How to Get Into USC: Requirements, Acceptance Rate & Tips

Bridge in Los Angeles, California
September 6, 2023
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 9/6/23

Interested in getting into USC to complete interdisciplinary study and collaborate with leading researchers? Read on to learn more about applying to USC!

A student reading a textbook

The University of Southern California started off as a small school. It opened its doors to only 53 students and ten teachers in 1880. Today, this school is made up of over 49,000 students and 4,600 faculty members. Five of these members are Nobel laureates, and dozens are recipients of other prestigious national honors.

USC is considered an anchor institution in Los Angeles and is well known for its diverse course offerings and extensive opportunities for research. Though USC vs. UCLA is often seen as a rivalry, both have their strengths. 

USC has much to offer, from strong academics to diverse extracurriculars, providing students rich opportunities to grow and succeed. If this sounds like the perfect next step in your career, read on to learn more!

USC Acceptance Rate

The acceptance rate for USC is 13%. This means that only a small portion of all the applications they receive, about 13%, are actually accepted. USC is quite picky about who they admit, making it a competitive process for students applying.

This makes sense. USC was ranked among the top 20 public and private universities by The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education. So, it’s clearly a high-quality institution. 

How Hard Is It to Get Into USC?

It is difficult to get into USC. Last year, they received over 70,000 applications, so only 12% got accepted. And for the USC Class of 2025, more than 25% of the students who got in had perfect grades in high school.

USC Admissions Stats

If you feel discouraged by the USC acceptance rate, don’t! The most important part of getting into USC is meeting the admissions committee’s expectations. Fortunately, this guide will cover the exact standards USC sets for its students.

GPA Requirements

The first scores you want to focus on are your high school grades. USC aims to admit students who show the most academic promise and have a clear dedication to excellence. After all, their curriculums are designed to be challenging and stimulating! Students must be high-achievers to excel in them.

The average GPA of previous successful students was 3.82-4.0. Students should aim for a GPA as close to 4.0 as possible to impress the admissions committee.

SAT/ACT Requirements

USC has become a test-optional school, meaning students are not required to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of their application. For students who do decide to write either of these exams, USC will only consider your highest scores if you’ve written the exam multiple times.

Students should aim for an SAT score around 1410-1540 or an ACT score around 32-35 to be within the competitive range of past accepted students. So, take your time to prepare for the ACT and the SAT. Check out this ACT test guide to get ahead.

USC Application Requirements 

Aside from superior academic performance, USC searches for students who are willing to delve into new ideas, embrace lifelong learning, and become enthusiastic partners in learning and research. 

To assess students on all of these traits, USC requires several application materials from their students:

High School Transcripts

Your transcripts will be used to assess more than just your grades. The admissions committee will also evaluate your choices and willingness to challenge yourself! As such, all students are expected to take advanced courses that can better prepare them for college.

USC states their review process is not formulaic, so they do not have a list of prerequisite courses students must take. However, all students must take at least three years of mathematics, including advanced algebra. Students must maintain a C in these courses at the minimum to be eligible for consideration.

While USC does not reject students for not having the following courses, most admitted candidates choose to pursue the most rigorous courses available in the following subjects:

  • English
  • Science
  • Social science
  • Foreign language
  • The arts

The majority of admitted students also rank within the top 10% of their high school graduating class.

Letters of Recommendation

Students are required to submit one letter of recommendation from their counselor or a teacher of their choice.

Start by picking someone who knows you well and can talk about your abilities and character. Ask them politely, either in person or in a thoughtful email. Tell them why you need the letter and when it's due.

Your values will be reflected in this letter, giving the admissions committee better insight into what you can contribute to the classroom and the larger USC community.

Students applying to the School of Cinematic Arts must submit two letters of recommendation. 

A Personal Statement

Students are required to complete a personal statement using the Common App. Here are the seven Common App prompts that students have to choose from:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. The lessons we take from obstacles can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. Reflect on something someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

You’re encouraged to share the stories and experiences that you want to write about, rather than what you believe the USC committee wants to hear! Be original, and creative, and use an anecdote to illustrate your response!

UC-Specific Essays

You will also be required to answer a few UC-specific essays and short answers to apply to this university. These will be discussed in further detail later in the article.

Portfolios, Resumes, and Writing Samples

For students in art and design programs, or those applying to USC’s business, engineering, or pharmacy school, you will be required to submit additional application materials. This may include portfolios, auditions, resumes, or writing samples.

What Extracurricular Activities Does USC Look For?

While there are no specific USC extracurricular activities the school is looking for, they value your participation in activities such as clubs, sports, volunteering, arts, and more. Demonstrating leadership and community involvement is appreciated. 

If you want to put together a stellar application, it’s a good idea to check out this list of extracurricular activities. It’ll help you explore which one suits you so you can highlight your commitment and impact to showcase your contributions. Plus, it’ll offer you insight into the extracurricular activities at USC you’re interested in.

USC Deadlines

The college application process can be stressful. Not only will you have to keep track of all of your admissions materials, but you’ll also need to be mindful of important deadlines.

To help you through the process, here is a list of USC’s key application deadlines.

