Case Studies

Steps To Get Admission in University of Southern California

Miguel Marfori

Amazing tips to get admission in University of Southern California

Most elite colleges these days are always tucked away in places where the town and city vibes are. But if you fancy going for something that’s got a little more sun than usual and can give you those L.A. feels, look no further than USC. Fully known as the University of Southern California, USC is known for being the leading private research university with a diverse set of facts that'll amaze you from this section on their site here. It’s also the university to go for when you’re leaning toward business and film because courses that specialize under those fields get more attention here.

So, think you got what it takes to be part of the sunny USC? You bet you can! With the guide that's been written for you, you'll have a way to gain admissions to USC. It's going to be a fierce battle, so be ready and see what you need to do. 

1. Take note of what USC is looking for in a student

Before you get all energetic about applying for USC, be aware of what they're looking for in a student. You can't barge in and assume you have all the factors in you. Don't worry; they give out a summary of what they're looking for on their website here: “We look for those students we believe will thrive at USC. Our application process is designed to discover your individual story so that we might see how you would take advantage of the many opportunities available at USC. Like many highly selective universities, we conduct a comprehensive, holistic review of your application to consider academic and personal characteristics. We will review your performance in school, the rigour of your program, writing skills and test scores. We also consider personal qualities, as revealed in community involvement, leadership and achievements.” 

They're even giving hints at what makes a successful USC student. As they continue: "USC students pursue ambitious intellectual and professional goals by studying across disciplines and taking advantage of the diversity of programs available. They are willing to venture outside their comfort zones. They are interested in the world, in other peoples and cultures, and enjoy examining important issues from a global perspective. USC students are unafraid to speak up in class to make others think or fight for a cause. They get involved by participating in student organizations and connecting with others. They seek to grow to their fullest potential, and they seek to serve others in the community along the way.”

To boost those even further, Sam Williams, assistant director of admission, and Becky Chassin, assistant dean of admission, give their take on how admissions are made. As Sam says: "Let your passions shine through in the application! Numbers do not tell the whole story; rather we really want to get to know the person behind the application, and writing about what is important to you will really allow us to do just that.” As for Becky, she says: “Remember, there’s a person on the other end of your application; we’re just trying to get to know you.”

So while they’re not giving out all the nitty-gritty details, USC wants to let prospective students know what they’re looking for in a summary while giving them a little enthusiasm in the mix. But if you’re curious how they evaluate applications, you can check for more the details here.

2. Have some insights from the dean of admissions

While you’re at it, have some insights from Timothy Brunold, the dean of admissions. On his profile here, Timothy makes the tip that the “The college search and selection process are all about finding the right fit. Don’t become too narrowly focused on one institution. Broaden your horizons and keep your options open; there are more than 2,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., and there is certainly more than one that will be the perfect fit for you." It can sound a little off coming from the dean himself advising applicants to not be narrow-focused on just one institute. Then again, it's likely because, in the past, numbers aren't all that good on his end. In an article posted back in 2016 here, there was a myth going on that it’s all about the numbers when it comes to admissions. But Timothy rejected that idea when he said: “This year, we turned away 3,000 people with 99th percentile test scores. We just don’t have enough room.”. Yes, you read that right. Even the high-scorers were turned down that year. 

But don't think it's easy for Timothy to go through the process. He has confessed that "We used to go largely with our gut feelings, and those feelings are still valid. But now they have to be verified, justified and explained." He also says back then that, “Now, they may not get into USC, and that’s scary. I get it. No one likes to be judged or rejected.”

So what does it all mean? Take note of these insights from the dean and understand: It's not just the numbers. You got to have quite the compelling person in you to be genuinely considered. If you can make Timothy and his team like you beyond your numbers, you got yourself quite the case to make. 

3. Develop the spike 

While USC doesn't try to go with a holistic process in its reviews like Dartmouth College and other institutes that go for that model, you still have to note that it's not all about the numbers. As you learned a while ago, Timothy rejected roughly 3000 applicants with 99th percentile scores. Imagine that: High-scorers had the best scores, and yet, they got turned down. So how can you be a more compelling applicant that goes beyond scores? You have to develop the spike. What’s that? As PrepScholar says here, a spike, "is what sets you apart from all other applicants. It goes against the spirit of simply being well rounded. By nature of being unique, you don't fit in with all of the other well-rounded applicants; you do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way." An excellent way to put it is being above the threshold in your area of interest. Or if you want it in simpler terms, it's like being the top-achiever while everyone's still at level 1. 

But aiming to achieve that goal will zap the energy out of you. It'll take time, discipline, and willpower to even go for something like that. You may also already give up halfway. Want motivation? Think about someone like Justin Timberlake. You know him from that boy band group back in the 90s, and he moved on to become a great solo artist with actor gigs to boot. But you shouldn't assume he came to be where he is now by just being handsome: Even he had to go through a lot of obstacles. All the dancing, acting, and singing is the signs of his practices. If he can do it with perseverance, you can too! 

