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    How to Respond to the 2023/2024 University of Southern California Supplemental Essays

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: February 6th, 2024
    How to Respond to the 2023/2024 University of Southern California Supplemental Essays

    With the warm Cali weather and beautiful campus, it is no surprise that students are so eager to apply to USC in Los Angeles. The USC supplemental essays are a perfect way to stand out from the rest of the USC applicants. Keep reading this guide to learn more about how to make your responses to the USC supplemental essays the best they can be!

    Breaking down the USC supplemental essays

    Be prepared to write, because USC asks for a lot of USC supplemental essays responses! However, this should not deter you from applying, rather, it should make you more excited! Essays offer you the opportunity to show who you are to the USC admissions officers. 

    Here is a list of essays to respond to:

    • 1 250 word essay
    • 1 optional 250 word essay 
    • 10 quick short answers
    • 1 Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences essay (only for Dornsife students)
    • 1 Viterbi School of Engineering 250 word essay (with 2 options to choose from only for Viterbit students)

    For the list of 10 short questions, they are almost rapid fire questions with a quick and easy response to a less open-ended question. For these, just be you and have fun! 

    Now that you know what to expect from the USC supplemental essays, let’s take a look at them! 

    Essay 1

    “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)”

    Most college applications ask you to select a major, so take this question as an opportunity to explain and elaborate on the “why.” Why do you want to major in this topic? What do you hope to do with a degree in this major? How will this major help you pursue your dreams? 

    Be specific

    In addition to simply mentioning your major and reason behind selecting this major, you should also touch upon any courses or extracurriculars that will help you reach your future goals.

    For example, if you want to major in biology, you can talk about how you are excited to be able to take the USC BISC 469L: Marine Biology course because you have always been fascinated by marine life. 

    Being specific with the course names will prove to the USC admissions officers that you have done your research. They will recognize that you are truly passionate about furthering your education in this particular field. 

    Still undecided?

    If you are unsure about what you want to major in, do not worry! It is a big decision to make at this point in your life. Remember, a lot of applicants are feeling the same way. Therefore, you should not share a major and talk about a passion if you are not truly certain or interested in this major. 

    Rather, you should be authentic and describe why you are unsure of what you want to major in. In addition, you should then detail what academic programs or clubs you hope to become involved in to find your true passion. The most important thing to do if you are taking the undecided major route is to detail how you will take advantage of USC to discover what you are truly interested in. 

    Essay #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). (250 words) 

    Only answer this essay if you have a gap in your education. If this does not apply to you, you do not have to answer this question. However, if it does apply to you then you should answer this question as truthfully as possible. 

    Questions to consider

    • Why did you choose to take a gap year or semester? 
    • Did you even choose to take off? 
    • What external factors affected your education? 

    While this is a more serious and specific question, you can still be creative in your response. Meaning, rather than stating why, you can tell the personal  story that led you to make this decision. This can lead the USC admissions officers to empathize with your situation.

    Essay 3 – short answer questions

    The short answer questions ask you to answer in 100 characters or less, unless otherwise directed. This means these questions should be rapid fire responses. Do not overthink these! This is a fun section that allows the reader to get to know you and your opinions better! Just be sure to not answer a response in a way that has already been revealed in your application. 

    1. Describe yourself in three words. (25 characters each)

    Think about your most defining characteristics. If someone close to you had to choose 3 words to describe you, what would they say? 

    2. What is your favorite snack?

    Don’t think, just answer! What are you craving? Do you have a sweet tooth? If you were given the choice to pick one snack from the grocery store what would you pick? 

    3. Best movie of all time

    Try to think of a movie that is not typically picked to be the best movie of all time! You want your uniqueness to shine through! Be sure you are selecting a movie you have actually seen and enjoyed. 

    4. Dream job

    What are you working towards in college? What do you “want to be” when you graduate? You can choose to go the serious or silly route for this question. So, you could make up a job such as “Chocolate taste-tester because the decadence of creamy milk chocolate is my favorite thing on Earth.”

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

    This is a creative question! Therefore, try to pick a creative answer. Find a song that has meaningful lyrics that can relate to your life. 

    6. Dream trip

    Try to avoid cliches with this answer such as Disneyworld – remember, you are trying to stand out from the rest of USC applicants. Think of somewhere you have always wanted to visit. Be specific! Do not just mention the city, state, or country, but rather, mention the specifics. 

