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For the latest information on USC’s supplemental essays, check out our 2021-2022 USC Essay Guide.

In this University of Southern California Essay Guide, we will cover how to approach the 2020-2021 USC supplementary essays. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

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

Choose one of the three prompts below.

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. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.

Don’t feel intimidated by this question. You have a decent number of words to talk about one event – feel free to go into detail and flesh out a story in your answer. Remember, University of Southern California is looking to learn more about you and your personality, so focus on your personal growth from the experience, rather than the experience itself here.

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.

When writing your college admissions essays, it’s easy to get stuck in the trap of repeatedly portraying only one passion, which might come across as one-dimensional. This question is a great chance to expand your essays to other aspects of your interests and passions.

You have enough words to elaborate here. For example, if you want to write about music, is there a certain teacher or performance that first sparked your interest? If you want to write about physics, is there an interesting historical experiment that drew you into the field? Be specific and allow your demonstrated passion to shine through.

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

This question is very open-ended, and you can write about any part of your background or personality so long as it is essential to understanding you. If a unique upbringing is what you want to write about, how did your upbringing shape parts of your personality?

Alternatively, is there an interesting quirk about you that could help an admissions officer understand who you are as a person? Do some soul-searching and figure out which parts of you truly compose you. You can try talking to your best friend, your parents, or thinking on formative events. in your life. Then, reflect on how that part of you was shaped and/or demonstrated. If you find it extremely difficult to list anecdotes about the trait you choose to write about, it might not be that essential to understanding you.

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)

University of Southern California wraps “why us?” and “why your major?” into one prompt here. This is a great place to show your interest and understanding about USC and its academic offerings. If there are specific professors, unique majors, or special programs that you can only encounter at USC, include them here. If you made a personally significant visit to USC, such as in a summer program, write about how that experience makes you committed to becoming a USC student.

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.

If this question applies to you, write fluently and meaningfully about the gap. If you were traveling abroad, doing an internship, volunteering, and/or participating in a program during the gap, write about your experiences and how they have shaped your perspective.

If you took a gap simply to take a personal break from school, that is absolutely valid too. Were you helping your parents out at home or taking on any projects? Did you become more connected with your community or undergo any personal growth? There are many ways to construct a meaningful narrative about your experience.

Shorter Questions

Have fun with these ones! As long are your answers are not criminal or wildly inappropriate, you should answer them honestly. You know you best.

To be clear, you can still use these questions to build on your application’s theme, vibe, and story. For example, if you have two equally favorite movies, consider choosing the movie you write down by how well it builds on your application, rather than spending hours debating which movie you really like more. The only strong recommendation here is that you should paint a self-portrait, not a picture of the “perfect applicant.”

Describe yourself in three words. (First Word: , Second Word: , Third Word: )

People tend to stress out a lot over questions like this, but you really should not. If you want to use three adjectives, think of three components of yourself that are mutually exclusive and span a wide breadth of your personality; find words that encompass those three components. Because each word requires a separate response, University of Southern California makes it harder to use a three-word phrase instead of adjectives, but you can still try this if you have a creative phrase you want to include.

What is your favorite snack?

Not much to say here – just write down your favorite snack.

Best movie of all time:

My pick is The Pianist (2002)!

Dream job:

Be creative! Is this the job you’ve wanted since you were 5? Is this a job you imagined yourself doing in a literal dream? Go with what fits you best.

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

When thinking about this question, I favored songs with titles that clearly encompassed the song’s meaning. For example, “Pills N Potions” by Nicki Minaj contains powerful messages about self-empowerment and overcoming struggle, but the title – which is the only thing the admissions officer will read – would not be easily related to the song’s meaning.

Dream trip:

Feel free to use your imagination. Is your dream trip in a different country, or even outside our solar system? Is there someone alive or dead you would want to join you on this dream trip?

What TV show will you binge watch next?

Not much to say here, just answer honestly.

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

Well-known means that someone reading your application should have a decent chance of knowing the person/character.

Favorite book:

This is a question that many students could answer more effectively. Don’t feel pressured to choose a classic from English class or a title that everyone has heard of. Personally, I picked a pretty esoteric book, but its title sent a clear message about my personality and values.

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

You’re a memorable person, so reflect that with a memorable answer! “Baking” might get the point across, but “Macaronage: The Art of Folding” is so much more interesting and intriguing to read. Likewise, “Internal Medicine” is good, but “Past COVID: Modern Challenges in Internal Medicine” is better. Be as personal, creative, and concise as you can.

Final Advice

Here is a note to end this guide: there are always exceptions. You may truly be someone for whom “Baking” is the best answer. Go with your gut, be honest, direct, and clear in your writing, and you will find that the college admissions process is not as daunting as it may seem.


This essay guide was written by Henry Shen, Stanford University ‘23. If you want to get help writing your USC application essays from Henry or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today.