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Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.
The admissions essay is a part of the application that can make you stand out as unique even among a large group of similarly qualified applicants. It may be called a letter of intent, personal statement, or personal narrative, but always provides an occasion to establish your own personal voice and to explain why you are well suited for the program.
When you begin the writing process, start by reading the prompt. Neglecting to address a specific question or failing to follow directions about page or word limits, are unlikely to impress. Usually you will be asked fairly generic questions about your qualifications and aims for graduate school and a common page length for a personal statement is 2 pages.
Your aim is to convince those reading your application that you are prepared to be successful and to contribute to the graduate program of study. While all of your accomplishments are important, it is best to focus on a few specific ideas, experiences, or themes. For example, rather than merely claiming to be interested in research, it is better to explain a research project you have produced or participated in and what about it you liked. Rather than just saying you are committed to the betterment of humanity, show how you have demonstrated that commitment. Examples will help you “prove” your claims.
In addition to the specific prompt, it is important to include the following:
- Your preparation and background in the field of study
- Your specific area of interest in the field: you should explain what area of the profession you see yourself getting into, and how you see the degree helping you to get there.
- Your research ambitions in the field
- Why this Program/School?: Before you apply to graduate or professional schools you should have given a lot of thought to why you are seeking a particular degree, and why the specific institutions to which you are applying. You should explain to the schools or departments why you are a good fit with them. This means saying something about the school that could not be said about most other schools. For example, instead of writing “you have a very strong faculty,” mention some examples of faculty research that interest you.
- Future career goals
- Positively Addressing Inconsistencies: If you know there is some striking weakness in your application (perhaps a GPA or score that is glaringly low or some long gap in your resume) you will want to account for it in your statement. If, as a result of suddenly needing to work a 40-hour week to support yourself, your grades slipped significantly, that might well be something to address. You should make sure to explain it in terms as positive as possible. For any personal struggles that you have worked through, express that it is safely in the past and will not recur in graduate school. If you struggled at first in school, but your grades have improved every year, or your grades in your major are particularly outstanding, these are things you could point out. Some people suggest including such explanations only in a separate addendum, in order that the tone of your essay is uniformly positive.
Why are you applying to this program specifically,
what is your future career interest, and
how will this program help you attain that?
When you first sit down to write, start by reflecting on your goals, achievements, strengths, interesting experiences you have had, and how you plan to continue your academic or professional development. Once you have your list of ideas, you should begin creating a general structure for your essay without committing to sentence structure and grammar. Once you are satisfied with a structure of content for your essay, begin writing your first draft. Make sure your tone is enthusiastic and positive. Also, be sure to display all of the reasons why you are an excellent candidate; this is not the place for excessive modesty.
When you consider editing your statements, we recommend seeking as much feedback as possible. Expect to complete a minimum of 3 drafts. The Pre-Grad advisors are willing to review your draft. You also have the Writing Center (THH 216), a peer, or faculty member as resources to review your statement. It is strongly advised to include an editor working in your field of interest. Be sure to give a draft to your recommenders. It will help them understand how you are presenting yourself in your application, and they may also provide you with useful feedback.
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October 27, 2011
The infamous college essay. For most colleges, this is a required part of the application. For some of you, this may be a major source of stress within the application process. While there’s no perfect essay, topic, or approach, there are some general tips that may be helpful when writing your college essays.
Admission counselors at USC view the essay as our opportunity to get to know applicants better. Since we use a holistic review process, we hope to gain more insight into who our applicants are beyond just grades and test scores. While it is not about the topic you choose to write about, it is more about how that topic is relevant to your life. We realize that you may have many different people providing input and helping you edit your essay, but we are genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say and what you want to write about. Your essay shouldn’t be what your friend’s parent’s cousin’s dog’s owner wrote for their college application; your essay should reflect your voice, interests, and individual personality.
Another general tip is knowing your audience. Although you can’t anticipate the sense of humor of who will read your application, you can use common sense. I’ve read essays in the past that use slang, swear words, or internet and text abbreviations. These are not appropriate for the standard college essay! While we like to see students who try something different in their essay, just keep in mind that you also don’t want to offend someone who reads your writing. At the very least, you know that the audience for your college essay will not be your peers.
This may be obvious advice as well, but spelling and grammar can make a difference. It’s so easy to use spell check these days that I’m often surprised when I find students who haven’t mastered how to spell words like “definitely.” Although we are looking at the college essay more for the content than anything else, it can be hard to ignore multiple glaring mistakes in one essay or application. Writing is an important part of being a college student, thus we want to make certain that students have the ability to write an essay with a solid structure while paying attention to spelling and grammar.
At the end of the day, it’s important to follow your heart and write about what comes naturally to you. We read many different types of essays and many essays that have a similar theme. What we’re most interested in reading is the essay that you want to write, that reflects your voice, and tells us more about what makes you special.
Interested in applying?
