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Quick Takes on the New Essay Prompts for the University of Southern California

What Are the New USC Essay Prompts?

After several years with the same Common Application supplemental questions, the University of Southern California has decided to change things up—just a little. Instead of asking you to expand on an extracurricular activity, USC now poses the following 250-word limit prompts for you to choose from:

Option A: 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.

The USC admission staff is dedicated to building a diverse community and they know that, with diversity, come a lot of different opinions and life experiences. This essay prompt is your chance to show them you will enter college with an open mind and receptivity to the ideas and beliefs of others.

Option B: Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

USC not only encourages but expects students to explore areas unrelated to their majors. An engineer who wants to take a ballet class? Great. A poet who wants to learn to develop apps? Wonderful. The more unlikely the combination of interests, the better! So don’t hold back, even if you’re that future accountant who wants to minor in animation and Portuguese.

Option C: What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

This is a broad question, so anything goes, but I encourage you to focus on something non-academic for this prompt. Ask yourself, what makes you tick? What has made you who you are today? Is it your family, your hometown, your culture? Is it your love of playing the flute, or the fact that you can’t go a day without escaping into a book for at least a few minutes? Is it something more intrinsic, like your ambition or your compassion? There’s no right answer here, but make your response personal so the reader walks away with a sense of who you are and what matters to you.

And finally, the following questions remain unchanged from previous years:

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)

Get specific! If you could simply copy and paste the name of any university into your answer because it’s that generic, scrap it. USC wants to see that you know the University and the majors you’ve selected. Cite particular programs, research opportunities, faculty, and courses to show off your academic side. You can also talk about non-academic aspects of USC, like the campus, student body, and the alumni network, but don’t let your answer get too fluffy.

Have fun with this series of very short answers. And I mean short—when they ask you to name your theme song or choose a hashtag to describe yourself, do just that. Don’t write an additional sentence to explain your choice. These are meant to be enjoyable and light (and often provide a much needed laugh for your overworked application reader), so don’t overthink it.

Application Essays

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:

  1. Your preparation and background in the field of study
  2. 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.
  3. Your research ambitions in the field
  4. 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.
  5. Future career goals
  6. 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.

How to Respond to USC Prompts: Complete Guide

An admission to a great high-education institution like USC can be a great goal to achieve. But achieving it demands a lot from the applicants, especially having to answer the different USC prompts you can encounter, prompts that can be really hard if you don’t prepare correctly.

Here we are going to show everything you need to know about USC application essay prompts, from which questions you can choose and how you can answer them correctly. What’s more, our statement of purpose for graduate school services will give you the list of requirements you need to apply for this university. Take a look further and find out!

The University of Southern California Requirements

When it comes to applying for this university, there are certain items you need to submit if you want your application to be taken into account. These requirements are as follow:

  • USC writing supplement prompts essay answers
  • Transcripts of all your previous academically finished studies.
  • Test scores from Official SAT and ACT Scores.
  • A school report sent directly to the Common App by one or two recommenders.
  • A letter of recommendation from a teacher or counsellor.
  • A portfolio, resume or any other document if required. (Mainly majors)
  • Financial statement for support
  • English Proficiency Tests like TOEFL, IELTS or PTE for International Students

These requirements are the main requirements for all applicants; however, they can vary according to the level of education, place of origin and academic performance. All of these requirements need to be submitted before January 15 of 2018 starting from the 1st of December.

USC Common App Prompts 2017

When you apply for the University of SC, you will for sure stumble with one of these topics for an entrance exam, some of the most intellectually demanding prompts. Here they are:

Prompt #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.

This is one of the USC essay prompts you can use to talk about diversity, about your world ideas and assertions that you think are important. Here is when you can talk about any thought you find puzzling and any perspective over a certain subject that you think is not common or just not appreciated enough. Whatever you think you can say that fits the question, something that lets the admission committee about your intellectual capacity and values as a person.

CollegeVine recommends to:

“Speak about the belief that challenged you in a nuanced way — most competitive applicants share experiences in being challenged by new academic and ethical perspectives, so strive to leave the reader thinking, “I never thought about that or experienced that before.”

Prompt #2: Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

This prompts can be easily answered by just pointing out one of your interests outside your academic goals. However, if you actually point out an academic interest just outside of your actual academic focus, something outside of what you’re applying for – like architecture when you are applying for music – it will also mean a good answer. But even more than what you would like and what is your interest, it is important to point the WHY. Make sure you let the admission committee why exactly does that interest you so much and why would you like to become an expert on that as well.

