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USC Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

USC main entrance

USC Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

The University of Southern California (USC) offers a unique and vibrant academic environment, drawing students from diverse backgrounds with its rich array of programs and opportunities. As part of the application process, USC asks prospective students to complete supplemental essays.

These essays are a crucial component, providing applicants with the opportunity to showcase their individuality, interests, and how they align with what USC has to offer. Understanding and effectively responding to these prompts is key to making a compelling case for admission.

USC campus in the morning

How Many Supplemental Essays Does USC Have?

The University of Southern California (USC) has six supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle.

The number of USC supplemental essay prompts you need to answer depends on your specific application. All applicants must respond to the main “Why USC?” essay. If you have had a gap in your educational history, you have the option to explain it in the optional gap year essay.

The short answer section is also required for all applicants. If you’re applying to the Viterbi School of Engineering, you’ll need to answer the specific prompts for that school. In total, all applicants will answer at least four prompts (the “Why USC?” essay, short answers, and either the Viterbi prompts or the personal passion prompt), with an optional fifth prompt if you have a gap in education.

What are the 2023-2024 USC Supplemental Essay Prompts?

The USC supplemental essay prompts allow applicants to showcase different facets of their personality, experiences, and academic interests. The specifics of these prompts are:

Main 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)

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)

Short Answers

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

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)

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. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why. (250 words)

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)

USC campus

How to Write the 2023-2024 USC Supplemental Essays

Prompt 1:

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)

This prompt asks students to elaborate on their academic interests, how they intend to pursue these interests at USC, and why USC is the preferred institution for these pursuits. It also invites students to discuss their first and second-choice major selections. Here are four key points for students to consider when brainstorming and developing their responses:

1. Clarify Academic Interests and Goals: Students should begin by identifying and explaining their primary academic interests. This involves not just naming a major or field of study but delving into specific aspects of that field that captivate them. For instance, if interested in Computer Science, is it AI, software development, or data science that excites them the most? Students should also articulate their long-term goals related to these interests. This could be career aspirations, research goals, or how they intend to contribute to the field.

2. Connection to USC’s Programs and Resources: The essay should clearly articulate why USC is the ideal place to pursue these academic interests. This involves researching and mentioning specific programs, courses, faculty, research opportunities, clubs, or other resources at USC that align with their interests. For example, if a student is interested in Environmental Science, they might mention USC’s specific research initiatives in this area, or unique courses that are offered.

3. Personal and Professional Development: Students should reflect on how studying at USC will aid in their personal and professional development. This could include discussing the university’s culture, its location in Los Angeles, networking opportunities, internships, and other experiential learning opportunities that USC uniquely provides. This part of the essay should intertwine the student’s academic, professional, and personal growth trajectories.

4. Discussing First and Second-choice Majors: If students have selected a second-choice major, they should explain how this choice aligns with their broader academic interests and career goals, and how USC’s offerings in this secondary field are also appealing. This part of the essay is an opportunity to showcase adaptability and a breadth of interest. For instance, a student interested in both Journalism (first choice) and Political Science (second choice) could discuss how USC’s strong programs in both these fields would enable them to explore the intersection of media and politics.

Prompt 2:

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)

It’s important for students to understand that the purpose of this question is to provide context to their overall academic journey, particularly if there are periods of non-enrollment that might raise questions in the admissions process.

Here are four key points students should consider when addressing this prompt:

1. Honesty and Clarity: Start by being transparent about the reason for the gap. Whether it was due to personal, medical, financial reasons, or other circumstances, it’s crucial to state this plainly. Admission officers appreciate honesty and understanding the context can positively influence how they view your application.

2. Reflection on the Experience: Discuss what you did during this gap. Did you engage in self-study, take on a job, volunteer, or face personal challenges? Reflecting on these experiences shows maturity and self-awareness. Explain how these activities or experiences contributed to your personal or academic growth, offering insights into your resilience, adaptability, or other strengths.

3. Connecting to Future Goals: Link your experiences during the gap to your future aspirations. For instance, if you took a part-time job, discuss skills you gained that will be valuable in college. If you faced challenges, explain how they shaped your perspectives or academic interests. This connection demonstrates purpose and foresight in your educational journey.

