How to Get into USC: Ultimate Guide (2024 Undergrad)

USC is a major, multi-faceted research university. The university boasts rigorous programs and opportunities in fields as varied as engineering and cinematic arts.  

So we’re not surprised you’re looking to increase your chances of getting into USC.

This guide aims to clarify the admissions process and offer actionable strategies to enhance your application.

How Hard Is It To Get Into USC?

For clarification, USC is very hard to get into.

USC is extremely competitive because it is one of the most prestigious research universities in the country. 

DO NOT underestimate this.

Its high selectivity often puts it on the college lists of very strong students across the country.

USC Acceptance Rate is 12%

The USC acceptance rate is about 12%. 

How many USC applicants are there? 80,808 first-year students applied in 2023.

Out of the 8,094 that were accepted, 3,633 enrolled. 

how to get into usc

What is USC Admissions Looking For?

According to the data published by USC, certain things matter more than others.

how to get into usc

‘Very Important’ Criteria

School Rigor

Basically, this is a document typically completed by a high school college counselor that provides USC with an understanding of the academic environment at your high school.

This information helps admissions committees evaluate an applicant’s performance relative to what is available at their school. 

It looks at things like the school’s curriculum difficulty (AP, IB, honors courses offered), GPA distribution among students, the number of students attending college, the types of colleges recent graduates attend, and school demographics.

Specifically at USC, to submit a competitive application you’ll need all, or mostly all A’s while taking the most challenging courses available. 

Ideal applicants will have taken a fair share of AP, honors, and/or IB classes. 


According to the data from the incoming 2023 class, 83% of students had a GPA of 3.75 or higher. The average GPA was 3.83 (4.0 scale).

The only specific curriculum requirement at USC is Math. You must have advanced algebra (or algebra II) as the minimum math requirement. 

To be competitive, you should take or plan to take pre-calculus and calculus. Especially for business and engineering majors.

USC is test-optional and does not require the SAT/ACT

Should you submit your scores? Over the last 3 years, roughly 50% of students have submitted either their SAT and/or ACT scores.

Although USC currently has a test-optional policy, we encourage you to take standardized tests if you can do so. 

If you don’t score well, don’t submit them. If you do, it’s in your best interest to do so.

So what do USC students typically score? The lower 25th percentile comes in around 1460 on their SATs while the upper 75th percentile scores 1540. ACT scores average around 32.

If your test scores match the average USC SAT and ACT scores, you should submit them. However, USC admissions will not penalize applicants who choose not to submit their test scores. 

Application Essays (Common App & USC Essays)

USC requires both the Common App and college-specific essays:

  1. Common App. Submit one response to the prompts. 
  2. USC Essays. USC’s application includes a writing supplement featuring:
    1. One required essay
    2. One optional essay (we recommend completing this)
    3. 10 short answer prompts (100 characters).

If your academic profile places you below the USC average GPA or SAT/ACT scores, the USC supplemental essays could be your chance to stand out. 

USC is looking for interesting applicants with unique stories and perspectives. Developing unique extracurricular experiences; either through a Capstone project or Internship is a great opportunity to differentiate yourself.

Spend time crafting these supplemental essays well in advance of the USC application deadlines.

Recommendation / Guidance Letter

This is a recommendation letter written by your guidance counselor that typically addresses the applicant’s character, potential, and how they stand out within their school community. 

USC is looking for students who are community-driven, leadership-oriented and demonstrate high achievement. 

Your Recommendation/Guidance letter is a great opportunity to reflect on these traits.

Your letter may also include any extenuating circumstances that could have impacted the student’s academic performance, if applicable.

At USC, one letter is required from either your school counselor or a teacher from your school. Applicants to the School of Cinematic Arts must submit two letters of recommendation.

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‘Important’ Criteria


Again USC is looking for students who are community-driven, leadership-oriented, and demonstrate high achievement. 

Your extracurriculars must reflect this!

You will have 4 opportunities to demonstrate your extracurriculars:

  • Common app activity list (list 10)
  • Common app essay (if you mention your extracurriculars)
  • USC supplemental essays (both)
  • USC supplemental written responses (if you mention them).

The goal is to be memorable and stand out When presenting your extracurriculars.

Take a moment to think about what most students may include on their list and if you still have time, try to participate in unique experiences that will help you stand out from your peers.


USC seeks a diverse range of talents and abilities in its admissions process. 

