How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

How to Write the USC Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

The University of Southern California, also known as USC, UC, or SoCal, currently educates almost 50,000 students, 21,000 of whom are undergraduates. Located in Los Angeles, CA, USC is known for its 22 schools, each of which has a unique specialization. With an impressive list of alums, from George Lucas and Shonda Rhimes to Neil Armstrong and Grant Imahara, USC launches careers in entertainment, engineering, English, and more every year. If you’re looking to maximize your chances of acceptance, continue reading as we break down USC’s supplemental essays.

University of Southern California campus

Note that the specific program within USC to which you apply may have additional supplemental materials. These include short essays, short videos, and portfolios of creative work. Check out the programs here and the additional application requirements for USC here.

USC’s 2023-2024 Prompts

Long Answer Questions

  1. Required: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 words or fewer)
  2. Optional: Starting with the beginning of high school/secondary school, if you have had a gap where you were not enrolled in school during a fall or spring term, please address this gap in your educational history. You do not need to address a summer break.  (250 words or fewer)

Short Answer Questions

  1. Describe yourself in three words. (3 words)
  2. What is your favorite snack? (100 characters or fewer)
  3. Best movie of all time (100 characters or fewer)
  4. Dream job (100 characters or fewer)
  5. If your life had a theme song, what would it be? (100 characters or fewer)
  6. Dream trip (100 characters or fewer)
  7. What TV show will you binge watch next? (100 characters or fewer)
  8. Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate? (100 characters or fewer)
  9. Favorite book (100 characters or fewer)
  10. If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be? (100 characters or fewer)
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Long Answer Questions

The USC application requires one longer essay (250 words or fewer) and ten shorter responses limited to 100 characters. (But don’t compose a 100-character answer for the questions requiring a single word!). There is also an optional longer essay question only applicable to students with some gap in their educational history other than a summer break.

Required: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 words or fewer)

This standard essay question is deceptively difficult. Most students have enough of a sense of their academic interests to list them and describe why they’re interested in them. However, this question is actually more of a research question than a personal essay question. The USC admissions officers reading your response to this question are less interested in what your academic interests are and more in how you will pursue them while a student at USC.

As a result, it’s recommended that you do some research before answering this question. Read through a list of USC’s majors and minors. Scroll around in the course catalog. Find some programs, professors, clubs, and activities at USC that relate to your academic interests. Mention these opportunities by name and describe how and why you will take advantage of them. Displaying this kind of research will demonstrate your seriousness in applying to USC and your maturity in visualizing your future.

Optional: Starting with the beginning of high school/secondary school, if you have had a gap where you were not enrolled in school during a fall or spring term, please address this gap in your educational history. You do not need to address a summer break. (250 words or fewer)

If your educational background has some kind of gap, then you should answer this question. If not, then leave this question aside.

In your 250 words, you’ll need to summarize the following pieces of information:

  1. why you were not enrolled for a period of time during your high school/secondary school years;
  2. what you did during your period of non-enrollment;
  3. how this experience impacted your educational experience thereafter;
  4. and optionally, how this experience impacted your life in general thereafter.

USC’s admissions officers review applications holistically. They don’t want to assume that any gap in educational history is a bad thing. If your period of non-enrollment did have a negative impact on your life, this essay question gives you the opportunity to provide nuance to this experience and describe how you grew from it.

Short Answer Questions

These short answer questions provide space for you to express your unique personality. Feel free to inject humor into your responses or adopt a light-hearted tone. Still, authenticity is key. Admissions officers ask questions like these because they want to see who you are inside and outside of the classroom.

Describe yourself in three words. (3 words)

You might be thinking it’s a little redundant to mention that describing yourself in three words should take three words to answer, no more and no less. But you’d be surprised to learn how many students don’t take that piece of information to heart! If you have a legitimately clever idea for getting around the word restriction and providing a longer answer, then go for it. Still, bear in mind that if you answer with three unassuming words, you’re more likely to have a neutral response than a negative response. Meanwhile, if you get a little too clever with this answer, you increase the likelihood of your reader taking your response the wrong way.

If you’re having difficulty coming up with your three words, consider asking friends or family to help you out. Ask them to describe you in a word or two, ideally a noun (for example, “artist,” “dreamer,” or “nerd”) or adjective (for example, “creative,” “logical,” or “caring”). It can be hard to describe ourselves. It’s even harder to describe ourselves succinctly. Sometimes, the people who know us best can describe us better than we can ourselves.

If you already know some or all of your words without help, you may still want to run your choices by someone else. Some words have both positive and negative connotations, and ideally, your word choices are primarily positive. For example, “stubborn” can be both a positive and a negative descriptor of a person. Thus, you may want to think carefully about whether your stubbornness is portrayed elsewhere in your application in a positive light that will offset its possible negative connotations.

What is your favorite snack? (100 characters or fewer)

As always, unless you have a uniquely clever and interesting answer that goes beyond the literal meaning of the prompt, keep this answer simple. This answer shouldn’t require you to think too much; if you find yourself over-thinking, just bring it back to basics! When you get home from school and feel a bit peckish, what do most often you gravitate toward? There: that’s your answer, and another USC essay done!

Best movie of all time (100 characters or fewer)

This is a subjective question, but don’t feel pressured to defend your point-of-view. Just share what you think is the best movie of all time. And if you don’t have a favorite, just pick one of your favorites after rolling a die or flipping a coin. 

Note that the context of a college application is, if not formal, not so casual either. Don’t list a movie considered highly inappropriate. If you wouldn’t hypothetically be willing to defend this movie choice to a teacher, a parent, or a college admissions officer, then it’s probably not a good choice to put on a college application. You don’t have to limit yourself to G-rated movies (although if a G-rated movie is your favorite, then put it down), but you should probably avoid anything X-rated and some R-rated movies.