“An alternate approach is to employ an anecdote to describe this interest. For example, you can talk about how you’ve wanted to master chess after hearing about computer AI that beat the world’s best chess player, or how you play the flute but know nothing about music theory and would like to learn more regardless of your intended degree in mechanical engineering.”

Prompt #3: What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

To answer this question you don’t need to do a critical introspection about yourself. You just need to think about something (positive of course) that you could talk about and make the admission committee feel attracted to you. Yes, you just need to write a compelling story about yourself, something not everyone knows about you, especially if it is related to your academic future.

College vine recommends using an anecdote like:

“Talk about how growing up with synesthesia explains your love for music or how your uncle’s work as a surgeon has inspired you in many ways. Understand that no matter what you write about, it should inherently reveal something the admissions needs to know about you as a person.”

Need Help with USC Essay Prompts?

As you already know, these questions are not the hardest or most confusing ones. They are actually simple and somehow easy to answer. However, they still demand each applicant to make an effort to come with an interesting and intellectually provoking approach, especially for the hardest ones.

But whatever you choose to answer, you shouldn’t preoccupy so much. If you really need to deliver a wonderful answer you can count on our help. Here we offer professional writing services for Texas College essay prompts, USC application essay prompts, Statement of purpose for graduate school and much more!

How to Write the USC Essays 2016-2017

Check out How to Write the USC Application Essays for 2017-2018

“Fight on!” These two words ring through every hallway at the University of Southern California, invoking the spirit and camaraderie of the mighty Trojans themselves. USC is a private institution based in Los Angeles, California, with an emphasis on research and strong athletics.

USC is very selective, admitting about 16.5% of the thousands of applicants every year. Certain schools, such as the Viterbi School of Engineering and Marshall School of Business, may be even more competitive in terms of admissions, so it’s best to be thoroughly prepared when applying to USC.

The CollegeVine Essay Team has prepared a guide on how to write the USC essays for this application cycle — read on!

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Brief Intro to USC

With a total undergraduate enrollment of 19,000, there is opportunity around every corner of USC’s beautiful campus. Academics at USC follow a Renaissance ideal, and the school emphasizes a unique undergraduate experience built around flexible academic programs and interdisciplinary research.

USC athletic teams boast a total of 123 national titles across various sports, and fans from across the nation often deck themselves out in cardinal and gold in support of the dominant Trojan football team. Athletics prides itself on this “fighting spirit,” and over 40 USC athletes participated in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

The USC social dynamic is diverse and exciting, and if Greek life is your thing, about 25% of men are in a fraternity and 20% of women are in a sorority. With amazing academics and a gung-ho student culture, it’s no wonder that USC alum come away loving their four years as a Trojan.

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

Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea…

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.

As USC makes clear in this prompt, they are looking to add diversity and believe that their student body will thrive when members of different backgrounds interact. Thus, this prompt is best if you can write at length on your unique views and experiences, and how a new idea or puzzling belief uprooted your sense of self. It’s a chance to share your individuality, perspectives, potential flaws, and willingness to adapt and improve with the world around you.

There are many ways to approach this prompt, since diversity prompts are becoming common, but two strong ways would be to use a narrative before explanation or give a vivid character description of yourself and the fundamental change in your perspective.

Remember to speak about the belief that challenged you in a nuanced way — most competitive applicants share experiences in being challenged by new academic and ethical perspectives, so strive to leave the reader thinking, “I never thought about that or experienced that before.” The new idea or belief can range from a social issue you initially disagreed with, to views on daily habits and vices, and often times entertaining stories can be weaved around a challenging moment.

If using a narrative, focus on employing descriptive language and sensory detail to transport the reader into the moment, and center your narrative around the event that challenged your views. Follow up with an explanation of your reaction and change in perspective. This is a great opportunity to showcase your writing ability and intrigue your reader, but avoid overdoing it or making your story feel comedic. It might pay to use a twist introduction or hyperbole when expressing your revelation, but still avoid aggrandizing excessively.

If you choose to write a description of your character, use vivid language to describe what you were like before and after exposure to the unique perspective on which you’re writing. Then, explain what this perspective was and how you changed. For example, you may have once been rather timid but are now bold and venturous, which you can elaborate on before describing the new belief that challenged you to the core and caused this change in personality. It’s a gamble that may confuse the reader, but can also make for a very interesting and enjoyable read.