They are looking for dinstinctive individuals who contribute to the overall diversity and vibrancy of the student body.

Your personal achievements, extracurricular activities, unique talents, and a compelling personal statement will all play a role in a successful USC application. 

Tip: Present a holistic view of yourself, showcasing both your academic prowess and personal abilities that align with USC’s values and mission.

Character/Personal Qualities

USC places importance on qualities such as resilience, adaptability, and a demonstrated ability to collaborate with others. 

Use your Common App essay and USC essay(s) as an opportunity to present a narrative that aligns with these qualities. 

If you need help crafting your story and presenting it creatively and compellingly, consider partnering with an Admission Coach.

how to get into usc

‘Considered’ Criteria

Work Experience & Internships

The same things as extracurricular activities apply here. 

Racial/Ethnic & First-Generation

They will take into consideration minority racial/ethnic backgrounds and first-generation college applicants to ensure a diverse and equitable student body.

Over 25% of the incoming class at USC are first-generation college students.

USC legacy applicants

University of Southern California, 14% of 2022’s admitted USC students had family ties to alumni or donors.

‘Not Considered’ Criteria

Class Rank

Although it’s best to be at the top of your class, this is not part of the selection criteria at USC.

USC no longer interviews candidates

There is no live or video interview required.

USC does not give preference to California applicants.

The state or geographical residence will not directly be considered in your application. 

However, the most represented geographic areas in the U.S. include:

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • New Jersey
  • Washington
  • Oregon

If you are an international student, USC is most represented by the following countries:

  • China
  • India
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • Hong Kong

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USC Grad & Youth Coach

How to Improve Chances of Getting Into USC

We have four main suggestions for improving your chances of getting into USC.

  1. Write Creative and Compelling Essays
  2. Take the most rigorous courses at your school
  3. Develop meaningful extracurriculars that align with USC’s values
  4. Inherit a Glowing letter of recommendation

Write Incredible Essays

USC pays close attention to your personal narrative, background, and circumstances, realizing that each student is unique and has something to offer. Your application will paint a picture of you and how you might contribute to the community, tradition and spirit that make USC the dynamic place it is.

Set yourself apart with an attention-grabbing essay that captures your voice and creatively illustrates who you are.

What are the keys to succeeding: 

  1. Leveraging unique experiences
  2. Self-awareness (reflect on your interests and strengths)
  3. Research on the university itself (talk to USC grads)
  4. Have a strong thesis
  5. Write your essays as narrative stories

Take a look at the prompts for the 2024 incoming USC Class:

If you want help with your essays or other written prompts, be sure to apply for our admissions coaching program, where you work with a USC grad who can speak to the process and school-specific values.

Take the Most Rigorous Classes Available to You

USC expects students to have a challenging course load. Although Math is the only mandatory subject students should delve into other AP courses.

We suggest between 8-12 AP classes to put you in a safe range for USC admissions. It’ll make things easier if you start enrolling in AP courses over the summer or in your Junior year.

Develop Large Impact Extracurriculars that Align with USC’s Values

We’ve mentioned over and over that USC is looking for students who are community-driven, leadership-oriented and demonstrate high achievement. 

Think about the level of impact your extracurriculars have on not just yourself, but your school, community, region, state, and country. 

Aim to develop extracurriculars that have an impact on a large scale (state and country). You don’t want to be a big fish in a small pond. 

You want to be a big fish in a big pond.

Here are a few examples of ‘Large Impact’ extracurriculars:

  • Publishing a research paper
  • Patenting a device
  • Starting a business (and scaling it!)
  • Participating in a prestigious internship
  • Developing an app that solves a common pain point
  • Win a State Championship
  • Earn government funding for a significant project

If this list seems overwhelming or you’re not sure exactly where to get started. Consider enrolling in Youthfully’s Extracurricular program.

Inherit a Glowing Letter of Recommendation

To succeed in applying to top colleges, playing ‘the game’ is crucial. 

It’s not just about academic performance but building meaningful connections with teachers and counselors who influence your admission. 

Actively participate in class, engage in discussions, and show initiative beyond the classroom. 

Make yourself memorable by demonstrating genuine interest. 

Think about how many letters teachers and guidance counselors have to write for each student. 

By putting in the extra effort across all your interactions, you are encouraging them to go above and beyond with what they write for you.

We’d recommend enrolling in our Admissions Coaching program where we will guide you on these best practices.

