University of Southern California (USC) 2020-21 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

The Requirements: 2 essays of up to 250 words; 2 short-answer lists.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why , Oddball , Short Answer

University of Southern California 2020-21 Application Essay Questions Explained

There’s no nice way to say this: the USC application is kind of all over the place. It kicks off by asking applicants to choose one of three prompts, two of which overlap with the Common App, and it just gets stranger from there. You’ll be asked about everything from your academic interests to your life’s theme song, so our best piece of advice is, buckle up. Oh, and also remember that you should use every essay as an opportunity to showcase something different about yourself. 😉

Please respond to one of (the three) the prompts below. (250 word limit)

1. usc believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view..

To rephrase the question: What experiences have exposed your personal blindspots? When have you been forced to admit that you were wrong? This first option may be the most challenging of the three because it requires a great deal of self-awareness and introspection. A successful essay will showcase your humility, intelligence, and adaptability. Maybe you never used to think of your teachers as people with lives outside of school until the day your family put your dog down and your English teacher offered you some words of comfort. How did your perspective change? What did you learn about the universal nature of grief? Don’t limit yourself to stories about conflict and don’t worry about being right or wrong. The most interesting essays will focus on small, personal moments that have shaped the way you see the world.

And finally, a warning: this prompt is very similar to the third prompt on the 2020-21 Common App , which asks students to reflect on a time when they challenged a belief or idea. If you chose this prompt #3 for your Common App personal statement, you might want to steer clear of this particular USC prompt in order to avoid redundancy. If you picked a different Common App prompt, feel free to refer to our prompt #3 guide for more inspiration!

2. USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

If you already have a major in mind, chances are your application is bursting with supporting evidence. So you want to be an English major? We bet you’ve served on the board of your literary magazine, entered writing competitions, and aced your Literature AP. This is your shot to show USC that you’re well-rounded! Maybe you’ve always wanted to study physics, but were intimidated by the math. Perhaps the field of astronomy has piqued your imagination as much as your academic interest. Don’t be afraid to get a little out there! The prompt never says you have to choose another academic topic, so if you’d like to go for a quirkier answer, maybe you could focus on a new skill you’d like to gain: Woodworking? Orienteering? You should avoid being weird for weird’s sake, but we encourage you to think outside the box and be genuine about your interests and passions! Make sure to explain why you haven’t yet studied the topic you propose and describe the specific reasons for your interest. Maybe a recent debate you got into with a friend sparked an interest in philosophy. On the other hand, you might just be daydreaming about what your life would be like if you could speak Japanese, where you’d go, and who you’d meet. The point is, don’t just explain why the subject is worth studying in general. Render it specific to your life and personality.

3. What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

Here’s your free-for-all prompt! With a question this broad, you can write about pretty much anything as long as it tells a story about you and your life. (Sorry, that treatise on wide-legged pants will have to wait.) Our three primary pieces of advice are the same as always: (1) Pick a story rather than a fun fact. Give yourself the opportunity to really write in your own voice. (2) Use a topic that hasn’t shown up on your application before. (3) Make sure no one else could put their name on your essay.

Similar to the first USC prompt, this one also mirrors a Common App prompt, so we’d recommend nixing this option if you wrote your Common App personal statement on prompt #1. If not, hit up our Common App guide for more brainstorming tips!

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 word limit)

Unlike the second prompt above, this one is all about your enduring academic interests and passions, but it’s not really about you. Rather, it’s not about you alone. This is USC’s take on the classic Why essay. In asking how you plan to pursue your interests, admissions is really trying to suss out your core reasons for choosing USC. While college will offer you a wealth of social and professional opportunities, its primary function is academic — and your primary role is as a student. So, what kind of student do you hope to be? Where do you hope your studies will take you? What resources and opportunities does USC offer that will meet your needs and guide you towards your goals?

To answer these questions, set aside an hour or two to pore over the USC website (there’s no hack, you’ve just got to put in the time). Beyond the basic departmental listings, look up information about news and research coming out of your department, the kinds of courses available, the opportunities that other undergrads have had studying in your area of choice. Even if you have a wide array of interests, consider explaining how two to three departments might complement each other or foster your interest in a larger idea or theme. Your ultimate goal is to show that your interest in USC (just like your intellectual curiosity) runs deep!

Describe yourself in three words (25 characters).

When the challenge is pith, the opportunity is humor. We rarely offer an across-the-board directive to be funny because humor writing is hard — and sometimes it just simply isn’t appropriate for the story you need to tell in a longer essay. But with lists and short answers, it’s wit that will make you stand out. Your answer doesn’t need to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it should avoid the generalities that so often populate these questions: loyal, kind, smart… you get the idea. We’re sure you are all of these things — and they are lovely qualities to showcase in the stories you tell elsewhere in your essay — but these sorts of terms can ring hollow if you aren’t able to back them up with evidence. A good place to start might be to examine your contradictions (you’re mostly easy-going, until you start playing Scrabble) and craft an essay that showcases some funny irony about your personality. Think about how different people in your life would describe you, and then think about order. Can you make it read like a very short story? Can you make it rhyme? Though this assignment is short, you may need to spend some time wordsmithing different combinations. When the prescribed format is a list, order matters just as much as content, so use every element of the assignment to your advantage!

The following prompts have a 100 character limit:

What is your favorite snack, best movie of all time:, if your life had a theme song, what would it be, dream trip:, what tv show will you binge watch next, which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate, favorite book:, if you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be.

Behold! USC’s attempt at being quirky! You’ve been limited to less than the length of a tweet for each answer, so you’d better make every word (and character) count! These prompts don’t have time for generalities or gentle introductions, so you’ll have to cut straight to the point. The more specific your words are, the more memorable your answers will be. Favorite snack? Don’t just say, “popcorn and Junior Mints.” How about, “A box of junior mints melting over hot popcorn as I watch a horror movie” (72 characters). If you can paint a funny picture or display a knack for wit, take this chance, but don’t force it. You also don’t exactly have to think of this as filling in the blanks, but more as filling in any blanks in your application. Anything that doesn’t feel like it merits a full essay can go here as a tweet, hot take, punchline, or elegantly-worded sentence.