Describe something outside of your intended academic focus…

Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

This is a straightforward prompt, and the response can be equally straightforward. If you have some academic interest not related to your major, explain what that is, why it’s important to you, and how you will strive to learn more about it. It can be something you have no experience in so far and are interested in learning more. You want to avoid discussing an interest or topic that doesn’t expand upon your extracurriculars and activities — rather, talk about a hidden passion or growing field that you are dying to explore and learn more about.

An alternate approach is to employ an anecdote to describe this interest. For example, you can talk about how you’ve wanted to master chess after hearing about computer AI that beat the world’s best chess player, or how you play the flute but know nothing about music theory and would like to learn more regardless of your intended degree in mechanical engineering. Maybe you are passionate about tying knots after being an eagle scout, and would like to expand your knowledge of knots and start a club at USC. There are few clichés — what you choose to write about will most likely be unique to your interests, so don’t feel limited in terms of what you choose to reveal.

What is something about yourself that is essential…

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

This prompt’s theme is similar to that of the first Common Application essay prompt: “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.” If you wrote an essay for that prompt, it may be wise to select one of the other two options, unless you have something important and lengthy to write about here that is not otherwise discussed in your Common Application essay.

Admissions at USC can most likely gauge who you are as an academic and hard-working individual through the rest of your application, especially in terms of scores and extracurricular activities. Thus, when revealing something about yourself that is fundamental to understanding who you are, try not to talk more about traits involving your academics, i.e., traits that explain why you are so hard-working. If you do, it may be at the expense of being cliché and limiting the perspective of yourself lent to the admissions committee.

Also, essays on the experience of being a first-generation student, immigrant, or dedicated athlete have been rendered cliché by the frequency with which students write about them. Avoid these topics or take a nuanced approach that will distinguish you from other applicants.

The approach is simple, and you can use an anecdote here for a vehicle. You could talk about how growing up with synesthesia explains your love for music or how your uncle’s work as a surgeon has inspired you in many ways. Understand that no matter what you write about, it should inherently reveal something the admissions needs to know about you as a person.

Describe yourself…

Describe yourself in three words.

This part is simple, so don’t overthink it, but avoid being generic. It is a tendency to put words like generous, trustworthy, persevering, focused, diligent, etc., because it is natural for a student to convey their hard-working attitude and model-citizen personality. However, even if those do apply to you, USC wants to see you describe yourself as who you are, not who the student side of you is.

Whether you are quirky, amenable, inquisitive, gullible, compassionate, etc., it’s important to accurately portray your personality type. Be honest (even at the expense of mild self-deprecation, though it should be in good humor — nothing negative and contradictory), and use sophisticated diction.

Rapid fire – Personal Questions

What is your favorite snack?

These are all personal questions that have no wrong answer, so feel free to answer what your actual likes and preferences are, whether your dream job is to be a freelance photographer (even though you’re applying as an electrical engineer), your theme song is the Pokémon theme (because you’ve been playing way too much Pokémon Go), your favorite website is The New Yorker, and you are most content people-watching on a park bench.

For some questions, such as the favorite TV show, students often feel compelled to portray themselves as a cultured and conscientious person and may elect to write down some documentary series or history show that they don’t actually watch, but this is the wrong approach. Admissions can often see through false answers when looking at your application as a whole. Be honest, even if that show is Game of Thrones, because it can reveal that you are in sync with modern culture and trends.

Writing the School of Engineering Prompts

If you plan on applying to the School of Engineering:

While scientists yearn to discover the world that exists, Engineers and Computer Scientists seek to create the world that never was. Our faculty and students believe collaborative teams are the key to great accomplishments. Please describe a time in your life (academic, co-curricular, or otherwise) where you had to collaborate to accomplish more than you could alone. (250 word limit)

C ollaboration is important in the world of science and engineering, so USC wants to see the role collaboration has played in your past experiences. While most students will opt for the cliché “important group project in APUSH that you guys got an A on,” it’s important to give a nuanced approach to the topic of collaboration and how you collaborated.

You can really drive a narrative here, starting by describing a conflict in the realm you collaborated in, whether that was a small business you started with two friends or a research project during a summer program, then explaining how it was resolved and what you learned from that experience.

You could also reveal some vulnerabilities, stating how you had always been independent-minded and had done all work yourself, until you came across a daunting academic or extracurricular challenge so vast that you had to sacrifice your pride and collaborate to achieve more than you could have alone. The word count is limited, but it is important to use a good anecdote and clearly communicate the personality traits this collaboration reveals about yourself.

