How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays

May 30, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/30/24

Knowing how to write the USC supplemental essays is essential to your college application process. If you're applying to USC, a look at the required essays will show you what the admissions committee is looking for.

As part of your USC application, you must write a set of supplemental essays that will help the admission review committee understand you better. These essays help you showcase your personality, values, and aspirations.

USC is renowned for its academic excellence, good campus culture, and commitment to fostering diverse student communities. You can increase your chances of acceptance if you have a well-crafted USC secondary essay.

If you are a prospective student looking to join the USC family, read on to learn the art of crafting compelling essays that leave a lasting impression.

USC Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-2024

These are the 2023-2024 USC supplemental essay prompts:

Prompt #1

“Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words)”

Prompt #2 (Optional)

“Starting with the beginning of high school/secondary school, if you have had a gap where you were not enrolled 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).”

Prompt #3 - Short Answer (Required)

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

Prompt #4 - Dornsife Prompt (Required)

“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 to spark 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)”

Prompt #5 - Viterbi School of Engineering

“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 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 words)”

Supplemental Additional Essay

“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)”

How to Write Each Essay Prompt for USC

Keep reading to learn how to write each supplemental essay for USC.

How to Write USC Supplemental Essay #1 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of Prompt #1: This is where you delve into “why this college” and “explain your major” and describe both parts well in a 250-word composition. Below are some of the characteristics of the “why us” part:

1. Show Why You Care: Show how your interest in your major of choice started and how the claim has matured over the years.

2. Fill Your Essay With "How You Will Contribute" Language: State how you will take advantage of the university's available resources, which include internship and externship opportunities. Explain how joining a student organization related to your discipline will enable you to contribute your quota to the school.

3. Don’t Forget to Include Your Second Choice Major: Remember to touch your second choice major in the essay. If you have chosen a second major, in case you are not given the first one, explain your choice and why you chose it.

How to Write USC Supplemental Essay #2 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of Prompt #2: This prompt is optional and does not apply to all applicants. It applies to people who took some time away from school. For example, if there is a gap in your academic history, you can use this space to address it. Give a brief explanation for why the gap is there. Also, summarize how you spent your time away from school.

  1. Be Transparent and Concise: When addressing the gap in your academic history, be open and honest about the reason for the gap. Keep your explanation concise and to the point.
  2. Provide Context: Offer context for the gap, whether it was for personal, health-related, or other reasons. This helps the admissions committee understand your situation better.
  3. Showcase Personal Growth: If applicable, emphasize how this time away from school contributed to your personal growth, development, or the acquisition of valuable skills.

How to Write USC Supplemental Essay #3 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of Prompt #3: For this section, you must provide short, rapid answers that accurately showcase your individuality. This new information aims to highlight the major parts of your personality.

Describe yourself in three words (25 characters max each).”

 Be creative here. Examples that you can use here include cynophile and creative.

What is your favorite snack?”

You can show your background here and the culture you come from. Ensure you use appealing and descriptive words to describe the food. Provide a short explanation to enable a proper imagination for people who haven't eaten the food before.

  “Best movie of all time”

Ensure you are sincere here to make your application stand out.

Dream job”

Do not give a generic answer here. Ensure you talk about a specialty and how it will benefit people.

  “If your life had a theme song, what would it be?”

Do not give a generic answer here. Ensure you choose an appropriate song you want the admission review committee to play while reviewing your application.

“Dream trip”

Be specific. Do not mention a country, and stop there. Mention what excites you during the trip and avoid mainstream or luxurious answers.

“What TV show will you binge-watch next?”

Consider adding a brief description to any TV show you suggest.

“Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?”

You can choose a well-known character here and add a brief description of why you would want to live with the said character.

“Favorite book”

Give an example of a book you find fascinating anytime you read it. You can add a brief description to show what interests you in it.

“If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?”

 You're free to explore a unique and significant topic. This question allows you to demonstrate your passion and expertise in a field. 