4. Positive Outlook and Learnings: Conclude with a positive note about what you learned from this period and how it has prepared you for college. Emphasize qualities like perseverance, responsibility, or new perspectives gained. Admissions officers are interested in how students overcome challenges and their ability to thrive in new environments.

Remember, this essay is an opportunity to provide a fuller picture of who you are beyond just your academic record. It’s about showcasing your ability to grow from experiences and how those experiences have prepared you for the challenges and opportunities of a university education.

Prompt 3: Questions 2-10 are limited to 100 characters each

  1. Describe yourself in three words. 
  2. What is your favorite snack?
  3. Best movie of all time
  4. Dream job
  5. If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
  6. Dream trip
  7. What TV show will you binge-watch next?
  8. Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
  9. Favorite Book
  10. If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

Answering these USC Supplemental Essay prompts with a 100-character limit each presents a unique challenge. It requires students to be concise yet impactful in their responses. Here are four key points to guide students in brainstorming and crafting their answers:

1. Authenticity and Self-Reflection: Encourage students to introspect and identify aspects that genuinely represent them. For instance, when describing themselves in three words, they should choose adjectives that reflect their core personality traits or values. Authenticity is key in such responses, as it helps the admissions committee understand who they are beyond academic achievements.

This process begins with self-reflection, urging students to consider what truly defines them at their core. It’s about identifying those qualities, beliefs, or experiences that make them unique and contribute to their individuality. Whether it’s a commitment to community service, a passion for innovation, or a love for creative expression, the chosen descriptors should genuinely resonate with the student’s authentic self.

For instance, if asked to describe themselves in three words, students should avoid generic or clichéd terms and instead choose words that reflect their true essence. If resilience, curiosity, and empathy are integral to their character, selecting these words provides a more meaningful and genuine insight into who they are.

The authenticity in these responses is crucial because it allows the admissions committee to see beyond the academic achievements and standardized test scores. It provides a window into the student’s personality, values, and the qualities that make them a valuable addition to the academic community. Demonstrating self-awareness and a willingness to showcase the true self helps establish a connection between the applicant and the admissions committee, fostering a more meaningful understanding of the individual behind the application.

2. Specificity and Detail: In responses like ‘favorite snack’ or ‘dream job,’ the more specific they can be, the better. Instead of just saying “chocolate,” they could say “homemade chocolate chip cookies.” For ‘dream job,’ rather than a broad term like ‘doctor,’ they might specify ‘pediatric surgeon.’ Specific details add personality and depth to their responses, making them more memorable.

For instance, when asked about their favorite snack, a response like “homemade chocolate chip cookies” is more impactful than a generic answer like “chocolate.” The specificity of mentioning the type of chocolate and the homemade nature adds a layer of detail that makes the response more vivid and personal. It not only reveals the snack preference but also provides a glimpse into the student’s tastes and perhaps even a connection to family traditions or culinary interests.

Similarly, in the context of the ‘dream job’ question, specifying a role like “pediatric surgeon” instead of the broad term “doctor” adds depth and precision. It demonstrates a clear and well-defined career goal, showcasing the student’s aspirations and the level of thought they’ve put into their future. This level of detail not only makes the response more memorable but also conveys a sense of purpose and commitment.

3. Personal Connection and Meaning: For prompts like ‘best movie of all time’ or ‘favorite book,’ students should choose options that have a personal significance to them, not just popular choices. They could briefly explain why it’s their favorite, like a movie that inspired them or a book that changed their perspective. This offers a glimpse into their interests and values.

When responding to prompts about their favorite movie or book, students should go beyond surface-level popularity and consider works that have had a meaningful impact on them. Explaining why a particular movie is their favorite or a specific book holds significance provides insight into their interests, values, and the factors that influence their choices.

For instance, if a student names a movie that inspired them or a book that changed their perspective, they are not only expressing their preferences but also sharing a part of their intellectual and emotional journey. The explanation adds layers to their response, offering the admissions committee a glimpse into the student’s thought processes, the themes that resonate with them, and the transformative experiences they’ve encountered through these cultural works.

4. Creativity and Imagination: Prompts like ‘dream trip’ or ‘ideal roommate’ are opportunities for students to showcase their creativity and aspirations. They should think about what these choices say about them. For example, choosing a historical figure or a literary character as an ideal roommate can reflect their interests in history or literature. Similarly, a dream trip to a unique destination can highlight their adventurous spirit or cultural interests.