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usc essay prompts 2020

A Guide to the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Padya Paramita

August 10, 2020

usc essay prompts 2020

You could be applying to the University of Southern California as an aspiring actor hoping to benefit from the “Acting for the Stage, Screen, and New Media” program as a steppingstone to Hollywood. Or you could be more of a STEM-oriented person, hoping to break into the gaming industry, ready to take on the “Computer Science: Games” major. Whatever your academic focus, taking advantage of the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 is an effective way to highlight who you are and why you’ve chosen the home of the Trojans.

USC appreciates students who are willing to take advantage of their wide range of programs. The university looks for candidates who are interested in “ global issues and aren’t afraid to speak up in class or fight for a cause .” If you believe you check these boxes, it’s time to let the college know why through the writing component. To help you, I’ve outlined the prompts, the dos and don’ts for your responses, and additional tips for writing the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 .

Prompts for the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

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. (Approximately 250 words)

This is the closest to a “why school” question as USC gets. The school wants to know whether you’ve actually put thought into your decision to apply, or if you’re just interested because it’s a well-ranked school in sunny LA. So before you sit down to write your answer, it’s important to go through the list of academic programs at the college and think about how they will help you reach your goals. 

Because this prompt is all about looking towards the future, don’t focus your essay too much on how your interest in the topics originally arose. The main point of your response should highlight how you will take advantage of unique USC majors such as “Cinematic Arts, Film, and Television Production,” or “Animation and Digital Arts.” If you’ve chosen a major that’s available at other colleges such as Chemistry or Music, you need to drive home exactly why the courses and resources offered by USC can help your specific aspirations. Don’t limit yourself to just academic offerings. If there are any relevant clubs or programs of an academic nature, mention those as well.

Each of your points should be tailored to USC. Do research and see if a given program is unique to USC or a national one available at every school.


Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!

USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

Answering this prompt within the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021  is a great chance for you to talk about an interest that hasn’t come across in the rest of your application. If you’re a STEM student, your courses and extracurriculars probably revolve around science, and similarly if you’re a musician or a writer, you might have been more involved in creative activities. At the same time, your choice of major doesn’t define who you are. You could be a science major who is also a talented violinist. You could also have unusual hobbies such as cross-stitching or competitive eating that you could elaborate on if you pick this question. 

Don’t spend too much time detailing the activity. Your response should mainly highlight why the topic matters to you so much, how you’ve gone out of your way to explore new issues within the field, and how you hope to continue to explore the area in college. Admissions officers would appreciate knowing you’re a multifaceted individual, that you’re invested in a topic outside your primary intellectual pursuits, so choose this essay if you’re excited to portray a different side of you. If the interest is different from your primary interest, but somehow connects, it’d be good to describe that here.

What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

This is the most open-ended prompt offered by the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 . There are a couple of points to keep in mind when answering it: 1) What have you not already covered in your personal statement and activities list? and 2) What experience, aspect of your background, or unique extracurricular interest distinguishes you from other students your age? If there’s a quality that you love about yourself, you could elaborate on that. Make sure it’s not something simple such as “I’m funny.” If you’ve got an exceptional sense of humor, you have to show it in action. Why is it fundamental to you? How has it developed over time? Why do you appreciate it?

When it comes to framing such an essay, anecdotes are essential for getting your point across to the reader. If you’re just going to state a fact, you’ll have hundreds of words remaining. Instead, narrate a story that covers exactly what makes you unique, and you’ll help admissions officers understand you much better, as well as get a sense of your voice and what matters to you. 

Describe yourself in 3 words

First word:

Second word:

Third word:

USC wants to know how you would fit into the college. Help them to see where on campus you’d make contributions and how its resources boost you toward your goals. So instead of choosing common and vague adjectives to describe yourself such as “loyal” or “kind,” choose three words that convey more information about who you are and what you enjoy, such as “eclectic” or “globetrotter.” The words you pick shouldn’t all mean similar things. Each entry should throw a new element into the mix to express information about you.

The following prompts have a limit of 100 characters each.

What is your favorite snack?

Favorite app/website:

Best movie of all time:

Hashtag to describe yourself:

What is your theme song?

Dream trip:

What TV show will you binge watch next?

Place you are most content?

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

Favorite book:

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

The key to writing these very short answers is to make sure you’re being truthful. Don’t just try to aim for about what you think the admissions officers want to read. Just because you’re a prospective history major, doesn’t mean your favorite TV show necessarily has to be Downton Abbey. If you enjoy the humor of Kimmy Schmidt, that’s fine as well. These responses among the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 are designed to get to know you. 

Some of the questions could help convey a more fun side of you, such as choosing a fictional character or a famous person as your roommate, or your theme song. Think carefully about these answers. Even though you haven’t been asked “why” for these questions, think about what the hundred characters can convey about you. What do you hope that admissions officers will deduce about you based on your answers? Don’t try extra hard to be witty. But if it comes naturally, don’t be afraid to add it in.

While it’s important to be yourself, you also need to remember that you want to stand out from your peers. Don’t say Disneyland for a dream trip or “#blessed” for the hashtag to describe yourself because these are common answers that the reader is bound to encounter from other students. Saying Harry Potter is your favorite book won’t really make for a memorable application. Try to think outside of the box, while making sure you’re staying true to yourself at the same time.

Additional Tips for Answering the USC Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

  • Be Careful About Repeating Your Personal Statement - The University of Southern California is a member of the Common App, so there’s no point repeating what you’ve said in your personal statement , especially considering that Prompt 1 in Question 2 is very similar to the Common App prompt: “ Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?” Prompt 3 in Question 2 is similar to the Common App question, “ Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. ” Because admissions officers want each component to add something new, don’t repeat what you’ve said if you’ve chosen these Common App prompts. Or, if your USC and Common App questions overlap, write about a different experience for USC. If you keep repeating information, your application is pretty much bound to bore the admissions officers. That’s the last thing you want.
  • Choose the essay option that’s best for you - For Question 2, you have the option to choose from the three prompts. Make sure you think carefully about your choices. Pick a topic that you believe will bring the strongest response out of you and help paint an accurate picture of your personality. If you can’t come up with a time your viewpoint was changed, instead try thinking about your other academic interests. If neither of those appeals to you, brainstorm what you could tell the admissions officers through Prompt 3. Take advantage of the flexibility provided by the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 .