Your browser history says a lot about you. Take a moment to think about the time you spend online. Whether it’s browsing an Instagram account, listening to your favorite podcast, subscribing to the best web series on YouTube, or even addressing questions on tech-help forums, we want to know where you spend the most time online, and why. Please share your favorite online destination (via a web address, specific app, social network, etc.) — and describe why in a few sentences. (250 word limit)

Like the question you answered on your favorite website, this is a chance to reveal your personal style and preferences. Of course, you don’t want your favorite online destination to be Facebook or Twitter, unless there is a special reason why, such as using that site as a marketing platform for your budding tech startup, or using them to spread awareness for events at a local shelter.

Since this is your application to the school of engineering, they naturally want to see that where you end up online tends towards your STEM interests. On the flip-side, they don’t want to see you as a purely academic type who only reads nature publications every week — reveal who you are as a person through your web history in a way that ties in your desire to enter engineering.

Maybe you use your Instagram account to follow major companies and the kind of the things they are building, and you then post your own inventions to garner feedback and a following. Or perhaps you enjoy online tutorials and engaging science lectures on YouTube, or use Reddit to crowdsource massive amounts of polling data for a personal social psychology experiment. Similar to previous questions, there are few clichés because this is very personal, so have fun with your response!

Get your essay reviewed by our expert team before submitting. For more help and guidance through the admissions process, sign up for our distinguished application guidance services. Good luck with admissions, and fight on!

CollegeVine College Essay Team

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How to Write the USC Application Essays 2017-2018

The University of Southern California — more commonly known as USC — is located in the heart of Los Angeles, California. The school’s position in a metropolitan area offers students the opportunity to not only explore their own intellectual curiosities, but also the city’s vibrant cultures.

Often known for its fierce athletic rivalries, the Trojan student body advertises a highly spirited, tight-knit community. With nearly one-fifth of the undergraduate class involved in Greek life, the school encourages its students to embrace both social and intellectual endeavors.

Boasting competitive programs in business, medicine, and engineering, USC has become one of the most prestigious private research universities in California. This past year, USC was ranked at #23 by U.S News & World Report, and achieved a historic low acceptance rate of 16%, with over 56,000 applicants.

In addition to the Common App personal statement, USC requires two supplementary essays (four for prospective engineers), and multiple short answer questions. While these essays may initially seem daunting, CollegeVine is here to help you approach these prompts and land a spot in USC’s class of 2022!

USC Application Essay Prompts

Please respond to one of the prompts below (250 words or less).

The first question allows you to choose between three prompts. Many of you are probably worried about making the mistake of choosing the “wrong” prompt, but it is important to know that no prompt is easier than the other. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong answer here; the purpose of this essay is for the admissions office to get to know you and your individuality.

If you’re having trouble choosing, it might be better to think of personal experiences first and molding the story to fit one of the prompts. While the questions are different, the goal is the same: to showcase your personality. It’s safe to say that your anecdote will likely work for all 3 prompts — it’s just a matter of which approach you want to take.

The main challenge with this essay is the brevity of your response; with only 250 words, there isn’t too much room to pack in loads of details. Even so, 250 words provide plenty of room for a brief introduction, at least one short-body paragraph, and a few sentences to wrap up at the end. Here is how we at CollegeVine recommend you to tackle each prompt.

Prompt Option #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.

At first glance, this question seems very similar to prompt #3 on the Common Application: R eflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking ? What was the outcome ? The key difference between the two is that USC wants to know about a time when your belief was challenged by someone or something else. Here, you are the one being challenged , not the one doing the challenging .

For those of you who chose prompt #3 on the Common App, do not write about the same thing. This will just make your application seem too repetitive. Instead, try to think of some situations that forced you to look at an idea from a different perspective and thereby prompted your growth as an individual.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Speech and Debate – You were a member of your school’s Speech and Debate Team and participated in a competitive tournament. You competed under a debate category that mimics a Congressional hearing room, and took stances on scenarios that reflect modern world issues and controversies. Perhaps the issue at hand was internet security or the implementation of renewable energy. During your round, you were challenged by a rival competitor who put forth an opposing perspective, bringing a new idea to the table. What did you learn from this?
  • Foreign Travel – You traveled to another country on a mission to educate and bring medical resources to underprivileged kids and their families. Having never traveled internationally before, you had never encountered another country’s culture or practices. Shocked by the torn state of the developing nations, you learned about the world outside of your own home state. You were introduced to the notion of embracing another country’s environment and using it as a means to gain worldly perspectives. This trip ignited your desire to provide assistance to those in need and expand your worldviews through travel.
  • Challenged Through Literature – Being exposed to a new idea or being challenged can be as simple as reading a book (literally). Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In inspired you to conquer your introversion and step out of your comfort zone. Or maybe her book exposed you to a new idea by proposing a novel way to approach work and leadership.