Dates What’s Due
November 1 Early Action applications due
December 1 Applications requiring portfolios or auditions due
January 9 Financial aid application due for Early Action applicants
January 15 Regular applications due for majors not requiring portfolios or auditions
Mid-late January Early applicants receive decisions
February 10 Financial aid applications due for regular applicants
April 1 Final day to receive admissions decisions for regular applicants

Source: USC

To ensure you’re aware of all the deadlines that apply to you, students applying to majors in the following schools require additional admissions materials and have an application deadline of December 1:

  • Iovine and Young Academy
  • Kaufman School of Dance
  • Roski School of Art & Design
  • School of Architecture
  • School of Cinematic Arts
  • School of Dramatic Arts
  • Thornton School of Music

Students applying to these schools are not eligible for Early Action. It’s also a good idea to put together an application timeline.   

Early Decision for USC

When it comes to applying to the University of Southern California (USC), you have options that might make your application process a bit different, such as Early Decision Option for USC.

Early Action for USC

You can also opt for an Early Action plan for USC. This allows you to submit your application earlier than the regular deadline. 

Is It Possible to Submit an Early Action or Early Decision Application to USC? 

If students apply through USC's Early Action (EA) plan, they must submit their materials earlier. In return, they'll get their admission decision (or deferral to Regular Decision) sooner than Regular Decision applicants.

USC Essays

Your essays and short answers help the admissions committee get to know your personality and unique voice. So, learning to write college admission essays that work is important. 

To help you get started, here are the essay prompts you can expect to answer:

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)
2. 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 and optional)

There are eight short answers you’ll be required to complete as well. While eight may seem overkill, each of these responses should only be 100 characters, except the first one, which should be up to 75. 

Here are the prompts you’ll be asked to answer:

1. Describe yourself in three words (25 characters each)
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?

These short answers are meant to be fun and easy to answer! They aren’t trick questions, so you don’t have to overthink them. They are meant to humanize you and shed light on your interests and life outside of the classroom.

Should You Apply to USC?

Another common concern students have is whether it’s the right fit for them, and if they should even spend their time and energy applying to such a selective school.

We’ll raise your question with a few more: Are you willing to be a lifelong learner? Are you interested in researching with some of the top scholars in the nation? Do you want to study in the heart of Los Angeles and have access to unparalleled opportunities? And lastly, do you hope to become a leader in your field to impact society?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you should apply to USC! Even if you feel you do not meet their academic standards, you can make up for this through your essays, letters of recommendation(s), and extracurriculars! 

USC does not review each applicant against set criteria. So long as you can demonstrate your commitment to learning, academic growth, dedication to USC, and diverse perspectives and passions, you’ll have a fair chance of getting into USC!

Is It Hard to Get Into USC? 

USC is competitive due to its high standards and a relatively low acceptance rate. The university evaluates applicants holistically, considering grades, test scores, activities, and essays. While it's challenging, solid academics and a well-rounded application can improve your chances of admission.

Tips for Getting Into USC

Two students smiling and walking outside

Considering USC reviews thousands of applications a year, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of candidates. To avoid this, and ensure your college application stands out, implement these tips in your application:

Go Beyond the Minimum Requirements

USC lists a few of their minimum requirements, like taking three years of mathematics and receiving at least a C in each course. However, USC is pretty transparent about its mission to enroll students that go beyond the basics. As such, you should aim to complete four years of mathematics and receive As in each course. 

You should also spend extra time on your essays! Do not rely on your scores alone to get into USC. The admissions committee aims to enrol well-rounded individuals, not just excellent students. As a member of the USC community, your contributions will extend far beyond the classroom.

Use your essays to demonstrate the type of person you are and highlight your most valuable skills, which can make a meaningful impact on the USC student body. 

Another route you can take is to contact the college admissions office. This is a great way to show your interest and forge a connection. 

Demonstrate Your Passions

USC considers all its applicants’ characteristics during the selection process. They’re interested in learning more about students' passions and perspectives. The best way to demonstrate your interests is to participate in related activities, both inside and outside of the classroom!

Join volunteer efforts, clubs, advanced courses, and leadership experiences that can demonstrate and develop your passions and values. 

FAQs: How to Get Into USC

Below, you’ll find the answers to frequently asked questions about getting into USC.

1. What GPA Do You Need to Get Into USC?

While no minimum GPA is required to get into USC, most admitted students have GPAs of 3.82-4.0.

2. What Kind of Students Get Into USC?

There isn’t one specific type of student that gets into USC. While USC strives to admit candidates with superior academic potential, unique passions and perspectives, and valuable traits, students can demonstrate these characteristics in numerous ways!

3. Is It Harder to Get Into UCLA or USC?

By admission standards alone, UCLA is harder to get into than USC. Their median GPA is 3.92-4.0. However, they do have a slightly higher acceptance rate of 14%. 

4. Do You Need Straight A’s to Get Into USC?

Based on previous freshman scores, having straight A’s will significantly increase your chances of acceptance significantly. Students with a few stray B’s may still have a high chance of acceptance if they maintain a GPA within the suggested range.

However, students with C’s will find it difficult to meet the median GPA of past students. While you should still apply to USC in this situation, ensure you demonstrate your academic potential in other ways, such as securing a high SAT/ACT score or excelling in academic-based extracurriculars. 

5. Where Is USC Located?

USC is located in downtown Los Angeles.

Final Thoughts

USC is an established and esteemed private research university that can offer you a bright future involving your dream career. Now that you know how to get into USC, you can set yourself up for success. Implement the suggestions in this guide to ensure your application wows the admissions committee and secures you a coveted spot at this prestigious school!

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