USC asks a wide range of questions to get to know you better. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to expand on why you’re an exceptional and must-have applicant. By thinking carefully about how you can distinguish yourself from your peers - along with making sure your answers focus on you and your interests - you can be a standout candidate through stellar responses to the USC supplemental essays 2020-2021 . You’ve got this!

Tags : supplemental essays , usc , university of southern california , applying to usc , usc essays , usc supplemental essays 2020-2021

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usc essay prompts 2020

How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

The University of Southern California has a few supplemental essays and creative short answers that students must complete. Your essays are one of the only opportunities you’ll have to show an admissions officer who you are beyond the numbers, and with USC’s many different prompts, it’s clear this school wants you to seize that opportunity.

Here are our tips for responding to the USC essays in a way that will help your application stand out!

Read this USC essay example to inspire your own writing.

USC Supplemental Essay Prompts

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).

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).

Short Answer Prompts: Respond to all the prompts below (100 characters unless otherwise specified)

  • Describe yourself in three words (25 characters each)
  • What is your favorite snack?
  • Best movie of all time
  • If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
  • What TV show will you binge watch next?
  • Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
  • Favorite Book
  • If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

Dornsife Applicants Prompt: 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)

Prompt 1 (Required)

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)..

The tricky bit about this prompt is that it essentially combines the “ Why This Major ” and “ Why This College ” essay archetypes into one essay with a strict cap of 250 words. That’s a lot of information in not a whole lot of space, which might feel overwhelming. The first thing you should do is figure out the content of your essay.

Step One: Think about your academic interests (i.e. your majors). 

  • How did your interests develop? 
  • Why are you passionate about your interests? 
  • What are your goals within your interests?
  • How will pursuing your major help you achieve your goals in life? 

Step Two: Think about the answers to those questions in relation to USC. 

  • How will USC help you to further develop your interests? 
  • What resources does the university have that will help you achieve your goals? 

While your essay should explore resources that will aid in your academic pursuits, you should also keep it as specific to USC as possible—this essay should not be able to be copied and pasted for any other university! Here’s an example of how to achieve the specificity you need:

Bad: USC is a great school, located in the beautiful city of Los Angeles, with unparalleled academics and renowned instructors.

Why is this bad? This sentence could just as easily apply to UCLA. Without the bit about Los Angeles, the reasoning could even apply to any decent school in existence.

Good: At USC, I plan to participate in the Joint Educational Project (JEP) to find a community of students who, like me, are passionate about the intersections of teaching and social justice. Through JEP, I will be able to actively use the teaching principles I learn in my classes about the Dynamics of Early Childhood.

Why is this good? It references a unique resource at USC and relates to the student’s academic interests.

The Final Step: Write a cohesive essay that tells admissions officers why you are pursuing your field and why USC is the right place for you to pursue it. Some examples could include:

  • An Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering student who was obsessed with the launching of the Antares rocket, movies like Gattaca and The Martian , and their physics summer camp as a middle schooler. They could describe their goal of working for NASA, then discussing their interest in the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL).
  • An English student who ultimately wants to write romance novels discussing the Creative Writing Hour series that is hosted by English faculty. They might want to reference some of the big-name professors at USC—like Maggie Nelson, Aimee Bender, Dana Johnson, and T.C. Boyle—who have inspired their love of writing.
  • A Fine Arts applicant mentioning the Fisher Museum of Art that is on USC’s campus. It was after a school field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) that they first tried working with graphite and learned of their life goals. They know the power of art museums for inspiration and are excited to have a constant source of inspiration just minutes away.

If you are worried about the word count, one way to maximize the little space you have is to find a way to relate your first- and second-choice majors. This way, your explanations of each wouldn’t read like separate essays; rather, they would be telling different parts of the same story. A student with a first-choice major in Physics and a second-choice major in English might want to write about their ultimate goal of writing Science Fiction novels. A student with a first-choice major in History and a second-choice major in East Asian Languages and Culture might write about their goal of curating Asian American history museums.

Make sure you focus on your academic interests/goals and tell admissions officers the ways that USC will help your academic dreams come true, and you will be set!

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)..

USC’s second prompt is optional and won’t apply to most students. However, if you do have a gap in your educational history, then be sure to use this space to address it. Give a brief explanation of the reasoning for the gap—be it illness, a move, etc.—as well as an overview of how you spent this time outside of school. 

For example, let’s say your family moved across the country and you took a term off during the transfer. You can describe your role in the move (perhaps you were in charge of organizing a yard sale), why the circumstances warranted an educational gap (maybe the new school doesn’t allow mid-term transfers), and any other projects or commitments to which you dedicated your time. 

Ideally, you want to demonstrate how you made the most of this time off and why the time off was necessary.

Short Answer Prompts

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?

In this section, USC lets you have a little fun. The questions ask for short, rapid-fire responses that give you the opportunity to let your individuality shine.

The most important thing to keep in mind with the short answer supplements is that USC is asking you to provide new information that sheds light on different aspects of your personality. 

Don’t repeat tidbits you’ve already mentioned, although you can and should develop new angles of themes you’ve already established. Most importantly, have fun in this section! If you’re having fun writing it, chances are your admissions officer will have fun reading it.

You can leave descriptions or notes in your responses, though remember that you have 100 characters max. If your choices are more offbeat, we recommend giving a brief description, as your admissions officer certainly won’t have the time to look things up. If your choices are pretty well-known, you can still leave a note about why you chose them (as in the sample response to #8). It’s another opportunity to share your personality, which is valuable!

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

Example: Cinephile. Cynophile. Logophile. 

Tip: Be creative!

Example: My Gram’s Lebuchken, tiny gingerbread-esque German cakes that my family devours each holiday season.

Tip: This is an opportunity to show your roots or quirky favorites. Make your response more interactive by including descriptive words that appeal to the senses, especially taste and smell. Also, if you’re using another language or describing a less common food, feel free to provide a short description or explanation so that someone who’s never heard of it before can still imagine it.

Example: October Sky; Homer’s rockets remind me of my own homemade science creations, like my DIY lava lamp.