Get into the college of your dreams.

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Does USC Do Early Admission?

Yes, USC has what’s called an “Early Action” deadline. 

Until recently, the university did not offer any kind of early admission option. This changed with the 2022-2023 application when USC began offering an Early Action application option.

Students who apply by the November 1st deadline are eligible for EA.

EA is significant at USC because these students are typically accepted at a 6-8% higher rate, earn their acceptance by mid-January, and also become eligible to earn merit scholarships.

The merit scholarships are significant and can range from a few thousand dollars to full undergrad tuition. Here are a few examples:

  • Trustee Scholarship: full tuition, four-year scholarship
  • Presidential Scholarship: half tuition
  • Deans Scholarship: half tuition

Even if you aren’t hoping for a scholarship, with the higher acceptance rate, and knowing your acceptance status sooner, applying by November 1 is a smart strategy for gaining admission to USC.

Additionally, there is a separate application deadline (December 1st) for students of special programs:

  • Dramatic Arts
  • Cinematic Arts, and Music programs
  • Kaufman School of Dance
  • Lovine and Young Academy
  • Roski School of Art & Design
  • School of Architecture

These programs may also require a portfolio, resume, and/or samples of work. We recommend visiting the USC admissions website directly to view all program-specific requirements. 

how to get into usc

USC Admissions Requirements & Criteria

Regular admissions

Finally, USC offers a Regular Decision option, which is neither early nor binding. 

The Regular Decision deadline is January 15th.

Students applying through Regular Decision receive their admissions decisions no later than April 1st.

Special admissions

Certain programs at USC have additional requirements. 

This wouldn’t be the Ultimate Guide if we did not include these as well!

Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This is an additional 250-word (or less) writing prompt that will appear on the Common App when you select USC Dornsife major as a first choice.

Remember there is no “best” or “right” answer. USC simply wants to know more about you and your motivations and passions. 

It’s suggested that you talk about something you haven’t already referenced elsewhere on your applications.

USC School of Architecture

If you are looking to apply to the USC School of Architecture you will need to submit a portfolio and an additional architecture writing and video supplement via the SlideRoom link provided in the Common App.

This included all first-year applicants to the Bachelor of Architecture and the B.S. in Architecture + Inventive Technologies programs.

.Your portfolio is a reflection of your creativity and curiosity, so curate it thoughtfully. Here is a brief guide on how to do so:

Diversity Matters:

  • Showcase a range of creative interests beyond just architecture.
  • Consider including drawing, sketching, painting, graphic design, photography, video, web design, sculpture, ceramics, fashion design, and furniture design.

Digital or Handcrafted:

  • Acceptable works can be produced digitally and/or by hand.
  • Include pieces from school, extracurricular activities, or independent projects.

Technical Drafting Exclusion:

  • Skip technical drafting unless you designed the drawing’s content.

Quality Over Quantity:

  • Limit your portfolio to your most compelling and strongest works.
  • Avoid redundancy; don’t include too many pictures of the same piece.

Collaborative Projects:

  • If the work is a result of a group effort, clearly state your specific contribution.

Description Prompt:

  • As you upload each image, provide insightful descriptions for better context.


  • Submit a portfolio with a minimum of 6 and up to 12 digital image files.
  • Upload online by December 1, 2024, for consideration in first-year merit scholarship and regular decision.
  • Exclude other electronic formats or CD/DVD submissions; only online uploads are accepted.
  • Avoid sending original or bound materials.
  • Limit submissions to one online entry.


The writing and video supplements are designed to assess awareness, determination, and vision. 

Ensure your responses are no more than 200 words in length for each written question. 

The video should be no more than 30-60 seconds. USC requests you speak into the camera and do not share screens and narrate.


1)    Our school views architecture as a “human right,” and that design should exhibit “social consciousness.” Given your experiences within the built environment and society, explain how you think architecture should contribute to the greater social consciousness.

2)    At USC Architecture we will teach you to become strong critical thinkers. A work of architecture can be evaluated in many ways, visually, experientially, technologically, etc. With this in mind please tell us about a piece of architecture that you’ve experienced and how its design resonated with you.

3)    Please produce a video that presents what you consider to be your favorite project in your portfolio and why. Try to be as informative and concise as possible when you’re speaking about the project but also remember to be yourself. We are looking for students that are passionate with a keen curiosity about architecture and design.


