usc supplemental essays

USC Supplemental Essays 2023-24

Are you interested in applying to USC? Strong USC supplemental essays can make all the difference in the application process. In this guide, we will discuss the University of Southern California’s supplemental essay requirements and application deadlines. We will cover what role essays play in your application review and discuss how to write a strong why USC essay. Additionally, we’ll provide some examples of USC school-specific supplemental essays.

University of Southern California Background

The University of Southern California, often known as USC, is one of the nation’s premier research universities. Located in Los Angeles, California, USC offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to almost 50,000 students. In addition to USC’s academic accomplishments, it also provides students with a great environment in a bustling city. Impressively, USC is ranked #25 of all the private and public colleges in the country.

Logically, as such top ranking university, USC enrolls some of the best students in the world. In 2022, USC received almost 70,000 first-year applications. But, they admitted just 12%. Unsurprisingly, those students accepted had impressive academics: an average GPA range of 3.82-4.0 and an SAT range of 1410-1540. Selective institutions like USC receive thousands of applicants with high GPAs and SAT scores. Therefore, this means that they look for students with impressive personal attributes, extracurricular involvements, and essays. 

Keep reading to learn more about the USC essay requirements and how you can use them to your advantage.

USC Essay Prompts: Quick Facts

  • University of Southern California Acceptance Rate – US News ranks the University of Southern California as a most selective school, with an acceptance rate of 12%.
  • Required USC Supplemental Essays
    • 1 Why USC essay 
    • 10 short answer essays 
  • USC Application Deadline:
    • Early Action: November 1st
    • Regular Decision: January 5th
  • University of Southern California Admissions Application
    • The USC admissions application is hosted on the Common App. Additional required materials include transcripts, letters of recommendation, optional test scores and a portfolio or additional writing sample if required by major. 
  • University of Southern California Essay Tips
    • Some academic programs have their own USC essays, so be sure to research those USC supplemental essays as well. 
    • Why School and Why Major essays can be a great way to display how you will fit into the campus community. Don’t forget to mention the academic opportunities in and out of the classroom. 
    • Don’t overthink your short answer essays. They are meant to be brief and insightful. 
    • Start creating an outline for your essays well in advance. Use that outline to create a structured essay. This will allow you to stay organized and avoid writing your essay at the last minute.

Please note that essay requirements are subject to change each admissions cycle, and portions of this article may have been written before the final publication of the most recent guidelines. For the most up-to-date information on essay requirements, check the university’s admissions website. 

Does USC have supplemental essays?

Are you wondering how to get into USC? Like many other selective institutions, USC requires applicants to write USC supplemental essays. Therefore, these essays will play an important role in your application.

In addition to impressive high school transcripts and glowing letters of recommendation, strong USC supplemental essays can positively impact your application. Unlike some of the materials mentioned above, the USC essay prompts allow students to speak directly to the admissions committee. As such, your USC essays are the perfect chance to showcase your personality, interests, and motivations. 

Since USC does not have an admissions interview, the USC supplemental essays are likely the best way to make a personal connection. 

Check out the USC supplemental essay requirements: 

  • 1 required Why USC essay
  • 10 required short answer essays
  • 1 optional educational progression essay

Technically, that’s a total of 11 USC supplemental essays and 1 optional USC writing supplement. In this guide, we’ll summarize the Why USC essay, the short answer USC supplemental essays, and the USC requirements.

Overall, don’t be intimidated by the number of USC supplemental essays. Instead, view your USC supplemental essays as a chance to highlight what makes you stand out.

Additional USC supplemental essay requirements

The application also requires prospective students applying to certain majors to complete additional USC essay prompts. The USC supplemental essays for these majors vary, but they all center around specific academic interests. 

If you are interested in one of these programs, you may need to complete additional USC supplemental essays: 

  • Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science
  • USC School of Architecture
  • Roski School of Art and Design
  • Iovine and Young Academy for Arts
  • Technology and the Business of Innovation
  • Marshall School of Business (World Bachelor in Business)
  • USC School of Cinematic Arts
  • Kaufman School of Dance
  • USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Keep reading to learn more about the USC supplemental essays and USC essays for specific majors. And, don’t forget to register for our webinar below to learn more about application timelines! 