Tip: A lot of applicants will write Harry Potter . Be genuine in your response, but take this opportunity to stand out rather than providing a generic answer.

Example: A math professor; sharing my love of topology to positively shape students’ view of the subject. 

Example: Crossword Puzzle Writer; my mornings aren’t complete without a cup of OJ and my daily brain teaser.

Tip: If you go with a serious answer, make a clear connection to your major to show that you’re focused on your academic path. Don’t give a generic answer like “doctor” or “lawyer;” talk about what specialty or subfield interests you most. That said, you could also go for a more lighthearted answer, like a crossword puzzle writer, to use the space to show personality.

Example: The [TV show] Intro; I’d like to think of myself as a [character], but I have to admit I’m more of an [character]. 

Example: Happy Birthday by AJR – a catchy tune with funny/sarcastic lyrics about the reality of modern life.

Tip: Just as with the best movie prompt, you may want to avoid mainstream selections and instead put forward a title that says something about you. What song would you want the admissions officer to play while reading your application? Make sure the song you choose is appropriate.

Example: Road trip around Iceland’s perimeter; stops include Thingvellir National Park and the Geysir Springs.

Tip: Be more specific than simply “Hawaii” or “Europe.” Also, just as with all the prompts, you want to convey something about yourself in your response, so avoid mainstream or overly luxurious answers.

Example: Aggretsuko (anime about a red panda who relieves job stress by singing death metal at karaoke bars)

Tip: Follow similar guidelines to the theme song prompt—mainstream selections are fine  and are potentially relatable to the reader, but that quirkier show you have your eye on  might make for a more fun response. If your selection is lesser-known, consider adding a brief description.

Example: Rory Gilmore – there definitely won’t be a shortage of coffee or good conversation.

Tip: It’s okay to go with a more well-known character here, since that will allow the  reader to relate. It’s just important to use that extra space to elaborate on why you’d want to live with this person.

9. Favorite book

Example: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – I read the entire book in my favorite pair of Air Max 97s.

Tip: Follow the same advice for best movie of all time.

Example: SETI: Using the Drake Equation to Find E.T., complete with a field trip to outer space!

Tip: You can have some fun with this prompt; try thinking outside the box of the generic  “Intro to Calculus.” You can also have the class relate back to your intended major,  though that’s not absolutely necessary.

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 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 prompt requires less deep thought than the former. The “education” prompt asks students to think deeply about a question they have probably never thought about before, while this prompt asks you “what are you thinking about all the time?”  

If an idea comes to mind when you first read this prompt, that’s probably where you should start. USC is not looking for wild answers where students turn the holes in swiss cheese into a complex metaphor—they really just want to hear what you care about. That being said, what you care about can totally be weird or nuanced, as long as your interest in the subject tells admissions officers something about you.

Some examples of how you could work this prompt:

  • Writing about a social justice issue. Introducing a specific anecdote (that you would introduce during your hypothetical talk). Providing insightful and unique commentary on the issue—whether that be how we got here or where we should go from here.
  • Writing about a school of thought in science or philosophy. Explaining the importance of certain types of questions. Giving specific examples (historical, fictional, and anecdotal) that show that you have thought through the importance of rationalism, taoism, sensationalism, or any other school.
  • Writing about a lecture on a specific book. Discussing how White Teeth, Giovanni’s Room, or Moby Dick tells multiple important life lessons in one pretty package. Drawing connections between the fictional world and the real world.
  • Writing about the valuable lessons that can be learned from another culture. Introducing stories from your past that show the value of Japanese respect, Persian hospitality, or Indian selflessness. Recognizing negative aspects of cultures, but recognizing the lessons that can be learned when you take the time to learn them.

While these are just some examples, this prompt leaves the door open for you to explore whatever you care about. Because this essay is the simpler option, make sure that your writing is impeccable if you choose this second prompt. Engage with anecdotes and a unique personal voice to keep your essay engaging. Don’t give the reader the option to stop reading!

Where to Get Your USC Essays Edited for Free

Do you want feedback on your USC essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools.  Find the right advisor for you  to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

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2022-23 USC Supplemental Essay Prompts and Tips

August 5, 2022

When applying to a school like the University of Southern California, it is important to grasp that their acceptance rate in 2022 is lower than Harvard’s back in the late 1990s. Last cycle, USC received roughly 69,000 applications and admitted just 12% from that pool. We don’t bring up these numbers or the Friends -era Harvard comparison to cause future applicants unnecessary fear. Rather, we want aspiring Trojans to realize that in addition to strong high school grades and standardized test scores, they need to excel in other critical areas of their application as well. This brings us to the topic of the USC supplemental essays.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into the University of Southern California? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into USC: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

The supplemental essay section offered by USC is a fairly epic one and presents just such an opportunity for students to differentiate themselves from swarms of other qualified applicants. In addition to one 250-word essay, you are also required to answer 10 short answer questions. Below are the USC’s supplemental prompts for the 2022-23 admissions cycle along with tips about how to address each one.

2022-23 USC Supplemental Essays – Required 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. (Approximately 250 words)

This is part “Why Us?” and part “Explain Your Major” and your aim is to seamlessly touch on both topics in a tightly-woven 250-word composition. For a deeper dive, let’s examine a list of characteristics of a winning USC “Why Us?” essay:

  • Cite specific academic programs , professors , research opportunities , internship/externship programs , and study abroad programs .
  • Feel free to touch on student-run organizations related to your field of study that you would like to join.
  • Describe how you take advantage of USC’s prodigious resources both inside and outside of the classroom.
  • Additionally, touch on both a) why USC is the perfect fit for you and) why you are the perfect fit for USC.
  • Lastly, don’t ignore your second-choice major in this essay.

In any “Why Us?” composition, you need to show that you’ve done your homework on a given school, but you don’t want it to read like a robotic list of items that you Googled ten minutes before writing the essay (even if the timing of the Google search is roughly accurate). In addition to the pure research element, a lot of the time and skill required in creating a stellar USC essay will involve connecting the classes, professors, opportunities, etc. of interest that you have uncovered to your distinct values, talents, aims, proficiencies, and future goals.