For instance, when asked about their dream trip, students are encouraged to think beyond typical tourist destinations and delve into unique or culturally rich locations. Their choice can reflect not only a desire for adventure but also a deep appreciation for specific cultures or historical significance. Whether it’s a dream trip to explore ancient ruins, immerse themselves in a foreign culture, or engage in an unconventional adventure, the response becomes a canvas for expressing their imaginative and adventurous spirit.

Similarly, the ‘ideal roommate’ prompt provides an opportunity for creative expression. Instead of choosing a generic descriptor, students can think outside the box by envisioning an ideal roommate as a historical figure, literary character, or someone with unique qualities. This choice not only showcases their creativity but also provides insights into their interests and influences. For example, choosing a historical figure might indicate a passion for history, while opting for a literary character could highlight a love for literature.

It’s important to remind students that these short responses contribute to painting a comprehensive picture of their personality, interests, and aspirations. Each answer, though brief, is a chance to stand out and add color to their application. Encouraging them to have fun with these prompts can also help in eliciting genuine and engaging responses.

Student writing college or university application.

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)

This USC Viterbi School of Engineering essay prompt is seeking to understand the unique qualities, experiences, and perspectives that a student would bring to their engineering and computer science community. It emphasizes diversity, collaboration, and the impact of individual contributions on the broader world. Here are four key points to consider when brainstorming and crafting a response:

1. Highlight Unique Background and Experiences: Reflect on your personal, cultural, or educational background that sets you apart from others. This could include unique challenges you’ve overcome, distinctive cultural experiences, or a non-traditional path to engineering or computer science. Explain how these experiences have shaped your worldview, problem-solving approach, or your understanding of engineering’s role in society.

2. Emphasize Collaboration and Community Impact: Consider instances where you have worked in diverse teams or contributed to community projects. Illustrate your ability to collaborate effectively with people from different backgrounds and how your contributions improved the team’s performance or the project’s outcome. This can demonstrate your readiness to be part of a diverse engineering community and your commitment to using engineering for the greater good.

3. Showcase Specific Skills or Talents: Identify any unique skills or talents that you possess which would be beneficial in an engineering context. This could range from technical skills like coding in a rare programming language to soft skills like exceptional leadership or creative problem-solving. Explain how these skills have been developed and how they could be applied within the USC Viterbi community.

4. Personal Traits and Future Goals: Discuss personal traits or characteristics that make you a unique candidate for USC Viterbi. This might include resilience, creativity, a passion for innovation, or a specific career goal that drives your interest in engineering. Link these traits to how you envision your future at USC and beyond, showing a clear connection between who you are, what you hope to achieve, and how USC Viterbi can facilitate these aspirations.

In each of these points, it’s important to be authentic and specific. Use personal anecdotes or examples to illustrate your points, and make sure to directly address how these aspects of your background, skills, and personality would contribute to the USC Viterbi student body.

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. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why. (250 words)

This prompt is essentially asking students to demonstrate their understanding of the National Academy of Engineering’s 14 Grand Challenges and to reflect on which particular challenge resonates most with them and why.

It’s an opportunity for students to showcase their passion for engineering or computer science, their problem-solving skills, and their vision for a better future. Here are four key points for brainstorming and detailed explanations for each:

1. Understanding the NAE Grand Challenges: Before choosing a challenge, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of what each of the 14 challenges entails. These challenges cover a broad range of issues, from making solar energy economical to providing access to clean water. Students should research each challenge thoroughly to understand its global impact, the technical and ethical aspects involved, and the current efforts being made to address it. This research will not only help in selecting a challenge but also provide a solid foundation to articulate why it is important to them.

2. Personal Connection and Relevance: Students should reflect on why a particular challenge is significant to them personally. This could be due to a personal experience, a community issue they are passionate about, or an area they want to specialize in. For instance, if a student has experienced or witnessed the challenges of accessing clean water, they might choose to write about that. The key here is to make a genuine personal connection that shows sincerity and depth of thought.

3. Vision for the Future: This prompt is also an opportunity to discuss what the student hopes to achieve in the field of engineering or computer science. Students should consider how they envision contributing to the solution of their chosen Grand Challenge. This could include innovative ideas, career aspirations, or the impact they hope to make in the world. It’s an opportunity to showcase creativity, ambition, and a forward-thinking mindset.

