USC Short Answer Questions

August 26, 2022
By AdmissionSight

USC Short Answer Questions

What Is the Primary Purpose of Short Answer Questions?

It’s crucial to understand that the University of Southern California’s acceptance rate in 2022 is lower than Harvard’s was in the late 1990s when applying to a school like USC. Just 12% of the applicants who submitted applications to USC during the previous round were accepted.

Prospective Trojans should understand that in addition to getting good grades in high school and performing well on standardized tests, they must also shine in other important areas of their application. The subject of the USC short answer questions is now at hand.

Now, what is the primary purpose of short answer questions? The additional essays for USC are quite significant. The USC essays, after all, are a window into your particular skills and talents. You can utilize compelling USC extra essays to demonstrate who you are and why you belong at USC to the admissions committee in your own words.

Four club members holding their folders on a room.

The importance of the USC supplemental essays has also increased as a result of the test-optional admissions policy. The ACT/SAT requirements have been eliminated by many Californian universities. USC hasn’t, though. Your USC supplemental essays can help you stand out if your test results are similar to those of another applicant. In other words, closely follow the USC instructions.

How Many Supplementals Do You Need for USC?

A great opportunity for candidates to set themselves apart from the sea of other qualified applicants is the epic additional essay portion offered by USC. If you’re curious how many supplementals do you need for USC, you must write two 250-word essays and one optional essay on top of the ten USC short answer questions you need to complete.

Students answering a test on a desk.

In one of the two required essays, three prompts are available to choose from. The required essays cover your academic interests: diversity, multidisciplinary education, or personal background. On the other hand, you have the chance to discuss any gaps in your high school education in the optional essay.

How To Answer USC Short Answer Questions?

USC Supplementary Essays – Question 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. (Approximately 250 words)

This is the closest thing USC has to a “why school” inquiry. The college wants to know if you’ve genuinely given your application some thought or if you’re only interested because it’s a highly regarded institution in beautiful LA. Therefore, you must review the college’s list of academic programs and consider how they would assist you in achieving your objectives before you sit down to compose your response.

Male student writing an essay in front of the laptop.


Don’t overemphasize the origins of your interest in the issues in your essay because this question is all about looking to the future. Your main argument should demonstrate how you’ll benefit from distinctive USC degrees like “Cinematic Arts, Film and Television Production” or “Animation and Digital Arts.” If you’ve picked a major like chemistry or music that is offered at other universities, you need to make it clear how USC’s programs and resources can support your unique goals. Don’t restrict yourself to academic options just. Include details on any related academic groups or programs, if any exist.

Your arguments should all be geared to USC. Find out if a particular program is specific to USC or a national one that is offered at all schools by doing your study.

USC Supplementary Essays – Question 2 (Required)

Please answer one of the questions below. (250 words)

1st 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. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.

Think critically about your experiences as you decide what to write about for this challenge. You’re not required to make a very significant decision. Your topic can focus on a smaller-scale circumstance while still telling a memorable tale that influenced your viewpoint.

It is important that your story is personal and portrays you as a wise, likable, and self-aware person. Consider a period when you may have discovered, for instance, that you were in error. If you were fast to categorize someone but they have since become one of your closest friends or most influential members, you could express your knowledge that your first assumptions were wrong.

It would take more than 250 words to describe every second of what transpired when your point of view was contested. For the USC supplementary essays 2021–2022, you should focus on the last half of the question if you choose to choose this prompt. Explain why this experience was so important to you, how it affected the way you think, and what it means for you going ahead in your response.

Admissions committee members ought to be able to tell that you are receptive to many viewpoints and that you would make a significant contribution to the USC community.

2nd Prompt

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

You have a fantastic opportunity to discuss a passion that hasn’t been highlighted in the remainder of your application by responding to this prompt in the USC supplemental essays 2021–2022. Similarly, if you’re a musician or writer, you might have been more involved in artistic activities.

If you’re a STEM student, your classes and extracurricular activities are probably focused on science. However, your major does not necessarily reflect who you are. You might be an accomplished violinist who majors in science. If you choose this question, you might additionally comment on odd pastimes like competitive eating or cross-stitching.

Don’t go into great detail about the action. Your response should primarily focus on why the subject is so important to you, how you’ve gone above and beyond to research new problems in the area, and how you want to continue researching it in college.

Select this essay if you’re eager to show the admissions committee that you are a well-rounded person who is interested in a subject unrelated to your main academic interests. It would be wise to explain here how the interest relates to your main interest even if it is different from it.

3rd Prompt

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

This is the USC supplemental essay prompt for 2021–2022, and it is the most flexible. Several things should be considered while responding to it: 1) What do your resume’s personal statement and activity list not mention? and 2) What sets you apart from other students your age in terms of experience, a component of your background, or a particular extracurricular interest?

You could go into further detail about a quality you adore about yourself. Ensure it’s not something straightforward like “I’m funny.” If you have a really wicked sense of humor, you must demonstrate it. Why is it important to you, exactly? How did things change over time? Why do you think it’s great?

Anecdotes are crucial when it comes to framing such an essay because they help you convince the reader of your position. If all you do is declare a fact, you still have hundreds of words to use. Instead, tell a tale that highlights your unique qualities to provide admissions authorities a greater understanding of who you are as well as a sense of who you are and what is important to you.

USC Supplementary Essays – Question 3 (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).

Normally, it is advised to answer each USC essay question. You should only answer in this instance, though, if the prompt applies to you.

Male student looking out the window of a library.

You are asked to explain why you took a vacation from your studies in this third USC essay. This prompt allows you the ability to contextualize your time off and explain how it can affect the rest of your application if you missed time in high school due to COVID or other reasons.