Why USC Essay

usc supplemental essays

The Why USC essay prompt is one of the most important USC writing supplements. As such, all students applying to USC must complete a Why USC essay. Luckily, the Why USC essay uses a similar format to many Why School or Why Major essays. So, you’ve probably seen similar prompts. Now, let’s review the prompt below and discuss how to structure a compelling Why USC essay. 

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)

As we can see, the Why USC essay prompt asks the student to articulate their academic plans on the USC campus. Therefore, a strong Why USC essay should show that the student has done their research and is passionate about their academic interests.

In your Why USC essay, try to highlight specific features of USC that excite you. This can take many different forms. For example, some Why USC essays might discuss a high-powered research lab on campus. Alternatively, other Why USC essays might focus on the unique studio culture found at the USC School of Architecture (one of the best architecture schools in the country). 

Most importantly, showing your passion for your desired USC academic program should include evidence and context. So, in your Why USC essay, share what sparked your initial curiosity and what you have done to further explore the discipline. For example, a student applying to the Iovne and Young Academy could discuss how starting an e-commerce business during the pandemic sparked their interest in entrepreneurship and human-centered design. 

Undecided students

Fortunately, admissions officers also understand that not all students have a solidified career plan. If this is you, you can still write a stellar Why USC essay. How? Well, students can still craft a compelling Why USC essay by discussing their academic interests more broadly. Even if you haven’t chosen your career path, you can use your USC essays to highlight your intellectual curiosity and academic strengths. 

Looking for more information on how to write a strong Why USC essay? Then check out our guide on how to write a strong Why Major supplemental essay to help you craft a strong Why USC essay for your major. 

USC Short Answer Essays

usc supplemental essays

In addition to the Why USC essay, the USC requirements also include 10 short answer USC supplemental essays. But, don’t let these short supplemental essays intimidate you. The admissions office looks for responses that reflect your interests, passions, and motivations. Therefore, like the Why USC essay, your answers should be unique to you. However, the answers to each of these questions should be no more than 25 words.

The short answer USC supplemental essays are:

USC Short Answer Essays

1. Describe yourself in three words. 

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?

The beauty of the short answer USC supplemental essays is they are incredibly personal. This allows you to separate yourself from what you think the admissions committee wants to hear and allows you to foreground who you really are. As such, there is no single right answer to this collection of USC essay prompts. In fact, there are many possible excellent answers.

USC School-Specific Supplemental Essays

Additionally, a handful of majors at USC require applicants to submit a USC writing supplement as part of the admissions application process. So, keep reading for a few examples of school-specific USC requirements and USC supplemental essays. 

Check out the list below to find out more about all the programs that require additional USC essays.

USC SchoolHomepage
Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences 
USC School of Architecture
Roski School of Art and Design
Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation
Marshall School of Business (World Bachelor in Business)
USC School of Cinematic Arts
Kaufman School of Dance
USC School of Dramatic Arts
Viterbi School of Engineering
Thornton School of Music
USC Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

But, what are the major specific USC supplemental essays? Well, keep reading for a few examples of USC essays required by specific programs on the USC campus. 

USC Dornslife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences

The USC Dornslife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences includes the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Whether you want to major in computational neuroscience or art history, USC Dornslife wants to learn more about your passions through its USC writing supplement. 

Most importantly, a strong application to USC Dornsife includes introspective and well-constructed USC essays. There is one required essay for the USC Dornslife College of Letters, Arts and Science. Now, let’s review and discuss the best way to approach this essay. 


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 USC essay asks the student to discuss a topic that they are passionate about. A strong response to this essay prompt may directly connect to your major or another interest. However, don’t forget, there is no right answer here. First and foremost, this is your opportunity to discuss what you are passionate about. Likewise, you may even connect your academic interests to this passion. But, when choosing what to write about, be sure to stay true to yourself. While you may be inclined to discuss a major world problem, don’t shy away from the smaller topics and messages that might resonate with a large audience. 

Next, we’ll discuss USC supplemental essays for the School of Architecture. 