4. Plan your spike development within your time 

But trying to develop your spike right away is going to be pure torture because you have to remember you got a high school life to live and a college application to create. So it pays to plan your spike development within the confines of your time. How can you do this? Here are some ways:

  1. Plot out a weekly schedule and stick with it consistently
  2. Choose resources that won’t be distractions from other things you’re doing
  3. Join online courses that will further your skills
  4. Pick an area in your house where you can develop your spike in peace
  5. Chart out the days you’ve successfully done your planned out sessions

You can also try out other methods that work best for you. The point of these ways is to show you that you can plan out your spike development so that by the time you're making the application, you already got some spike sparking within you. 

5. Be the essay competitor in school (or in other places)

One of the requirements you'll be required to submit with your application is the supplemental essays for USC, so you need to be excellent and brilliant when writing them. That's why to get yourself prepared, try being part of essay competitions in school. The events will help you hone your writing skills and be more comfortable with essays. Plus, it'll boost your application because USC will see that you're the kind of applicant who's got a keen eye for writing their thoughts with precision and joy. But if your school doesn't have that kind of events, you can check out in other places that may hold them: online sites, colleges, your local community… there's bound to be a place that'll let you test your essay writing prowess in full swing.

6. Blog about your other areas of interest with brilliance and confidence

These days, anyone can blog about anything they want online. Just one Google search and you're already reading a blog about your favourite subject. So why not make one of your own? You can choose your other areas of interest that show great value about not just yourself but also how it'll contribute to USC, so start with that. You can also use the blog as a platform to express things that will show USC you got the knack for explaining things that cannot be put on paper. But don’t make your blog look like some gallery of boasting. USC may get the wrong idea and will think you’re just someone who wants attention without essence. 

7. Aim high for better grades in class

When you're taking a class, it's an excellent idea to aim high for better grades. Yes, some students can feel like it'll be a ton of work to have better grades, and it'll just zap the energy out of them. But for you, it'll be great because it'll let USC see you're a top-achiever and you're not the kind to be comfortable with the status quo. It'll also give them the idea that you want to go beyond what is being taught and see the sights and sounds of learning in ways that can amaze them. 

8. Be part of an extracurricular group

But don't just to be a blogger and top-achieving student: Be a social animal too! It's a great idea to be part of an extracurricular group as you're developing your spike and revving up your essay skills. Whether it's in sports, math, science or other groups, being part of them while socializing with other people will not only give you tremendous energy, but it'll also reflect nicely on your application. It'll even give USC the impression that you're the student who can provide a significant contribution to their institute and will do great with other people. But make sure just to be a part of 2 or 3 groups: Being spread around too many will result in USC seeing that you’re not the type to be committed to priorities. 

9. Pick the course that makes you feel cool at USC

Racked up all the things USC is looking for in a student? It’s time to pick your course. You can check this list out here so you can decide as early as now what your course will be. It’s a detailed list to boot because each link you click will give you more info about the course along with the requirements and other essential stuff that you’ll need to know when you’re applying for the particular course. 

10. Get the requirements you’ll need when applying to USC

When you’ve successfully picked your course, you’re now ready to collect the requirements for your application. You can check for the requirements with more details here, but if you’re not in the mood to read much, we’ll let College Vine do the talking and show you a good list:

  • Completed Common or Coalition Application
  • USC supplemental essays
  • Secondary School Report
  • SAT or ACT score results (currently optional for 2020-2021 cycle due to coronavirus)
  • High school transcript
  • Fall grades
  • $85 application fee or fee waiver form
  • Letter of recommendation (required from either a school counsellor or a general teacher)
  • Secondary school report

There are two things to note. One is that if your course is part of the School of Cinematic Arts, you’ll need to submit three letters of recommendation. The other is the SAT and ACT score results are optional. As you’ve seen there, it’s because of the coronavirus pandemic going on worldwide. What this means for you is when you’re applying for USC now, you don’t need to submit the scores but being that the world can change out of nowhere, it’s best to be prepared. 

11.  Check out on the SAT and ACT scores USC wants to see 

As you learned earlier, Timothy Brunold rejected the myth that admissions are all numbers which can mean USC isn't going to give any minimum line or bias toward SAT and ACT scores. Add to the fact they're currently optional for a year due to the coronavirus, and you can rest easy knowing SAT, and ACT scores aren't needed for the time being. Still, it pays to know that behind the scenes, USC has a joy for certain numbers. If you're curious about them, let College Simply show you what they are:

SAT and ACT scores USC

As you can see above, your SAT score must be above 1440 and ACT score must be above 32. But because SAT and ACT results are optional, there won't be too much of a worry here. Still, you'll want to be ready to take on the next step and always do it. 