1)   Given our program’s stated commitment to educating students through the multiple lenses of architecture, technology, and entrepreneurship, if you had super power, what architectural product would you create?

2)    At USC Architecture we will teach you to become strong critical thinkers. Architectural components can be evaluated in many ways visually, experientially, technologically, etc. With this in mind please describe an architectural product or material that you’ve personally experienced and how its design resonated with you.

3)    Please produce a video that presents what you consider to be your favorite project in your portfolio and why. Try to be as informative and concise as possible when you’re speaking about the project but also remember to be yourself. We are looking for students who are passionate with a keen curiosity about architecture and design.

Roski School of Art and Design

Along with the standard USC admission material, the Roski School of Art and Design requires the following:

  1. A portfolio of 10 to 15 images of artwork you’ve made within the last two years.
  2. A 500-word Artist Statement
  3. A list of creative accomplishments in chronological order 

Here are some internal tips from USC (and some from us too) that will help you maximize your submission:

Your portfolio should showcase your best skills in various media or a single area and reflect personally unique ideas.

Acceptable work includes class assignments or personal projects; PDF format images are not accepted.

Distinction is achieved by moving beyond a mere depiction of the world, presenting bodies of work with diverse ideas, and showcasing creative thinking.

A successful portfolio stands out, goes beyond class assignments, and demonstrates awareness of art and culture.

Impress with articulate insights, strong concepts, excellent execution, and a unique perspective.

Winning AP Art concentration: avoid randomness, focus on a specific and personal concept, and seek inspiration from successful contemporary artists.

Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation

To apply for IYA Academy, you must select “IYA: Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation B.S.” as your first-choice major, under Regular Decision (the Academy does not participate in Early Action at USC). 

In addition to the Common Application, first-year applicants must also submit a one-minute video, a supplemental portfolio, and complete virtual interviews.

For the one-minute video, you have 2 options to choose from:

For your IYA Portfolio, you must include 5 submissions that include examples or projects in the realms of design, technology, business, arts, science, or communication. Here are your 4 categories:

  • Visual arts and design
  • Technology or science
  • Time-based media
  • Business ventures

According to USC, it’s in your best interest to use a range of examples.

Lastly, IYA applicants must complete a two-stage selection process. 

After a focused, multi-tiered faculty review of all application materials, a shortlist of select applicants are invited to take part in virtual interviews in February for first-year applicants, while transfer interviews will take place in April. 

All first-year applicants are notified of their interview status by email by mid to late January, and transfers by mid to late March. 

Those who are not selected for an interview with the Academy are still considered for admission to the University for their second choice major, or as “undecided”.

USC School of Cinematic Arts

The School of Cinematic Arts at USC is very specific with its additional requirements. Each major has their own requested criteria. 

It’ll be best to visit the school’s website to determine the supplemental requirements for each of the school’s 8 majors.

Remember, if this is your first-choice major, you will need to submit two letters of recommendation (USC usually only requires one). 

The second recommendation can be from any non-family member.

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Kaufman School of Dance

The supplemental material required for Kaufman School of Dance is as follows:

Two Video Auditions:

  • Present two one-minute contrasting solos/excerpts, showcasing range and interpretation.
  • Original choreography is welcome, but not required. Improvisation, freestyle, or site-specific work is also acceptable.
  • Identify yourself clearly, and if including partnering work, ensure easy identification.
  • Use a dance studio if possible for newly-shot work. Clear visibility of technique and musicality is essential.

Video Response:

  • Upload a 30- to 60-second video addressing how one of USC Kaufman’s values (excellence, belonging, risk-taking, community, integrity) will impact the future of the dance field.

One-Page Dance Resume:

  • Follow the provided template, indicating the status of SAT/ACT examinations. Specify if not submitting results.

Short Answer (150-250 words):

  • Explain how you plan to leverage the academic, artistic, and social opportunities at USC as a dance student.

Two Photographs:

  • Provide a clear headshot and an action shot reflecting your personality. Professional photos are not required, and no group shots are accepted.

School of Dramatic Arts

Similarly to the School of Cinematic Arts, the School of Dramatic Arts requires specific supplemental material for each major listed.

It’s best to visit the school’s website to see the requirements for each of the 7 majors. 

Thornton School of Music

Thorton School of Music offers 13 different majors that either require students to complete an interview or an audition as part of the application process.

Visit the USC – Thornton School of Music website to see the exact requirements for the incoming class.



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