4. Demonstrating Skills and Qualities: Lastly, students should use this essay to indirectly highlight their relevant skills and qualities. Solving these grand challenges requires critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and perseverance. Students should consider how their past experiences and future aspirations demonstrate these qualities. For example, discussing team projects or initiatives they have been a part of can subtly show their collaborative skills and dedication to solving complex problems.

By focusing on these four areas, students can craft a response that is not only insightful and well-informed but also deeply personal and reflective of their ambitions in the field of engineering or computer science.

Prompt 6: Dornsife College Applicants

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)

This is an invitation for students to showcase their passion, knowledge, and communication skills. This question probes into what matters most to the student and tests their ability to engage an audience on a topic they are passionate about. Here are four key points to consider when brainstorming and elaborating on your response:

1. Identify Your Passion: Students should start by identifying a topic they are genuinely passionate about. It could be anything from environmental issues, social justice, technological innovations, to art and culture. The key is to choose a subject that you have a deep connection with, as this will naturally make your essay more authentic and compelling. Reflect on experiences, courses, or personal interests that have shaped your views on this topic.

2. Understand Your Audience: Given the scenario of addressing a million people, think about how to make your topic relevant and interesting to a diverse audience. This doesn’t mean diluting your passion but finding a universal angle or significance. For instance, if your topic is about climate change, focus on its global impact and collective responsibility rather than just technical details.

3. Structure Your Talk: In 250 words, your essay should have a clear structure: an engaging introduction, a body where you delve into your topic, and a conclusion that leaves the audience thinking. You might start with a personal anecdote or a surprising fact, explain your views and insights in the body, and conclude with a call to action or a thought-provoking question.

4. Showcase Personal Growth and Aspirations: Link your passion to your personal growth and future aspirations. How has this topic shaped you? What have you learned from it? How does it relate to your goals at USC and beyond? Demonstrating this connection shows depth and helps admissions officers see the value you’d bring to the campus community.

Remember, this prompt is a great opportunity to let your personality and intellect shine through. Be authentic, be concise, and most importantly, be passionate about what you’re discussing.

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Structuring Your Essays

The importance of proper structure cannot be overstated. A well-structured essay not only makes your content more readable and engaging but also demonstrates your ability to organize thoughts coherently. Effective structuring is crucial in conveying your ideas clearly and making a strong impression on the admissions committee. Here are three key points on how applicants can structure their USC supplemental essays:

1. Introduction: Begin your USC supplemental essay with a compelling hook. This could be a vivid anecdote, a surprising fact, or a provocative question related to the essay prompt. The introduction should not only grab the reader’s attention but also set the tone for the rest of the essay. Following the hook, introduce a clear thesis statement. This statement should succinctly encapsulate your main argument or the key message of your essay. For example, if the prompt is about a problem you’d like to solve, your thesis might focus on why this problem is significant to you.

2. Body: Divide the body of your essay into paragraphs, each focusing on a specific point or aspect of your argument. This is where you delve deeper into your experiences, reflections, and perspectives related to the prompt. Use specific examples and personal experiences to support your points. For instance, if you’re writing about a passion or interest, describe how you’ve pursued this interest and what you’ve learned from it. It’s essential to link back these experiences to how they have prepared you for a future at USC, demonstrating your fit and potential contributions to the university community.

3. Conclusion: Conclude your essay by tying together all your points and restating your thesis in light of the arguments you’ve presented. The conclusion should not just summarize but also reflect on your growth and how it relates to your future at USC. Additionally, articulate forward-looking thoughts – how do you envision applying what you’ve discussed in your essay to your experiences at USC? This approach not only reinforces your thesis but also leaves a lasting impression, showing your enthusiasm and readiness for the challenges and opportunities at USC.

Remember, a well-structured essay for the USC supplemental essays 2023-2024 is like a roadmap: it guides the reader through your thoughts and experiences in a logical and engaging way, making your candidacy memorable and impressive.

