACT or SAT scores.

Math and writing are compulsory for all the transfer students:

  • Completing a lower writing assignment or course that is equal to the USC Writing 150 (for example, Philosophy 5 or LACC English 102/103);
  • Intermediate or Advanced Algebra. If you transfer to social sciences, business or engineering majors, you will need to have a record of specific math courses. You can get familiar with them on the official website of the university.

University of Southern California application deadline

As we have already discussed, USC can boast 21 colleges, academies, and schools, which cover the majority of subjects and specialties. That is why it is impossible to say when the USC application essay should be submitted.

The best way is to get familiar with supplemental application demands and their deadlines for every particular USC division:

  • USC School of Pharmacy;
  • School of Music;
  • School of Engineering;
  • School of Dramatic Arts;
  • School of Dentistry;
  • School of Dance;
  • School of Journalism and Communication;
  • School of Cinematic Arts;
  • School of Business;
  • Academy of Arts, Technology and Business Innovation;
  • School of Architecture;
  • School of Design and Art, and others.

Just choose the school or academy that interests you the most, visit its website and familiarize yourself with the specific requirements they have. Usually, they go together with tips on successful completion, so knowing them will be a great plus for any applicant.

University of Southern California requirements and prompts

You won’t be able to learn how to write USC essays if you don’t know how the prompts look like and what you are expected to write about. Below we will discuss the prompts for 2019-2020 applicants, so you will know what to expect.

The topics for the first prompt include:

  • USC thinks that a person learns better when communicating with people with different experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. Write about the time, when your beliefs and ideas were challenged by someone else’s point of view.

To understand the question better you can try and paraphrase it: what experience has shown your ‘blind spots’? When were you forced to agree that you were wrong? This question is really challenging because it means that you need to know how to reflect on yourself and on your actions.

A great answer to this question will need to show your ability to adapt to different circumstances and to show that you are intelligent and flexible. You don’t need to concentrate only on conflicts or negative moments. Tell about a situation, when you got help or support from a person, who you thought hated you or wasn’t able to empathize.

The best part of this USC writing supplement 2019 prompt is that you are able to focus on personal moments that have made you see the world in a different light.

Keep in mind that this prompt is similar to the third 2019-2020 Common App prompt, which requires writing about the time when you have challenged your ideas or beliefs. If you choose this prompt for your personal statement, it is better to choose another USC prompt not to repeat yourself.

  • Tell about the things you like learning outside the chosen major

If you already know what major you’d like to choose, you probably have enough skills and supporting background. For example, if you are choosing computer science you probably have experience writing computer programs or applications. If you want to study English literature, most likely you have written for your school newspaper or know every detail of American writers’ biographies.

All of these skills are great but they don’t give a deep understanding of who you are. This prompt motivates students to think outside of the box and to give the committee a clearer picture of who you are.

In case you are not sure what to write about, you can always write about the skills you would like to master: skiing, dancing, drawing comic books and much more! Tell the board about your interests and passions, because they are always unique and help to show your personality outside the academic focus.

If you are not sure what to discuss, you can just dream about the life you could have if you learned Chinese and went on a year trip to Asia. Don’t just explain why the topic is worth mastering: give examples and be specific, showing different treats and shades of your personality!

  • Tell about the things that are crucial in understanding who you are

The third prompt is the most general one, so you are given the freedom to discuss anything you want until it tells the story of your personality and life. In case you decided to stop your choice on this prompt, follow our simple tips:

  1. Choose a story, not an interesting fact (even though it may seem really fun and engaging);
  2. Don’t hide your voice behind clichés;
  3. Make sure you haven’t discussed this topic in other essays.

Unfortunately, this prompt also has resemblances with a Common App prompt, so when choosing it to make sure that they don’t repeat each other.

Now, when you are done with the first prompt, you need to work on the second one. Here you need to write how you are willing to pursue your interests at the USC. You are limited to 250 words and can discuss both first and second choice specialties.

Unlike the prompt we have discussed above, where you need to tell about your personality outside the academic spectrum, this one should describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. However, this essay should answer the question ‘Why you have decided to choose USC?’ and not only to tell about yourself.

Even though USC has plenty of professional and social events and opportunities, its main goal is educational and your main role is being a student. So, what type of student do you see yourself? What academic heights do you want to reach? What USC resources and features are able to cover your needs and to help you achieve your goals?

Before answering these questions, devote some time to surfing the USC website and getting more information about their departments, news and all the necessary details about the courses, programs, and schools they have in store.

Even if you have too many interests, try to stick to a few departments that will be able to complement each other and to show your ideas and interests in general. The main goal of writing this essay is to show that your interest in the University of Southern California is deep and profound.

University of Southern California majors: short questions

After you have written the USC essay you will be asked to tell about yourself in three words. In this section, you are limited only to 25 characters.

We usually don’t advice students to apply humor, because in most of the cases jokes are not appropriate and require lots of attention. However, humor is the best choice, when it comes to short answers. In such a case you will be able to stand out from other candidates and to show that you are funny, open-minded and are not afraid to think outside the box.

It doesn’t mean that your answers must be hilarious and win all the stand-up awards. However, you should still avoid clichés and generalities, like ‘kind, friendly, honest’. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Even if you have all of these qualities, they are not appropriate to place in this short section.

If you still want to highlight them, it is better to do it in the essays above, providing enough evidence and examples. Because being ‘loyal’ is just a word until you back it with stories from your real life. The best way is to think of your personality with a little irony that would show different sides of your personality. Try to think about what other people would tell you about you.

You can write down all of the ideas and then structure them to make them readable, interesting and catchy. Even if you have only three words to write, use literary tools and different techniques to make your writing a real piece of art. Actually, short writing is usually more challenging, so be ready to devote some time to this stage.

Finally, you will need to answer a few questions, each of which should be limited to 100 characters. These questions include:

  1. What snacks do you like the most?
  2. Your favorite website or application;
  3. The best movie you have ever seen;
  4. The hashtag that would describe yourself;
  5. The job of your dreams;
  6. The song that would describe you;
  7. Trip of your dreams;
  8. What TV show are you going to watch?
  9. Place, where you feel comfortable the most;
  10. Pick a famous person or a character that could be your perfect roommate;
  11. Your favorite book;
  12. If you were to teach any subject, which one would you choose?

As you see, you will have only 100 characters for every answer (and it is less than a tweet’s length), so you will need to choose words wisely and to make each of them count. You don’t have time for introduction or clichés, so it is necessary to get to the point at once.

The more specific you are, the better the board will remember you! For example, instead of answering ‘potato chips’ on the first question, try something like ‘Pringles with cream and onion, while I am watching a new episode of Games of Thrones’ (69 characters). If you are able to add humor to your answer, always use this opportunity. However, you shouldn’t force yourself, because you may achieve the opposite effect.

When you are working on the first two prompts and come up with an idea or thought that is short but doesn’t fit in, you should write it down and then include to the section with short answers. They look like a tweet or like a short message to a friend, so make sure your tone and language are simple, catchy and light.

What does USC stand for? Simple advice

When you write a USC college essay you should always keep in mind the basic principles and values of the university. As USC claim, they are looking for students, who are able to contribute to their diverse and dynamic life; for students, who have a wide range of passions and interests, and who are not afraid to make their ideas and voice heard.

What does it mean? It means that the USC wants its students to be not only open-minded and creative but also to be able to lead others and to become a part of the community. They want students to be unique and to help others to open their potential. The best way to show your personality through the supplemental essay is to be yourself!

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