university of southern california supplemental essays guide

Not sure how to approach the USC supplemental essays?’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.

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 to create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 719-4984.