USC Short Answers

(25 characters each)

  • Describe yourself in three words.
  • What is your favorite snack?
  • Best movie of all time
  • If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
  • What TV show will you binge watch next?
  • Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
  • Favorite Book
  • If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

It would be a bit silly to try to advise you on what your favorite snack is. Obviously, the USC admissions committee wants to hear “Pepperoni Pizza Combos” but will also accept “Ranch-flavored Bugles”. As such, we’ll keep our advice on these a bit broader:

  • Similar to Essay 1, Choice 3, this is a chance to make a personal connection with an admissions officer.
  • Don’t overthink these or pick movies, books, songs, or trips that you think an admissions officer will find impressive. Just be genuine.
  • For #1, try to avoid words like “interesting” that are…well, not very interesting .
  • For #10, don’t pick a general topic in a traditional discipline. Instead, pick something about which you are passionate. This could be a blend of pop-culture and academics or a highly esoteric topic that you happen to be obsessed with (e.g. the Beatles 1965-67 mid-career era, the history of jai-alai, or how to groom a ferret).

How important are the USC supplemental essays?

There are five factors that USC considers to be “very important” to their candidate evaluation process and the essay section is one of them. Along with GPA, standardized test scores, rigor of high school coursework, and recommendations, the Common App and supplement essays play a huge role in the USC admissions staff’s decision-making.

Want Personalized Essay Assistance?

Lastly, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your USC supplemental essays, we encourage you to get a quote today.

  • College Essay

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Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

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University of Southern California (USC) Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

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Not sure how to approach the USC supplemental essays?  CollegeAdvisor.com’s  guide to the USC essay prompts will show you exactly how to write engaging USC essays and strengthen your application.

If you need help crafting your USC supplemental essays, create your  free account  or  schedule a free consultation  by calling (844) 343-6272.

USC Supplemental Essays Guide Quick Facts:

  • USC has an acceptance rate of 16% –  U.S. News  ranks USC as a  more selective  school.
  • We recommend answering the USC supplemental essays thoughtfully to increase your chances of admission.

Does the University of Southern California have supplemental essays?

In short, yes. All applicants must submit several USC supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement you’ll write for your  Common App  or  Coalition App . We’ll detail each of the USC prompts—along with insider advice—in this guide to the USC essays.

Need some help writing your Common App essay? Get great tips from our Common App essay  guide .

How many essays does the University of Southern California require?

There are two USC essays on the 2020-2021 Common app. In addition to these two USC essays, some applicants may also choose to complete a third USC supplemental essay.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through each of the USC supplemental essays. We’ll also discuss which applicants should submit USC essays that respond to the third optional USC essay prompt.

Are the University of Southern California essays important?

The USC supplemental essays are extremely important. After all, the USC essays are a window into your unique talents and abilities. By writing strong USC supplemental essays, you can use your own words to show the admissions team who you are and why you belong at USC.

Test-optional admissions policies have also made the USC supplemental essays more important. Many California universities have dropped the  ACT/SAT requirements . USC, however, has not. Your test scores may be the same as another applicant, so your USC supplemental essays can help you stand out. In other words, pay close attention to the USC prompts!

How do I write the University of Southern California essays?

Once again, there are two required USC supplemental essays in addition to the Common App essay. This is a lot of writing, so we recommend you begin your USC supplemental essays as early as possible. The sooner you start considering the USC prompts, the stronger your USC supplemental essays will be.

USC does not have an Early Decision or Early Action program. This means USC considers all applications—and all USC essays—in the same cycle. Over 70,000 students applied to USC last year. Therefore, strong USC supplemental essays can help you stand out from the crowd.

Want more advice on your USC essays? Read USC’s  “What We Look For”  page as a primer for drafting your USC supplemental essays.

We have provided the USC essay prompts below—along with USC example essays—to assist you as you begin your USC essays.

In this guide, we will discuss how to address both required USC essays.

USC Supplemental Essays — Question 1 (Required)

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-word max).

To begin, the first of the USC supplemental essays does two things. First, this USC essay prompts you to detail your academic plan, including your interests and priorities. Second, this USC asks you to illustrate why USC is the right school for you.

You might struggle to complete the first of the USC prompts. When you read, “Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests,” you may initially think, “Uh, I am trying to get into USC to pursue those interests.” However, you shouldn’t let this discourage you. If you know what interests you, you already have an academic plan—you just need to express it in 250 words for the first of your USC supplemental essays.

Let’s break down how to brainstorm and represent your academic plan in the USC essays!

Choosing a Major

By now, you likely have a sense of your academic interests. If you have an idea of what you’d like to study but don’t know what specific major to choose, check out our tips on choosing a  college major .

USC offers its own suggestions for  choosing a major , which might be useful when completing your USC essays! Keep in mind that USC also has several  unique programs  for undergraduates. The USC supplemental essays require all students to identify at least one potential major, so you’ll benefit from doing your research. Plus, spending some time on the USC website will also help you describe why USC is the place for you!

Maybe you know the career you want to pursue but you don’t know what major will help you achieve your goals. To start, you might do some research or speak to adults in your chosen field. If you’re wondering what fellow Gen-Z students are pursuing, check out our list of popular majors for  Gen-Z students   or our webinar for  undecided majors . Additionally, check out this  Business News Daily article  for a list of majors associated with particular careers.

Finally, remember that the major you specify in your USC supplemental essays is non-binding. Above all, this USC essay prompts you to consider what intellectual pursuits matter to you. Think of the majors you choose as a way to communicate your interests to admissions officers.

Connecting to USC

This USC essay prompts you to showcase your understanding of  USC’s passion  for innovation and research. The USC supplemental essays ask students to explain why USC is the right school for them.

Structuring a Response

Well done—you’ve chosen a major (or two) and thought about why you want to study this topic specifically at USC. Now, let’s move on to drafting.

Before you begin writing, notice the requirements of the first of the USC essay prompts:

  • Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests.
  • Explain why you want to pursue this at USC.
  • Identify your first and second choice majors.

Think long term

USC wants to know your long-term academic plans in college and beyond. Then, they want to know why you want to pursue those plans at USC. Let’s look at a few USC essay examples. Though short, each example will show you what a dynamic opening might look like and how it can be tied into USC-specific programs.