To learn more or begin the application process, visit USC Undergraduate Admission.
USC Requirements for Admission
Choose Your Test
What are USC’s admission requirements? While there are a lot of pieces that go into a college application, you should focus on only a few critical things:
In this guide we’ll cover what you need to get into USC and build a strong application.
School location: Los Angeles, CA
This school is also known as: University of Southern California
Admissions Rate: 18%
If you want to get in, the first thing to look at is the acceptance rate. This tells you how competitive the school is and how serious their requirements are.
The acceptance rate at USC is 18%. For every 100 applicants, only 18 are admitted.
This means the school is extremely selective. Meeting their GPA requirements and SAT/ACT requirements is very important to getting past their first round of filters and proving your academic preparation. If you don’t meet their expectations, your chance of getting is nearly zero.
After crossing this hurdle, you’ll need to impress USC application readers through their other application requirements, including extracurriculars, essays, and letters of recommendation. We’ll cover more below.
USC GPA Requirements
Many schools specify a minimum GPA requirement, but this is often just the bare minimum to submit an application without immediately getting rejected.
The GPA requirement that really matters is the GPA you need for a real chance of getting in. For this, we look at the school’s average GPA for its current students.
Average GPA: 3.73
(Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA.
With a GPA of 3.73, USC requires you to be above average in your high school class. You’ll need at least a mix of A’s and B’s, with more A’s than B’s. You can compensate for a lower GPA with harder classes, like AP or IB classes. This will show that you’re able to handle more difficult academics than the average high school student.
If you’re currently a junior or senior, your GPA is hard to change in time for college applications. If your GPA is at or below the school average of 3.73, you’ll need a higher SAT or ACT score to compensate. This will help you compete effectively against other applicants who have higher GPAs than you.
SAT and ACT Requirements
Each school has different requirements for standardized testing. Most schools require the SAT or ACT, and many also require SAT subject tests.
You must take either the SAT or ACT to submit an application to USC. More importantly, you need to do well to have a strong application.
USC SAT Requirements
Many schools say they have no SAT score cutoff, but the truth is that there is a hidden SAT requirement. This is based on the school’s average score.
Average SAT: 1450 (Old: 2085)
The average SAT score composite at USC is a 1450 on the 1600 SAT scale.
On the old 2400 SAT, this corresponds to an average SAT score of 2085.
This score makes USC Strongly Competitive for SAT test scores.
USC SAT Score Analysis (New 1600 SAT)
The 25th percentile New SAT score is 1360, and the 75th percentile New SAT score is 1540. In other words, a 1360 on the New SAT places you below average, while a 1540 will move you up to above average.
Aspiring Trojans who need a leg up in their USC application should use our specialty tutoring advice for the Los Angeles area in their test preparation.
Here’s the breakdown of new SAT scores by section:
USC SAT Score Analysis (Old 2400 SAT)
The 25th percentile Old SAT score is 1920, and the 75th percentile SAT score is 2250. In other words, a 1920 on the Old SAT places you below average, while a 2250 puts you well above average.
Here’s the breakdown of old SAT scores by section:
SAT Score Choice Policy
The Score Choice policy at your school is an important part of your testing strategy.
USC has the Score Choice policy of “Highest Section.”
This is also known as “superscoring.” This means that you can choose which SAT tests you want to send to the school. Of all the scores they receive, your application readers will consider your highest section scores across all SAT test dates you submit.
Click below to learn more about how superscoring critically affects your test strategy.
For example, say you submit the following 3 test scores:
Even though the highest total you scored on any one test date was 1000, USC will take your highest section score from all your test dates, then combine them to form your Superscore. You can raise your composite score from 1000 to 1400 in this example.
This is important for your testing strategy. Because you can choose which tests to send in, and USC forms your Superscore, you can take the SAT as many times as you want, then submit only the tests that give you the highest Superscore. Your application readers will only see that one score.
Therefore, if your SAT superscore is currently below a 1540, we strongly recommend that you consider prepping for the SAT and retaking it. You have a very good chance of raising your score, which will significantly boost your chances of getting in.
Even better, because of the Superscore, you can focus all your energy on a single section at a time. If your Reading score is lower than your other sections, prep only for the Reading section, then take the SAT. Then focus on Math for the next test, and so on. This will surely give you the highest Superscore possible.
Download our free guide on the top 5 strategies you must be using to improve your score. This guide was written by Harvard graduates and SAT perfect scorers. If you apply the strategies in this guide, you’ll study smarter and make huge score improvements.
USC ACT Requirements
Just like for the SAT, USC likely doesn’t have a hard ACT cutoff, but if you score too low, your application will get tossed in the trash.
Average ACT: 32
The average ACT score at USC is 32. This score makes USC Strongly Competitive for ACT scores.
The 25th percentile ACT score is 30, and the 75th percentile ACT score is 33.
