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The Requirements: 2 or 3 essays (depending on major selection) of up to 250 words; 2 short-answer lists.
Unlike the second prompt above, this one is all about your enduring academic interests and passions, but it’s not really about you. Rather, it’s not about you alone. This is USC’s take on the classic Why essay. In asking how you plan to pursue your interests, admissions is really trying to suss out your core reasons for choosing USC. While college will offer you a wealth of social and professional opportunities, its primary function is academic — and your primary role is as a student. So, what kind of student do you hope to be? Where do you hope your studies will take you? What resources and opportunities does USC offer that will meet your needs and guide you towards your goals?
To answer these questions, set aside an hour or two to pore over the USC website (there’s no hack, you’ve just got to put in the time). Beyond the basic departmental listings, look up information about news and research coming out of your department, the kinds of courses available, the opportunities that other undergrads have had studying in your area of choice. Even if you have a wide array of interests, consider explaining how two to three departments might complement each other or foster your interest in a larger idea or theme. Your ultimate goal is to show that your interest in USC (just like your intellectual curiosity) runs deep!
When the challenge is pith, the opportunity is humor. We rarely offer an across-the-board directive to be funny because humor writing is hard — and sometimes it just simply isn’t appropriate for the story you need to tell in a longer essay. But with lists and short answers, it’s wit that will make you stand out. Your answer doesn’t need to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it should avoid the generalities that so often populate these questions: loyal, kind, smart… you get the idea. We’re sure you are all of these things — and they are lovely qualities to showcase in the stories you tell elsewhere in your essay — but these sorts of terms can ring hollow if you aren’t able to back them up with evidence. A good place to start might be to examine your contradictions (you’re mostly easy-going, until you start playing Scrabble) and craft an essay that showcases some funny irony about your personality. Think about how different people in your life would describe you, and then think about order. Can you make it read like a very short story? Can you make it rhyme? Though this assignment is short, you may need to spend some time wordsmithing different combinations. When the prescribed format is a list, order matters just as much as content, so use every element of the assignment to your advantage!
Behold! USC’s attempt at being quirky! You’ve been limited to less than the length of a tweet for each answer, so you’d better make every word (and character) count! These prompts don’t have time for generalities or gentle introductions, so you’ll have to cut straight to the point. The more specific your words are, the more memorable your answers will be. Favorite snack? Don’t just say, “popcorn and Junior Mints.” How about, “A box of junior mints melting over hot popcorn as I watch a horror movie” (72 characters). If you can paint a funny picture or display a knack for wit, take this chance, but don’t force it. You also don’t exactly have to think of this as filling in the blanks, but more as filling in any blanks in your application. Anything that doesn’t feel like it merits a full essay can go here as a tweet, hot take, punchline, or elegantly-worded sentence.
We at CEA love this question because it’s a unique way of asking applicants: what do you care about and why? What’s important to you? What information do you wish other scholarly minds had access to? Start by making a list. Maybe you’d like to use your ten minutes to speak about media literacy and how we can and should consider what we see online through the lens of the powers that dictate how and when we receive information. Perhaps you’d want to spread the word about the dangers of climate change and the irreversible impact it will have on the planet if we don’t take action swiftly. What keeps you up at night? What kind of positive effect do you want to have on the world? These are the questions you should be asking yourself when brainstorming for this prompt. Bonus points if you can speak to how a USC Dornsife education will prepare you to address this issue head-on in the future!
USC Viterbi School of Engineering wants to accept students who will contribute to diversity on campus. When considering an aspect of your identity or background to expand upon, we recommend choosing one that has had the biggest impact on the way you experience and interact with the world. Ideally, the unique aspect you select should come with a couple anecdotes. Maybe you want to write about your experience as a person living with a disability and how this has shaped your interest in engineering, design, and accessibility. Perhaps you embody #BlackGirlMagic and will bring a fresh perspective to a field in which women of color are underrepresented. Regardless of the part of your identity you choose to address, be specific about how it impacts your worldview and how it will add a distinct perspective to USC Viterbi.
Strong responses to this prompt will showcase self-reflection, care for the greater good, and ambition. Review the fourteen Grand Challenges and see which you connect with the most. Maybe you’re passionate about providing access to clean water, since you know firsthand what it’s like to not have that access in your hometown in Michigan. Perhaps you hope to engineer better medicines in honor of a loved one you lost to illness prematurely. Maybe you’ve always been fascinated with outer space and would jump at the opportunity to engineer new tools of scientific discovery. Make sure to relate your own life experiences and/or interests to the challenges the world is facing and emphasize how you’d like to be part of the solution.