Ex. I realize that I have an addiction to TikTok. I often wonder—what leads us to scroll? (anecdote/dynamic opening)

To this end, I want to pursue a BA in Social Science with an emphasis in psychology or a BA in Informatics. Ideally, I would like to do both with the USC Research Gateway Scholars program…(USC specific connection)

In the first of the USC essay examples, notice that it begins with something that seems frivolous—an addiction to TikTok. However, the example also hints at a certain vulnerability that draws the reader in, as well as a question (“what leads us to scroll?”) that shows the student possesses a level of self-awareness.

Ex. Not unlike a lot of other children of migrant parents, we moved around a lot when I was younger.  Because of this, literature was my constant companion. (anecdote/dynamic opening)

I want to offer this same friendship to other young readers. The Narratives Studies program or Comparative Literature program at USC is an ideal place for me to start this journey. (USC specific connection)

In the second of the USC essay examples, our imaginary writer identified a long-term plan as well as their first and second choice majors. You’ll also notice that both of these USC essay examples connect their goals with a USC-specific program.

As you begin your own USC essays, think about how these USC essay examples attach each student’s own interests, background, and identity to the opportunities available at USC.

Making it Personal

In both USC essay examples above, the student shared a part of their personal history. As you begin your USC essays, think about your own history.  What about your story has led you to your academic interests? How has your identity influenced your long-term academic plan? These details will help make your USC essays unique.

USC Supplemental Essays Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your USC supplemental essay response identify your long-term plans?
  • Does your USC essay identify your specific reasons for studying at USC?
  • Do you include your first and second-choice majors?
  • Does your USC essay describe your unique passions?

USC Supplemental Essays — Question 2 (Required)

Please respond to one of the USC prompts below. (250-word limit).
USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Tell us about a time when you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.
USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.
What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

Choosing from the USC prompts

Remember, USC supplemental essays should illustrate your personal attitudes and passions.  In these USC prompts, you have the chance to highlight some dynamic aspects of your identity.  While you can choose from any of the three listed USC prompts, you should select one that reveals something distinct about your personality and experiences.

In general, it’s a good idea to select a prompt that lets you showcase experiences not found elsewhere in your application. Choose a prompt that adds to your application – not one that repeats information that your readers already know. Whichever of the USC essay prompts you choose, you should highlight specific experiences that have contributed to the ways you see the world. If you find yourself speaking in vague terms while drafting, you might choose another of the USC prompts.

Providing Insight

USC looks for students with a “vast array of interests and passions” who are “bold, driven, curious, and creative.” Your USC essays are your chance to show your reader how this applies to you!

Did you recently realize that a long-held belief about something or someone was wrong? Take this opportunity to show USC your willingness to grow and learn. After all, an important part of learning is recognizing that we do not know everything. USC wants to see how students can develop new ways of thinking, so use the USC supplemental essays to show how this applies to you. For example, did you change your mind after a conversation with a friend about an issue that mattered to them?  In other words, USC wants students who are open-minded—so tell them that story.

Tell a story

For example, did your curiosity about income inequality ignite you to research local legislative policies driving those inequalities? Or, did you harness social media to educate local voters or encourage your peers to vote on local legislative policies? USC wants students who are looking to impact communities—so tell them that story.

Do you use your interest in theoretical physics to craft plots for YA novels? Do you listen to Sean Carroll’s Mindscape podcast during passing periods? USC wants students who are interested in interdisciplinary arenas—so tell them that story.

Does your love of balloons show that you are a minimalist at heart? Does your addiction to cherry Chapstick highlight your commitment to a cause? Your quirks help USC understand who you are beyond your grades and test scores—so tell them that story.

Any of these USC essay prompts can give you an opportunity to boost your application. In under 250 words, use the second of your USC supplemental essays to help the admissions team get a glimpse into your identity and interiority.

USC Supplemental Essays Key Questions:

  • Does your USC essay draft specifically address one of the USC prompts provided?
  • Does your response demonstrate something new about you?
  • Do you include specific details in your USC essay?

USC Supplemental Essays — Question 3 (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-word limit).

Typically, we would encourage you to respond to all USC essay prompts. However, in this case, you should only respond if the prompt applies to you.

Filling the Gap

This third USC essay prompts you to describe why you took a break in your schooling. If you took time out of high school due to COVID or other factors, this prompt gives you the chance to contextualize your time off and explain how it might influence the rest of your application.

USC wants to know the reasons for the break in your academic career.  You should answer this USC essay prompt honestly. If you needed a break from school, tell the admissions committee that you took time off to think about your future plans. If family circumstances prevented you from attending college, relay those experiences. Be sure to include why you want to return to school at this time.

Reasoning First

Be careful to avoid too much emotion here. USC simply wants to know the reasons for your absence from the academic world— you do not need to paint that picture with dramatic pathos.

Wondering how this would look? Let’s check out some USC essay examples:

Ex. Stricken with an unknown heart condition, the stress of school was life-threatening and so I opted for a year of reprieve.

Perhaps a health condition did prevent you from attending university after high school, but you should avoid excessively emotional language.

Ex. During my senior year in high school, I struggled with an unknown heart condition that put me in the hospital quite frequently.  Because of this, my family and I decided I should take a year off of school. After a major surgery last fall, I have recovered and my doctors have stated I can return to school and I am eager to continue my academic journey with USC.

The second of these USC essay examples is much stronger. Reasonably retell the reason(s) for your break in school. Then, make it clear that you’re excited to resume your academic career at USC like the second of these USC essay examples does.

As you can see from these USC essay examples, you don’t need to use emotional language to gain your reader’s sympathy. Use the last of your USC essays to demonstrate your grit, thoughtfulness, perseverance, and determination. You had a gap in your education and now you are making a great comeback – tell them that story.

USC Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Did you identify the reason for your gap in education?
  • Does your USC essay include details that led to that reason?
  • Did you retell that story in a reasonable tone?

Additional tips for writing your USC supplemental essays:

  • Each of these USC essay prompts has a 250-word limit. Do not exceed the word limit for these USC supplemental essays.
  • Look over USC essay examples. This can fuel ideas for your own USC supplemental essays.
  • Never underestimate the importance of editing your USC supplemental essays. Along with proper grammar and spelling, ensure clarity of thought and ideas.

