University of California – Admissions
How to apply
Personal insight questions
The personal insight questions are about getting to know you better — your life experience, interests, ambitions and inspirations.
Think of it as your interview with the admissions office. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it.
While this section of the application is just one part we consider when making our admission decision, it helps provide context for the rest of your application.
Usc essay prompts
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.
Apply to RHP
The 2018 RHP application is now available. Please read the following information and click the Slideroom link below to access the RHP supplement.
Before you begin, please review our home page and FAQ to familiarize yourself with our program and admission requirements.
Materials required for ALL applicants:
1. Common Application and USC Writing Supplement
- Common App
- USC Writing Supplement
- School Report
- Official Transcripts
- 2 Teacher Evaluations, one of which must be from an English teacher*
- Application fee or fee waiver
- Additional major requirements, if applicable
As a freshman applicant to USC, you must submit the Common Application online. The Common Application will ask you to identify your academic interests, showcase your writing skills, and provide details about your high school coursework and extracurricular activities. More information and guidelines are available through USC Undergraduate Admission.
*As part of the Common Application, you will be asked to enter the names and contact information of recommenders. All RHP applicants must enter information for two teachers, who will complete your Teacher Evaluations, and for your high school counselor, who will complete the School Report and submit your official transcript. Both teachers and counselors are welcome and encouraged to submit letters of recommendation along with their respective forms. These letters should address your readiness to attend college early in addition to your other qualities. As always, remember to respectfully request your teachers’ and counselor’s support before you enter their information in the Common Application.
Note that some majors have additional application requirements, so be sure to read and follow all instructions carefully.
2. RHP SlideRoom Application
Submit the RHP SlideRoom Application online. The RHP Application will help us get to know you better and give you a chance to showcase why starting college a year early is the right path for your education.
As part of this application, you will be asked to provide contact information for one reference. This reference must be your current high school counselor. He or she will receive a link to complete the RHP Nomination Form on your behalf. Remember to inform your counselor that s/he will also be asked to submit information as part of the Common Application.
3. Official SAT or ACT Scores
You must submit official SAT or ACT scores directly to USC from the testing agency. You should complete your testing before December to ensure your official scores arrive in time for merit scholarship consideration. Scores from December tests may be used for admission purposes, but they will likely not arrive in time to be reviewed by USC’s scholarship review committees.
If you plan to submit results from a November or December test, you should request that your scores be sent to USC at the time you register for the exam , as this will ensure that your scores reach us as quickly as possible. Waiting to view your student score report before sending your scores to USC will delay receipt of your scores.
No preference is given to the SAT or the ACT. If you submit scores from multiple tests, we will consider only your highest scores in our review. There is no minimum SAT or ACT score to apply to RHP, but please keep in mind that scores of admitted students are usually in the highest range for each exam.
SAT Subject Tests and AP Exams are not required, but we encourage you to submit these scores if you have them. High scores on Subject Tests and/or APs will strengthen your application. (Note that Subject Tests are required if you are home-schooled or attend a non-accredited high school. See below.)
Additional materials required for:
Students of Certain Majors:
Some majors have additional major requirements with varying guidelines and deadlines. Be sure to carefully review the requirements for your intended major, if applicable. RHP students may participate in any major USC offers*, but they must submit all required materials just like other freshman applicants.
Students Who Have Attended Multiple Schools:
- Official transcripts for all secondary school coursework
- Official transcripts for all college coursework
Please submit official transcripts from all schools and colleges you have attended since the 9th grade, including for summer coursework. If online submission is not possible, the school or college should mail or fax your transcript to USC Admission.
- Financial Statement of Personal or Family Support
- Demonstrated English proficiency, if applicable
- Original and translated academic records, if applicable
- External examination results, if applicable
RHP welcomes well-prepared international applicants who are currently in their second-to-last year of secondary school. Learn more about the additional materials required for international students at USC Admission’s International Applicants page.
- Official scores for three SAT Subject Tests, one of which must be in mathematics
- Answers to the home-school questions within the Common Application
Your Common Application should include detailed information about your home-schooling philosophy, curriculum, and textbooks.
Students Who Attend a Non-Accredited School:
- Official scores for three SAT Subject Tests, one of which must be in mathematics
Some new or nontraditional schools are not recognized by one of the regional accrediting associations. In this case, we ask for some additional test scores to help us determine your college readiness. If you are unsure of your school’s accreditation, please ask your high school counselor.
*RHP students are not permitted to participate in the World Bachelor in Business (WBB) major, as this is not solely a USC program. All other majors are open to RHP applicants.
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.
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:
- USC is located in metropolitan L.A., the home of many large companies such as Deloitte, Bank of America, and Paul Hastings.
- USC has its own medical school, the Keck School of Medicine.
- 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.
Don’t Worry — We’ll edit your admissions essay in a few hours.
Submit your essay and we’ll get it back to you with helpful edits.
Short Answer (One Sentence)
Describe yourself in three words.
What is your favorite snack?
Best movie of all time:
Hashtag to describe yourself:
What is your theme song:
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.
*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.
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:
- 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?
- What does the future look like if the world unites in tackling this obstacle?
- How and why will this improve our future?
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!
Want us to quickly edit your college essay? Submit it to our Rapid Review Program, and we’ll get it back to you quickly with comments from our expert team.
Need help with your apps?
We’ve helped thousands of students write amazing college essays. One of our students was featured on Business Insider for the essay that got him into 7 Ivy League schools. Learn more about how our Apps Program can help your chances of admission.
Want more college essay tips?
We’ll send them straight to your inbox.
CollegeVine College Essay Team
Latest posts by CollegeVine College Essay Team (see all)
- How to Write the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Essays 2017-2018 – September 26, 2017
- How to Write the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Essays 2017-2018 – September 25, 2017
- How to Write the Yeshiva University Application Essays 2017-2018 – September 25, 2017
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
Our mission is to help students and their families confidently navigate high school and the college admissions process. We offer Mentorship, SAT Tutoring, and Application Guidance.
Join thousands of other students and families subscribed to our blog:
125 Cambridge Park Dr.
Cambridge, MA 02140
How We Can Help
Subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll keep you updated on all things admissions, high school, test prep, and more.
© 2018 CollegeVine. All Rights Reserved.