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University of Southern California (USC) 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

University of Southern California 2023-24 Application Essay Questions Explained 

The Requirements: 2 or 3 essays (depending on major selection) of up to 250 words; 2 short-answer lists.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Oddball, Short Answer, Community

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)

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!

Describe yourself in three words (25 characters).




Your answers do not need to be so outlandish that admissions needs a thesaurus to look them up, but they 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 other written responses — but these sorts of terms can ring hollow. Think about how different people in your life would describe you. 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!

The following prompts have a 100 character limit:

What is your favorite snack?

Best movie of all time:

Dream job:

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

Dream trip:

What TV show will you binge watch next?

Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?

Favorite book:

If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

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.

USC Dornsife Applicants: Please provide an essay of no more than 250 words on the topic below. In your response, we encourage you to write about something that you haven’t already discussed elsewhere in your application.
For more information, please click here.

Many of us have at least one issue or passion that we care deeply about – a topic on which we would love to share our opinions and insights in hopes of sparking intense interest and continued conversation. If you had ten minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your talk be about? (250 words)

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 Applicants:

The student body at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is a diverse group of unique engineers and computer scientists who work together to engineer a better world for all humanity. Describe how your contributions to the USC Viterbi student body may be distinct from others. Please feel free to touch on any part of your background, traits, skills, experiences, challenges, and/or personality in helping us better understand you. (250 words)

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.

The Engineering Grand Challenges (for USC Viterbi Applicants):

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges go hand-in-hand with our vision to engineer a better world for all humanity. Engineers and computer scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges at and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why. (250 words)

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.

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School Stats:

State: California
Acceptance Rate: 9%
Undergrad Population: 26,000
Tuition: $69,904
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