How to Write USC Supplemental Essay #4 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of Prompt #4: For this prompt, you can highlight what keeps you up late at night, the subjects you can talk about for hours without getting tired, and problems you can address at any given time.

1: Show Your Passion Through Writing: Ensure you explain how your passion or your chosen topic can reach a wider audience.

2: Lay the Emphasis: Ensure you highlight and emphasize the topics that are important to you.

How to Write USC Supplemental Essay #5 + Analysis and Tips

Analysis of Prompt #5: The NAE Grand Challenges have many pressing issues, and you should be able to find one issue that interests you. You should highlight the one you are passionate about and why it interests you.

  1. Genuinely Explain the Issue: When discussing a problem, be sure to provide a sincere and thorough explanation.
  2. Compelling Reasoning: Clearly articulate why you have chosen this particular problem and provide a compelling rationale.
  3. Utilize Viterbi's Resources: Demonstrate how Viterbi's resources, network, or curriculum can be leveraged to engineer a solution for the problem at hand.

Analysis of Supplemental Additional Essay

You should note that this prompt is open-ended. You have the freedom to choose any of the topics below:

  • A community you belong to
  • An experience you had
  • A skill you learned
  • A personality trait

 When answering this prompt, try your best to stay open and thoughtful.

Examples of USC Supplemental Essays That Worked

We are going to explore a few successful supplemental essays. These are the USC essays that worked. We also attached feedback to USC supplemental essay examples and explained why the admissions committee liked it.

Prompt #1 Essay Example

“Summing all positive unit fractions yields the harmonic series, or at least that’s what Calculus taught me. In music, the harmonic series represents the ratio between different wavelengths, producing the various harmonies found in every genre of music. I would like to combine math with music, allowing me to discover new harmonies, chord progressions, and cadences. With USC’s Renaissance Ideal, I’ll be able to explore abstract mathematical theories, while simultaneously delving deeper into the mathematical reasoning underlying music theory.

 I’m drawn to USC’s Renaissance Ideal, which not only encourages distinct major and minor combinations but also honors students that show aptitude and interest in being well-rounded. As an Applied and Computational Mathematics major, I’d also like to explore math outside of the traditional curricula. Courses, such as MATH 430: Theory of Numbers, will develop my ability to recognize complex patterns, and MUCO 130ax Basics of Music Theory will teach me different harmonics and musical principles that will aid me in composing music for the piano, an instrument I’ve been learning for the past eleven years. Similarly, USC offers the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, which builds on the Renaissance Ideal, and I would like to participate in conversations that draw on the diversity of thought through this academy. 

Of course, I’d still spend some time with fellow math majors, as I’d like to pursue the Putnam math competition. By representing USC in this intercollegiate tournament, I could help the Trojans knock the Bruins off the top five. Fight on!”

Why Essay #1 Worked

The prompt says you should describe how you plan to pursue your academic interest, and the example above did justice to that by addressing the first and second-choice major selections. The example also explained why the applicant wanted to pursue his interest at USC.

USC Essay Example for Prompt #3

Describe yourself in three words.

 “Altruistic, creative, and driven.”

What is your favorite snack?

 “Fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries) from my mom’s garden (my go-to study snack)”

 Best movie of all time

 “Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse: The studio reinvented animation by using a bold, comic-style animation that exudes playfulness and charm instead of the ‘default’Pixar look”

 Dream job

Being a superhero, I could be the Spider-Man of LA (going to school at USC and discreetly saving the city)."

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

The World Is Yours - Nas (a song that gives me immense confidence)” 

Dream trip

 “Meteora, Greece (a seldom-known landscape of Greece that is unfathomably lush and beautiful; I could have a getaway here).” 

What TV show will you binge-watch next?

 “The Boys - Season 4 (a satirical show about superheroes with celebrity status being used under capitalism)” 

Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?

 “Any of the Spiderman/Spider-Woman characters - If I can’t be the hero, I would be great as a sidekick or guy in the chair.”