12. Score significantly on the ACT and SAT tests (optional, but recommended to be taken)

SAT and ACT tests are optional to take for the current cycle due to the coronavirus when it comes to applying for USC, so you may skip this step and start focusing on other aspects of your application. But it’s still a good idea to take this optional step and be prepared because you can never tell whether the world will be as it is. You can’t even predict if USC will suddenly reverse their decision and make SAT and ACT mandatory requirements, so be prepared. When it comes to getting the scores USC wants to see, you’ll have to follow these tips: 

  • Practice the tests 

When it comes to preparing for the tests, you need to practice them. That means you have to be comfortable with their form and answer the questions with confidence and security. You can practice with the previous exams and keep on practising until you can feel you know them by heart. 

  • Prepare with the apps

Back then, prepping for the tests was nothing but a drag. Can you see yourself preparing space in your house for so much material that it's like having a trash day already? But nowadays, you can get yourself a good computer or phone and prep up with the app versions. When you've practised the tests, you can apply what you've learned and seen whether or not you're truly ready. 

  • Let the expert tutor you

But even with the apps and practice tests, you can't beat knowing the excellent tips from the experts. So try hiring out an expert and let them tutor you their secrets and tips. It'll not only help you see more from their perspective, but you can also see how they conquered the tests, so it'll spark the motivation in you to tackle the tests. 

  • Learn the inner secrets of the tests

While you're at it, it's also a good idea to remember the inner secrets of the tests you're taking. They can be quite sneaky, and it'll likely have you think whether or not the test makers were intentional with it. As PrepScholar has laid out here, there are some things to note that in practice tests, they’re generous with your failures but in the actual tests, you can’t afford mistakes way too much. 

  • Relax, chill and do the tests with ease

When the days have come, you’ll likely feel nervous and excited at the same time. For this case, you can relax, chill, ado the test with ease. It’s where you can breathe and know that you can do them without failure. You can achieve what most students won’t be able to do, apply what you’ve learned, and ace them with integrity. Or simply put, you can do the tests and finish without breaking too much of a sweat. 

13. Look at USC’s acceptance rates

Much like how Dartmouth College is with admissions, USC doesn't give out too many details on what they look for in students, but you can see that they have more insights when asked in other sources which can mean they're highly selective as well. If you're sceptical about that, let the many sites that have diligently kept an eye on the acceptance rate over the years give you the lowdown about that:  

USC Acceptance Rates

The acceptance rate from 2017 was at 11%, but it rose slowly to 16% in 2020. But it's been projected that the rate will lower from there and arrive at 11% again by 2023. What you need to remember from here on out is the rate can be unpredictable. It may go up, or it may go down. But the one thing you need to keep in mind at all times is you'll have other students to compete with so don't think for a second the rate will go up anytime soon.

14. Boost your application 

When you’ve acquired the application requirements, you can get a headstart in boosting your application. Of course, you won't go for the conventional method, so here are tips to remember in going the spectacular way:

  • Apply what you’ve learned from essay competitions and show it off here

Remember the essay competitions we've suggested you join earlier? When you've gained your skills and honed your level to greatness, you can show it off here with the supplemental essays. Apply what you've learned and let USC know you're an essay writer with determination. You'll also have a chance to shine through with your story and let USC understand who you are. 

  • Consult the experts

When you’re nearing the completion of your application, go out there and call for the experts who’ve submitted applications with success. You can ask for their second opinion and get a lowdown on what can be added, removed or changed. 

  • Tailor your profile without being too complex

While you're making your profile, tailor it nicely without being so complicated which means when you're arranging everything you've done over the last few years or so, address them in a way that it'll give USC the narrative that will show them you are the student they're looking for. It'll also delight them to see that your history with events will be giving them a lot of high energy. 

15. Submit everything, cross your fingers and hope for the best

Once you've got it all under wraps, make that submission, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. It's not a guarantee you'll get right in, and you can already see the acceptance rate is quite low that you got to hope. So it's all in the matter of patience.  

Not Accepted? 

After a time of waiting, you finally see the results, and what do you get? Rejection! In the end, Duke University has decided you're not the right fit. So will you just throw in the towel? No, you won’t because there’s still another option to pursue. It's not the usual option, and it's no guarantee you'll get in, but you've already tried applying, so giving it a go won't have you lose much. Here it is: 

Alternative Option: Attend a different college and transfer to USC later

You can try applying for a different college and transferring to USC later. The requirements for transferring are here. You can even find some interesting tidbits about how transferring has worked out for USC. Surprisingly enough, USC has a high transfer acceptance rate of 24.57%, which is higher than the regular acceptance rate you read about above. What does it all mean? It means that transferring won’t be too much of a risk but take note that because you were already rejected by USC, they may reconsider their decision when they review your application so be mindful about it. 


USC is an exciting university. Besides having a statue of a Trojan that'll make you think of the Odysseus, USC gives a chance for students to be in a challenging and breathing environment where energy is all around you. It's the university that offers excellent attention to the arts and will let any aspiring businessman or filmmaker start their goals with gusto. It'll be a challenge to be part of this place, but with the guide we got for you, we know you can join this university and start your journey with a smile! 



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