Even though USC likely says they have no minimum ACT requirement, if you apply with a 30 or below, you’ll have a very hard time getting in, unless you have something else very impressive in your application. There are so many applicants scoring 32 and above that a 30 will look academically weak.
ACT Score Sending Policy
If you’re taking the ACT as opposed to the SAT, you have a huge advantage in how you send scores, and this dramatically affects your testing strategy.
Here it is: when you send ACT scores to colleges, you have absolute control over which tests you send. You could take 10 tests, and only send your highest one. This is unlike the SAT, where many schools require you to send all your tests ever taken.
This means that you have more chances than you think to improve your ACT score. To try to aim for the school’s ACT requirement of 33 and above, you should try to take the ACT as many times as you can. When you have the final score that you’re happy with, you can then send only that score to all your schools.
ACT Superscore Policy
By and large, most colleges do not superscore the ACT. (Superscore means that the school takes your best section scores from all the test dates you submit, and then combines them into the best possible composite score). Thus, most schools will just take your highest ACT score from a single sitting.
We weren’t able to find the school’s exact ACT policy, which most likely means that it does not Superscore. Regardless, you can choose your single best ACT score to send in to USC, so you should prep until you reach our recommended target ACT score of 33.
Download our free guide on the top 5 strategies you must be using to improve your score. This guide was written by Harvard graduates and ACT perfect scorers. If you apply the strategies in this guide, you’ll study smarter and make huge score improvements.
SAT/ACT Writing Section Requirements
Both the SAT and ACT have a Writing section that includes an essay.
USC requires you to take the SAT/ACT Writing section. They’ll use this as another factor in their admissions consideration.
SAT Subject Test Requirements
Schools vary in their SAT subject test requirements. Typically, selective schools tend to require them, while most schools in the country do not.
We did not find information that USC requires SAT subject tests, and so most likely it does not. At least 6 months before applying, you should still doublecheck just to make sure, so you have enough time to take the test.
Final Admissions Verdict
Because this school is extremely selective, getting a high SAT/ACT score and GPA is vital to having a chance at getting in. If you don’t pass their SAT/ACT and GPA requirements, they’ll likely reject you without much consideration.
To have the best shot of getting in, you should aim for the 75th percentile, with a 2250 SAT or a 33 ACT. You should also have a 3.73 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score.
For a school as selective as USC, you’ll also need to impress them with the rest of your application. We’ll cover those details next.
But if you apply with a score below a 2250 SAT or a 33 ACT, you unfortunately start out with the odds against you and have a tiny chance of getting in. There are just too many students with high SAT/ACT scores and strong applications, and you need to compete against them.
Here’s our custom admissions calculator. Plug in your numbers to see what your chances of getting in are.
How would your chances improve with a better score?
Try to take your current SAT score and add 160 points (or take your ACT score and add 4 points) to the calculator above. See how much your chances improve?
At PrepScholar, we’ve created the leading online SAT/ACT prep program. We guarantee an improvement of 160 SAT points or 4 ACT points on your score, or your money back.
Here’s a summary of why we’re so much more effective than other prep programs:
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Every school requires an application with the bare essentials – high school transcript and GPA, application form, and other core information. Many schools, as explained above, also require SAT and ACT scores, as well as letters of recommendation, application essays, and interviews. We’ll cover the exact requirements of USC here.
Application Requirements Overview
- Common Application Accepted, supplemental forms required
- Universal Application Not accepted
- Electronic Application Available
- Essay or Personal Statement Required for all freshmen
- Letters of Recommendation
- Interview Not required
- Application Fee $80
- Fee Waiver Available? Available
- Other Notes
- SAT or ACT Required
- SAT or ACT Writing Required
- SAT Subject Tests
- Scores Due in Office February 15
- Subject Required Years
- English 4
- Math 3
- Science 2
- Foreign Language 2
- Social Studies 2
- Electives 3
Deadlines and Early Admissions
- Offered? Deadline Notification
- Regular Admission
- Yes January 15 April 1
- Early Action
- Early Decision
Admissions Office Information
Our Expert’s Notes
We did more detailed research into this school’s admissions process and found the following information:
USC has various majors and programs (including Architecture, Arts, Business, and Music) that require additional application compoenents. Specific information by program is available here. USC offers merit scholarships, most of which you apply for by submitting a complete USC application by December 1. For a complete list, which includes some scholarships that have additional application components, check out this page.
Other Schools For You
If you’re interested in USC, you’ll probably be interested in these schools as well. We’ve divided them into 3 categories depending on how hard they are to get into, relative to USC.
Reach Schools: Harder to Get Into
These schools are more selective and have higher scores than USC. If you improve your SAT score, you’ll be competitive for these schools.
Same Level: Equally Hard to Get Into
If you’re competitive for USC, these schools will offer you a similar chance of admission.
Safety Schools: Easier to Get Into
If you’re currently competitive for USC, you should have no problem getting into these schools. If USC is currently out of your reach, you might already be competitive for these schools.
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