USC School of Architecture Supplement

Impressively, the USC School of Architecture is one of the best architecture schools in the nation.  The School of Architecture offers a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Inventive Technologies. Applying to the USC School of Architecture requires students to complete two additional USC essay prompts and a video prompt. 

Prompt 1:

Our school views architecture as a “human right,” and that design should exhibit “social consciousness.” How do you think architecture can contribute to the greater social consciousness?

Prompt 2:

At USC Architecture we will teach you to become strong critical thinkers. With that in mind please tell us about a piece of architecture that you’ve personally experienced and how its design resonated with you.

The first prompt requires students to connect architecture to the world around them. How might architecture and the built environment contribute to social consciousness? For example, you might focus on sustainable design or buildings that prioritize community spaces. 

This prompt requires reflection, so don’t hesitate to workshop a few essay ideas. Then, choose the one that best suits you. The second prompt asks students to name a specific architectural work that resonates with them. This USC essay also provides the perfect opportunity to share how the world of architecture influences your daily life. 

USC Architecture aims to engage students as critical thinkers through their USC supplemental essays. Therefore, these USC essay prompts ask students to think beyond their favorite skyscraper. Instead, you should consider how architecture and design interact with society, social consciousness, and you as a person. 

USC Video Essays

In addition to the USC essay prompts, the USC School of Architecture also has a USC supplemental video prompt.

Video Prompt:

Please produce a video that presents what you consider to be your favorite project in your portfolio and why. Try to be as informative and concise as possible when you’re speaking about the project but also remember to be yourself. We are looking for students that are passionate with a keen curiosity about architecture and design.

In your video response, make sure you choose a project that reflects your interests and potential. Don’t focus on using lofty language—instead, highlight where your ideas came from and how your critical thinking skills inform the work you produce. 

Next, we will discuss the USC supplemental essays for the Viterbi School of Engineering. 

USC Viterbi Supplemental Essays

usc supplemental essays

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering offers a variety of degrees in engineering and computer science. Like other programs, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering requires two additional USC supplemental essays.  Most importantly, the Viterbi USC essays seek to get into the minds of future engineers. Like the School of Architecture USC supplemental essays, the Viterbi USC essays require students to reflect on their personal experiences. 

Prompt 1:

The student body at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is a diverse group of unique engineers and computer scientists who work together to engineer a better world for all humanity. Describe how your contributions to the USC Viterbi student body may be distinct from others. Please feel free to touch on any part of your background, traits, skills, experiences, challenges, and/or personality in helping us better understand you. (250 words)

Prompt 2:

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges go hand-in-hand with our vision to engineer a better world for all humanity. Engineers and computer scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges at and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why.

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering wants to learn more about you through the USC supplemental essays. In the first USC writing supplement, applicants should talk about the ways their unique traits and experiences add to the USC Engineering student body. In fact, the USC Viterbi admissions blog summarizes this prompt as ”How will you make a unique contribution to the USC student body?” 

You might find some inspiration from your Why USC essay, but be sure to make each of these USC essays unique. 

Additionally, in the second Viterbi USC supplemental writing prompt, students are instructed to review key engineering challenges laid out by the National Academy of Engineering. Students then choose a specific challenge and discuss why it’s important to them. 

Structuring your essay

As you review this prompt, pay attention to the directions. Most importantly, make sure you only choose one challenge and craft a strong argument about why it matters. According to the Viterbi Admissions blog, the challenge does not have to be related to your major. Additionally, you don’t have to provide a solution to the challenge, and there is no right answer.

In each of the Viterbi USC supplemental essays, students respond to USC essay prompts that allow them to represent their most authentic selves. If you aim to study engineering or computer science at USC, these USC supplemental essays give you the chance to share your unique story and perspective. 

Does USC care about essays?

usc supplemental essays

Absolutely! In fact, the more selective the institution, the more your essays might matter. Logically, highly selective schools receive many applications from students with high GPAs and test scores. Therefore, having stellar USC essays can help you stand out to the admissions committee. And, given the USC acceptance rate is just 13%, the USC essay prompts let you set yourself apart. 

In other words, admissions committees look for ways to envision you on their campuses. Indeed, they want to make sure you would enrich their community. So, your Why USC essay is one of the ways you can discuss why USC is the perfect match for you. 