USC Supplemental Essays – Final Thoughts

The USC essay prompts may seem overwhelming. However, don’t let that discourage you! With these tips, you can write an engaging set of USC essays sure to impress the admissions team.

USC also has a helpful blog article on how to approach the USC supplemental essays. You can check out “Supplementary, My Dear Watson!”  here .

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This 2021-2022 essay guide on USC was written by Sasha Litzenberger. To read more of our articles on USC,  click here . If you need help crafting your USC supplemental essays visit app.collegeadvisor.com to create your free  account  or  schedule a no-cost advising consultation  by calling (844) 719-4984.

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How To Answer The USC Supplemental Essay Prompts For 2022/23

How To Answer The USC Supplemental Essay Prompts For 2022/23

Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the University of Southern California (USC) is home to a large student body, incredible research advancements, and a large football stadium and culture. USC is ranked one of the best public universities in the US. It boasts a competitive admissions process with an acceptance rate of just 11%, meaning only about 1 in 9 students gets accepted.

USC Supplemental Essay Prompts

Essay 1: please respond to one of the prompts below. (250 word limit).

  • USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.
  • USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

Essay 2: (250 words limit).

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections.

Essay 3 (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.

Short Answers Questions

  • Describe yourself in three words. First Word: (25 characters), Second Word: (25 characters), Third Word: (25 characters)
  • What is your favorite snack? (100 characters)
  • Best movie of all time: (100 characters)
  • Dream job: (100 characters)
  • If your life had a theme song, what would it be? (100 characters)
  • Dream trip: (100 characters)
  • What TV show will you binge watch next? (100 characters)
  • Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate? (100 characters)
  • Favorite book: (100 characters)
  • If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be? (100 characters)

How Anushka Got Into USC with Crimson

How to Answer the Short Essay Questions

Usc believes one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when another point of view challenged your beliefs*. please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.*.

The first supplemental essay (and its three prompt options) asks you to speak from experience about a non-academic moment of growth or the formation of a particular value. While the first prompt is the only one that demands you narrate a specific experience, a solid response to any of the three prompts should describe a particular instance and unpack its implications .

In generating a topic, the experience you choose does not have to be overly serious, but the analysis should show how it speaks to your growth in a powerful way that does not feel too grandiose. USC admissions officers are looking for applicants to demonstrate their understanding that learning is not just sitting in class and pursuing academics but is also significantly impacted by personal growth and a transformation of values .

If you choose this prompt, consider the different circumstances that caused you to change your thinking about a particular issue .

  • Maybe it was a passing conversation with a stranger or friend,
  • an experience engaging with a social
  • a civil issue in your community,
  • Or even a slightly more rigorous debate or academic setting.

Whatever topic you choose, vivid language that examines how events made you feel in the moment will be essential to drawing out moments of actual growth . Remember that genuinely changing an established view is hard work, so please be honest with yourself as you look over the depth of these implications. Whether you write about how your experience attending a protest deepened your empathy for a particular cause or how a dare with your friend caused you to deactivate Facebook and rethink the role of social media in your life, try to craft a narrative story with clear consequences.

USC faculty place emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Could you describe something outside your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning?

Responding to the second prompt should show that your intellectual curiosity expands beyond your professional aspirations . Try to recall when you were surprised by how an experience outside your area of expertise affected you. This experience could be anything from how your experience on a safari led to an unexpected interest in endangered species preservation to finding meaning in a collection of poetry you were required to read. Your essay should construct a narrative demonstrating genuine intellectual curiosity in an area outside your prospective academic focus.

A response to the third prompt can take on a variety of topics. Whether you explain the influence of a familial structure, a hobby, an experience as part of a larger community, or even some other unusual facet of your expertise, your narrative should discuss how this influence has positively shaped you .

Again, this is not a spot for arrogant essays about accomplishments and ambition. Instead, it’s for examining a topic that will lead the admissions committee to fully understand you and how you hope to use a USC education. Ideally, the topic will be distinct from your Common App essay topic (which can be similar). It will explain an aspect of your thinking or reasoning that’s not in any other part of your application.

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Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 words)

The second supplemental essay question helps the admissions committee understand why you are interested in USC instead of another school . The question requires you to research USC’s specific offerings. You’ll use this knowledge, alongside language that introduces your main academic interests and their origins, to explain why USC is a perfect fit for you. Evaluators want to see a response that shows you are attracted to their school and how you have thought deeply about the particular ways USC would help you realize your academic goals.

Tip 1: set the stage by anecdotally introducing your academic interests

Talk about how your struggles with precalculus and the extra time spent working with a teacher sparked a blooming interest in mathematics or how your experience watching the nightly TV news with your family compelled you to intern for a political campaign and learn about the history of international relations.

Tip 2: Reference USC Resources

Once that framework is established, you should reference specific USC resources — classes, notable professors or researchers, proximity to specific professional opportunities, or extracurricular activities — that will help you pursue your interests most effectively.

An excellent place to start is by checking the extensive list of possible majors posted on the USC website and identifying departments that closely match your academic preferences. Then, you can go to departmental websites to identify class offerings and professors you can reference in your essay. Resources like the Undergraduate Research Program in the School of International Relations , or the chance to work with a figure you admire in a specific field, are good examples that help you realize certain career aspirations.

Tip 3: Relate USC Resources to your interests

Finally, relate the USC resources to your interests. Suppose you began by writing about watching the news. You can describe how the “Visual and Popular Culture” within the “American Popular Culture” major would help you answer questions about the power of television news you’ve had since you were young.

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How to Answer the Short Answer Questions

It’s easy to try and impress examiners with your short answers. Instead, use these prompts to give the readers an authentic representation of yourself .

Tips for Option 1

The first prompt (three words that best describe yourself) is one of the hardest to answer without sounding ingenuine or fake.

First, avoid descriptors like “ambitious” or “hardworking.” There are far better forums in your application to express your academic accomplishment and drive.

Second, spend time reflecting on the elements of your experience that have forced you to learn something new. If you can identify a quality, like humor or levity, and reflect on how that affects the lens through which you approach the world, you should include this quality.