    7. What TV show will you binge watch next?

    What TV show do you love? What TV show could you watch without getting sick of it? 

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

    This question allows you to have a lot of fun, so dig deep into your imagination! Try to write a quick reason as to why they would make a good roommate. For example, maybe Harry Potter because you know he is used to sharing small quarters!

    9. Favorite Book

    What is your favorite book? Did a certain book change your life?

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

    What are you passionate about? Do you nerd out about something? What would you love to speak to people about? You can also be creative with this answer and choose a course that does not exist! For example, the “psychology of aliens” which requires a trip to outer space! 

    Also see: How to respond to the Common App prompts

    Essay 4: Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences applicants only – 

    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)

    The first thing that came to your mind when reading this essay- that’s what you should write about! You’ll want to select a topic that really fascinates you. You should be able to talk about this for hours and hours – not just 10 minutes. 

    This is an extremely open-ended essay, so there are an infinite number of topics you could choose to write about. When deciding what to choose, remember to select something that has not already been shared on your application. 

    Some ideas of things to write about for this essay: 

    • A social issue 
    • A book 
    • A lesson you have learned 
    • Other cultures
    • A controversial take (do not select something too controversial!) 

    These are just a few examples to get your mind turning. Remember, there is a lot of freedom here, so you can pick any topic you want! Just be sure to use narratives and anecdotes to make your story shine through. After all, you want the USC admissions officers to learn why you are passionate about a topic, not just what the topic is. 

    Essay 5: Viterbi School of Engineering applicants only – option 1

    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 word limit)”

    To answer this essay, you need to select a personal characteristic that distinguishes you from the other engineering students. Therefore, this trait or aspect of yourself should connect back to Viterbi and how you will make a difference in the school. Start out by brainstorming and asking yourself some questions.

    Questions to consider

    • What aspect of yourself have you not mentioned so far in your USC application? 
    • What are you passionate about? 
    • When you have free time, what are you doing? 
    • How have you prepared yourself to become an engineer? 
    • Why does engineering interest you? 
    • Why USC? Why USC engineering? 

    Essentially, you want to write to USC detailing how you are a stand-out applicant who is different from the rest. So, narrow in on what makes you special. However, it is important for the Viterbi supplemental essay that you are also acknowledging how you will thrive in this environment because of your uniqueness. 

    Essay 5: Viterbi School of Engineering applicants only – option 2

    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 http://engineeringchallenges.org and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why.* (250 word limit)” 

    For this response, you should be sure to read through the NAE Grand Challenges. This will provide you with valuable background information. Once you have read through all of the NAE Grand Challenges, think about the challenge you find to be the most important. The most important thing about this response is not what challenge you choose to write about. Rather, it is the way you justify your response. 

    For example, you can choose “provide access to clean water,” however, you need to be creative in your justification. Start out by making a quick list of questions to ask yourself. 

    Questions to consider

    • Everyone wants clean water – so how will accessing clean water affect you? 
    • What would you do if you could create an invention that gives everyone access to clean water?
    • Why is clean water important? 

    It is critical that you are creative in your justification, no matter which challenge you deem the most important. 

    Final thoughts on responding to the USC supplemental essays

    We understand that the USC supplemental essays can be quite overwhelming. Therefore, just take it one essay at a time and space out writing your responses. Figure out which options most interest you and select those. 

    After you write your USC supplemental essay responses, ask a trusted individual to read over your responses before you submit your application. Ask them to check for any spelling errors and also  that you have not repeated yourself at all. Remember, each USC essay is the opportunity to reveal more about yourself. 

    Take a deep breath! You got this. Remember to have fun in your responses and remind yourself of what you are working towards… a great education located in sunny California! 

    Next steps after applying to USC

    Congratulations! It is time to submit your flawless USC application! Now that your application is submitted, be sure to check the following for any updates to your application status: 

    • Your Email 
    • USC portal
    • Any USC social media accounts

    Additional resources

    Scholarships360 is here to help you navigate the challenging terrain of the college admissions process. Are you curious about what looks good to submit to colleges? We have a guide for that. Wondering if you should send your SAT/ACT scores? We have a guide for that. Confused on how many schools to apply to? We have a guide for that too! 

    Also see: How to choose a college

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