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

Bridge in Los Angeles, California
March 11, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 3/6/24

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

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 with 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: 10%

The USC acceptance rate for the 2023-24 academic year is 10%. The acceptance rate for the 2024-25 academic year is expected to be even lower, at 9.2%. USC is quite selective about who it admits, 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. 

For more information on USC’s acceptance rate trends, take a look at the table below: 

Year Number of Applicants Number of Accepted Students Acceptance Rate
2024-25 N/A N/A 9.2% (predicted)
2023-24 80,808 8,094 10%
2022-23 69,000 8,198 11.9%
2021-22 ~70,000 ~8,400 12%
2020-21 ~60,000 9,535 16%

USC Early Action Acceptance Rate: 7.2%

The USC early action acceptance rate is 7.2%. So far, 2,950 students have been accepted out of 41,000. The total early action acceptance rate has increased by 1.3% from last year. 

How Hard Is It to Get Into USC?

It is difficult to get into USC, as they only accept about 10% of applications. For the Class of 2027, only 8,094 applicants were accepted out of over 80,000, and their admittance rate has been steadily decreasing over the past few years. 

Take our interactive quiz below to find out how likely you are to get into USC.

USC Admissions Statistics

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. Here are some admission stats from the most recent incoming class of admitted students. 

USC Average GPA: 3.93

The average GPA of admitted students at USC was 3.93, with a middle 50% range of 3.86-4.0. Students should aim for a GPA as close to 4.0 as possible to impress the admissions committee.

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.

USC Average SAT Score: 1500

The middle 50% range of SAT scores at USC is 1460-1540. This means that the median SAT score at USC is 1500. To be competitive, you should aim for an SAT score of 1500 or higher. 

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.

USC Average ACT Score: 34

Incoming students at USC had a middle 50% ACT range of 33-35. So, the average score of incoming students is about 34. 

You should aim for a score around 33-35 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. 

What Is USC Looking For In Applicants? 

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. 

Here’s some more info on how USC evaluates applications, taken from their most recent Common Data Set

Academic Very Important Important Considered Not Considered
Rigor of secondary school record X
Class rank X
Academic GPA X
Standardized test scores X
Application essay X
Recommendation X

Non-Academic Very Important Important Considered Not Considered
Interview X
Extracurricular activities X
Talent/ability X
Character/personal qualities X
First generation X
Alumni/ae relation X
Geographical residence X
State residency X
Religious affiliation/commitment X
Volunteer work X
Work experience X
Level of applicant’s interest X

USC Application Requirements 

USC applicants are held to rigorous standards. You should aim for an SAT score of 1500 or higher, an ACT score of around 34, and a GPA of at least 3.9 to ensure you meet the admissions committee’s expectations. Go beyond the basics by also pursuing volunteer work and leadership roles to demonstrate well-roundedness.

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

  • $85 application fee or fee waiver
  • Completed Common Application form
  • SAT/ACT scores (optional)
  • Official transcripts
  • 1-2 letter(s) of recommendation
  • Portfolio/resume/writing samples/auditions (if applicable)
  • Mid-Year Report

You should also consider participating in extracurriculars to make your application stand out. Check out this list of extracurricular activities to 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. 

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. 

USC Application 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.   

USC Regular Decision Deadline

The Regular Decision deadline for USC applicants is January 15. However, if you’re applying for a school that requires a portfolio or audition, the Regular Decision application deadline is December 1. All Regular Decision applicants will receive decision notifications by April 1. 

USC Early Action Deadline

If you opt for an Early Action plan for USC, you’ll need to submit your application by November 1. You should receive your admissions decision by mid to late January. 

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into USC

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 enroll 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. 


USC Essay Prompts

In addition to the Common App essays, you’ll also have to write several supplemental essays for USC specifically. 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.

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 3.86-4.0.

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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