How to Effectively Revise and Proofread

These processes ensure that your essay is not only free of errors but also resonates with the admissions committee. Here are four key points to guide applicants in revising and proofreading their essays:

1. Read Aloud for Flow and Clarity: After completing your first draft, read your essay aloud. This practice helps in catching awkward phrasings, lengthy sentences, and any inconsistencies in the flow of the essay. Pay attention to how each sentence transitions to the next. Your essay should have a natural and logical progression of ideas. For USC supplemental essays, it’s crucial that your narrative is clear and compelling, and reading aloud can help you achieve a conversational yet formal tone.

2. Seek External Feedback: Share your essay with someone you trust – a teacher, counselor, or a peer – for constructive feedback. Often, an external perspective can provide insights into areas that might need clarification or improvement. They can also tell you whether your essay effectively addresses the prompt and represents your personality and aspirations. Ask them specific questions like, “Does this essay sound like me?” or “What is the main message you get from reading this essay?”

3. Focus on Specificity and Relevance: In your revisions, ensure that every sentence serves a purpose and contributes to answering the prompt. USC supplemental essays should not contain generic or filler content. If a sentence or paragraph doesn’t add value or isn’t directly relevant to the prompt, consider revising or removing it. This focus on specificity and relevance will make your essay more impactful and concise.

4. Final Proofreading for Perfection: After revising for content and flow, the final step is thorough proofreading. This step goes beyond just checking for spelling or grammatical errors; it’s about ensuring that your essay meets all the guidelines and specifications of the USC supplemental essays 2023-2024. Verify word count, format, and make sure you have followed all the instructions. Tools like grammar checkers can be helpful but don’t rely solely on them. A meticulous manual check is indispensable.

Remember, effective revision and proofreading take time. It’s advisable to take breaks between these stages to return to your essay with a fresh perspective. This thorough approach ensures that your USC supplemental essay is not only error-free but also a true reflection of your abilities and aspirations.

Why Choose USC?

Choosing to study at the University of Southern California offers numerous advantages, underscored by its strong academic reputation and rankings. As of 2023, USC is ranked 19th in the United States and 24th globally, according to EduRank. It has also excelled in 15 research topics, indicating a robust and diverse academic environment. The QS World University Rankings for 2024 place USC at 116th globally, showing its consistent presence in the top tiers of global higher education.

The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings for 2023 place USC at 74th globally and 58th in the ARWU Academic Ranking of World Universities by the ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, highlighting its international recognition and excellence in various academic fields.

USC’s high rankings in graduate employability, national standings, and subject-specific evaluations further establish its status as a leading institution. It holds the 65th spot in the Times Higher Education Rankings and 134th in the QS World University Rankings for 2023.

Furthermore, USC is ranked 31st nationally by CollegeSimply.com in its 2023 U.S. Colleges Ranking, placing it within the top 8% of four-year colleges in the United States. This ranking reflects outstanding ratings in overall experience, academics, resources, outcomes, and value, all of which are crucial factors for students considering where to pursue their higher education.

Studying at USC means joining an esteemed institution recognized for its academic excellence, research opportunities, and commitment to fostering a diverse and dynamic learning environment. The university’s rankings reflect its dedication to providing high-quality education and preparing students for successful careers and meaningful contributions to society.

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Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the USC supplemental essays offer a unique opportunity for you to showcase different facets of your personality, experiences, and aspirations. By reflecting on USC’s values, being authentic in your storytelling, demonstrating a clear fit with the university, focusing on quality writing, carefully proofreading your work, and ensuring coherence across all essays, you can create compelling narratives that resonate with the admissions committee.

Remember, these essays are more than just answers to prompts; they are a canvas for you to illustrate who you are and how you envision your journey at USC. Approach them with sincerity, enthusiasm, and a clear understanding of how USC can help shape your future, and you’ll be well on your way to crafting essays that stand out.

It is important to have all the necessary information before making any decision. AdmissionSight is always here to help you with any questions or concerns. We have over ten years of experience helping students successfully navigate the challenging admissions process.

Consult with AdmissionSight and find out how we can help you get into the school of your choice by ensuring that you are fully informed and prepared for the application process. We will work with you to develop a personalized plan that meets your specific needs and goals. We will also provide you with access to our team of experts who can help you with everything from choosing the right schools to writing your essays.

Don’t let the admissions process overwhelm you. Contact AdmissionSight today and let us help you achieve your dreams.

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