Otherwise, think about the activities you engage with most and what type of qualities they foster. Maybe your experience doing debate after school has made you “community-oriented,” or your growing interest in running live DJ sets has made you more “adaptable.” Whatever your experience, finding descriptors to reflect your experience (which you’ll write about in other parts of the application!) will help you avoid overly generic descriptions and stand out from other applicants.

Tips for preference-based prompts

For the preference-based short answer questions, you’ll want to dwell similarly on your past experiences, especially pivotal moments of growth, sidestepping the temptation to answer to impress. It may be hard to think of the most technically proficient movie you’ve ever seen. Still, it will be easy to remember movies that have significantly impacted your life or personal development.

Unless you’re an established film academic, you probably can’t humbly claim you think the best movie of all time is Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane or Godard’s Breathless. It’s more likely you feel that it’s a movie you used to watch with your family when you were sick or an accessible old classic that opened your eyes to the aesthetic possibilities of cinema in a new way. The character limits are restrictive but don’t limit yourself to one word. Begin the question with your answer, then use your remaining space to offer a brief piece of context for the preference that speaks to your background or passions.

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How to Stand Out in Your USC Supplemental Essays for 2022/23

The essay components of the application are crucially important to make sure you stand out among the rest! The USC application has several essays prompts, especially short answer questions .

Knowing how to approach the supplemental questions for the USC application can take time and effort. The various questions, ranging from short-answer responses to short essays, ask a lot about your personality and academic or personal aspirations . But if you’re not careful, your answers to these prompts might appear insincere or common.

Supplemental questions give you space to demonstrate genuine passion, personality, and growth in your personal and academic life that arises directly from lived experience and suggests an apt fit for USC. Below are several strategies and ideas for each prompt designed to avoid common mistakes and stereotypical answers and create responses that can help present your authentic self to the admissions office.

How Crimson Can Help You With Your USC Supplemental Essays

Crimson takes a personal approach when helping students with their supplemental essays. Advisors get to know their students first. Then they show them how to incorporate their dreams, aspirations, goals, and any unique story aspect into their supplemental essays.

Final Thoughts

Writing supplemental essays for USC, as with any school, should attempt to present the sense of a complete, ambitious person engaged in the business of thinking about the world, one who goes beyond grades and a resume, to the admissions committee. When you write, please remember the more prominent themes of what you are trying to communicate, and rewrite or remove anything that feels extraneous or inauthentic. If you follow the tips above, you should be well on your way to generating a USC supplement that you can be proud of — best of luck!

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What Makes Crimson Different

Key Resources & Further Reading

  • Acing your College Application Essay: 5 Expert Tips to Make it Stand Out from the Rest
  • MIT Supplemental Essay
  • Harvard Supplemental Essay
  • Columbia Supplemental Essay
  • Princeton Supplemental Essay
  • Cornell Supplemental Essay
  • Brown Supplemental Essay
  • Upenn Supplemental Essay
  • Dartmouth Supplemental Essay
  • Johns Hopkins Supplemental Essay
  • University of Chicago Supplemental Essay
  • NYU Supplemental Essay
  • Northwestern Supplemental Essay
  • How to Tackle Every Type of Supplemental Essay
  • 2021-22 Essay Prompts Common App Essay Prompts
  • What are the Most Unusual US College Supplemental Essay Prompts?

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New Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-24

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Freshman requirements

  • Subject requirement (A-G)
  • GPA requirement
  • Admission by exception
  • English language proficiency
  • UC graduation requirements

Additional information for

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Transfer requirements

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Applying as a freshman

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Personal insight questions

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  • You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
  • Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you. However, you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.

Keep in mind

  • All questions are equal. All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions. It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.  
  • Use the additional comments field if there are issues you'd like to address that you didn't have the opportunity to discuss elsewhere on the application. This shouldn't be an essay, but rather a place to note unusual circumstances or anything that might be unclear in other parts of the application. You may use the additional comments field to note extraordinary circumstances related to COVID-19, if necessary. 

Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal insight questions are just that—personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who you are, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC. 

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or taking the lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about what you accomplished and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church, in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn't necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family? 2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career? 3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? Things to consider: If there is a talent or skill that you're proud of, this is the time to share it.You don't necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about it, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule? 4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced. Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that's geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you; just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you've faced, how did you overcome or strive to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who you are today? 5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you've faced and what you've learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you're currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends or with my family? 6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. Things to consider:  Many students have a passion for one specific academic subject area, something that they just can't get enough of. If that applies to you, what have you done to further that interest? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom such as volunteer work, internships, employment, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or clubs and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or future career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)? Are you inspired to pursue this subject further at UC, and how might you do that?

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place like your high school, hometown or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community? 8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California? Things to consider:  If there's anything you want us to know about you but didn't find a question or place in the application to tell us, now's your chance. What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge or opportunity that you think will help us know you better?

From your point of view, what do you feel makes you an excellent choice for UC? Don't be afraid to brag a little.

Writing tips

Start early..

Give yourself plenty of time for preparation, careful composition and revisions.

Write persuasively.

Making a list of accomplishments, activities, awards or work will lessen the impact of your words. Expand on a topic by using specific, concrete examples to support the points you want to make.

Use “I” statements.

Talk about yourself so that we can get to know your personality, talents, accomplishments and potential for success on a UC campus. Use “I” and “my” statements in your responses.

Proofread and edit.

Although you will not be evaluated on grammar, spelling or sentence structure, you should proofread your work and make sure your writing is clear. Grammatical and spelling errors can be distracting to the reader and get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate.

Solicit feedback.

Your answers should reflect your own ideas and be written by you alone, but others — family, teachers and friends can offer valuable suggestions. Ask advice of whomever you like, but do not plagiarize from sources in print or online and do not use anyone's words, published or unpublished, but your own.

Copy and paste.

Once you are satisfied with your answers, save them in plain text (ASCII) and paste them into the space provided in the application. Proofread once more to make sure no odd characters or line breaks have appeared.

This is one of many pieces of information we consider in reviewing your application. Your responses can only add value to the application. An admission decision will not be based on this section alone.

Need more help?

Download our worksheets:

  • English [PDF]
  • Spanish [PDF]



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