The key here is to demonstrate some sort of personal growth. While the prompt doesn’t explicitly ask for this, including a few sentences on how you matured will add that extra “wow factor” that USC loves to see. It is important to be honest here (as with all essays). Don’t write what you think USC wants to hear — write what you think highlights who YOU are . If you didn’t save hundreds of lives by providing vaccines to children in Africa, then there is no reason to pretend that you did.

Prompt Option #2

Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

Here, it is important to note that USC wants something outside of your academic focus. This, however, doesn’t limit you to discussing only academic topics; you are free to discuss almost anything that you’re interested in (as long as it’s appropriate, of course). Essentially, this is USC’s way of asking, “What else are you interested in?”

There are two ways to approach this prompt:

  • Write about an interest that is outside of your focus, but connects back to your major. An example of this would be a Biology major interested in using artificial intelligence to streamline medical practices or an Environmental Studies major interested in law for the purpose of implementing green energy policies.
  • Write about something completely unrelated to your major. This gives you more freedom and can thus be about anything. For example, you could be an Economics major with an interest in music or a Physics major who wants to be multilingual.

As with the previous prompt, it is important to be truthful. Don’t write about an interest that you think will make you look more appealing, as admissions officers can easily spot essays that try too hard. In order to convey real passion, be yourself and be honest. This is a great prompt to employ descriptive language and imagery; entice the readers into wanting to learn about what you love.

Prompt Option #3

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

Out of the three prompts, this one is the most open-ended, almost mimicking the infamous interview question “tell me about yourself.” Before jumping in, first ask yourself, “Is there anything I want USC to know about me?” When contemplating this, make sure you choose something that cannot be found somewhere else on your application. Don’t write about being a star basketball player if you already listed that under your extracurriculars.

Since this prompt is so flexible, you can incorporate any of the aforementioned examples from the previous two prompts to fit into this one. For instance, you could write a vivid account of your travels last summer and emphasize your desire to absorb new cultures. Or perhaps your interests in law and public policy are what fuel you to work toward making a positive social impact.

An easier way to start brainstorming for this prompt is to create a list of your personal qualities (avoid clichés like hard working, responsible, smart, etc). After doing this, try thinking of anecdotes that show or highlight this particular quality. If you’re adventurous, it would be great to tell a story of the time you went skydiving and connect it back to your inclination to step out of your comfort zone. If you’re a problem-solver, include an anecdote of the time you successfully completed an escape room and use that to highlight your love for puzzles in everyday life. Here, the possibilities are endless.

This prompt allows for more creativity; there is no need to be too serious and academic here. It doesn’t hurt to have a little fun with this essay — a little light humor goes a long way. As always, use vivid language to show the reader who you are.

Essay Prompt 2

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)

With so many options at USC, it might be a little overwhelming to choose a major let alone know how to pursue it. CollegeVine is here to help you narrow down your interests and find ways to express them at USC.

Before we dive in, here are a few facts about USC that will help you get started:

  1. USC is located in metropolitan L.A., the home of many large companies such as Deloitte, Bank of America, and Paul Hastings.
  2. USC has its own medical school, the Keck School of Medicine.
  3. USC has its own buisness school — the Marshall School of Business — that offers programs for undergraduates.

To approach this prompt, you should first evaluate your academic interests and your selected major. Next, you should ask yourself, “Why USC?” What does USC offer in your major that no other college offers? If you are interested in medicine, you might discuss the practical experience that the Keck School of Medicine can provide you. Perhaps you have a strong interest in stem cells, and will pursue this by conducting medical research at Keck. Or maybe you are more interested in clinical experience and are hoping to shadow doctors at the medical school’s hospital.

If you are interested in business economics, you can analyze USC’s optimal location in downtown Los Angeles, discussing how the school’s geography gives you access to internships with the nation’s top corporations. You can include a brief paragraph on the strengths of USC’s Marshall School of Business, raving about how an education there will provide you with the necessary leadership skills to succeed in business.