Favorite book

Beautiful Boy - David Sheff (a touching book about David’s son Nic overcoming meth addiction; David details what it’s like being a parent with a child going through addiction).” 

If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be? 

“Time Management: A Superpower”

Why Essay #3 Worked

The applicant avoided using generic responses. They responded thoughtfully, by offering personalized answers to the questions asked. 

Prompt #4 Essay Example 

“Picture picking up speed and bombing straight down a ski run. Sounds fun, right? Maybe for you, but it's terrifying for the new skiers with whom you share the mountain. I'd love to share my passion for making skiing an enjoyable experience for everyone, which means not frightening beginners, risking injury, and becoming a nuisance on the mountain.

 After spending years becoming an expert skier, I went back to beginner terrain when I decided to start snowboarding. It was terrifying to return to the foreign feeling of being off balance after 13 years of skiing. I understood the tenuous ability to stop and the fear of crashing. I may not have been walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, but I was wearing the same boots. Learning alongside fellow beginners gave me empathy for their plight. 

 Scaring new skiers discourages them. If everyone were considerate of others, everyone would have fun on the mountain. Basic ski etiquette requires us to watch out for downhill skiers. Empathy is baked into the skiers’ code. Unfortunately, this practice is often disregarded. 

 I see an opportunity to create a little more empathy in the world, starting with our slopes. Encouraging thoughtfulness on the slopes will provide a beginner-friendly environment for novices on the mountain. In fact, this thoughtfulness has the power to be impactful off the slopes as well. Putting yourself in a beginner’s shoes can help you.”

Why Essay #4 Worked

The applicant shared what genuinely interests them and wished to connect with a broader audience, aiming to inspire empathy worldwide. Their passion revolves around skiing.


Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about the USC supplemental essays:

1. How Many Essays Does USC Require?

The University of Southern California has two required essays. In addition to these essays, the applicant may choose to complete a third supplemental essay. 

So, the application essay requirements for USC are two or three, depending on the program you want to be admitted to. Also, note that the USC transfer essays differ from those for transfer students. 

2. What Can I Do to Make My Essay for USC Stand Out?

To make your USC essay stand out, ensure it is honest, engaging, and creative. Ensure that all your answers to the questions are individualized so the admission counselors can better understand your personality. 

3. Should I Talk About Any Weaknesses or Gaps in My Application Within the Essay for USC?

Yes, you should discuss your application's weaknesses or gaps within the USC essay. If there is a gap in your academic history, it’s wise to address it and offer a brief explanation. Also, summarize how you spent your time away from school.

4. Is There a Specific Way I Should Format My Essay for USC Admissions?

USC has specific essay formatting guidelines for your application. Here are some key tips to follow:

  • Use standard fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, or Calibri in a font size between 10 and 12.
  • Double-space your essay, as it's the preferred format.
  • Include headings with your name, essay title or prompt number, and any required information.
  • Proofread and edit your essay for spelling and grammar.
  • Stick to the specified character and word limits.
  • Be on the lookout for unique formatting requests for specific essay prompts from USC.

These guidelines will help ensure your USC essays meet their requirements.

5. Do I Need to Answer All the Supplemental Essay Prompts?

Yes, you need to answer all the supplemental essay prompts provided by USC. Failure to do so can lead to incomplete applications, significantly affecting your admission chances.

6. Can I Reuse Essays from Other College Applications for USC?

Reusing essays from other colleges' applications for USC is not advisable. You can draw ideas from your other applications, but tailoring each essay to USC's prompts is better. You should avoid using the same prompt for all applications.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to write the USC supplemental essays is essential to your application. These USC application essays enable you to showcase your experiences, goals, and personality. 

It is essential to adhere to the specific prompts to craft a compelling essay. The essays are opportunities to make your application stand out and increase your chances of admission by creating a long-lasting impression on the admission team.

Good luck!

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