USC essays are one of the ways that the admissions committee can get to know you as a person. Have you heard college admissions representatives encourage you to use “your voice” in your essay? Being authentic and introspective can allow the admissions team to learn more about you while reading your USC supplemental essays. 

What is the application deadline for USC?

usc supplemental essays

Now that you know more about USC supplemental essays, let’s discuss application dates and deadlines. 

USC has two application plans: Regular Decision and Early Action. However, majors requiring a portfolio or audition are not permitted to apply Early Action or Regular Decision. Instead, they have a deadline of December 1st. Check out this list of majors with a December 1st deadline.  

The Early Action USC application deadline is November 1st. The Early Action plan is non-binding and non-restrictive. Therefore, you can apply to as many colleges as you wish and there is no obligation to enroll. Early Action applicants will be notified of their results in January. The Early Action plan leaves ample time for students to review financial aid letters and visit campus before deciding on where to enroll. 

If you are not ready to submit your application in November, the Regular Decision USC application deadline is January 15th. The Regular Decision plan is also non-binding and non-restrictive. These applicants will be notified of their admissions decision on April 1, 2024. Whether you are applying Early Action or Regular Decision, your USC supplemental essays are due on the application deadline. 

If you are already in college and are interested in transferring to USC, transfer students have a USC application deadline of January 1st if they are already enrolled at USC and February 15th if they are currently enrolled at another college.

Starting early

No matter what admissions plan you choose, it is critical to begin working on your USC supplemental essays well ahead of their deadline. Overall, it is never too early to begin brainstorming ideas and creating an outline. By getting organized early and not procrastinating, you can ensure you submit the strongest application possible. 

Your USC essays will also be used in your overall review for merit scholarships. But don’t forget to view the USC scholarship and financial aid deadlines! All students interested in being considered for a USC merit scholarship must apply Early Action (or by December 1st if their major requires a portfolio or audition).

Keep reading for more resources to help with your USC essays. 

More USC Resources to explore

Are you looking for more insight on how to get into USC and craft strong USC essays? Well, CollegeAdvisor has got you covered. Now that you know more about the USC Supplemental essay requirements, check out these examples of USC supplemental essays. 

Additionally, as you are researching the USC essay prompts, don’t forget about merit scholarships and financial aid. In fact, learning about USC merit scholarships and prestigious external awards, like the Questbridge scholarship, can ease anxiety about the financial aspect of enrolling at USC.

CollegeAdvisor also hosts tons of interactive webinars to help you learn more about USC essays and admissions in general. So, get informed and watch them! Specifically, check out this Q&A webinar with former Georgetown and USC admissions officers. 

Remember that the University of Southern California is just one of many great schools in the State of California. Check out this guide to see how USC stacks up to other California colleges. 

Also, check out USC Admission’s resource videos on YouTube! The video below offers tips for approaching this year’s USC supplemental essays as well.

USC Supplemental Essays – Takeaways 

As we’ve seen in this article, USC supplemental essays are a critical part of the USC admissions application. Here’s a list of 7 takeaways to help you write strong USC supplemental essays.

7 USC Supplemental Essays Takeaways

1. USC has 11 required essays: the Why USC essay and 10 short answer essays. All students, regardless of major, have this requirement.

2. Your Why USC essay is a great opportunity to show why you would be a great fit for USC. 

3. Your short answer essays are meant to be brief and authentic. Don’t overthink these! 

4. Depending on your major, you may have additional USC essays to submit. Refer to this guide for the list of majors that have additional USC essays. 

5. The deadline for your USC essays is the same as the application deadline. So, it is incredibly important that you prepare by giving yourself ample time to write and edit your USC essays.

6. The USC Office of Admissions views essays as a valuable part of the application. In fact, they just might be the thing that makes you stand out.

7. Be yourself! These essays are structured to get a closer look at who you are. Don’t shy away from this element.

Looking for more guidance on the USC essays? CollegeAdvisor is here to help. Click here to schedule a meeting with our experts today and start receiving personalized college admissions guidance.

usc supplemental essays

This essay guide was written by Chelsea Holley. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.