Dream job (100 characters or fewer)

This short answer question, like the previous ones, does not require (and probably shouldn’t) have too much accompanying elaboration, if any. As a result, choose a job description or title which is clear to the reader. Jobs like “writer” or “teacher” are relatively general and you could boost them with concrete and specific details. Consider alternatives like “fantasy novel writer” and “middle school English teacher.”

With this question, because of the word “dream,” you don’t necessarily need to choose a “dream job” that relates to your intended course of study. You might be a pre-med applicant who dreams of being a life-saving surgeon. Or maybe you’re a marketing major who can’t sing but still dreams of becoming a rockstar. Whatever your dreams are, don’t feel embarrassed, just share them!

If your life had a theme song, what would it be? (100 characters or fewer)

Like the question about what movie you think is the best of all time, this question asks you to provide the reader with some insight into the media you consume. Although it may feel natural to put your favorite song to listen to as the answer to this question, consider how/whether the song describes your life. Are the themes of the song—for instance: love, loss, ambition, fear—themes of your life? Is the tone of the song—for instance: joyful, energetic, nostalgic, chill—descriptive of the way you often feel?

Consider that the admissions officers may look up your song of choice and read the lyrics, in the case of songs which have lyrics. As a result, the song should not deal with themes which are too mature for the context of a college application. If you wouldn’t hypothetically feel comfortable writing an essay about this song for your application, an essay which quotes the song and delves into the meaning of its lyrics, then perhaps you should select a different song for your choice here.

Authenticity is still important. Some students who may struggle with their mental health feel uncertain about listing a particularly deep, raw, or emotional song as their “theme song.” If that sounds like you, consider whether the rest of your application somehow demonstrates that you are self-aware regarding your mental health struggles and/or that you have matured over the years in how you meet your struggles. Doing so will help your reader understand that you are a nuanced person, even if your song choice presents a single dimension of yourself.

Dream trip (100 characters or fewer)

In this essay question, you can dream big—consider the limits of where you could go and what you could do there. There’s no right answer to this question, but do consider how someone from the place you would like to visit might view your dream trip plan (if you provide detail about your plan, which you don’t have to). Make sure that your references to other places are respectful of those places and the people who live there, and consider researching your dream trip locale of interest before responding to this question.

What TV show will you binge watch next? (100 characters or fewer)

Like the earlier questions about movies and songs, this question requires you to think broadly about the media you consume. Yet there’s a difference with this question: it focuses on the future. Meanwhile, the earlier questions asked about media you have already consumed.

The admissions officers ask this kind of question are curious about your personality and about your curiosities. Do you seek out procedural dramas, intrigued by the way family relationships might play out in a courtroom? Are you a sci-fi buff dreaming of new technologies and far-away galaxies? Or are you invested in the psyches of reality TV contestants seeking love? 

Like most of these questions, there’s no right answer. Admissions officers aren’t seeking to fulfill specific quotas of history documentary fans and sitcom devotees. However, like previous questions about media, consider your audience and whether your answer suits the context of a college application. Is your answer “safe for work”? 

Lastly, you can feel free to add a brief “because… ” or equivalent statement after your choice, especially if it seems to warrant explanation. Also, note that some show titles are very generic, so without further (minimal) context the reader may not know what you’re referring to. Adding a year, language, director, or something similar might provide the necessary clues so that your answer isn’t confusing.

Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate? (100 characters or fewer)

This is a multilayered question. It requires you to not only consider a person or character whom you know and are (presumably) a fan of but also how your lifestyles would align. As a result, your answer will not just indicate what kind of media, news, or other content you consume. It will (should) also hint at how you currently live and what your ideal way of living might be.

Feel free to get creative with this answer. Maybe you want to live with the Flash because he could do the dishes really quickly, or with Bob the Builder because you could co-design your ideal DIY home. On the flipside, you could also take this question more literally and look up a famous figure known for their impressive productivity strategies and excellent sleep schedule.

Favorite book (100 characters or fewer)

This is yet another media-related question that aims to provide dimension to your personality through a window into how you spend your free time. This question, like all of these questions, is best served by an honest answer. What book do you pick up again and again? What book do you think about as you fall asleep? What book are you constantly recommending to friends?

Some students feel pressured to answer this question with a book they read in English class or some impressive-sounding academic treatise. However, admissions officers are skilled professionals who will see right through that kind of answer. If your favorite book truly is The Grapes of Wrath and you first encountered it in 10th grade Honors English, that’s an entirely legitimate answer, and don’t feel self-conscious about it. But if your favorite book is an obscure mystery novel no one’s ever heard of, or written by a highly popular author like James Patterson or Rick Riordan, that’s also totally legitimate. Not every accepted applicant to USC is going to be an English major. Nevertheless, admissions officers do expect to see students who engage with books. So if you can’t think of any books to answer this question with, get reading while you still have time!

If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be? (100 characters or fewer)

This is a common college essay question that you may have seen on other applications. For example, Yale asks an almost identical question, with 200 characters permitted for a response, because you’re expected to explain why you would teach this class. USC doesn’t require you to explain why. The limit to a 100-character answer further drives home how brief your answer is expected to be.

Of course, if the topic you choose is extremely obscure and requires context to understand, a brief explanation could be helpful. Otherwise, just think broadly and put the course title or topic. Your answer can be anything from academic to athletic, creative to craft-based. It also doesn’t need to be a topic you know much about (yet), but instead something you’re interested in learning more about. Good luck!

If you need help polishing up your USC supplemental essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.