USC is interested in learning the causes of your academic hiatus. This USC essay prompt deserves an honest response from you. If you felt like taking a break from education, explain to the admissions committee that you did so in order to reflect on your future goals. Share your stories if your family’s situation prevented you from attending college. Include a statement on why you want to go back to school now.

USC Short Answer Questions

Respond to all the prompts below (100 characters unless otherwise specified)

Describe yourself in three words (*25 characters).

First Word*:

Second Word*:

Third 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?

How would you fit into the college? That’s what USC wants to know. Help them to understand where on campus you could contribute and how its resources can support you in achieving your objectives.

Choose three words that express more information about who you are and what you enjoy, such as “eclectic” or “globetrotter,” rather than using common and ambiguous adjectives to describe yourself, such as “loyal” or “kind.” The words you choose shouldn’t all have the same meaning. Each entry should include a fresh component to convey information about you.

Make sure you’re being honest as you write these brief responses. Don’t limit yourself to writing what you believe the admissions officers will find interesting. It’s not required that your favorite TV program be Downton Abbey if you plan to study in history. It’s okay if you appreciate Kimmy Schmidtt’s humor as well.

Some of the questions, like selecting a fictional character or a well-known person as your roommate or your theme music, may help reveal a more playful side of you. Take some time to consider these responses. Even though the “why” for these questions hasn’t been asked, consider what the 100 characters can say about you. What conclusions do you expect admissions officers will draw about you from your responses? Don’t make an extra effort to be clever. However, if it comes naturally, don’t be hesitant to incorporate it.

While it’s crucial to be yourself, keep in mind that you also want to stand out from your peers. Avoid giving clichéd responses like “Disneyland is my dream vacation” or “The Avengers is my favorite movie of all time,” which the reader is sure to hear from other pupils. Declaring Harry Potter to be your favorite novel won’t exactly make your application stand out. The bottom line on “How to answer USC short answer questions?” is to be careful to be true to yourself while attempting to think creatively outside the box.

For specific majors, there are additional USC short answer questions to respond to.

For applicants of Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences:

Respond to one of the following inquiries.

Prompt 1

The word “education” can take on a variety of meanings. To some, receiving a high school or college diploma is the ultimate mark of being “educated,” while others take a different view. Looking past receiving a diploma, what does it mean to you personally to be “educated”? What standards will you put in place to define whether or not you’ve obtained a great education? (250 words)

This is an intriguing but challenging question. If you’ve given much thought to what education, and particularly a college education, means to you, you can respond to this prompt. Note that “beyond earning a diploma” was mentioned in the question. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t just state that you want a degree or something similar in your essay. Have your education-related experiences helped you significantly in a certain field? Do you think going to college will help you achieve your goals? Or, do you have a distinct viewpoint on the subject that offers a different way of thinking about it?

Prompt 2

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)

The answer is really up to you on this one. Regardless of scale, the school values students who show a strong commitment to pursuits and subjects that are important to them. USC is advising you to write about any relevant hobbies you have that aren’t strictly extracurriculars, as well as any movies you love and watch repeatedly. Most essays demand more than 250 words just for the introduction; it could be difficult for you to control yourself when discussing your preferred subject. You should focus more on why you could talk about something for so long and less on explaining the action, item, or issue at hand. Keep your description to one or two words.

For Engineering program applicants:

Prompt 1

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-word limit)

The answer is really up to you on this one. Pick a topic that will help you stand out from the competition and establish you as a standout prospect for engineering in the eyes of the institutions. Make sure your essay shows you as someone who would contribute to the Viterbi Engineering community, not merely as a leader or an interesting applicant. Make sure to highlight any specific school resources that can assist you in getting there. Also, don’t say your personal statement again.

Prompt 2

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 and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why.* (250-word limit)

Compared to supplemental essays that you may be used to, this prompt is a little different. Engineering students at USC are encouraged to take on new challenges and stand up when called upon. Think about which problem is most important to you while you browse the website. Remember to specifically state why the challenge is essential to you, whether you choose to “promote access to clean water” or “make solar energy more affordable.” Additionally, avoid giving general responses. We all understand the need for clean water, but why is this issue significant to you personally? To emphasize your point, use stories and other relevant experiences you may have.

What Does USC Look for in Essays?

Students who are eager to benefit from USC’s extensive array of programs are valued. Candidates that are interested in “global issues and aren’t afraid to speak up in class or fight for a cause” are sought after by the university.

Male student writing in his notebook while looking at the laptop.

It’s time to use the writing portion of the application to explain to the college why you think you meet the criteria of “What does USC look for in essays?” To assist you, here are quick tips for writing your responses to USC short answer questions.

  1. Self-reflection, critical self-analysis, and investigation are necessary for effective written responses to those prompts.
  2. Start early to allow yourself ample time to thoroughly investigate your preferred majors, produce excellent responses, and allow time for revisions.
  3. Use all of your 250-word allotted extra essays to make a strong impact on the admissions counselor reviewing your application.

By adhering to the aforementioned recommendations, you may produce an impressive application that will set you apart from other candidates.

Don’t forget to have fun, be a little creative, and demonstrate your true self to the USC admissions staff. Your greatest opportunity to enroll at USC depends on it. College admission experts, like AdmissionSight, can also help you in being a successful USC admit.

At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process to get accepted to the top universities in the world. On average, 75% of our students are admitted to an Ivy League university, Stanford, MIT, UChicago, and Caltech, one of the highest track records in the industry. Feel free to set up an appointment today to book your initial consultation.

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