Avoid vague and cliché answers such as “USC has a good business school,” or “USC is prestigious and highly ranked.” These types of responses don’t particularly answer the question, nor do they show that you have done your research on the school.

No matter what subject you intend to pursue, the most important thing is to show the school what you will do at USC if you are accepted . Which professors do you look forward to working with? What special curriculum path do you hope to head down? What resource do you plan to take advantage of? There is no right or wrong answer; USC just wants to understand the academic path you intend to follow. You don’t have to be too creative or try to think of an outside-the-box answer. For this prompt, simple and straightforward is better.

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Short Answer (One Sentence)

Describe yourself in three words.

First Word:

Second Word:

Third Word:

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:

These rapid-fire questions scare a lot of applicants because many think there is a “correct” way to answer them. The reality is, however, as with all prompts, there is no right or wrong answer. How you answer these questions likely won’t make too big of a difference in your application, since USC simply wants to get a feel of your personality on a basic level. Unless your favorite website really is CNN or your theme song is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, there is no reason to be too obscure or intellectual. If you thought Mean Girls was the best movie of all time, then don’t be afraid to put that down!

As long as you avoid any offensive comments and your answer is appropriate, you can practically write anything in the spaces (as long as it’s honest). Even so, make sure to use your own good judgement for these answers. If you were a big Fifty Shades of Grey fan, it might be better to put down your second choice for best movie of all time.

For Engineers

*The following prompts are only for students who listed engineering as their major.

While scientists yearn to discover the world that exists, Engineers and Computer Scientists seek to create the world that never was. Our faculty and students believe collaborative teams are the key to great accomplishments. Please describe a time in your life (academic, co-curricular, or otherwise) where you had to collaborate to accomplish more than you could alone. (250 words)

For this prompt, USC wants to evaluate your teamwork skills. Your response to this prompt does not have to relate to engineering, although doing so could allow you to add more relevance. Here, it is best to avoid trivial group projects, as writing about these experiences are cliché and overdone. For instance, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to write about that group powerpoint presentation you did on the Civil War.

Unique and/or large-scale projects, however, are excellent choices for this prompt.

Here are two examples that would work well:

  • Related to Engineering: You collaborated with a team to construct a robot to navigate an obstacle course at a state competition. You and your teammates built upon each other’s creativity to design a robot that took home 1st place.
  • Unrelated to Engineering: You and a group of people worked together to organize a clothing drive to help the homeless in your community. With a group of people, you were able to reach a larger audience and expand your program to help neighboring towns.

For Engineers

While the world as a whole may be more technologically advanced than ever before, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has outlined 14 Grand Challenges that engineers should focus on to improve life on the planet. Learn about the Grand Challenges at www.engineeringchallenges.org and tell us which challenge is most important, and why. (250 words)

It might be difficult to pick just one challenge out of the 14, but it’s important to note that one choice isn’t better than the other. This prompt definitely holds less of a personal aspect compared to other questions since it does not explicitly ask about “you.” If relevant however, your personal experiences can still be incorporated.

If you have experience conducting research in a lab, you might find the challenge “Engineer Better Medicines” the most important. For this example, you can connect your time working in research to your summer internship at the hospital and speak about how you witnessed firsthand the level of physical, emotional, and familial impact research work has on people.

Even if you do not have any personal connection with any of these challenges, however, you can still write an equally strong response as long as you give your reasons for your selection. You can even draw on other people’s life stories here. It is about how you convince the reader that your challenge takes precedence, and not about the actual challenge. The key word for this prompt is “why.”

As an example, if you choose “Make Solar Power Economical,” you could praise the potential that solar power holds, but challenge the high price that makes it difficult for most people to obtain. Following this with an explanation of the rapid depletion of Earth’s natural resources will help you emphasize the need for a shift in energy source and thereby, more renewable energy affordability. This was just one example of how to approach the question, but make sure to always answer the “why” no matter what prompt you are writing about.

Here are some questions to get you on track:

  1. Will the world be a more unbearable living environment if we did not make any progress in Challenge #1 or Challenge #2 (and so on) in 50 years?
  2. What does the future look like if the world unites in tackling this obstacle?
  3. How and why will this improve our future?

Final Tips

As with all other personal essays, remember to show and don’t tell the reader who you are. DO be genuine and DO answer the question. DON’T pretend to be someone else and DON’T be afraid to be yourself. Happy writing!

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